Friday, November 17, 2017

Thoughts & Prayers Are Just Not Enough

Earlier this week, I was listening to NPR while driving to the local farmer's market, and managed to catch the tale end of a debate on gun control, with the specific focus (at least of the part that I was listening to) being on the sincerity and effect, or perhaps the lack thereof, of the popular expression by prominent politicians in the aftermath of just about every tragedy that falls upon us.

Of course, I am referring to politicians who state that their "thoughts and prayers" are with the victims and their families. In particular, it seemed that they were discussing politicians who's only real response to such tragedies is to express that their "thoughts and prayers" are with the families of the fallen.

Frankly, I thought the inadequacy and, frankly, hypocrisy of politicians and other people of influence and power to express the popular fallback expression or sentiment that your "thoughts and prayers" are with the victims and the surviving family and friends was obvious. 

After all, these are people in positions of power. They have the ability to actually take action, and make sure that certain tragedies, like the recent slate of random mass shootings, can at least be limited, if not outright prevented. 

Yet, time and time again, once there actually is a tragedy concerning, inevitably, some lunatic who took an assault weapon and started shooting people up in some public space or other, these same politicians claim that it is "too soon" to talk about measures to make access to guns - particularly assault weapons - more difficult.

In fact, serious debate about gun control measures always seems to be blocked from actually taking place on the floor of Congress. It is one of those subjects that, at least from all appearances, seems to be a non-starter for Congress, even though the issue keeps getting right back on the radar following each mass shooting. And let's be frank: when is the last time that we have gone any great length of time without some mass shooting taking place?

So, this is one of the areas where Americans get their sense of "exceptionalism" both right and wrong.

How can I say that?

Well, just like with healthcare, and environmentalism (and acceptance of science more generally), and education, and other areas more generally, Americans seem somehow comfortable ignoring realities in the rest of the world, and assuming that simple measures taken in other countries could never work here. In fact, many of the most rigid supporters of the second amendment suggest, straight-faced, that once guns will be taken away from Americans (like that will ever happen), it will be a prelude to an inevitable fascist/communist dictatorship, and that labor camps or even death camps will follow.

It is crazy logic, if indeed it qualifies as logic. Yet, it wins out, time and time and time again.

And their "solution" to gun violence is to promote even more guns in America. They suggest this with a straight face, as well. This argument defies logic, not to mention facts. But it also wins out, time and time and time again. At least among our nationally elected officials it does, even though numerous polls suggest that a majority of Americans do not believe it. Still, for all intents and purposes, that does not matter, because right now, the reality is that politicians, and the NRA lobby that is pulling their strings and making them rich in the background, as the ones who are really running things on this particular issue.

As far as I am concerned, it is all bloody money. It is the reason that they never take any meaningful action on this issue.

This guy being interviewed on NPR was taking exception to those people, like me, who take exception to the meaninglessness of the "thoughts and prayers" sentiment. He was offended that the sincerity behind this sentiment was being questioned. But who cares about whether these politicians are truly sincere, or sad, when they say it. They do literally nothing else but say this phrase when a tragedy strikes, other than those politicians who's duty it is to show up. And many of those politicians, like Trump in Las Vegas or Pence in Sutherland Springs, visit the families of the victims, say their speeches, and wait for the next opportunity to look thoughtful and sympathetic with their "thoughts and prayers" the next time that we inevitably see a mass shooting of these kinds. We have already seen one since in northern California. Does anyone really believe that it will end there?

Of course not.

This guy on NPR dismissively suggested that it does not matter that people on the internet, "liberal activists" as he derisively referred to them, are complaining about the whole "thoughts and prayers" thing. In fact, that was his parting shot. Yet, there he was on NPR, on a segment about this whole controversy. And let's be frank, how much do politicians "thoughts and prayers" matter, anyway?

Still, they have to do or say something, of course. They cannot well pretend that this kind of gun violence does not exist. And so, that is when we have to hear their nonsense about "thoughts and prayers," as if that does anything. They are in positions of power, these people. They can do something. Yet, they offer nothing more than supposedly sympathetic "thoughts and prayers." Basically, they keep telling us that prays work. Did it work for those who were praying inside of that Texas church just moments before the gunman starting spraying them with bullets?

Here are parts of a statement by then President Obama following the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon, which I thought should be added. I did not agree with Obama on many things, but here, he seems to be spot on:

We don't yet know why this individual did what he did.  And it's fair to say that anybody who does this has a sickness in their minds, regardless of what they think their motivations may be.  But we are not the only country on Earth that has people with mental illnesses or want to do harm to other people.  We are the only advanced country on Earth that sees these kinds of mass shootings every few months.      

We talked about this after Columbine and Blacksburg, after Tucson, after Newtown, after Aurora, after Charleston.  It cannot be this easy for somebody who wants to inflict harm on other people to get his or her hands on a gun.   

And what’s become routine, of course, is the response of those who oppose any kind of common-sense gun legislation.  Right now, I can imagine the press releases being cranked out:  We need more guns, they’ll argue.  Fewer gun safety laws.   

Does anybody really believe that?  There are scores of responsible gun owners in this country --they know that's not true.  We know because of the polling that says the majority of Americans understand we should be changing these laws -- including the majority of responsible, law-abiding gun owners.   

There is a gun for roughly every man, woman, and child in America.  So how can you, with a straight face, make the argument that more guns will make us safer?  We know that states with the most gun laws tend to have the fewest gun deaths.  So the notion that gun laws don't work, or just will make it harder for law-abiding citizens and criminals will still get their guns is not borne out by the evidence. We know that other countries, in response to one mass shooting, have been able to craft laws that almost eliminate mass shootings.  Friends of ours, allies of ours -- Great Britain, Australia, countries like ours.  So we know there are ways to prevent it.    

This is a political choice that we make to allow this to happen every few months in America.  We collectively are answerable to those families who lose their loved ones because of our inaction.  When Americans are killed in mine disasters, we work to make mines safer.  When Americans are killed in floods and hurricanes, we make communities safer.  When roads are unsafe, we fix them to reduce auto fatalities.  We have seatbelt laws because we know it saves lives.  So the notion that gun violence is somehow different, that our freedom and our Constitution prohibits any modest regulation of how we use a deadly weapon, when there are law-abiding gun owners all across the country who could hunt and protect their families and do everything they do under such regulations doesn’t make sense.  

Statement by the President on the Shootings at Umpqua Community College, Roseburg, Oregon James S. Brady Press Briefing Room 6:22 P.M. EDT

Thursday, November 16, 2017

Trump Administration Stubbornly Champions "Ugly American" Cause at Bonn Climate Conference

President Trump was not invited to the Bonn Climate Conference, because earlier this year, he announced that he would pull the United States out of the Paris Accord. That means that the United States stands alone as the only country not in the Paris Accord, and by extension, the only nation in the world that officially is skeptical about climate change. 

It was a clear message to the United States, and in particular, to Donald Trump and his administration.

And yet, there they are, participating as if they are still working as an active member of the world community on this issue, and pushing aggressively for dirty coal (although they will not outright admit that coal is dirty and historically a huge polluter). They are trying to forward the myth of clean coal energy, although the rest of the world is not buying it. India made a move away from coal energy, recognizing that the writing was on the wall marking the end of coal as a viable energy source, as the cons outweigh the pros. China did the same, and both are trying to step up their leadership roles once they saw the vacuum left by the de facto departure in this regard by Trump's America. Indeed, now, both India and China are seen as among the leaders on this issue, and both have committed themselves to the binding Paris Accord, even in the wake of Trump's announced departure from the accord. 

So, where does that leave the United States?

What it suggests is exactly what Americans like me feared: that we are being humiliated in front of the entire world with yet another administration that doubts the seriousness, and even the legitimacy, of the science behind climate change. 

And what makes matters worse is that the United States has historically been far and away the biggest contributor to the greenhouse gases that are warming the planet up. It was less than a decade ago that China overtook the United States as the most polluting nation, but it seems, rather astonishingly, that this is the one area where President Trump feels obsessed to bring America back to where it once was.

Indeed, if things keep going this way, the United States will once again reclaim the most polluting nation in the world status, and will also maintain the embarrassing, dubious distinction as the only nation that denies the science of climate change.

All of this is part of what Trump believes will "Make America Great Again."

Americans keep voting these people who believe in something called "American exceptionalism," only they use it to advance a very narrow agenda that benefits greedy corporations. Again, that is another apparently proud American tradition that the corrupt and morally bankrupt Trump administration wants to keep intact, and feels is essential to supposedly benefit the economy.

One of the problems with this is that we are following an increasingly glaring stereotype that has us looking very much like the "ugly Americans" that much of the rest of the world believes us to be. The only people who do not see the paradox of the high praise we give ourselves, while tolerating the abject failures that we are seeing, and which are, quite frankly, unique to the United States. How are we exceptional? We keep seeing excessive gun violence, yet we allow gun advocates to stifle any debate about reasonable  and frankly, common sense gun control measures, and these fringe gun lunatics beat their chest and hail American freedom, almost outright scoffing at the victims of the gun violence that they have a hand in. Nowhere else in the rest of the industrialized world do they have anywhere near the mass shootings that we do, yet routinely, we hear far too many American leaders kind of shrugging ans seeming to say, "What can we do?" Tens of millions of people do not get adequate healthcare, and our prices are the highest in the world, and Republican politicians in particular want to make these statistics even more extreme due to budget constraints, even though the military budget is outrageously inflated yet remains untouched. Meanwhile, the rest of the industrialized nation - that means every single other industrialized nation in the world - has a better, fairer system that costs far less than our own. Our infrastructure seems to be crumbling, and we keep seeing politicians slash the funds for these needed works, as well as cutting benefits and the safety net for the most disadvantaged citizens because of budget concerns, even though the military budget is outrageously inflated yet remains untouched. Our education system keeps falling farther and farther behind, yet we slash funds for education because of budget concerns, even though the military budget is outrageously inflated yet remains untouched. 

All of this the rest of the world sees. And Americans abroad often have a reputation for being ridiculously ignorant of anything and everything that happens outside of our own precious, nearly sacred borders, because it apparently just does not matter enough for us to deign to pay attention to what occurs in the rest of the world. We just assume, wrongly, that we are the best nation in the world, and that we can do no wrong. We invade other sovereign nations with false justifications, we continually show this outrageous and offensive ignorance towards the rest of the world, and we reveal our arrogance throughout, and this is especially being reflected with the Trump administration.

Indeed, we have done everything possible to justify the labels of "ugly Americans."

Thanks, Trump!

But more importantly, thanks to those who voted for such a man as Donald Trump, to show the rest of the world what we are truly capable of. 

No wonder so many world leaders are refuting the disinterest of the United States as we shirk our responsibilities, and are going ahead trying to work things out without us. We are discrediting ourselves, and the most stubbornly ignorant among us are hooting and hollering, beating their chests and claiming victory throughout.

We deserve to lose whatever shreds of leadership status we still have under President Trump.

I personally do hope that someday, we will wake up as a nation and rejoin the world community that we seem to feel a need to stick it to at every single opportunity. In the meantime, we have been an incredibly painful and embarrassing example of what the rest of the world seeks to reject, and we are now, as a nation, a living example of what to avoid, and the dangers of looking too inwardly, towards ourselves, to the exclusion of everyone else.

Again, thanks Trump!

The Energy 202: 'Zombie' arguments made by Trump officials at Bonn climate conference By Dino Grandoni November 15, 2017:

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Military Coup in Zimbabwe

There was a coup d'etat in Zimbabwe today. 

President Robert Mugabe, President of this nation since 1980, when it achieved full independence from Great Britain following a civil war against whites who maintained their minority rule when the nation was still known as Rhodesia, has been placed under house arrest. 

Troops are presently patrolling around the capital city of Harare. 

There was fighting leading up to all of this, and Mugabe, who is 93 years old, essentially had deteriorated from a national hero into a dictator during his long tenure, was trying to make sure that the presidency would remain within his family. Many opponents were not accepting this.

Zimbabwe's Mugabe 'under house arrest' after army takeover by BBC Africa, November 15, 2017:

Tim McGraw And Faith Hill Take a Rare Stand, and It Might Cost Them

Okay, let me say, straight away, that I am not the biggest fan of country music that you will ever meet. In fact, I rarely ever listen to it, and there are very few country music artists that I am a fan of.

Tim McGraw and Faith Hill are not my favorite country stars, either, although my ex-wife, as well as some friends (mostly women) were big fans.

That said, they have been hugely popular, and on top of the country music world for a very long time. In fact, some crowned them, unofficially, as the royal couple of country music.

Just lately, however, they might have compromised their own popularity by daring to speak their minds on a subject that many Americans feel is polarizing. As a result, they are potentially at risk of seeing their careers take a nose dive, similar to the way the Dixie Chicks basically dropped out of sight following their disparaging comments about then President George W. Bush.

The issue that they spoke out about? 

Gun control.

Faith Hill spoke out to Billboard, mentioning the Las Vegas mass shooting last month, and suggesting that the second amendment activists were going way too far in allowing assault weapons and de facto machine guns into the hands of potentially very dangerous people. Here is some of what she said (see link down below):

"In reference to the tragedy in Las Vegas, we knew a lot of people there," Hill told Billboard. "The doctors that treated the wounded, they saw wounds like you'd see in war. That's not right. Military weapons should not be in the hands of civilians. It's everyone's responsibility, including the government and the National Rifle Association, to tell the truth. We all want a safe country." 

"Look, I'm a bird hunter -- I love to wing-shoot," he said. "However, there is some common sense that's necessary when it comes to gun control. They want to make it about the Second Amendment every time it's brought up. It's not about the Second Amendment." 

"The stakes are too high to not disavow collusion with the NRA. Pull apart the threads of patriotism and lax gun laws that it has so subtly and maliciously intertwined. They are not the same," she wrote.

"Some people may burn your records or ask for refunds for tickets to your concerts," she continued. "Whatever. Find the strength of moral conviction, even if it comes with a price tag, which it will. Don't let them bully you into silence."

I am still not a huge fan of country music. However, I do have newfound respect for McGraw and Hill for speaking out at a time when many other prominent country musicians are very hesitant to do so, knowing how polarizing this issue is, as many country music fans would describe themselves as proud Republicans and gun rights activists.

Tim McGraw And Faith Hill Outrage Millions Of Americans After Latest Comments By Charles Roberts November 13, 2017:

America's Most Heavily Armed Man Discusses His Mass Arsenal

He is described as the "Most Armed Man in America," and that's saying something!

His name is gun shop owner Mel Bernstein, and he is a responsible, law-abiding gun owner.

Watch this video, and you might get the distinct impression that he also just happens to be a nutcase. But we don't want to think about that, do we?

His wife died by these weapons of mass destruction, but that does not dissuade him. Apparently, it did not even give him pause for thought. Just regrets that a television show about his collection was cancelled, that's all.

So, how can we expect the recent slate of shootings to faze a man like this? In this video, he shows us how to install the bump stock that Stephen Paddock, the Las Vegas killer, used last month in what wound up being the worst mass shooting in modern American history. He also passively shows us the types of guns used by the Columbine shooters. Frankly, he seems in good spirits while doing so in each case. In fact, you almost get the sense that he is having fun, and might be a little envious of the shooters.

In the aftermath of the Las Vegas mass shooting last month, business has been good. We have all heard statistics about how gun sales spike up every time that there is a major mass shooting in the United States. Most of the time, the media suggest that this is because people grab guns while they think they are available, because they all fear that the government is coming for their guns, although Bernstein himself seems to feel that there are other potential reasons for it (according to the ABC article by Michael Koenigs):

“They were only $185,” Bernstein said. “In two days [after the Oct. 1 Vegas attack], we sold all of them.”  His supply of eight bump stocks had previously been sitting on the shelf for eight months, he said.  

“Whatever the killer used, that’s what they want,” Bernstein, 71, said of his customers. “They want to feel the firepower. They want to have the gun just like that to show people.”

He went on to add:

“We’ve been selling more guns in the last three weeks than we have in the last eight months.”   

Bernstein himself seems to feel that people want to feel that kind of firepower that he assumes mass shooters feel in the act of their crimes. That, in other words, they kind of fantasize about what it might be like to do that themselves. And when you consider that he is talking about a significant jump in the sale of these things, and if we assume that he also might be on to something, then quite a few people who so far have only fantasized about committing these atrocities at least took a big step to getting closer to realizing those dark fantasies.

Not an especially comforting thought, is it?

It all almost seems like a joke to him. For Bernstein, tragedies like those that happened in Las Vegas, or in Sutherland Springs, are good business. And indeed, Bernstein is himself a popular figure in America's gun society. Those who are strong advocates think of him in humorous terms, as well, even giving him the nickname of "Dragon Man." Indeed, he might just be the most heavily armed private citizen in the nation, with literally millions of dollars worth of arms.

But would you want to live next to a man with these kinds of weapons readily at his disposal? Would you want to live in the same town as him? Would you want your children attending a school that this man lives near?

Because I sure wouldn't.

And if indeed, some day, he takes this mass arsenal of his and goes crazy, just snaps and starts hating people enough to start killing them en masse (which he says somewhere in this video can happen pretty easily)?

Well, then we have to hope that a good guy with a gun will get lucky and kill him before he gets blasted by something in this guy's unbelievable arsenal. Hope the good guy with the gun does not get mowed down by one of his machine guns or flame throwers, or gets run down by one of his military vehicles.

In all seriousness, someday we're going to see a mass shooting involving outright military vehicles, perhaps even a tank. Maybe then, people will start to admit that there should be a limit to all of this nonsense.

But only maybe, because, you know, 'Murica and freedom and shit, ya know?

Here is the article that I used in writing this post, particularly the quotes:

What the 'most armed man in America' has to say about mass shootings by Michael Koenigs, Nov 9, 2017:

Yet Another Mass Shooting, Part 2

The last time that I posted a blog entry with this heading - just a few days ago, really - it barely received any views. However, my idea behind it is to mock this notion of Americans accepting these ridiculous, insane events as somehow a new normality that we just have to accept, because that implies these kinds of things losing their shock value. It also suggests that we really should not give too much thought about these kinds of happenings.

You might not have heard about this one, because it did not make quite the news that mass shootings with more victims tends to.

Still, there was another mass shooting yesterday, this time in remote northern California. Four people were killed, not including the gunman, although he was shot dead by police. 

What does it say about our country, about our society, that such an insane news story as this does not even make the major headlines? I mentioned this before, hoping to be wrong, but it really does seem that these days, mass shootings do not even get much of a blip on the national radar unless they reach a certain level of fatalities. Years ago, this would have dominated the news cycle, and we would have serious discussions on this topic. But these days, it seems that this is unofficially classified as a minor mass shooting, and thus, will not qualify as one of the major national news stories.

Seriously! I heard about this almost by accident through a Facebook post. And when I checked the news, the headlines were dominated by stories about President Trump, and some other news stories. I specifically had to look for California news before stories started showing up about this.

Think about that. These kinds of events have become so much accepted as the new normal in this country, that an event like this, where someone who clearly has mental issues decides to take his gun and shoot a bunch of people (this began at the shooter's home, and spread to seven locations in total, apparently) is buried behind more sensational news headlines about President Trump.

And let's be clear: Donald Trump has nothing of worth to say about something like this, or about much of anything else, really. To me, he is fluff news stories, because he is a fake president. Stories like this can occur, but they get in the way of him dominating headlines, so he tries to wait patiently until the next opportunity to shock people, to generate major news stories.

Here is another sign of this new normal: school officials heard the shooting, which was less than a mile away from the school, and immediately locked down the school. Authorities are crediting this for preventing a much worse tragedy, one that perhaps would indeed have dominated headlines.

For what it is worth, my heart goes out to the victims and their families. Let us hope that we finally solve this problem of far too many tragedies involving gun violence here in the United States. 

At Least 4 Victims Killed After Shooting At School, Other Locations In California Facebook Twitter Email November 14, 20171:57 PM ET  Camila Domonoske square 2017 CAMILA DOMONOSKE Twitter  Richard Gonzales RICHARD GONZALES

Tuesday, November 14, 2017

Tuesday November 14th Sports Update

Italy Will Not Be in World Cup 2018!!

No, that is not a misprint! 

The Italian national team, one of the most successful professional sports teams in history, have been eliminated from the World Cup before they ever got there!

That's right. The team that has been, arguably, the most successful European national team, and certainly one of the top three national teams in history, has failed to even qualify for the World Cup tournament in Russia next month!

Italy has won four World Cup titles overall, tied with Germany for the second most overall, and one shy of Brazil's record of five world championships.

But there will be absolutely no chance that they add to that elite hardware in next year's tournament, because the unthinkable happened, and Italy failed to qualify. That was because they were held to a scoreless tie in the San Siro stadium against Sweden, who had beaten the Italians, 1-0, in Sweden. Thus, Sweden moves on, at the expense of Italy.

This marks the first time in sixty years that the Italian national team failed to even qualify for the World Cup tournament.

As a result of this truly stunning failure, Italy now joins a growing list of surprising teams to have failed to qualify. Some of the other big names include the Netherlands - another traditional European powerhouse - and the United States. I have to say that seeing the United States fail to qualify was surprising, but not as surprising as seeing the Netherlands fail to qualify. But both of those pale by comparison to the shock value of seeing Italy fail to qualify!

Of course, football/soccer is like a religion in Italy, so you can only imagine the strong reactions to this, which is being viewed as a national humiliation and an outrage!

Just how badly are they taking it in Italy right now?

Take a look at this article:

‘This is the apocalypse’: Italian press mourns nation’s World Cup exit by Guardian Sports, 14 Novembre, 2017:

Carolina Panthers Crush Miami Dolphins on Monday Night Football

This was yet another game that pretty much went the way most of us pictured it.

The Panthers, a 6-3 team entering this game, fighting to stay l n the heels of the red hot New Orleans Saints in the NFC South division, hosted the 4-4 Miami Dolphins, a team that had lost a couple in a row, and seemed to be teetering on the edge of complete irrelevance. 

And Carolina was able to get the early edge. I tuned in just before the half, as the Panthers capitalized on a turnover and managed to get a touchdown, to turn a tight 10-7 game into a decisive 17-7 halftime lead.

Things just got worse for the Dolphins from there, as the Panthers completely dominated the Finns the rest of the way. It was a blowout, and had to be demoralizing to the quickly fading Dolphins, as the Panthers went on to score a huge 45-21 win! Carolina remains one of the elite teams in the NFC, while the Dolphins continue the trend of seeming AFC East contenders challenging the Patriots early in the season, only to fade later on. This season, it seems that each of these other AFC East franchises - the Bills, the Jets, and yes, the Dolphins - are fading fast, at precisely the time that New England seems to be finding themselves.

Some things never seem to change.