Thursday, December 19, 2013

Why I can't stand "Duck Dynasty"

First the disclaimer: I don't watch the show. But I've seen enough of it to know I can't stand it.

My wife has been telling me for a while that the Robertson clan are a homophobic and misogynistic lot, especially the father, Phil, the "Duck Commander" himself. I guess that cat is out of the bag now.

Big surprise.

Anyway, even without all that (and the incredibly disgusting reaction), I was out. Why? Because this show celebrates ignorance and stupidity. These clowns aren't stupid, nor ignorant (save for some obvious areas). They have college degrees. They themselves are the "elites" they so despise as Huff Post notes:

While there is nothing sinister about succeeding in business, this is not any rags to riches story of everyday familiar "bumpkins" benefiting from the perceived enhanced mobility of American society. It is a well planned out, and relatively rare group of astute individuals who have achieved uncommon financial success.

But rather than presenting a true picture of how hard work, education, and business savvy can be roads to success, the show instead glorifies poor language skills, ignorance, laziness, and poverty, crafting a contrived story of "common folk" making it big through implied dumb luck. It's all bullshit and it's insulting. The right-wing, Tea-Party, and backwoods Confederates who love the show are the people who should really be offended. The Robertsons are mocking them, much in the same way that Dan Whitney ("Larry the Cable Guy") wasn’t actually trying to appeal to rednecks, but to mock them.

Obviously, portraying the real story of a college educated millionaire chief executive of a multi-million dollar corporation is not the way to make a reality show - not if you want ratings.

Tuesday, May 7, 2013

A line crossed

For many years, I have overlooked the NRA stepping outside the gun-rights issue. They fall into the same trap as the media, where they assume the gun-rights issue is exclusively linked to a right-wing agenda and the Republican party platform. Every time they send me another right-wing tirade, totally unrelated to gun-rights, I have to will myself to let it go. With the appointment of James Porter as its new President I simply can't do it any more.

As a parting shot, I do want to defend the NRA to a point, or at least explain the history that I recall about their path toward a harder-line. Way back in the eighties, the NRA tried a more moderate approach. What you always hear about the NRA is that they should "compromise" more and accept "common sense laws." They tried that back then and each time they "compromised" the result was that one law was never enough. Every new regulation was looked at as a "first step" by the anti-gun side. The NRA compromised but the anti-gun side never did. They simply took each new law as progress and wanted more "compromise" by the NRA. This led to the NRA membership pushing back. The NRA membership wanted an end to what they saw as a steady erosion of gun rights. The NRA members pushed for a more hard-line and no-compromise stance. So those that now claim the NRA should compromise more, should recall that when the NRA was doing so, it wasn't a two-way street and it is the members of the NRA, the supporters of gun-rights, that asked the NRA to be more hard-line. We got here because the anti-gun side refused to compromise and simply wanted to pile on more bans and regulations of no particular value in reducing gun violence and suggesting a path toward an eventual ban of all private gun ownership.

So, NRA: Talk about gun rights issues. Be hard-line. Fine. But I can't abide the NRA stepping outside gun rights issues and attaching to an overall right-wing agenda. 31% of Democrats support gun-rights. More people identify as Democrat than Republican. An equal amount or more identify as Independent. The deeper the NRA goes down an exclusively Republican path, the smaller their numbers. By excluding Democrats and Independents, the NRA is cutting out nearly 50% of gun-rights supporters... it's foolishness.

For the record, I still support gun rights. I'm just going to have to do so through other means than the NRA-ILA.

Monday, April 29, 2013

Yes Virginia, Reddit is full of shit

For me, I found a slight sense of satisfaction from the beating Reddit took for the r/FindBostonBombers subreddit in which Reddit users attempted to solve the Boston bombing, to embarrassing effect. I have been of the opinion that Reddit, and the whole "crowdsourced" band wagon at large, have been overdue for a serious reality check. However, I realize even this fiasco isn't going to slow down Reddit or the momentum for "crowdsourced" information.

There's an interesting psychology in how people tend to trust sites like Reddit that reminds me of conspiracy theory psychology known as “motivated reasoning:"

The Millennial Generation (age 18-30) rely on user-generated content (USG) to make decisions. Online opinions [like those on Reddit] have a greater impact on their decisions than recommendations from friends and families. By contrast, Boomers (born between roughly 1946 and 1964) are almost twice as likely to favor recommendations from friends and family over UGC.  

The popularity of Reddit (in particular) shows just how badly this has gotten, how much people mistrust mainstream information sources, even when the beloved "crowdsourced" information proves to be so bad.

I don't see that changing after the Boston Marathon witch hunt. This is a deep mistrust. Traditional media has got work to do to get back in the good graces of younger people.

For my part, I think this episode provides good reason to take a second look at the trend toward assuming because data is crowdsourced, it must be accurate. And further, in case you were still not sure, it's time to accept the truth that Reddit is full of shit.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Outside Capital Hill, Gun control is not as partisan as you might expect

One of the points I wanted to make in my previous post on this subject is that gun control and gun rights lives a bit outside the typical left/right Democrat/Republican lines. Advocates on all sides seem to miss this. I often find that people that know I support gun rights usually assume that I also must hate Barack Obama and love Ronald Reagan. Likewise, people that know some of my left-leaning positions assume that I must also be against gun rights and support more gun control. Neither side gets it.

Let me tell you a little secret: they are living among you. Yes, there are lot of people that aren't going on Piers Morgan, or Fox News, or wherever, that are, excuse the pun, gun shy about new gun laws. They may not shout it from rooftops, but, quietly, they are gun rights advocates or at least they look at gun control legislation with a critical eye. These are soccer moms, grandmothers, and average people that perhaps have a gun at home for defense or think their daughter or mother should have the right to do so.  They might not be staunch NRA supporters. They might even watch Jon Stewart and Stephen Colbert. They aren't the "gun-nuts" you see on TV. They don't consider themselves part of the problem and they certainly don't support laws that make them out as criminals all of a sudden.

Nate Silver noted that "the profile of gun owners defies some of the stereotypes that urban liberals might assign to them." For example, gun ownership is highest among the middle class, regular old every-day folks, and it is not tied to being religiously devout.

The question on gun ownership was dropped from the 2012 national exit poll, but looking at the 2008 data above, note that 42% of all respondents said they own guns - and 31% of Democrats. That's a big number and it's one of the main reasons many politicians try to stay away from the gun control issue. It's not the "fringe gun nut" issue that it is portrayed as. There are a lot of "closet" gun rights supporters. Casting anyone that owns guns as an uneducated, unenlightened, "nut job" at best, if not an outright menace, can make people not want to be outspoken about their gun ownership.

Let me put it this way: At least one of your neighbors, on one side or the other, has guns. That's what a real gun owner looks like. Do they come across as crazy "gun nuts" to you?

Wednesday, January 9, 2013

Why the gun debate is so difficult

It's easy to think that a debate about firearms and gun-control would not be that different from anything else. There are many divisive issues after all. And, at the end of the day, unlike many other issues, we all want the same thing, right, for gun violence to end?

However, there are a number of inconvenient truths that make the gun topic particularly formidable, especially in the toxic partisan climate and the "short attention span" world of 140-character quips and sound-bites in which we find ourselves.

I present some of these factors below, in no particular order. While I'm an admitted, and unapologetic gun-rights advocate (and I consider myself a reasoned one), I'm not trying to argue a particular side here. I'm simply trying to point out, after years of studying this issue, some of the common misunderstandings that tend to convolute and undermine the debate itself. While this isn't an attempt to be a "by the numbers" treatise, I have used some numbers below to illustrate the various points and I've attempted to fact-check all of them. If I got anything off by a mile, let me know.

One could perhaps say that individually many of the following points are not unique to the gun debate, but I assert that together they significantly amplify the challenges.

It's personal

Guns are not an abstract idea, like 'a social movement' or 'economic policy'. Guns are real and personal.

Gun-control advocates like to present the image of a tiny minority-fringe of "gun nuts" holding back the hordes of "sane people" but the reality is that gun ownership and suport for gun-rights transcends the "gun nuts" that we see on TV. Real gun owners keep a much lower profile but the numbers show that gun ownership and gun use is widespread. 47 percent of Americans told Gallup in 2011 that they had at least one gun at home (1). Even the lowest numbers I could find show that 32% of U.S. households own guns -- admittedly a decline from the 1973 high of almost 50% but certainly more than a fringe-element (2). Another 2011 Gallup poll showed that a much smaller minority, only 26 percent of Americans, favored a gun ban (3).

This is not a conflict of NRA vs. politicians or Fox News vs. MSNBC. It's real people who are personally and directly affected and interested in this discussion.

It's part of the Bill of Rights

This is the biggest inconvenient truth of them all. We can debate the intent and meaning of the second amendment, the point here is simply that whatever your feelings about it, any laws or other restrictions on guns must pass a constitutional test. We cannot simply wish that away.

It's emotional

Guns are loud and scary. From my perspective that's a good thing. We should be afraid of them. It bothers me that TV and movies make them seem fun. Guns can kill and mame in horrific ways. They are not toys. This is why there is great responsibility in their handling and use. This is why I encourage all parents to take their children (when they are old enough) to a good range, not to traumatize them, not necessarily even to shoot, but to see that in real life, from a safe distance, that real guns are loud and scary and that real people, unlike what we see in movies and on TV, take safety VERY seriously.

Seeing what bad people do with guns brings out strong emotions. We see it on both sides. Guns seem evil to some people and they believe that anyone who owns a a gun must also be evil. Likewise, there are those on the pro-gun category that believe anyone opposing guns is a threat to their personal safety, if not to the constitution and America itself, and therefore such people must likewise be evil. Such emotions drive irrational thoughts and ruin any chance for actual debate.

Another thing about the emotional aspect of this debate is that it seems to foster a sense of privilege on both sides to denigrate and mock the other. This needs to stop if we want to get anywhere.

It's full of myths, distortions, and fallacies

This could be said of most contentious issues, I suppose, but it seems particularly pervasive when it comes to guns. This is not unique to one side or the other. There certainly are probably cases where people are intentionally distorting facts or propagating mythology, especially from those on the extreme ends of the spectrum; but I think more often it's simply a matter of people seeing what they want to see, probably often as a result of the emotional issue above. In the end, these myths and fallacies do not advance the discussion.

It's uniquely American

America was both literally and figuratively founded and forged with guns. Guns have been part of the American landscape from the beginning and are deeply ingrained in American culture. There is no other part of the free world where that is the case to the degree it is in America. Americans own as many as one-third of the guns on the planet (4) and there were 310 million nonmilitary firearms in the United States as of 2009 (5), almost as many guns as people (6).

You cannot simply compare the situation in America with European or Asian countries, pulling out the issue of guns alone, as though everything else is equal. It's not.

We're not as smart as we think we are

When we are are 15, anyone over 20 is an idiot. When we are 25, anyone over 35 just doesn't get it. And so on. It's some kind of fucked up human nature that we think we are unique and everything and everyone that came before us must have been dumber than we are now. Hey kids, guess what? Your Condescending Wonka meme or renowned tweet is nowhere near as intelligent, insightful (or even funny) as you think it is -- oh, and timeless, yeah right.

Likewise, we discount great minds and great civilizations of the past and somehow believe they were foolish or unable to grasp the issues of our day. Depending on how you count, there have been 50 or more centuries of civilization in human history. This presumption that we are really that unique is so incredibly naive and arrogant... what can I say but OMG. LOL.

Well intentioned people and all that...

It crosses party lines

We often simply toss the "gun" issue in with an overall left/right agenda, assuming the pro-gun-rights position implies support generally for a conservative agenda and that the anti-gun position implies support for a left/liberal agenda. The reality is that ones position on gun-rights and gun-control often lives outside that box, standing alone from the usual left or right agenda issues.

In more crude terms, people assume if you support gun-rights then you must also hate Obama and that if you support gun-control then you must love big government and higher taxes. In reality, it's far more nuanced than that. One of the problems is that the loudest and most zealous voices we hear tend to be extreme and attached to either a left or right agenda. This is one of the things that annoys me the most about the NRA, as a (somewhat reluctant) member. They assume because I support gun-rights, then I must also want to hear about all sorts of non-gun-related right-wing politics. I don't. I have exactly the same problem with Jon Stewart. He also assumes that since I support gun-rights, I must be a right-wing G.O.P. supporter on all kinds of other issues.

This is a problem for the law makers (politicians) because it isn't a clean and simple G.O.P vs. Democrat issue so it's risky territory. This is a problem for us, the people with a stake in this debate, because the politicians are going to be the people arguing this debate, which could make for strange bedfellows.

It's extremely messy

This is not an issue where there is a magical "quick fix" and in our modern short attention-span culture, that is not something we want to hear. Ask the deficit... or poverty... or education.

It's not absolute. While there are probably people that would like to see an absolute end to all private gun ownership in America, that's not the position of most gun-control advocates. Likewise, in the real world, there are gun-rights advocates that will entertain all kinds of restrictions. However, these moderate perspectives don't make headlines. We speak as if there are no restrictions in place now, by the way, which of course is not true at all.


Like I said, we really all want the same thing, reducing gun violence. The devil is in the details.

Like everything else in life, it's a trade-off, a compromise. There are costs and risks associated with private gun ownership -- but there are also costs and risks of not having it too. We have to decide what the balance should be for us.

We should demand a thoughtful and reasoned dialog.