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I’ve been having a long and stressful week.  First, and most important, the copyedited manuscript of the new Gregor, called Fighting Chance, was due in yesterday.  In order to get it done, I had to spend a lot of time with papers strewn out over the living room in little stacks with Post It notes on them.  The Post It notes were mine.  I was trying to keep track of two different sets of questions.

The other thing was the fall out from midterm grades, which were posted where students could see them just as we started back up from spring break.  There was a wailing and a gnashing of teeth.

In the midst of all that, I’ve been thinking for some time about writing a post about the Sui dynasty in China and the building of the Grand Canal, but just as I thought I was in a place where that was possible, the second Fort Hood shooting happened.

I’m not going to write about the Ford Hood shooting here, at least not now.  The cable stations are doing a valiant job of blathering nonstop with no real evidence to inform anything they’re saying, and I’d do no better.

 No, what’s been striking me over the last few hours is what I think of as the bounce back phenomenon–in no time at all,  FB posting and blog opinion started to circle around this case as another example of why we should impose much stricter gun control, or even get rid of all the guns.

I suppose I could fulminate here about how such outbreaks are opportunistic and morally wrong, but I won’t, because I don’t actually feel that way.  If there is some issue you care passionately about and an event occurs that seems to provide proof that your position is the right one, I thought you ought to use it as part of your argument.

My problem is not with the use of the issue, but with something that makes me considerably more nervous, and that is this:

To the extent that the people using the second Fort Hood shooting as an example of why we should get rid of the guns are sincere–and I think most of them are sincere–they’re asking for something that never has been, never will be, and never can be.

It’s not just that gun control laws as they have been devised up until now haven’t had the effect of reducing guns in private hands to anything near zero, it’s that no gun control legislation ever devised could do that no matter what it said.

The problem is structural in a way that cannot be changed no matter what we do or how we do it.

We could wipe out all the guns in the Northeast and California and everyplace else with even a mild cluster of population density.  We could end gun manufacturing and seal off the borders so that no unauthorized guns got in from outside.

But you see that “unauthorized” thing? That’s in recognition of the fact that we have places in this country like Wyoming and Idaho and Montana where people live on ranches and farms many thousands of acres in extent, and where the nearest law enforcement is a good hour to an hour and a half away.

Those people need guns.  They cannot rely on law enforcement to come to their aid if they’re robbed or raped or in danger of being murdered.  They need to keep wild animals out of their livestock pens. 

And unless you’re ready to install internal travel controls between states–and I’ll bet none of the gun control people actually would–then guns in those places means guns are going to reach all the places with the super duper gun control.

This is not to say that I’m happy with all kinds of very unsuitable people having guns.  It’s just to say that if you’re going to do something about the gun violence problem, you’ve got to deal with reality and not with a fantasy less likely to occur in real life than a Sharknado.

Granted, I also wouldn’t put up with the non-solution of giving the social services people more power to declare more people at-risk and therefore locking up or forcibly medicating people who have committed no crime and whom the psychological profession is not in fact capable of identifying as real threats–but the constant ideological skew of the gun control debate has driven all discussion of ACTUAL approaches to the problem off the field, and left us with these two.

The other area in which fantasy is trumping reality is the climate change debate, and I’m NOT talking about the fact of climate change itself.

For the purposes of this discussion, let’s stipulate that climate change is happening, the world is getting warmer, and man made actions are a large part of the cause of all this.

Because of all this, lots of people are jumping up and down demanding that we reverse this by doing all kinds of things, like lowering carbon footprints and eating less beef and a hundred other things.

I have no idea if all these measures would work if the world as a whole committed itself to meeting them–but it doesn’t matter.

Because the world as a whole is not going to commit itself to meeting them.

The whole “what to do about climate change” argument is an exercise in ethnocentrism so profound, I find it sometimes hard to credit.

Even if the climate change people could get everybody in the US and the EU and the scattered other countries (Australia and New Zealand, say) to do everything exactly as they proscribe, they’d still be stuck with India and China.

India and China are the two most populous countries in the world, and although one or the other of them sometimes makes noises about being concerned with global warming, neither one has any intention of doing anything about it that would slow down their growing economies.

China goes farther than that. On several occasions, when pushed too hard by the rest of us on carbon emissions, it’s made itself perfectly clear:  global warming is a fiction invented by the West to stunt and destroy China’s march to becoming the greatest economy in the world.

If China and India are not on board with doing things to reverse global warming, then nothing the rest of us do to reverse it will do much good at all.  If any.

And China and India are not on board.  China is even perfectly willing to allow near lethal levels of pollution in its own cities, affecting its own people, rather than reduce the rate at which those people buy and use cars.

All the actually possible, realistic answers to these problems are politically unworkable.  I suppose we COULD invade China and try to take it over and impose our will on it, but we won’t.  We don’t even want to.

We are not going to reverse the effects of global warming.  It can’t be done.

Which means we ought to be concentrating on how to adapt to it–but we’re not doing that, either.  

Climate change has become an ideological question, and ideological questions tend to break free of reality rather quickly.  We therefore don’t do what can be done to ameliorate problems, and each side goes home smug in the conviction that THEY’RE the true and virtuous ones.

I’ve picked on two mostly left-leaning questions for this post, but there are certainly issues on the other side.  My favorite one is “abstinence,” whose proponents seem to believe that with the right kind of sex education (“abstinence only”)  they can stop teenagers from having sex.

Hell, there are countries on this planet that will execute teenagers for having sex, and teenagers still have sex.

Somebody once said that the best is the enemy of the good. 

I think the ideological is the enemy of the possible.

Written by janeh

April 3rd, 2014 at 8:38 am

Posted in Uncategorized

9 Responses to 'Impossibilities'

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  1. I want you to know I believe with all my heart that Sharknado was absolute, total truth. I’m so offended. YOU’RE OPPRESSING ME!!!

    Ahem. In other news, I do think we should be investing in farmland in far northern Saskatchewan. The human race made it through the last ice age, we’ll make it through this. Our current society? Not so much.


    3 Apr 14 at 11:34 am

  2. The Fort Hood shooting isn’t getting much publicity in Australia. It happened on an army base so I don’t see what it has to do with gun control. Are the gun control people suggesting that the army give up guns?

    Jane is right about China and India and CO2. She might also add Indonesia. But if the global warming people are correct and we are already experiencing extremes due to greenhouse gases, then the CO2 that is already in the air is causing problems and it will take centuries to reduce to 1900 levels even if we cut emissions to zero today. (Ugh! what a sentence!)


    3 Apr 14 at 2:48 pm

  3. So many topics!
    Climate change. I really hate to agree with a Communist party, but when they point out that the CO2 already in the atmosphere was mostly put there be the Western world industrializing, and is our responsibility, they’ve got a point. And reducing our own CO2 emissions–even into a negative range–isn’t impossible, but it would involve tree farms and a huge expansion of nuclear power. Talk to your local Green about how to maintain civilization while reducing CO2 levels, and you’ll really understand Jane’s “ideology is the enemy of the possible.”

    Firearms. Yeah, we can’t keep out hundreds of thousands of illegal immigrants, or thousands of tons of illegal drugs, but OF COURSE we can keep out firearms. And even though we can’t stop the production of illegal drugs in the US–couldn’t even stop industrial production of booze during Prohibition–we can keep people from making weapons. Does anyone else remember the Sten gun? A fully automatic weapon which cost about the price of a hardcover book and had 47 parts total, only two of which were unmistakably parts of a weapon. They used to make them in bicycle shops in occupied Europe–almost always in 9mm, so you could use the ammunition of the police and soldiers you killed. But it can’t happen here.

    Some of the present and proposed firearms regulations do make sense, though–if you consider the object is to ensure that everyone is in violation of at least one law. Those who think that could never be the purpose of a law are cordially invited to read the Federal tax code–or the latest laws on banking, or the new corporate accounting laws. In the words of Judge Dredd, “everyone is guilty, citizen. The sweeps are conducted to determine the appropriate punishment.”

    Joe Dredd, man of tomorrow–or maybe of later this afternoon.


    3 Apr 14 at 5:29 pm

  4. The madness of crowds.


    3 Apr 14 at 5:39 pm

  5. “The problem is structural in a way that cannot be changed no matter what we do or how we do it.

    We could wipe out all the guns in the Northeast and California and everyplace else with even a mild cluster of population density. We could end gun manufacturing and seal off the borders so that no unauthorized guns got in from outside.

    But you see that “unauthorized” thing? That’s in recognition of the fact that we have places in this country like Wyoming and Idaho and Montana where people live on ranches and farms many thousands of acres in extent, and where the nearest law enforcement is a good hour to an hour and a half away.

    Those people need guns. They cannot rely on law enforcement to come to their aid if they’re robbed or raped or in danger of being murdered. They need to keep wild animals out of their livestock pens. ”
    “In 1996, 28-year-old Martin Bryant finished his lunch in a café in the seaside resort of Port Arthur and pulled out a semi-automatic rifle. In the first 15 seconds of his attack, he killed 12 and wounded 10. In all, he shot more than 50 people in six locations, killing 35. The worst mass shooting in Australia’s history capped a violent decade of mass shootings that killed nearly 100 – and Australians had had enough.

    Only 12 days later, Prime Minister John Howard – a conservative who had just been elected with the help of gun owners – pushed through not only new gun control laws, but also the most ambitious gun buyback program seen in recent memory.”

    “The laws banned assault rifles, tightened gun owner licensing, and created national uniform registration standards.”

    “In the last 16 years, the risk of dying by gunshot in Australia has fallen by more than 50 percent. The national rate of gun homicide is one-thirtieth that of the United States. And there hasn’t been a single mass shooting since Port Arthur.

    “It’s not that we are a less violent people and that you are a more violent people,” says Philip Alpers, an adjunct associate professor at the University of Sydney who runs GunPolicy.org, which tracks gun violence and gun laws across the world. “It’s that you have more lethal means at your disposal.”

    “Gun rights advocates have criticized Peters, arguing she and other gun control advocates are trying to strip the right of self-protection. But she argues many Australians continue to own guns for hunting and for sport and that the new laws have not in any way diminished Australian freedom.”

    Excerpts from:

    “Our tragedy occurred in 1996 at the Port Arthur historic site in Tasmania, one of Australia’s most popular tourist destinations. The dead numbered 35, with more than 20 others injured. The victims ranged in age from 3 to 72. They included children, teens, adults and seniors; tourists and local workers; several couples, a pair of brothers, a mother and her two little daughters, and members of a retirees’ club on an outing.

    This was not the first shooting massacre we had suffered, but it was the largest in living memory. The tragedy ignited an explosion of public outrage, soul-searching and demands for better regulation of guns. We changed our laws. As a result, gun deaths in Australia have dropped by two-thirds,. . .

    and we have never had another mass shooting.”

  6. Oh, and the shooter bought his gun at a retail gun shop out in town. The same gun shop that sold the previous shooter HIS gun.

    I.e., these were personal firearms.

    The army nor any other U.S. armed force doesn’t let its soldiers(sailors, airmen, marines) walk around or even have access to small arms except in the line of duty.

  7. What are the figures those percentages from Australia based on? Maybe later today I’ll get time to look that up. 2/3 of a small number is still a small number.

    Some people here recently objected to off-duty police officers carrying weapons while attending classes. I don’t know why. Gun crime is very rare in my province and none of it was committed by police officers, so it isn’t impossible to have them carrying small arms while off duty without increasing the crime rate.


    4 Apr 14 at 5:32 am

  8. Mike, Australia and the US are very different countries. About the only things we really have in common are our enormous distances, the English language (sort of) and our English Common Law heritage. There are no lessons for the US to learn from our experience. For one thing, we don’t have your large carnivores. For another, we don’t have the racial problems you have, although we’re catching up.

    We don’t have a Bill of Rights here, so when the Howard government used the hysteria generated by the absolutely unprecedented Bryant massacre to strip the law-abiding citizenry of their semi-automatic weaponry, there were no means to rein in the Government.

    It’s a fact that so-called “assault rifles” were, and always have been, illegal in this country. (Would you believe this crazy ABC you quoted above ran a story the other night describing a little 70 year old WWII M1 Carbine seized in a police raid as an assault rifle?) When the media incessantly publishes ignorant and hysterical crap like that, sensible people stop paying attention.

    Gun deaths in Australia had been declining for years before the Bryant massacre, but the Howard laws had overwhelming bipartisan support for the gun buy-back not so much because gun-related crime was out of control but because Australia is one of the world’s most urbanised societies, and most people have no need for the sorts of weapons being banned. The city people could not care less about the needs of rural people who in this country are at least as disenfranchised as rural people in your country.

    Things are changing though. Western Sydney is a very dangerous place these days, with Muslim, ethnic and biker gangs shooting it out on a daily basis between and among each other. The only people who don’t have heavy automatic weaponry at their disposal are law-abiding citizens who are increasingly being caught in the cross-fire. One night, Not long ago, a local Canberra truck driver was driving his rig on the freeway between Sydney and Canberra. As he was passing a McDonalds site located not far from the highway, a gang was having a shoot out in the McD car park. A stray bullet came through his window hitting him in the head and mortally wounding him. By some miracle, he managed to stop his truck before he died, otherwise there would have been total carnage on the freeway.

    All of these are isolated incidents, and so are Fort Hood and the other mass shootings in the US. Sad and bad as they are, stripping law-abiding people of their weapons isn’t going to fix the problem.


    4 Apr 14 at 6:53 am

  9. Now, let me see: something never happened before, and now after the Great Political Event, it’s hasn’t happened again (yet.) If that’s logic, then overthrowing the Romanovs has kept Russia from ever again being struck by a Tunguska-size meteor.

    More seriously, someone might want to check the US non-Hispanic white homicide rate. The last time I did, it was pretty much in keeping with the white Dominion rates, though we’re all above the British rate. Of course, Americans of Japanese descent have a lower rate still–lower, in fact, than the rate in very gun-controlled Japan.

    I still think the rate could be reduced, though–possibly by not giving homicidal maniacs days or weeks of media attention?

    Oh, Michael: you were Navy, weren’t you? Trust me, if he’d wanted to use his issue weapon, it’s not hard to check yours out in a line unit. I lost a major to a man firing into a PT formation, years ago, and I’m pretty sure that was his issue weapon. I inherited a Sergeant Major that way, once, too. His old unit had been sending him death threats. (One understood their point, of course.) I’m also not sure Kileen has two gun shops. As I recall, one of anything was about all you could ask for, and more than you could sometimes get.


    4 Apr 14 at 5:37 pm

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