Thursday, January 31, 2013

The "Christ-like" response to being a class-a schmuck?

Well, if you ask Pastor Alois Bell, the Christ-like response is to demand that the person who outed you for your grade-a schmuckery be fired.

The incident first occurred when Pastor Bell refused to pay an 18% tip per Applebee 8-party or larger policy. Rather than pay the tip, she graciously crossed it out, added "Pastor" to her name, and declared, "I give God 10% why do you get 18"?:

Now, a purveyor of God's love to mankind might have taken into account that Applebee's pays its employees less than minimum wage, and tips are what puts food in a server's mouth. As the waitress involved explains it:

“We make $3.50 an hour. Most of my paychecks are less than pocket change because I have to pay taxes on the tips I make,” she explains. “After sharing my tips with hosts, bussers, and bartenders, I make less than $9/hr on average, before taxes."
Pastor Alois Bell
 And while it may not seem "Christ-like" to stiff a $3.50 an hour employee a $6.29 tip for your large party, and even less "Christ-like" to sanctimoniously absolve yourself of any need to do so by pointing out that you give "God" (who doesn't pay rent, or buy groceries, or pay utility bills, so has no need of money himself; so, in reality, not God, but those who claim, like Ms. Bell, to represent God) money, Pastor Bell's righteous indignation at being asked to pay the tip was only the beginning.

Upon discovering that her Ebenezer-Scrooge-meets-Mr.-Brocklehurst behavior made the rounds on the internet, the good Pastor showed exactly the type of Christian charity and love that one might expect: she demanded firings.
After a copy of her Applebee's receipt began circulating online yesterday, Pastor Alois Bell of the St. Louis-based Truth in the World Deliverance Ministries phoned up the restaurant and asked to have everyone involved fired.
While privately demanding that everyone and their mother be fired, in interviews Pastor Bell has called the incident a "lapse in my character and judgment" that "has been blown out of proportion. "My heart is really broken," she says. "I've brought embarrassment to my church and ministry."

I'll not disagree with that...but it appears to be less of a "lapse" and more of a "pattern" of distinctly un-"Christ-like" behavior with the good pastor.

Thursday, January 24, 2013

New Mexico rep would charge women with a felony for aborting rape fetus

Yup, you read that right. The bill, introduced by Cathrynn Brown (R), would make aborting a rape fetus a felony, for the victim, the doctor, etc.:

Under HB 206, if a woman ended her pregnancy after being raped, both she and her doctor would be charged with a felony punishable by up to 3 years in state prison:
Tampering with evidence shall include procuring or facilitating an abortion, or compelling or coercing another to obtain an abortion, of a fetus that is the result of criminal sexual penetration or incest with the intent to destroy evidence of the crime.

So, let me see if I've got this right...a woman is expected to carry, for 9 months, and then give birth/be responsible for a rape fetus because it is "evidence"? Compelling a victim of rape to endure pregnancy and motherhood in order for her rapist to receive justice -- or else be a felon thereafter -- is a laughably thinly veiled attempt to force women to carry rape babies. DNA doesn't lie -- nor does it need a pregnancy to continue uninterrupted to be collected. Since when do we criminalize medical procedures for victims of violent crime so that the "evidence" is not disturbed? And, of course, the kicker here is that, in order to save the rape fetus (every fertilized egg is a person! and all of that), the law in fact treats a fetus like an object: evidence, not a "person". (Rather like the Catholic hospital that argued that it could not be held responsible in a wrongful death case because fetuses aren't people.)

The GOP's rape politics of 2012 proved a disastrous endeavor, so much so that one anti-abortion group is teaching Republicans how to avoid saying what they mean tailor their rape talk in more suitable ways, and at least one pollster has advised them to shut up about it altogether...but it appears some Republicans missed that memo.

Saturday, January 19, 2013

Neil Finn's Song of the Lonely Mountain

So I've been listening to this a lot lately (available for purchase at Amazon for $.89...haven't checked iTunes, but it's probably around the same. So if you like it, remember that pirating doesn't keep artists employed :) ), and I really love this song (it's the credit song to The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey). I have the extended version, and both are quite good (extended adds longer instrumentals at the end).

I really need to re-read this book...

Journal News removes gun owner info from map

The Journal News recently decided to remove gun owner details from the widely criticized map:

The maps remained online late Friday but could no longer be manipulated to find names and addresses.
State Sen. Greg Ball, the most vocal opponent of the posting, said, "Thank God The Journal News has finally realized the error in their judgment and done the right thing. ... I am proud to have passed legislation keeping The Journal News from doing this ever again."
On Tuesday, as part of a gun control bill, the state Legislature passed and Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed new regulations that give permit holders several ways to opt out of the public record.
Applicants can ask to be exempted because they are police officers or served on criminal-case juries or are victims of domestic violence. They also can just say they might be subjected to harassment.
For reasons I've explained before, I had serious reservations as to the wisdom or benefit of printing these details. I am glad that the Journal News is doing the responsible thing here, particularly in light of the fact that  at least two homes on the map have been robbed since the map went online -- in one case, the burglars could not get the gun safe open (the 70-something year old owner was away from home), and in another, the gun safes and permits were stolen. (Correlation, of course, is not causation, but it is a reasonable supposition that, if someone who does not object to breaking the law wants and cannot legally obtain guns, such a map would be a very useful tool.)

Friday, January 18, 2013

Collateral Damage in the War for Fetus-rights: unexpected victims of pro-life zeal

Abortion is one of those enduring points of contention in our political landscape. We may rail for a season about war, water boarding, gun control, voter fraud, or debt ceilings, but there seems to be an enduring passion in this nation to revisit Roe v. Wade. Sure, the decision is already there; but that doesn't stop people from demanding that it be overthrown or legislated into oblivion. There's no denying that the pro-life base is fervently committed to their cause, arguably even more so than many in the pro-choice community. After all, abortion is legal; to many people's minds, that's the end of that. Not so to the pro-life community. The last few years have seen literally hundreds of anti-abortion bills pushed throughout the country. They have seen the return of social conservatism on the national scale. Republican presidential contenders were tripping over themselves this past election season to convince voters that they were the most opposed to abortion. And anti-abortion protests are as alive and well (and I use the term lightly) as they ever were.

Oftentimes, in the zeal to win over voter bases and earn Heaven Points, the implications of these moves are ignored or even embraced. The people who suffer are ignored as more or less collateral damage in the fight to win rights for fetuses. But make no mistake. People do suffer, and even die, because of pro-lifers' efforts, here and in other nations, to establish the inviolable rights of the fetus, regardless of who they hurt in the process.

It's a given that whatever prompts a woman to seek an abortion – be it a difficult or easy choice for her – would be of little consequence to those who consider it murder. Her comfort, peace of mind, future, and even ability to adequately provide for other children aren't as important as preventing what the pro-life doctrine considers murder. While that's a discussion for another post, I take it for granted hereafter that those motivations and reasons are beyond consideration by the pro-life community (since they are).
But one of the truly strangest side effects of some pro-life activity is the impact it has on women who miscarry. These measures are generally aimed at women who are attempting to terminate a pregnancy that involves a live fetus -- because, according to the pro-life POV, this is murder, and little (in some cases, nothing, not even the woman's very life) justifies that choice. But in practice, they often impact women (and men) who very much wanted to carry a child to term: grieving would-be parents, who have lost a wanted member of their family. People who should, according to the pro-life narrative of parenting and family, be the object of sympathy and kindness. Not when they're collateral damage in the fight to eradicate abortion, however.

For example, consider the experience, at the hands of pro-life protesters who frequent the clinic, of one couple in Alabama:

whose baby had died en utero [and] was coming to the clinic to have it removed. In an awful coincidence, that was the day, Watters said, when the pro-life demonstrators collected a children’s choir on the sidewalk to sing “Happy Birthday Dead Baby” to anyone driving in.
“Will had to physically restrain the father,” Watters said, nodding to one of the men marching in a pro-choice jacket. “And by the time she walked through them, she was an emotional wreck.”

This is a clinic where at least one protester has been arrested for assault. In such a case, there seems to have been no thought spared whatever for the circumstance that drove people to seek abortion: the protesters assume that the person requesting an abortion is simply a callous baby murder. And if she happens to be a grieving mother, there with her grieving husband? Well, collateral damage. There can be no thought spared, or compassion given, for the “enemy”, whether that is the woman who can't afford another child or the woman whose pregnancy ended in a heart wrenching death. This is a deep running problem in much of the pro-life movement. People who need or want abortions do not matter; the fetus, dead or alive, is what matters. The woman's circumstance ceases to matter. It used to be that a woman's bodily autonomy was dismissed out of hand, but now there are no extenuating circumstances that justify abortion, even within the very narrow pro-life parameters. If you get an abortion, you are the enemy. Period.

But individual experiences at the hands of sanctimonious, callous protesters pale in comparison to the legislation that has been introduced. There were the fetal remain bills in Michigan, which classified fetal tissue after 10 weeks as a “dead body” – meaning that women who miscarried now had to consider whether to cremate, bury or inter a 10 week old fetus. There was the bill in Georgia (that eventually passed, after adding an exception for “medically futile” pregnancies) that, in its original form would have forced women to carry dead fetuses to term. The argument for this, from Georgia Representative Terry England, was that:

Life gives us many experiences…I’ve had the experience of delivering calves, dead and alive. Delivering pigs, dead or alive. It breaks our hearts to see those animals not make it.

In other words, if livestock could do it, women can do it too: nevermind that carrying a dead thing around inside you is by no means healthy. Pigs can do it. So can you, ladies! This is only just collateral damage, in that its supporters acknowledged beforehand that a woman whose fetus expired through no desire of her own would still be forced to carry that fetus' dead body around until such time as her body expelled it. But that was, shall we call it, an added benefit: the desire was to curb abortion of live fetuses. Legislators like England were perfectly happy to force women to carry dead human tissue inside their wombs, but it wasn't the goal of the bill. Just collateral damage.

The view of women and others connected to pregnancy as secondary concerns to the fetus creates perhaps the most damaging collateral damage when it permeates medicine. Such is the case in many Catholic hospitals, where so-called “heart beat” rules are in place – rules that dictate that, so long as there is a fetal heartbeat, physicians cannot interfere with a pregnancy (even if it is doomed, and waiting imperils the life of the mother). The following example from a report in the American Journal of Public Health in 2008 illustrates the problem rather well:

Because the fetus was still alive, they wouldn't intervene. And she was hemorrhaging, and they called me and wanted to transport her, and I said, “It sounds like she's unstable, and it sounds like you need to take care of her there.” And I was on a recorded line, I reported them as an EMTALA [Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act] violation. And the physician [said], “This isn't something that we can take care of.” And I [said], “Well, if I don't accept her, what are you going to do with her?” [He answered], “We'll put her on a floor [i.e., admit her to a bed in the hospital instead of keeping her in the emergency room]; we'll transfuse her as much as we can, and we'll just wait till the fetus dies.”

In some cases, as above, other physicians can and do accept the patient (despite the risk such a delay presents to the woman's life). In others, this is not an option. One physician quoted in the study tells another story:

I'll never forget this; it was awful—I had one of my partners accept this patient at 19 weeks. The pregnancy was in the vagina. It was over… . And so he takes this patient and transferred her to [our] tertiary medical center, which I was just livid about, and, you know, “we're going to save the pregnancy.” So of course, I'm on call when she gets septic, and she's septic to the point that I'm pushing pressors on labor and delivery trying to keep her blood pressure up, and I have her on a cooling blanket because she's 106 degrees. And I needed to get everything out. And so I put the ultrasound machine on and there was still a heartbeat, and [the ethics committee] wouldn't let me because there was still a heartbeat. This woman is dying before our eyes. I went in to examine her, and I was able to find the umbilical cord through the membranes and just snapped the umbilical cord and so that I could put the ultrasound—“Oh look. No heartbeat. Let's go.” She was so sick she was in the [intensive care unit] for about 10 days and very nearly died… . She was in DIC [disseminated intravascular coagulopathy]… . Her bleeding was so bad that the sclera, the white of her eyes, were red, filled with blood… . And I said, “I just can't do this. I can't put myself behind this. This is not worth it to me.” That's why I left.

Anyone familiar with the details surrounding the needless tragedy of Savita Halappanavar's death can get a pretty good idea of how close the patient in the story above was to needlessly dying. In this case, the “collateral damage” would have been fatal; instead, the patient suffered excessively, and very nearly died (to say nothing of the costs that such a 10 day hospital stay would have incurred). Why? Because of a rigid set of rules designed to protect the fetus (even when there is no hope for its survival) regardless of who is killed or nearly killed in the process. The mother's death would simply be collateral damage in this war to protect fetal rights.

Enter the courts
But it's not only women who miscarry or those seeking abortions who suffer under efforts designed to look out for the rights of the fetus with no thought to others. Consider, for instance, the case of Laura Pemberton, who:

was in active labor at her home in Florida. Doctors, aware of this, believed that she was posing a risk to the life of her unborn child by attempting to have a vaginal birth after having had a previous cesarean surgery (VBAC). The doctors sought a court order to force her to undergo this surgical procedure. A sheriff went to Pemberton’s home, took her into custody, strapped her legs together, and forced her to go to a hospital, where an emergency hearing was under way to determine the state’s interest in protecting the fetus still inside her. While lawyers argued on behalf of the fetus, Pemberton and her husband, who were not afforded the opportunity to be represented by counsel, “were allowed to express their views” as she was being prepared for surgery. The judge presiding over the case compelled Pemberton to undergo the operation, which she had refused and believed to be unnecessary. When she later sued for violation of her civil rights, a trial-level federal district court ruled that the state’s interest in preserving the life of the fetus outweighed Pemberton’s rights under the First, Fourth, and Fourteenth Amendments. Pemberton subsequently gave birth vaginally to three more children, calling into question the medical predictions of harm from a VBAC on which the court had relied.

The mother's rights simply didn't matter, if they were deemed by others to be at odds with the interest of the fetus. Nevermind that, despite the wishes of both mother and father, physicians were forcing surgery on Ms. Pemberton. Her rights were simply collateral damage when they interfered with the perceived best interests of the fetus – down to the point of taking her into custody and strapping her legs together until the surgery could be performed.

In some cases, the collateral damage in the pro-life fight for the fetus is the fetus itself. Consider Martina Greywind's case:

Martina Greywind, a twenty-eight-year-old homeless Native American woman from Fargo, North Dakota, was arrested when she was approximately twelve weeks pregnant. She was charged with reckless endangerment, based on the claim that by inhaling paint fumes she was creating a substantial risk of serious bodily injury or death to her unborn child. After spending approximately two weeks in the Cass County Jail, Greywind was able to obtain release for a medical appointment. At that appointment Greywind obtained an abortion, despite widely publicized efforts by abortion opponents to persuade her to carry the pregnancy to term. Following the abortion, Greywind filed a motion to dismiss the charges. The state agreed to a dismissal: “Defendant has made it known to the State that she has terminated her pregnancy. Consequently, the controversial legal issues presented are no longer ripe for litigation.” According to news reports, the prosecutor in the case stated that since Greywind had had an abortion, it was “no longer worth the time or expense to prosecute her” (Orlando Sentinel 1992)

Such laws are designed with the goal of punishing those who would harm a fetus, presumably with the longterm aim of protecting fetuses. But in practice, Ms. Greywind was legally better off terminating her pregnancy than continuing it. In other words, the pro-life zeal to punish anyone who would even inadvertently harm the fetus in practice convinced Ms. Greywind to obtain an abortion. Thus the exact opposite of the very thing that, presumably, was the goal – protecting the fetus – was achieved. The fetus was the collateral damage.

And then there's personhood. Paul Ryan, Todd Akin, and others have supported personhood on a national scale, and states around the nation have entertained similar measures. Personhood would define a human egg and its subsequent forms, from the moment of conception on, to be fully human, and extended full rights under the law as such. The potential for “collateral damage” is tremendous here. For starters, it would encompass everything we've already talked about: no medical procedure that would destroy an zygote, embryo or fetus would be permissible, as such would be killing a “person”. Imagine a world where you could not terminate a doomed ectopic pregnancy, but must instead let a woman die because ending that ectopic pregnancy would be “murder”. That is precisely what personhood would entail. It is exactly what personhood has entailed for women in countries where such measures are already in place – like the Dominican teenager who was denied leukemia treatment until it was too late, or Savita Halappanavar in Ireland who died of a blood infection after doctors refused to remove her dying fetus while there was still a heartbeat. These women (and girls), and their lives, were simply collateral damage to those who prioritize the personhood of the fetus above the personhood of women.

But the implications reach beyond the medical decisions of the mother. Today, if a minor person dies, it is a legal matter. Investigation ensues, and a cause of death must be established that absolves parents from responsibility. Otherwise, they tend to find themselves charged. If a fetus is a person, and a woman miscarries, she will then find herself in the same spot as a parent whose child dies – except that that “person” exists inside of her, and any harm to it is more likely to be pinned at her door. A woman who miscarries, then, will have to prove that she did not in some way precipitate the death of that “person”.

And these are a handful of the examples I've found in news articles or journal papers that I've stumbled across recently. The point that is particularly interesting to me is that the pro-life movement seems not to take into account, or, from a more cynical view, not to care, about the collateral damage their efforts create – no matter how loudly people decry the dangers, the personhood measures and anti-abortion measures continue. The Republican party in 2012 made no effort to include exceptions to its anti-abortion platform even for the life and health of the mother – to say nothing of rape and incest victims. The obsession with the rights of the fetus trump the rights of the mother and the father. Women can die, even if it the fetus dies as well; rape victims should be happy with their “gift from God”; and who can pass up singing “happy birthday dead baby” to a family whose baby just died? The rights of the fetus are sacrosanct. The means of conception doesn't matter; the mother's health and life doesn't matter. The right-to-life of the fetus is supreme.

On the other hand, if we're talking about the right-to-life of that fetus a few years down the road? Well, don't look to America's pro-life culture warriors for any help there. As anti-abortion advocate and pro-life darling Rick Santorum put it, the sick child's rights depend on the market return:

I sympathize with these compassionate cases. … I want your son to stay alive on much-needed drugs. Fact is, we need companies to have incentives to make drugs. If they don’t have incentives, they won’t make those drugs. We either believe in markets or we don’t.

As a fetus, you can kill your mom or destroy her health and the Santorums and LiveAction's of the world will be behind you all the way; but once you're out of the birth canal, you better pray that nothing's wrong. Because, in their world, you'll wind up collateral damage to the free market if you can't afford the medicine you need to stay alive. Which really is an interesting dilemma. Fetal life is All in All, sacrosanct and untouchable, and must be protected even if it destroys its mothers (and its own) in the process. But a mother's life can be sacrificed as collateral damage. A child's life can be sacrificed as collateral damage.

None of which seems very pro-life to me. But, hey, maybe that's another victim in this discussion – the desire to preserve actual life has been sacrificed on the altar of advancing particular religious and political views regarding fetuses. Beyond that goal, the rest is negotiable. Collateral damage, if you will.

The NRA targets the president's kids, and releases a shooting game for 4 year olds

In the PR equivalent of strapping a suicide vest on, this past week – exactly one month after the Newton massacre – the NRA released a shooting game designed for ages 4 and up. Part of the challenge was shooting coffin shaped targets, with points scored at head and heart levels. And this from an organization that thinks video games are to blame for mass shootings. But the cherry on this crap sundae came when the NRA released an ad that brings the president's children square into the center of the gun debate, by alleging that President Obama is just “an elitist hypocrite” who wants to prevent regular folks from having guards at their children's schools, while his children enjoy that privilege. Aside from the fact that it is apparently not even true that there are armed guards at the first children's school, and it is certainly not true that Obama opposes guards in schools (in fact, that is part of his solution to curb gun violence), this is a disturbing move on multiple levels.

First of all, there is the obvious: the president and his (or her) family is always alloted far greater privileges than the rest of us, due, in no small measure, to the fact that their danger is increased in far greater measure because of the president's station. This is hardly unique to the Obamas, nor would protection for the Obama children be out of the ordinary. The Bush girls, Chelsea Clinton, etc., have all benefited from this protection. There are perks to the presidency – protection by the secret service, use of Air Force One, etc., etc. There are also risks – like 30 threats a day. It's absurd to suggest that the experience of the president's family is in any measure on par with the experiences of the average family; at least, until such time as the average family faces 30 death threats a day, or has access to nuclear armament codes. Thus the First Family has need of Secret Service protection, and you and I don't. That's not elitism – that's the benefit of anonymity that we enjoy – and the president and his family cannot – thus necessitating the Secret Service protection. And, remember, the president is not saying that schools cannot have armed guards if they think it is necessary (he is, in fact, pushing a means for them to acquire those guards); and his children's school does not have armed security guards. Therefore, despite the NRA's very misleading claims, the only security difference between what is available to the Obama girls and other kids is the Secret Service.

That's the “are you freaking kidding me? That's your argument?” side of it. But what about the idea of bringing little girls, who have absolutely zero power to direct policy one way or another (they're too young to vote yet!), into the middle of a debate that is so heated that comparisons to Hitler and Mao are the polite responses (unlike the threats to “start killing people”, the Alex Jones rants, the protestations that our 10,000+ gun killings a year aren't a gun problem but a “demographic problem” [read: Ann Coulter is afraid when people whose skin color is darker than hers have guns], etc.)? Tempers are flaring, and much of the discussion about gun control is already extremely emotionally charged and downright absurd; and now we're going to bring the president's kids, and their safety, into it, by outright suggesting that Obama doesn't care if “your kids” get shot (he's even working to make it more likely, good citizen, by denying them protection!) but, “elitist hypocrite” that he is, he's going to protect his own?
Aren't you angry, good citizen? The president is trying to get your kids killed by denying them the basic protections he affords his own kids!
I mean, what could possibly go wrong with pushing that message? It's not like there's already people out there who hate and fear Obama, consider him to be Hitler/Stalin/Mao/the anti-Christ, constantly talk about his alleged “anti-American” views and plans, his supposed “hatred of white people”, etc., etc. Oh wait...I forgot about Fox News. Seriously, in such a climate, with so much fear and hatred, much of it racially based, surrounding this president's every actions, who could possibly come to the conclusion that dragging the Obama girls into this, as the daughters of an “elitist hypocrite” who wants to endanger everybody else's kids but protect his own, was a good idea? I am seriously flabbergasted by this. I can only hope that this was the result of the NRA having its collective head up its collective arse, rather than trying to bully the president by focusing the debate on his kids. Because that one would be really diabolical, but, frankly, it makes a lot more sense than anything else. And I truly, sincerely hope I'm wrong on that.

Rampant insensitivity (to say nothing of hypocrisy), such as releasing a shooting game for four year olds a month after 20 kids were murdered by a shooter (and your organization painted shooting games as one of the culprits in that tragedy), combined with rhetoric that can only serve to endanger innocent children is neither a mature nor a responsible approach to the gun control debate. It does absolutely nothing to cast the NRA as a reasonable entity, or to lend credibility to its position. It only trivializes tragedy, heats already heated rhetoric to potentially dangerous levels, and makes responsible gun owners seem absurd by association. As a representative of large numbers of responsible gun owners, the NRA owes its members more than that. And as a powerful voice in this discussion, the NRA owes our country more than that.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Gun owner targeted after name, info published

A follow up related to a previous post, about publishing the names and personal info of gun owners. One of the gun owners was burgled. Although the burglars were unable to access his guns because they were secured in a gun safe, that was their intention, and there are allegations that they targeted the gun owner because of the interactive "gun owner in your area" maps. Fortunately, no one was injured, but this could have been a very messy situation. If, for instance, the 70-something year old gun owner had been home yet unable to get to/open the safe in time; and unable to overpower multiple thieves.

Endangering law abiding people to make a political statement ("we don't like guns!") is irresponsible. Making the names and addresses of gun owners available with no more difficulty than browsing to your local newspaper's website is irresponsible; it serves a very limited legitimate purpose while opening law abiding citizens up to considerable risk.

Sunday, January 13, 2013

Imagine that! George Washington defended assault weapon ownership. (Or, misquotes, lies, and illogical arguments attributed to the Founders)

If you believe what you see floating around on the internet, George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin were staunch advocates of assault weapon (and, in some cases, unlimited weaponry) ownership. Should you doubt that, never fear: there are plenty of quotes, attributed to those founders, floating around to prove the point. Some are even superimposed over portraits of the founders, to lend an air of gravitas to the words. Many are “quotes” for which there is absolutely no evidence that the person in question ever uttered or wrote those words, and others are outright distortions. Consider, for example, the following quote, supposedly by George Washington:

A free people ought not only be armed and disciplined, but they should have sufficient arms and ammunition to maintain a status of independence from any who might attempt to abuse them, which would include their own government.

Or, if you prefer the complete-with-Washingtonian-imagery-gravitas version:

Advocates of unlimited weapon ownership couldn't ask for a more apropos quote from a founding father. Alas, then, for them that it's bogus (though apparently the hundreds who liked it and thousands who shared it and similar versions didn't bother to look further). Abraham Lincoln perhaps said it best in his famous line, “you cannot believe most of the quotes you see on the internet”.* This seems to be a concept that many have not yet come to terms with: that people will lie to advance a cause they believe in, therefore some investigation is in order when a “too good to be true” quote comes out, and it's probably best to do some digging to validate it before passing it along (because, who knows, some irritating blogger might spot it, and be inspired to write a piece about it). Of course, such uncritical acceptance is not to be anticipated by those on the other side of the discussion.

A blogger at DailyKos picked it up, and found the following:

The quote is floating around on Facebook and on various anti-gun control blogs like "Ammunition Depot"  and "Famous Second Amendment Quotes."  Sometimes the quote has a source, usually the Boston Independent Chronicle, January 14, 1790 but usually is just attributed nakedly to George Washington.  The quote, of course, is bogus. It is a blatant distortion of what Washington actually said. Its evolution is an interesting case study on how quotes are distorted and distributed for political purpose.

The actual quote comes from Washington's address to Congress on January  8th, 1790 and goes like this: "A free people ought not only to be armed, but disciplined; to which end a Uniform and well digested plan is requisite: And their safety and interest require that they should promote such manufactories, as tend to render them independent others, for essential, particularly for military supplies."

The full text of Washington's address can be found here (credit for the find goes to the Daily Kos article). So when I, thinking that the quote sounded a little “too good to be true” for the “the AR-15 is what stands between us and tyranny!” crowd, set out to do a little research, it didn't take long. But, while the appeal to authority is nullified, what about the idea behind it? What about the idea that the right to “bear arms” is actually the right to “bear arms” that will enable us to best the government and so save us from its tyranny? This is an oft repeated argument amongst the anti-gun control movement, and is used to stoke some very strong fears (the Piers Morgan/Alex Jones argument, and I do use the term loosely, as it was more of a one-sided paranoia fest, is a good example of just how deep rooted the fear that any measure to limit gun control will automatically lead to overt oppression can be). It follows, then, that such a concern must be addressed before a reasonable national conversation can continue.

So, was it the intention of the founding fathers that the people carry the same weaponry as the government with absolutely no gun control measures to prevent tyranny, and is that a reasonable expectation today? The answer to both questions, I would suggest, is “no”. I cannot speak for the thoughts and minds of all the founding fathers, and, unlike some, I have no intention of attempting. But I can form my opinions based on their actions; and those actions do not indicate that they believed everyone, anywhere, should be able to own anything, nor did they oppose all measures that we would consider “gun control” efforts. As The Atlantic puts it:

The Founding Fathers instituted gun laws so intrusive that, were they running for office today, the NRA would not endorse them. While they did not care to completely disarm the citizenry, the founding generation denied gun ownership to many people: not only slaves and free blacks, but law-abiding white men who refused to swear loyalty to the Revolution.

Nor did the Founders take kindly to the people exercising what NRA types would have us believe was a Founder-granted (even God-granted) right to armed opposition to the will of the government. (Shay's Rebellion, anyone?) So whatever the founders intended by “[a] well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” their own actions, and how they approached gun ownership at the time, indicate that they did not mean that everyone has the right to carry guns, nor did they support the idea of using those guns to oppose the federal government.

To be clear, I do not hold that such is an argument for or against gun control (the Founding Fathers were hardly perfect, and so their support for or opposition to an idea is neither a gold stamp of approval nor a definitive putdown); it is simply an argument against a commonly rehashed anti-gun control argument. The Founding Fathers implemented “gun control” measures, and actively stamped out armed insurrection (despite the fact that the rebels believed they were standing up to tyranny just as they had during the revolution). Therefore the “unlimited gun rights” folks cannot honestly make the appeal that the founding fathers would have supported their unlimited gun rights in order to rise up against government overreach – because they in fact opposed them for their own contemporaries, and put down such rebellions.

But let's look at the reasonableness of the argument itself, especially as it's applied. Even the most ardent gun enthusiasts rarely make the claim that they should be able to own exactly the same "arms" as the military (tanks, anyone? How about fighter jets? Nuclear missiles?). The idea is instead pared down to weapons that are already legal to own -- which seems to indicate that the gun advocates who employ this line of reasoning already reject it as being absurd, or else something that the rest of the populace would reject as absurd. Instead, they use what would really be an argument for firepower equal to the military to argue that assault weapons are the point at which we face tyranny or freedom. Which is not, actually, the argument they're making.

But, it reasonable, then, to suppose that the thin red line between tyrannical government take over and peace and democracy are the gun enthusiasts around the country who own semi-automatic weapons? Is it reasonable to suppose that a country with a military of millions, armed with tanks, jets, gun ships, and, hey, nuclear weapons is going to be stopped by semi-auto guns and their owners? I've got to say, such a notion seems downright preposterous to me. Yes, it might be easier for this mythical tyranny you fear to cart you off to Guantanamo Bay if you do not own high capacity clips and assault weapons, for the few seconds that you get to fire before they take you out. But let's be serious: all the AR-15's in the world aren't going to save you if the Big Bad Government really wants you. Your assault weapons can't take out tanks. They can't stop missiles. They can't stop armies.

Back in the days of muskets, this would have been a more persuasive argument; but nowadays, it's a preposterous one. Back when the best firepower the (British) government had was on par with the firepower the rebels owned, sure: an armed populace (with appeal to outside help) could successfully prosecute a revolution. But nowadays the government is, and, any reasonable person would agree, must be, better armed than the populace. Is, because weaponry has advanced far beyond the musket & the military has kept up at a pace that far outranks civilian weapon ownership; and must be, because we want our military armed with tanks, jets, and nuclear warheads, but not our neighbors. The only way that the populace being armed, today, could provide a significant threat to “tyranny” from the government is if civilians were armed exactly like the government: including tanks, jets, warships, and nukes.

So let's not delude ourselves. You or me, or everyone on the block, owning an assault weapon is not stopping the government from killing us all and carting our grandmothers off to gulags. This is real life, not video games where we can take on whole armies of advanced alien warriors single-handedly or shut down hell gates all by ourselves. If a government with a well armed, modern military like ours was intent on putting the populace down, persecuting them ala Sharkey in the Shire, or anything else, the best the “thin red line” of gun enthusiasts could realistically aspire to be is a pest; and, like an annoying fly buzzing about the head of a superior life form, freedom fighting gun owners with assault weapons would be swatted down by the billions of dollars of high-tech military equipment, and the vast armed forces, that our government has. Not because it's not a noble ideal (freedom fighting heroes taking on tyrants is, of course), but because it's an unrealistic aspiration. In this day and age, with weaponry where it is, our best hope of staving off tyranny is to make sure our democratic Republic doesn't enact it...Because, unlike our musket wielding forefathers, American civilians nowadays don't have a snowball's chance in hell of taking on the military that they have continually poured money into making the strongest and best equipped in the world. The power is in our hands – and not in the form of an AR-15, but in the form of the vote.

But, still, if this is your argument, be honest about it. Don't tell us that the Founding Fathers, whose actions belie your claim, issued statements to support your ownership of assault weapons. Don't tell us that you need assault weapons to keep the government in check and prevent a hideous downthrow of freedom. Tell us that you believe that you should have unlimited access to assault weapons because someday you might need to more or less buzz about the ears of a tyrannical government, countering their heavy armor and heavy weaponry, their drone technology and nuclear capabilities, with assault weapons. It's not that impressive, but, then again, neither is the idea of a bunch of civilians with guns taking on a modern military. Nor, for that matter, is people inventing quotes to further grandiose delusions of revolutionary heroism.

* which was a fun quote going around awhile ago to warn people of this very thing. Obviously, Lincoln did not anticipate the internet. Because nobody expects the Internet! (Ok, I'll stop...)

Thursday, January 10, 2013

Paul Ryan pushes personhood for fertilized eggs...again

Republican politics has been an interesting show these last few years, particularly for women. We've heard all manner of hideous things expressed with absolute sincerity (which is more chilling, to me at least, then the alternative). We've saw GOP legislators vote to allow doctors to withhold vital information about a woman's health if it might prevent an abortion. We've heard a presidential candidate rail about the “dangers” of giving women the freedom to decide when and if they become parents through contraception use. We've heard that any difference we see in our pay compared to a man doing the same job is pretty much our fault, because we don't care enough about money. Richard Mourdock theorized that rape babies were "a gift from God". Rick Santorum, too, thinks that pregnant rape victims should just “make the best of a bad situation” because a rape baby is a “gift from God”. And we've heard Todd Akin declare that “legitimate” rapes don't actually result in pregnancies anyway. And the list goes on.

When these hardline views made people uneasy, the response was “but these don't represent us!” Thus people distanced themselves from the Todd Akin's of the world. But the funny – not “amusing” funny, but groanworthy funny – part of it? These people might have expressed their opinions in a public way that embarrassed the party; but they were not anomalies. For all the people who received a lot of heat for insisting that rape victims should be forced to gestate and birth their rapists' children because it's God's will, consider that the Republican Party platform's anti-abortion language contains no exception for rape victims, or even for the health and life of the mother. And it didn't receive much press, but Paul Ryan informed us that rape is a “method of conception” and therefore not a reason for abortion. This is the party itself, and the vice presidential candidate of that party, we're talking about – not a surprisingly large number of “random kooks”. It was that same vice presidential candidate who worked with Mr. “Legitimate Rape” Akin to pass a personhood bill that would have criminalized any procedure that would endanger a fertilized egg, an embryo or a fetus' existence – even if it was necessary to save the life of the mother. In other words, the tea party favorite, star of the Republican party, vice presidential nominee believes that a pregnant woman's “right to life” can be superseded by a fetus, embryo or zygote's. Now, you cannot be both the savior of your party and a “fringe weirdo”; you cannot label as crazy the views of legislators who speak exactly what is in your platform.

But if you thought that the Republicans had learned anything from their overwhelming defeat last time, well, some of them are anxious to disappoint. Enter that tea party favorite and last year's vice presidential candidate, Paul Ryan, and a new personhood bill.

Now, if you're wondering what exactly a “personhood bill” is and what the big deal about it might be, the text of it can be found here. The long and short of it is that, from the moment of fertilization (prior even to implanting in the uterine wall; which is important, as we'll discuss in a minute), a human egg and its subsequent forms are people, and due all the rights of such. This means, first and foremost, abortion is illegal, regardless of the circumstance. Pregnancy because of rape, for instance? Too bad – time to “make the best of a bad situation”, as Rick Santorum would put it. But it goes much further than that. It effectively makes any medical procedure that would destroy a zygote, embryo or fetus illegal (at least when used with pregnant women, if that procedure has other uses). How? Because if an embryo is a human being with an inviolable right to life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness, killing it – even to save the mother's life – would be homicide. (This isn't speculation, by the by; this is what happens in countries with personhood laws – what is happening, and what continues to happen. The “right to life” of the fetus cannot be interfered with, even if that means the mother dies. In the cases of Savita Halappanavar and the 16-year-old leukemia patient who recently made headlines, the fetuses had no chance of survival anyway; but because doctors could not terminate those lives, life saving care was withheld from the women who could have been saved) . The fact that a fertilized egg would be a “person” under the law regardless of whether or not it has successfully implanted in the uterine lining has another chilling implication; it means that even in an ectopic pregnancy where the fetus has no chance of living, because it has implanted in some other area of the body where it cannot survive but can and will kill the mother if allowed to continue to grow, care cannot be administered. In other words, such an amendment would turn back the clock on pregnancy care, dictating that women who encounter entirely treatable pregnancy complications would die in the name of Republican “pro-life” beliefs.

This would also all but ban IVF (those fertilized eggs are all people; and the last time I checked, you can't just put a person in the freezer), would necessarily involve the law in tragedies like miscarriage (if a person dies, the law is involved), etc., etc. Similar objections have been made known to Ryan and his colleagues (Democrats dubbed an attempt to push through legislation that would let hospitals receiving public funds opt out of saving women's lives if it meant providing an emergency abortion the “let women die” bill; and it still passed the House). Yet these bills keep coming.

It's early in the legislative season, but if what we see so far is anything to go by, the Paul Ryan's of the world have learned nothing from the last election.

Monday, January 7, 2013

The Hobbit, nominated for 7 visual effect awards

From TheOneRing.Net:

The Hobbit: An Unexpected Journey” earned the top nomination for visual effects and six others nominations at the 11th annual Visual Effects Society Awards, set for Feb. 5 at the Beverly Hilton. “The Avengers,” and “The Life of Pi,” are close behind with six nominations each and are also in the top category.

A full list of nominations can be found at the link above, but they include a nod to both Gollum and the Goblin King. I personally think that the realization of the Goblin King was a big let down, but as a result of vision and screenplay more than anything else. The actual technical work was very impressive. Smeagol was a huge highlight of the film, so it's great to see him on the list.

Just don't. Please. (My “phrase to be banned from usage” of the year/decade/century)

"Just saying." As in, "Most people don't care what phrases irk you. Just saying." I do believe it is one of the most irksome phrases to enter the common vernacular in recent memory. Certainly, you can make a good argument for others, and people have. But in my humble opinion, this one takes the metaphorical cake for being at once redundant and irksome. It is redundant in that the speaker is, obviously, "saying" -- unless by that you mean 'speak', and they are singing, writing, miming, sending Morse code or otherwise communicating without speaking. In which case it is inaccurate. It is irksome in that it is consistently applied as a mitigating agent to snark (or, as Urban Dictionary puts it, “a term coined to be used at the end of something insulting or offensive to take the heat off you when you say it”). Which simply doesn't work. You don't get to jab someone in the eye in then take it back, sort of. Because you're "just saying". Either stand by what you say, and own your comments, or don't make them. Don't try to sneak between the two, by saying what you really mean and then observing that you're "just" saying. There's no "just" about it. You are saying, and saying what you mean. This is obvious, and no qualification is necessary; and, if the message was so harsh that you think that softening is in order, it's time to change the way you express yourself, rather than shrugging it off as no biggie because, like, I'm just saying, she soooo looks like a cow in that.

Now, for those to whom sarcasm is not a companion for rapier wit, wielded sparingly as appropriate, but the blunt instrument of boorish insult, a bludgeon with which to beat those unhappy enough to be on the receiving end, such a phrase is delightful. It is another means, albeit an intellectually dishonest one, by which to give offense while pretending to some measure of deniability. "Only an idiot would watch that show. Just saying." In those cases, it is, at least, not unexpected. What is beyond comprehension, though, is when this tiresome phrase passes from the lips of those who, in general, know better -- and not in the sentence, "'Just saying' is a sad attempt to say what you mean when you don't have the courage to stand by your words. Just saying." I allow a full exemption for such usage, as it illustrates perfectly the bothersome nature of the term whilst furthering a noble goal (the eradication of "just saying" from the common vernacular). Otherwise known as fighting fire with fire, beating them at their own game, etc. It is this instance that prompts my soul to weep -- when I witness otherwise upstanding and erudite intellects succumbing to this usage. (To be honest, after being subjected to its use enough times, there has been an instance or two where I, the self appointed crusader against the phrase, have found myself unthinkingly participating in such an abuse of language; but I prefer to push such dark days far from memory).

As with other creeping, speech borne language-bugs, such as the “like” pandemic that ravaged the English language during the 90's, this insidious phrase has crept its way onto the tongues of frequent language abusers as well as good citizens. Therefore it is my urgent plea, for the good of all humanity, or at least the English-speaking bits of it, that everyone, everywhere, drop the use of “just saying”. There's no “just” about it: you are saying. So own up to your words, or shut up. Just saying*.

* Exempted under the “fighting fire with fire” clause mentioned above. ;-)

Sunday, January 6, 2013

To print, or not to print (the personal details of gun owners)

So here I am again, talking about guns. Thus far I've looked at some of the outrageous responses to gun crimes, mostly from the right-wing; I've looked at some of the more disingenuous means of avoiding a real discussion of gun control (by blaming teachers, unions, women, video games, etc. or focusing on small subsets of gun violence while ignoring the overall trend). Now I'm going to focus on something on the other end of the spectrum: “outing” gun owners to their communities.

Recently a New York newspaper sought for printing detailed information about licensed gun owners in the area; the request was partially met – names and addresses, as required under the law – but a request for the number and types of gun were refused as being protected information. As a result, the newspaper ran interactive maps with names and addresses of those licensed to own a gun.

In an interesting turn of events, the outcry to this move was so loud that the newspaper felt it prudent to hire armed security guards; there have been no disturbances to date on the premises, but a variety of threats.

Aside from the fact that it seems a contradiction of principle to, on the one hand, out gun owners, with the strong implication being that it is dangerous to live around people who own weapons, and on the other, hire gun owners, let's be clear about one thing. The newspaper was absolutely within its rights to find and disseminate that information. It is legally available via a Freedom of Information request.

Some people have responded by comparing this to illegal requests. Ann Coulter, for example, had a litany of requests that she finds comparable, including publishing a list of women who have had abortions. This is simply Ann Coulter being Ann Coulter – which is to say, in no way a valid argument. It is illegal, under multiple laws, to release a patient's medical records in such a manner; gun licenses are part of the New York public record. (She also made ludicrous assertions that women who have abortion “get money from Planned Parenthood”, and demanded to know the name and addresses of people in rent controlled apartments as well as those of the newspaper's new guards. Not only is she missing the point, but I would also posit that she's missing more than a few marbles...but I digress).

Now, all of that said – that the newspaper is perfectly within the law to do as they have done, despite what some critics say – I would disagree that the decision was a wise one, for several reasons.

First, it causes harm and could stigmatize perfectly law abiding people for doing nothing whatever outside of the law. As I have pointed out in previous posts, many gun advocates are extremely reactive to the slightest hint of gun control – to absurd lengths. A mere mention of “gun control”, and the Hitler/Stalin/Mao memes are going about at lightening speed, the talk of tyranny and government dismantling the Second Amendment is all over the radio and, of course, Fox News, etc., etc. Acting as if law abiding gun owners are potential time bombs will only lend credence to such paranoia. Gun control isn't about stopping law abiding citizens from turning into mass killers; it's about keeping guns out of the hands of killers. The solution can and no doubt will impact law abiding gun owners (just as vehicular regulations affect all of us law abiding drivers, as well as the hit-and-run killers and drunk drivers; just as laws preventing us from owning hand held rocket launchers affect both the potential law abiding and law breaking owners), but the mindset should not be one of targeting gun owners because they are gun owners and therefore “dangerous”. This is not conducive to a respectful conversation about gun control, and will only cement the aversion to reasonable discourse on the topic. While perfectly legal, I think this does more harm than good.

There's another aspect to this as well that I find troubling. An easy-to-access map like this alerts a would-be criminal to the whereabouts in the neighborhood of gun owners. That's bad for two reasons – bad for the unarmed neighbors, whose documented lack of arms might make them a more tempting target to criminals (keep in mind that thieves will often choose homes where little resistance is expected, going so far as to avoid houses where they know that a small dog lives; this will simply alert them to the fact that there is one type of resistance, at least, that they do not have to fear); and bad for the gun owner, because now a criminal, say one who cannot legally acquire a firearm, interested in acquiring a weapon knows where to look (after the owner is gone, of course). Certainly, this information is not “hidden”, but neither is it highlighted in such a public, easy to access way (until now).

Which brings me to my final point...what is the benefit here? Some interviewed in response to the map indicated that they might choose to live elsewhere if they knew their neighbors were armed. I can see how that would be important to someone, in the same way that “gun free zones” are important...some people would prefer to live in a “gun free” neighborhood like I prefer to work in a “gun free” environment. It seems, though, to me a different thing to ask to be in a neighborhood where no one has a gun on their own property, or to stigmatize those who do, and to ask people to keep their guns off of yours*. It would also prove, in practice, a difficult goal to achieve, depending on the neighborhood you choose to settle.

I am, therefore, not particularly swayed that the good that could come of broadcasting this information outweighs the harm that could arise, and think the newspaper would have been wiser to avoid this particular foray into controversy. As Spiderman can attest, with great power comes great responsibility; and the power of the press is one of the greatest in our nation. It must, therefore, be exercised wisely. Treating law abiding citizens as pariahs is neither wise nor responsible.

*Now, in fairness, I should note that I look at this situation with a rural, Central WI mindset. For me, I would be surprised if any of my neighbors did not have a gun in their home. My exposure to guns is pretty significant, starting from childhood, and has informed my opinion about what is and isn't dangerous. Gun ownership does not trigger any sort of warning to me. But that is not the case for everyone, and perhaps that accounts for some of the difference in opinion. I still hold, however, that the potential for actual harm versus actual benefit is greater in this instance. 

Friday, January 4, 2013

Hobby Lobby misunderstands religious freedom

There was a lot going around over the holidays regarding Hobby Lobby, and their fight to prevent their employees from accessing contraception coverage through their insurance plan. I, however, was too burned out between work and making 10,324 cookies for my holiday party to address it. But, with many thanks to a few days of vacation after the new year, I'm up to the task.

So, in case you hadn't heard, please be aware that the world is officially ending, religious freedom as we know it is gone, and we are now living under an oppressive, religion hating government; or something like that.

Ok, you're probably asking, “what the heck are you talking about?” Fair enough. A Federal Court ruled that Hobby Lobby was not exempt from providing contraception coverage to their employees, and HL's request for an emergency injunction against the ruling while the case went to the Supreme Court was denied. Subsequently, Hobby Lobby declared that they would still defy the order, despite being subject to fines that may total as much as $1.3 million a day. This may seem like something rather mundane, an employer fighting a rule that they don't like (whatever you think of the strength of their case, this is hardly earth shattering news); but you are very much mistaken. It was, you see, “the most egregious violation of religious liberty” imaginable, and merely the first step down the slippery slope that will, eventually, end with “the federal government requir[ing] you to purchase goods or services that you believe to be immoral and against your most deeply held beliefs”. It is a case of “A Company that Obeys God Rather than Men”. It is a matter of respecting “religious belief”. It's an issue because "[t]he Obama administration insists that companies like Hobby Lobby bow their knees to the God of government health care mandates, even when those mandates are a clear and direct contradiction to their personal beliefs of faith". And, if some of the more hyperbolic stuff that floated past my social media feeds was to be believed, the government had officially declared war on religion; Christianity is on trial; Christians are on trial; etc. This is a war with God, Hobby Lobby, and the legions of Glitter Glue on one side, and Obama, Satan, and the SS on the other. (As I say, I have some very conservative friends and family on my friends list...).

But for all the hyperbole, all the frustration and all the anger that a company like Hobby Lobby, a secular, for-profit business, should not be exempted from providing the same, basic coverage that other secular, for-profit businesses must provide, the case just is not the harbinger of religious tyranny that HL's proponents assert (if employers losing the right to dictate government mandated employee benefits is anti-religious tyranny, that ship sailed a long time ago; and religion seems to be doing pretty well despite the fact...). I would go further, though, in saying that Hobby Lobby is just wrong on this.

And wrong in more than one way. HL filed for exemption based on the owner's belief that certain types of contraception are “abortion-inducing drugs”. Now we hold belief as nearly sacred in this country, and a thing that cannot be trifled with by government in most cases; but when belief directly contradicts reality, as it does when people believe that Plan B causes abortions – not in an abstract, theoretical way, but in a solid, provable way – surely we must preference reality. This is of particular urgency when it directly affects other people's rights (as in this case), in addition to the collective sanity of our nation. I could believe with every fiber of my being that I am a Cylon agent sent to earth on a diplomatic mission, but nobody else has to take me seriously. They don't have to give special consideration to my delusions because I believe them, nor should they think that those beliefs justify any attempts on my part to infringe on other people's rights. It is my right to believe anything I wish, no matter how outlandish and contrary to reality, but it is not the responsibility of the government to feed or respect my delusions when they spill into other people's lives. In the case in point, the medical community has come to a consensus about what constitutes a set of standard care, and the government has mandated that full time employees are due coverage for that care as a benefit of employment. The fact that someone holds a medically inaccurate belief should have no bearing on what care their employees receive.

But this touches the core issue: religious freedom is the freedom to conduct our personal lives as we see fit, but is not the right to force our beliefs on others. An employer can choose to do whatever they like in their own lives, but he does not have the right to impose his beliefs, abstract, plausible, or simply absurd, on his employees unless that belief is a reasonable condition of employment. While a Catholic church can reasonably expect its employees to abide by its religion, a religious employer running a secular business cannot. As a result, a secular business cannot deny an employee mandated benefits because they are contrary to the employer's personal beliefs.

As decided in United States v. Lee (where an employer argued that his personal beliefs in opposition to the social security tax were sufficient to exempt him from paying owed taxes on behalf of his employees):

When followers of a particular sect enter into commercial activity as a matter of choice, the limits they accept on their own conduct as a matter of conscience and faith are not to be superimposed on the statutory schemes that are binding on others in that activity. Granting an exemption from social security taxes to an employer operates to impose the employer's religious faith on the employees.

As with that case, an exemption from providing coverage for certain types of medical care effectively imposes the employer's beliefs on the employee. It would also set a precedent that an employer's beliefs about what constitutes medical care outweigh the employee's right to that benefit, which would effectively render the law useless in some cases. There are the obvious instances, of course (anyone want an insurance policy that covers “prayer” from a Christian Scientist employer who believes anything else is immoral?), but the implications are wider reaching. Suppose an employer deeply believes that providing pregnancy related coverage to an unmarried woman is immoral? Suppose an employer deeply believes that providing healthcare for the child of a gay employee is immoral? If an employer can legally assert his beliefs in the one instance, who is to stop him in another? This is not over-the-top musing; consider that the failed Blunt Amendment attempted to codify exactly such nonsense into law last year; and it only failed by 3 votes. If someone can believe, in the face of fact, that contraception is abortion, and thus, because of their belief that that is immoral, be exempted from their duty to cover it, they could just as easily believe that most other care is immoral (or liable to make meteors rain down from the sky if administered, for that matter; remember, counter factual doesn't matter if it's a “deeply held” belief. Or so the argument apparently goes). If the precedent is set whereby the employer's belief dictates the employee's healthcare coverage, why would contraception be the end of it?

Luckily, precedent has gone in the opposite direction before. The groundwork for this case was mostly laid in United States v. Lee, but the tone of the country has been changing fast. Religious freedom has come to stand for the freedom to force others to comply with your ideas of religion to many. One can only hope, however, that reason prevails in this instance as it did in that, and that the rights of employees are protected – and the spirit of the law, by which employees are finally guaranteed what the medical community has defined as core medical care, is preserved. No one should be denied healthcare coverage because their employer doesn't believe they should have it. That is what religious freedom in medicine looks like – you are free to make your own decisions about what types of care you will utilize based on your own beliefs and inclinations. You. Not your boss. Not Hobby Lobby.

Stemming the tide of credit card murders, and other such nonsense...

I hate to put up another post on this, as I never envisioned gun control being such a big issue on my blog...but there is an interesting new spin campaign going about that requires addressing.

Fox News,, and various Republicans are making the argument that gun control bans are futile and/or will lead to a slippery slope by which we must ban everything because anything, even credit cards, can be an effective murder weapon, and in some cases – hammers, for instance – are used more frequently than guns. Or, more specifically, rifles:

However, it appears the zeal of Sens. like Dianne Feinstein (D-CA) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) is misdirected. For in looking at the FBI numbers from 2005 to 2011, the number of murders by hammers and clubs consistently exceeds the number of murders committed with a rifle.
These arguments have popped up before in some form or another (for instance, the “TVs can kill too!” line), but this is a particularly clever one because it pretends to make a cogent argument against gun control while ignoring most key factors in the discussion.

First, it distracts from the real issue – gun violence – by fixating on a small subset of that violence. FBI statistics show that in 2011, for instance, guns were used in the majority of murders in almost every state of the union:


by State, Types of Weapons, 2011

Total murders
Total firearms
District of Columbia
New Hampshire
New Jersey
New Mexico
New York
North Carolina
North Dakota
Rhode Island
South Carolina
South Dakota
West Virginia
Virgin Islands

Now it may well be of interest to keep in mind, when talking about potential assault rifle bans or limitations, that though firearm murders in this country are through the roof, rifles and shotguns were the least commonly employed-for-murder types of firearm. But it also is of note that this is not really any less than one might expect, and not the reason that these discussions are happening. A rifle has certain uses, and so too does a handgun. Handguns are easy to conceal, and easy to transport. Rifles and shotguns are not. Rifles have long range abilities that pistols do not. Assault rifles have a kill capacity that, when your goal is maximum damage, might make up for the downsides; but if your goal is “simply” murder, a handgun's ease of use and ease of carrying/concealing would make it the far better choice. Anyone who has used guns would know that, and common sense dictates it even if you have not used them. So it is a point that we shouldn't lose sight of, but it is not an argument in and of itself. Why? Because the push to control assault rifles is not fueled because they are used in the majority of gun crimes in this country (they're not), but because when they are used, they are used with deadly effect and cause mass damage. In the same way that a fertilizer bomb poses a bigger threat than an assault rifle, an assault rifle poses a bigger threat than a handgun. Or a hammer. The fact that fewer people kill using fertilizer bombs than assault weapons (or hammers) does not mean that a fertilizer bomb is not capable of inflicting mass damage on a far greater scale; it simply means that, because of the difficulties associated with creating or ascertaining and utilizing one, it used less often.

But to focus solely on a comparison of numbers between blunt objects and one specific type of firearm (the one that gives you a set of numbers favorable to your argument) as an answer to gun control suggestions is to miss the point – deliberately, I can only hazard to guess, because I cannot conceive of a world where something so glaringly obvious would go unnoticed save by design. The issue is complex and multifaceted, and those proposing solutions, except on the fringe end of the pro-gun and pro-gun control movements, rarely suggest a one-size-fits-all answer. As an example, today several bills were introduced by people on both sides to address gun crimes. Representative Carolyn McCarthy (D-NY) proposed four separate gun control measures, including one that addresses the gun show loophole that has long been a concern of the Brady campaign. Anyone versed on the debate (as, I can only assume, persons so vocal in the discussion must be) must know this. Setting up a strawman that implies a false reason for proposals to address assault weapon availability, and ignores every other facet of gun control discussions, is simply disingenuous. A genuine discussion is going on in this country as to how to limit the overwhelming number of firearm deaths in the US; making false comparisons that ignore the overall problem does not further that goal.

But let's add that, to all of this, a comparison between assault rifle and hammer/credit card/tv murders fails on yet another level. Assault rifles were designed for a single purpose. Blunt objects and other potential murder weapons include a vast number of items, many of which have very practical real-world applications. Like driving a nail. Believe it or not, even frightening credit cards serve a purpose beyond slitting throats – a purpose for which, incidentally, they were designed. In terms of sheer practical weapon control application, it is a ridiculous comparison; someone intent on bludgeoning another to death can easily switch between, say, a candlestick and lead pipe (have these people never played Clue?). Someone intent on massacring dozens of people with an assault weapon is going to have a hard time finding a substitute that fits their plan. So if it's harder for an Adam Lanza to get his hands on an assault weapon with a high capacity mag, his effectiveness will be hampered. If a Miss Scarlet can't get her hands on a lead pipe, she can always resort to a wrench. In the drawing room.