Incomprehending Tucson

I’m trying to reserve any judgement for the killings in Tucson, AZ this weekend. There were some proper heroic acts that happened, certainly. Blessed are those who have the capacity for bravery.

Joshua Rosenau over at Thoughts from Kansas retells a number of the stories from that terrible morning.

The incomprehensible madness of the shooting, though, is best represented by the death of 9 year-old Christina Greene. The 4th grader was born on a day of tragedy, September 11, 2001, and was featured in Faces of Hope, a book about the babies born on that day. She was recently elected to her school’s student council, and her family remembers her as a lover of horses, ballet, swimming, and baseball. Her grandfather was a Major League pitcher, her father is a scout for the Dodgers, and Christina was the only girl on her Little League team.

She was at the supermarket that day because a neighbor, knowing of Christina’s political victory at school, took her to visit her Congresswoman. Jared Loughner shot her after putting a bullet through his elected Representative’s head.

Incomprehensible is right. It’s tough to wait for an answer to the big why of it all. Worse yet, we may never fully understand why. And with this child gone, there is absolutely no justification of the event. It’s not possible.

To Hell with Gerrymandering

After the 2010 Census, it looks like my state will be holding its 8 Congressional seats. Texas, however, has won big:

The Census apportions congressional districts every ten years, while state legislatures are generally in charge of redrawing the districts based on those apportionments. The population of the United States is now 308,745,538, and each congressional district will average 710,767 persons.

Texas, where Republicans have a supermajority in the House and Senate and hold the governor’s mansion, gained four new House seats with the population growing by 20.6 percent in ten years. However, the growth broken down by race will be released in February — the Voting Rights Act could mean that some of those seats have to be drawn with a majority of Hispanics that have accounted for much of the recent growth.

Florida gained two seats, where Republicans also have a supermajority in both legislative chambers and hold the governor’s mansion. Amendment 6, limiting the power of the legislature to redraw congressional districts, passed in the November elections, but it is being challenged in court by Reps. Corrine Brown (D-Fla.) and Mario Diaz-Balart (R-Fla.).

My personal party opinions aside, I think this is one of the biggest factors undermining our Republic. The art of Gerrymandering will be in full-swing this year in the losing and winning states alike. Also, due to the WAH!-the-recession-make-us-hate-Congress sentiment of the 2010 midterms, there are a lot of single-party state governing bodies that have the district lines in their hands.

Gerrymandering needs to be rightly illegal. Completely illegal. There needs to be a basic formula of X people per Representative. Of course, I also take issue with even on average, each Representative covers over half a million people, some even get up to 1m. But then because the US is one of the largest countries in the world, lowering that ratio would balloon the House rapidly (500,000 per Congressman would mean 616 Members, a number I could live with as tops.)

My other silly idea is that metro areas should be based on proportional representation, because really the difference between us in the northwest metro and those in the west metro is nil. We’re not dealing with different crops, we just commute into the same cities from different directions. It’s a funny trick, but would be interesting to see a group of Twin Cities Congressmen, a group of CA Bay Area Congressmen, etc. That way we couldn’t be Gerrymandered into enough rural/conservative area that keeps the batshit crazy in office.

This may even do the silly thing of getting more minorities and women in Congress rather than Gerrymandering districts to ensure minorities maintain their minority status.

But that would be silly, wouldn’t it?

We Aren’t Fighting Supervillians

Joshua Rosenau of Thoughts from Kansas makes clear the views on al Qaeda that have driven me crazy since September 12, 2001:

Lex Luthor is incredibly evil, and incredibly powerful. He’s a technological genius, and from his research he created an astonishing pile of wealth. He’s so rich, and so powerful, that he can divert resources from his research labs to produce weapons with which to wage war on Superman. Luthor’s labs produce technologies beyond that available to militaries, technology that makes weapons capable of destroying or disabling the unstoppable, unkillable man. Absent superpowers, nothing short of Luthor’s research labs and financial power could conceivably match an entity like Superman.

Many people look at the world of counterterrorism and seem to think that al Qaeda is somehow like Luthor. But they aren’t. Their technological capacity is probably far less than yours or mine, and surely less than that of the US government. Their knowledge of aviation security is probably less than frequent business travelers. Yet every time they shove some explosives in their underwear, we freak out.

9/11 was an aberration. It never made sense that the cockpit door was so weak, and so rarely locked. And absent a history of suicidal airline attacks, passengers early in the day were more complacent about a hijacking than they were even before the fourth plane crashed that day. Passengers and flight attendants are warier now, and the cockpit door is locked and reinforced. 9/11 can’t happen again, not even if passengers could bring scissors and nailclippers and even pocket knives on board.

So al Qaeda adapted. They tried shoe bombs, and underpants bombs, and now package bombs. Those attacks originated outside the US, not from domestic airports, because we’re doing a better job detecting and disrupting domestic terrorist cells. They take the path of least resistance. They might like to kill Superman, but they can’t.

I’ve said it before, we are not in an existential war. Not even close. These poor and worthless terrorist cells hanging out in the crappiest place to live on Earth are not Nazis, Soviets, or even Redcoats. Not even close. These guys are less than the Luxembourg standing army.

Our response should have been small, proportional, and finishing with us giving al Qaeda the finger and saying “Bring it!” Sorry to our English heritage, but keep calm and carry on is not 21st Century America enough.

The entire article is an easy to grasp read. And Mr Rosenau wraps up the comic book analogy:

After 9/11, we as a nation went batshit insane. We’ll get attacked again. However good our security is, we aren’t Superman, we aren’t invulnerable, and al Qaeda will find a way to hurt us. But they aren’t Lex Luthor, either. They won’t go after the very hardest targets, they’ll go where security is weakest. And we can beat them. If the general public doesn’t spot something odd, and if intelligence and security teams fail to disrupt a planned attack, we can work towards making a society resilient to the occasional successful terrorist attack. But freaking out, allowing ourselves to be groped in public by untrained rent-a-cops, isn’t the answer. It just stokes the fears which will erupt after an attack, bringing the absurdity Drum fears.

No matter what we do, there will be a successful attack. The way to preserve civil liberties is not to surrender those freedoms to prevent an attack. We need to have a serious discussion about risk, so that people treat the risk of terrorism the way they treat the risk of cancer. We accept that flying takes us into the thinner parts of the atmosphere, exposing us to more cosmic rays, and thus raising our cancer risk. But it’s worth it to see our family, to meet our business partners, or to take a relaxing vacation. The risk is small, so we set them aside. We can do that with terrorism, too.

Freedom for Risk

In the past week I have come down with a nasty case of strep (the rest of the family did too) and then starting Sunday I have been fighting a bout of stomach flu to boot. I do my best to keep calm and carry on, but my immune system has been working overtime, preventing me from doing the same. The best that can be hoped for is my stomach to realign itself in time for a bit of turkey and gravy. Pie may be off the menu entirely this year. For now, I’m nursing some tea and about to head to bed.

When able to focus without nausea, I have really been enjoying the writings all over the blogosphere about TSA rules and common sense. It is great to read, but it is not much of a debate. Most seem to end feeling futile and defeated in the face of The Nothing that is irrationality.

I hope to read and write more. Right now, I’m back to my tea and lingering on this quote from our great Benjamin Franklin:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both.

Exemplify Humanity

From Lenore at Free-Range Kids, the worst place to lose a baby:

Readers — This is a non-story about a mom who got her baby’s stroller onto the D.C. metro but then the doors closed before she could get on.

Ritual infant sacrifice time?

Surprisingly, no. Instead, the strangers gathered round the (sleeping) baby, alerted the authorities and got the stroller off at the next stop, where yet more people protected the tyke. All of which prompted one bystander to say that she felt terrible for the mom because this was,  clearly, “the worst place in the world to lose a baby.”

Worst? Where a crowd of people took care of the child, alerted the mom and made sure everything was fine?

The thought here is the most common: what’s the worst situation a child can find themselves in? With people, of course! People are the worst. I am amazed that these delicate offspring of ours manage to morph into those terribly scary people that inhabit your neighborhood, town, and city.

My philosophy regarding my kids is this: I refuse to expect the worst from humanity. My toddler routinely refuses to sit in a shopping cart or hold my hand in a store. And total surprise: my son gets distracted by the Lego aisle. What would happen if one of my kids loses sight of me? They could ask a person for help. From there? They most likely would get help.

This also boils down to that Golden Rule that one dead hippie strolling in the desert used to talk about. If I found a lost child, I would try to help too. I would hate for people to think I had an ounce of malice in my mind (this is a more likely assumption since I am male, sadly). So I refuse to think the same of my fellows I bump elbows with every day.

Seriously, my biggest concern when one of my kids talks to a stranger? That they’ll start mooching food.

[Good thing from the article: I never knew the ‘get off at the next stop and wait’ rule for getting separated on trains. I’ll remember that next time we’re all traveling like that.]

Me Commenting on Bill Maher Commenting on the Rally

(Found via Ta-Nehisi Coates :: The Atlantic.)

I’m with Mr Coates and Bill Maher that the idea that the current crazy left is kin to the crazy on the right is false. I don’t agree with everything in the clip, but the broad point is correct. I think I am naturally conservative, but any time I think that, I have to qualify the statement with lots of “except for”s.

Going back to my previous points, I’m for science. For following the evidence. Tax cuts do not generate wealth, deregulation hurts economic stability (and lets my house, my only real asset, lose 1/5 of it’s value in 2 years), and torture undermines both our standing in the world and the very values of our country.

Couple that with the fact that Republican Members of Congress actually believe Obama is a Muslim, but no Democrat Members believe that 9/11 was a conspiracy says a lot. I, and my friends will surely attest to this, am not now nor have I ever been a liberal. But damn if I don’t keep taking their side when their math adds up better than Republicans.

One last piece of math just to toss out: denying gay marriage means fewer stable, two-parent families, not more.