Guns again/still

The world is not short of discourse about guns and violent crime at the moment, but some facts bear highlighting, and more emphasis, throughout that discourse.

First, the NRA is the lobbying and PR arm of a small industry whose business is to make and sell as many guns as possible.  If the corn merchants could make up a story about high-fructose corn syrup protecting Americans from government and burglars, and find a piece of the constitution to misread, they would do it and we would all gain ten pounds.  The NRA’s business is not freedom, or recreation, or American tradition; it is money. Mass killings are especially profitable for their masters, as frightened citizens run out and buy more weapons.

Second, there are guns and guns. When I was a teenager, before I got interested in girls, I was something of a firearms hobbyist and dispatched reams of paper targets and some small game, even spending a year on the college rifle team before I got bored with it. Distinctions can be firmly drawn among guns whose purpose is target shooting, guns whose purpose is killing animals in the wild, and guns whose purpose is killing people. The ideals in the last category are automatic pistols with large magazines, short-barrel cylinder-choke shotguns, and machine guns; the last of these are illegal but fairly easy to make out of their close cousins, semi-automatic assault rifles and carbines. Killing (i) a lot of (ii) people, period. The targets with which these are practiced are human silhouettes, with higher scores for hitting lethal areas.

Sporting firearms are almost entirely owned by a shrinking but still large group of people who keep them locked up and use them for hunting and target (paper or clay pigeons) practice. They teach their kids to shoot safely for people and lethally for the game, and know not to mix gunpowder and alcohol. No firearms legislation contemplated or proposed by anyone puts those weapons at risk, or should.

Most of the people-killing hardware is in the hands of two categories of owners. One is plain criminals, and everyone agrees they should be relieved of them. The second is folks who are more or less deranged in one or more of three ways. Some are afraid that the US government is going to take over the country and become the government of the US, and have the completely loony idea that their firepower will be more than a bee sting against the real army, should the US government try to compel them to obey the laws of the United States.  Others imagine violent criminals accosting them in the street or in their homes, and expect that they will get their piece out of the drawer by the bed, or their holster, like a movie action hero in time to make a difference.  Both groups ignore the amply demonstrated fact that their self-defense weapon is many times more likely to kill a loved one, in an argument that escalates or in a suicide, than to ever deter a crime.

Many years ago, my colleague Mark Moore floated an idea that makes more and more sense to me in the current political paralysis. Congress should require everyone owning a handgun, or a long gun not suitable for hunting, to have a license, renewable every five years at no charge, and should authorize/deputize, and fund, the NRA as the sole issuer of that license. When a firearms outrage takes place, it will be a matter of public record which NRA functionary, supervised by which NRA executive implementing what protocol, thought it would be OK for that perp to be armed, on the basis of what evidence, and not just that Wayne La Pierre is mouthing bromides about abstract rights. (That history would of course be of special interest to plaintiffs’ lawyers.)

The constitutional provision requires deference, and I am quick to say that I am a strict constructionist on this issue.  I have no problem explicitly authorizing every citizen to possess the most lethal weapon the founders could have imagined when the second amendment was drafted: any muzzle-loading black powder single-shot flintlock (or touchhole) firearm, from a dueling pistol right up to a naval cannon, is OK with me as an American birthright privilege, and I would march in the street to protect your right to have any of those things.

Yes, you can have a bayonet on the rifle.


Two doctors

Laura Esserman, shaking things up in a men’s world to improve the health and increase the happiness of her patients, and other people’s patients. Evidence-based medicine and courage.  Rockstar! You go, doc!

Patricia Horoho, [link corrected 29/IX] smoothing things out in a men’s world to improve the comfort of officers at the expense of her patients (students who aren’t officers yet). Evidence-suppressing management and craven servility.  Flack in scrubs costume, and not such a great officer come to think of it. Hang up your stethoscope, doc, and maybe park your stars in the kitchen junk drawer too.

No big deal

“Tuez-les tous! Dieu reconnaîtra les siens.” Arnaud Amaury to his troops before the sack of Béziers, who were unclear on how to tell the difference between the Cathar heretics who needed extermination and good Christians.  Often rendered as “kill ‘em all; let God sort ‘em out!”

It is widely believed in Islam that anyone who dies on the Hajj goes directly to heaven; if so the 700 souls killed in the stampede in Mecca were actually spared years enduring our imperfect world and are now grateful for the short cut.

“…it seems to me that the more Christian a country is, the less likely it is to regard the death penalty as immoral. … I attribute that to the fact that, for the believing Christian, death is no big deal.” Antonin Scalia, 2002. [It is not clear whether the distinguished believing Christian justice was dissing the death of non-Christians, or of Christians, or all of these.]

A Man was hanged by the neck until he was dead.

“Whence do you come?” Saint Peter asked when the Man presented himself at the gate of Heaven.

“From California,” replied the applicant.

“Enter, my son, enter; you bring joyous tidings.”

When the Man had vanished inside, Saint Peter took his memorandum-tablet and made the following entry:

“February 16, 1893.  California occupied by the Christians.” Ambrose Bierce

Liars and cheaters

It’s been a bad week for the reputation of big business and its captains of industry.  Trump and Fiorina, those shining examples of the species, lied their way through the debate, and Fiorina’s unremitting failure at business has started to attract appropriate attention.  Trump’s incompetence as a businessman, and his lies about that, have not been sufficiently noted, despite this two-week-old analysis.  Ehrenfreud notes that the passive-investment model doesn’t include living expenses. Fair enough: if he had put his money into an S&P index fund in 1978 and taken out walking-around money starting at $3m and ending at $16m a year, he would have $4b today.  All his wheeling and dealing, and the money he took from sucker investors and lenders through his bankruptcies, didn’t even beat Harold Pollack’s index card. Neither of them can pass the Hyman Roth test  (“Your father [Vito Corleone] always made money for his partners”).  Is this the best Republicans can put up as sound business leaders?

Mark has pretty well toasted VW, but he neglected to mention the damage this piece of schweinerei has done to the market potential of diesels, the actually (not mislabeled-as) clean of which are an important element of reducing the global warming effect of transportation.  I am not too surprised by this story, though no less outraged, because I remember the decades in which GM, DuPont and Standard Oil conspired to sicken and stupefy millions and millions of Americans because, while ethanol was a perfectly good octane enhancer, it couldn’t be patented. Making engines require tetraethyl lead to keep their valves from burning was like runaway slot machine for them.  And we got a crime wave from it, to boot.

I realize one reason I am simply beside myself about this is personal.  I am a good non-partisan (at least I was before the Republicans became crazy and hateful) teacher; whatever students say, I try to make them think twice, consider another perspective and more facts, and like that.  At Berkeley,  part of my job is to stay somewhat to the right of my students. My Introduction to Policy Analysis course is beginning an economics unit, and in the usual way, we get into market failures starting from the virtues of the market when it works properly. These incompetents and criminals have put me in an especially difficult position for class Monday.


United Airlines,

in trouble on a variety of fronts, has fired its president and hired a railroad guy.

Railroad guys have been freight guys for a century, indeed it was the freight guys who ruined rail passenger service in the US. And who could blame them? it’s really a pain in the neck to have the cargo expecting to be warm in the winter, fed at regular intervals, delivered on time, talked to politely…passengers are even more trouble than livestock!  We’re supposed to put an string of hopper cars full of nice docile coal on a siding for a handful of passengers? Get serious; we’ve got a railroad to run here.

What could possibly go wrong?

Another day of shame on the gridiron

College football season opened with another humiliation for my school, to go with our financial disasters (last year we spent $2m on a coach and athletic director who no longer work for us), bottom-of-the NCAA graduation rates, and lousy on-field performance.  We beat Grambling State University, a historically black school in Louisiana, 73-14! Late in the fourth quarter, I think  a 110-lb cheerleader was our right tackle. If it had been a boxing match, the ref would have shut it down (52-0 at halftime); in kid’s sports they would have invoked a mercy rule.
But who would schedule such a senseless, unsportsmanlike exercise in the first place? Grambling’s entire athletic budget, one of my colleagues  found out, is third from the lowest of all Division I public schools’, 1/15 the size of ours.  Their football  roster is 89 players, almost all from east Texas and Louisiana; ours is 133, recruited from all over the west. Their coach makes $195,000; ours makes ten times that. Continue Reading…

Good guys with guns

As it is universally acknowledged that the only thing that will stop a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun, it must be the case that the dudes who laid out the bgwag in Arras were armed (as Real Americans should always be).  If they had not been packing heat, a terrible massacre would have unfolded.

But press coverage of the event has completely omitted the important details: what kind of pieces did they have, how many extra magazines, holstered how?  This is the kind of coverup we can expect from liberal media, but you can see how big the real conspiracy is: even Fox News is hiding the facts here!


Marco Rubio, Scott Walker, and Mike Huckabee are firmly on record that an embryo is a person, and abortion is murder: no rape, incest or mother’s survival exceptions, end of story.  None of the other candidates volunteered a less absolute position.

OK, if you think abortion is murder, you must demand indictment, prosecution and at least life without parole for any woman who arranges her own abortion (am I misunderstanding the word premeditation?), but I’m not aware of any anti-abortion advocate, let alone a “tough on crime” candidate for office, who has done so.  If you think abortion is murder, and you aren’t calling at the top of your lungs for murder-one prosecutions of one in three women, you are a pandering hypocrite without the courage of your convictions, or a flat liar (about the “fetus is a person” part), or simply a coward who won’t say what you think.

More cowardly in my view are the reporters and pundits who get one of these absolutists across an interview desk or in a debate (I’m looking at you, Megyn Kelly) and never ask this question.  Here, say it out loud to practice: “You are sure that a fetus is a person. Do you demand first-degree murder prosecution of women who arrange to abort their fetuses? Have you filed legislation to accomplish this? If not, why not?”

Good followups: for tax-cutters, “How do you expect to pay to imprison for almost a third of all women?” and for death penalty advocates [channelling Barney Frank]: “Would it be correct to say you believe human life begins at conception and ends at birth?”

Guns again

The NRA seems to have been struck dumb, at least for the moment, in response to the shooting in Louisana.  Let me help, because the event demands analysis, not to mention that it’s always correct to say that what we need is more guns.

The tragic events in the Lafayette movie theater could have been prevented if only Louisiana had not disarmed its citizens. If it had ‘shall-issue’ rules for concealed carry, and allowed anyone over, say, 16 open-carry permission, the theater would have been full of armed citizens who would surely have killed the shooter the minute he drew his own weapon…and, in the darkness and confusion, presumably several of each other, grateful for the chance to personally water the tree of liberty.  Instead, senseless tragedy ensued. Governor Jindal, when are you going to give your citizens their Second Amendment rights?

Another recent episode teaches us the importance of everyone, always, packing heat; in New York, this woman would never have suffered violence and robbery if she had only been carrying an appropriate weapon and had training to use it.

More on how museums [under]use their collections

Virginia Postrel (who has engaged the question, “shouldn’t museum holdings be where people can see them?” in the past)  riffs on my Democracy article in Bloomberg View; there was a podcast on Russ Roberts’ EconTalk last month. I’m not sure why this issue seems to ring bells in right-wing circles, but I like the idea that the sort of people likely to turn up at museum trustee meetings are coming upon it.  Maybe they will start to ask the kind of questions tough-minded captains of industry are supposed to be good at, like “how do you expect to run this operation properly if your balance sheet leaves out most of your assets?”