Friday, December 28, 2012

Repeal the 2nd Amendment

If Thomas Jefferson wasn't in Paris from 1784 to 1789, we probably wouldn't be having the discussions we are having now about the 2nd Amendment to the Constitution.  James Madison, the author of the Bills of Rights, had a great legal mind, but was not the writer that Jefferson was.  The original intent would be clearer. We deal the consequences today and still battle over its meaning.  

It is difficult to understand what was originally meant by the 2nd Amendment.  More than one version of the text exists, Congress approved one version, while the states approved another one. The image of the text that the Library of Congress has on file has only one comma.  

"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."
This version implies that the individuals have a right to bear arms for their own use. This is the version that the states ratified.  But if you look at the amendment now, with the comma that was added by Congress (upon federal government ratification), it could have a different meaning.  
"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."
As an English major, I have a problem with the interpretation of this as protecting the rights of  individuals as opposed to that of a militia.  The comma between "Militia" and "being" makes "Militia" the subject of the sentence.  With "Militia" being the subject, this makes "shall not be infringed" the verb. The simple structure of the sentence is this:  "a militia shall not be infringed." This is a moot point, of course, the Supreme Court has ruled a number of times on this.

The problem with this discussion is that the original intent of the founding fathers is irrelevant. When the Bill of Rights was written, the most powerful weapon available was a musket. It had one shot, it was difficult to aim and took about a minute to reload. They feared a tyrannical government so the ability to defend yourself against that government was important.  But once your government has nuclear weapons and drones, shouldn't the idea of arming yourself against the government be shelved. The Constitution is a living document. Jefferson believed that we should throw it out every twenty years.  You don't have to delve deep to know what he thought on this subject. You just need to look at this quote written in stone on the Jefferson Memorial:
But I know also, that laws and institutions must go hand in hand with the progress of the human mind. As that becomes more developed, more enlightened, as new discoveries are made, new truths disclosed, and manners and opinions change with the change of circumstances, institutions must advance also, and keep pace with the times. We might as well require a man to wear still the coat which fitted him when a boy, as civilized society to remain ever under the regimen of their barbarous ancestors.
The original intent argument is the nonsense that the right wing likes to cling because progress scares them.  We are a new age wearing the tattered rags of an old paranoia that is no longer relevant.  

Oddly enough, gun ownership in America is down ... that is, less people and households own guns. With more and more of our society becoming urban, less people hunt. This is the scary stat:  we have more guns than ever.  What that means is that those who own guns, own a lot of them. People are stockpiling them. I am not suggesting that everyone that owns guns is a raving mad lunatic ranting about the Federal Reserve or Socialism, but I am saying that there is sufficient evidence that some of them are. Enough so that taking political action is not unreasonable.  

We need to repeal the Second Amendment and rewrite it to be more clear and modern. We can protect people's right to own a rifle for hunting and/or a handgun for personal protection while  also protecting us from more dangerous weapons. I used to think that we could live with the Second Amendment the way it is now, but when you see that first graders are being shot in their schools and firemen are being shot from rooftops, then I think that it is time to stop being so timid about this. Being reasonable and polite isn't working, it is time to be unreasonable and rude. Like most progress, the lack of political will stands in the way. The horror of Newtown is waning.  We need to keep talking about it.  If we cannot do this after these events, then we are doomed. I don't want to have to arm myself to go to the mall, a movie theater or when I go into work.  None of us should.  It is time we wrapped this old man into a well fit coat.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

My Tribute to Podcasts Everywhere

Every new year, since creating this blog, I have set a goal to make more blog entries than the year before.  Usually this means, I find myself on New Year's Eve rushing to finish the last blog entry of the year. One year, I had to blog twice on New Year's Eve to meet the goal. This year, I guess, is a good year because I met my goal with this entry in mid-December. Also, early this Fall I hit the 5,000 hit mark which took five years. I am excited to say today it is over 6,800 just a few months later. Things are good on the blogging front. For the last blog entry of the year (this could be it), I would like to do something different.

I cannot imagine how difficult finding all the information I have used in this blog without the Internet (google, wikipedia, podcasts etc.) A co-worker of mine, who is in her 20's, recently asked me, "What did people do before Google?" It is hard to believe the amount of time I'd have to spend in a library researching all this stuff if I didn't have the net. The way I have consumed media has changed drastically throughout the years. When I was young, before the net, it was the evening news and occasional news magazine or daily paper ... I wasn't very well informed. College was a black hole for me in regards to news because I was so busy with classes, homework and part-time jobs, I had no time to consume news. I hadn't discovered NPR (National Public Radio) at that point either. It wasn't until I moved to Boston, after college, that I discovered NPR. I used to read the Sunday Boston Globe at that point also. Sunday mornings I would catch a jazz brunch at a bagel place in Jamaica Plain and read the Sunday paper from start to finish. It wasn't until I met my wife that I became an NPR-head, simply through the osmosis of hanging out with her. (Please note: we have a dog named Cokie Roberts.) Even if I didn't hear a story on NPR, I'd hear it from her. For a brief period, I was streaming some of my favorite NPR shows from their web site. It wasn't until I was living here in Vermont, in the early 2000's, that I discovered podcasts. I had just bought our first iMac and it came loaded with iTunes.  I went onto the iTunes store to check out the music and I noticed something called a podcast. I didn't know what they were, but curiosity got me where I was going. I found that some of my favorite shows had podcasts which you could subscribe to for free. I clicked on NPR's Science Friday and it downloaded to my Mac. It was so simple that I started subscribing to a bunch of my favorite shows. I discovered that when a new show came out, it would just show up on my computer. My wife and I decided after about a year of listening to podcasts that we didn't need cable television anymore because our entertainment, listening to podcasts, was enough. We were more informed than ever. Now that I download the podcast directly to my phone, I couldn't be more happy with the situation. They are just an integral part of my life. I can listen to them anywhere.

Less than half of the podcasts I listen to now are from NPR. A lot of them come from completely independent entities.  I would like to spend some time sharing with you some of these with links to the shows.  My schedule varies but it looks something like this:

Adam Carolla: I start every work day with Carolla because it is light, funny and helps me deal with the trauma of the morning. This is the most popular podcast in the history of podcasts and is currently in the  Guinness Book of World Records for the most downloads. This show is not for everyone. If you are particularly sensitive to racial, gender, toilet or adult humor then you will probably not enjoy this show. Some of my favorite guests in the past have been: Dr. Drew, Ken Burns, Joe Walsh, Albert Brooks and David Alan Grier.

Merriam Dictionary's Word of the Day: Every day get a new word that you may not know. It is basically a dictionary entry read out loud.

Garrison Keillor's Writer's Almanac: Most people I know hear this one on their way into work in the morning. Since I telecommute, I hear it while sipping my coffee in my toasty little office. Mr. Keillor shares some of his favorite works of literature and some history as well.

KEXP's Song of the Day:  Alternative rock station KEXP in Seattle gives you a song to listen to each day.  If I like them, I find it on iTunes and buy it.

On Point with Tom Ashbrook:  This show comes out every week day, two one hour shows.  So what I don't catch daily, I listen on the weekend. Friday's Week In the News can't be missed.  This may be my favorite show on NPR. Tom is a great host capable of carrying an intelligent conversation on most subjects. One day he'll be talking about pies and the next, a heated discussion about Hamas. I don't catch every show, but I often listen to episodes that I don't expect to be interested in and I get pulled in.

ESPN's Baseball Fantasy Focus:  This is broadcasted during the Major League baseball season and leading up the season only. They talk about baseball for fantasy baseball fans. I am in two leagues. This year I won one and came in second place in the other.  This show certainly helped.  

C-SPAN:  Mondays are difficult so I start the work week with something dry. I listen to  three of their podcasts. Afterword comes out every week and has a guest journalist interviewing an author of a recent non-fiction book.  Q and A is hosted by C-SPAN founder, Brian Lamb, where he interviews a non-fiction author for an hour. Lectures in History is my newest podcast. Every week you get a different lecture from a US history professor.

CBC3: CBC Radio 3 is Canada's music radio station. Some of the best rock n' roll in English is coming out of our neighbor to the north. Thanks to this Podcast, I discovered such great performers as Arcade Fire, Dan Mandan, Corb Lund, Joel Plaskett and Feist. The DJ's are annoying but the music is great.

Dan Carlin: Dan is an independent podcaster. I really enjoy both his shows, Hardcore History and Common Sense.  The history show doesn't come out often enough. Due to the amount of work that goes into the show, but it is worth the wait. Common Sense addresses current events. I have supported this show, financially, in the past.

Freakanomics: If you have read the great non-fiction book Freakanomics by Stephen J. Dubner and Steven D. Levitt, then you are in for a treat, because Dubner (the journalist of the two authors) has a podcast.  You can hear parts of it on NPR here and there, but the whole show is available on podcast.  This is the book that verified what I have been saying for years ... economics can explain everything.

Free Library of Philadelphia: If you are ever in downtown Phillie, you may notice the amazing public library they have. Their lecture series is now available via podcast.  You can hear great authors reading their books, lecturing and answering questions about their latest works.

My History Can Beat Up Your Politics: It is one of the better more even-handed history/political podcasts. The host, Bruce Carlson, goes into the minutia of congress and some presidential decisions that you may not know as well as you think you do.  I have to stop working to listen to this one.  He gets a lot into a very small amount of time.

The Nerdist: This one is for nerds.  Comedian Chris Hardwick talks about sci-fi movies and books, comic books and nerdy television shows usually with an interesting guest.  I just heard an episode when he chatted with Andrew Lincoln from The Walking Dead that was highly entertaining. This podcast reminds me that I am not alone in my nerdiness.

Intelligence Squared: This NPR show may be the best issue based show on-line. It is an Oxford style debate where they tackle some of the biggest issues of our day. The two sides of the debate have equal time to defend their point of view and the audience votes for a winner.
Shortwave with Grant Lee Phillips: Grant Lee Phillips is one of more soft spoken rockers you will ever hear.  He is a great host.  He has casual conversations with rock musicians.  The first one I ever heard was with Amie Mann, one of my favorite song writers.  I have been hooked since.

Sound Opinions:  This is an NPR rock and roll show from Chicago's WBEZ.  These two rock critics, Jim and Greg, talk about rock and roll for an hour.  This is probably the most intelligent rock show out there. Thanks to these guys I've been exposed to some great bands like Blitzen Trapper, The Black Keys, The Decemberists and The Drive-by Truckers.

Sports with Frank Deford: This is a very short NPR commentary about sports. Mr. Deford is always funny, witty, biting and poignant.

MacBreak Weekly: These folks discuss all things Apple: iTune, iPhone, iPods and Macs. Some of my favorite apps on my phone are stuff that I heard talked about on this show.

Write the Book: This is a local podcast for writers. Vermonter Shelagh Shapiro interviews authors near and far about their recent projects.

Science Talk: This is produced by the Scientific American magazine.  They talk about subjects that were published in their magazine.  This hasn't been coming out as often as it used so I hope it is not going away.

FolkAlley: This comes out once a month.  It is folk music only. If you don't like folk, don't listen.

Endless Boundaries:  This is jam band music.  If you don't like music like the Grateful Dead, Phish and Gov't Mule this is not for you.

Slate's Hang Up and Listen: This is probably the most intelligent sports show I've ever listened to. Baseball is the only sport I follow but these guys fill me in on whats happening in other sports.

The weekends I listen to podcasts that my wife and I enjoy together.  NPR shows like Wait Wait Don't Tell Me, Sunday Puzzle with Will Shortz, Mountain Stage, Radio Lab and On the Media can be heard on the radio. But if we miss them, we can hear the podcast.

The podcast we listen to together are:

Slate's Gabfest: Our three hosts talk about the week in politics.  My favorite part is Emily's updates on what is coming up for the Supreme Court which is a branch of the government I don't hear enough about.

Stuff You Should Know: These two guys are very entertaining.  They have great chemistry together.  They discuss all kinds of things ranging from How Fire Works to What the Dead Sea Scrolls are.  Very light and informative.

The Thomas Jefferson Hour:  We donate to this independent show.  Actor and humanities scholar Clay Jenkinson portrays our third President.  He addresses modern issues like gun control and space exploration as well as slavery, free will and the other founding fathers.  This show is a delight.

The Economist's Week Ahead: Editors of the The Economist talk about events that are coming in the week ahead like elections, global summits and impending deadlines.

Big Picture Science: Scientists from the SETI institute talk science with some very geeky humor mixed in.

Planet Money: This is an NPR show but only parts of it are played on the radio as segments in other shows.  To hear the whole show, you need to listen to the podcast.  If not for this show, I would probably be lost on what is happening in the economy.

Real Time with Bill Mahr: If I were to pay for HBO, it would be for this show. Fortunately, you can get the audio only of the show via iTunes for free. This is always a good laugh.  I don't always agree with Mr. Mahr but I appreciate his insights and those of his guests.

One show we listen to only on a special occasion.  We go on a lot of road trips: drives to Chicago, Phillie, the Georgia coast, Canada etc. When we find ourselves getting sleepy, we put the PodQuiz on. I save them up on my phone for when we need them. It is a very well put together trivia show.  Nothing like some good trivia to keep you awake while driving.

I believe I covered most of them. I always trying checking out new podcasts.  If you know any I should check out, post a comment please.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

In Defense of Rudeness

Back in the 1990's, I was one of the few people I knew, outside of work, that was on the internet. I had to carry a beeper and often got called in the middle of the night, to assist clients with software problems. Some of them were in Europe, some local, I had to spend hours resolving some of their issues. Sometimes I spent the entire night working and then had to go into the office the next day. I had a dumb terminal that I connected to the mainframe at work via a modem and from there jumped onto the client's systems. The first time I ever connected to a web page, it was all text which you had to tab from hypertext to hypertext to navigate around the page. It all seems so raw now and yet, sometimes it seems like the good old days when only the geeks were on-line.

Because I was somewhat of an early adopter, I figured out a lot of the social concepts and rules of the internet long before a lot of the less technical people I know did.  So when everyone else I know ended up getting on-line ... well, their initiation could get quite irritating at times. Sometimes I would get emails that are written entirely with THE CAPS LOCK KEY ON, which is not only difficult to read but on the net, it means that you are yelling. So you have to politely explain this to them. This usually works. One person I know, who got on-line for the first time in 2004 or so, took a very long time to figure out what Spam was. She would forward me her Spam telling me, I thought you would find this interesting. So not only did I have to deal with my junk mail, I had to deal with hers. What made it worse, she would sign me up for "deals" and give out my email to spammers. She also would send me jokes or warnings some of which have been out on the net so long that I am sure I saw them when I was new to the net.  I asked her in person and via email many times to stop. "If you want to send me an email to converse with me and see how I am doing, please do so but please stop sending me stuff that isn't written by you." But this did not work. After my polite requests were ignored many times, I decided to be rude. I sent her a scathing email in response to a fairly offensive joke she sent me about Southerners. Magic happened!  She stopped sending me crap.

I try not to be rude, at least not as a first response, if someone continually doesn't listen to your polite plea ... I let 'er rip. When someone ignores your politeness, it is okay to be rude back to them.people should listen to you when you are polite.  Fair warning, being rude or sending an angry email rarely ends well.

I am beginning to feel this way about politics, particularly when it comes to the environment and science in general.  Republican resistance to science has gotten so bad that I have told some local Republicans, people I like and respect, that I will not vote for them because they are a Republican even if they are not a nut. I used to vote for a person regardless of their party, no longer. I tell them that their party has to get a clue about science or they need to change parties, until then, I am going to vote for the opposition and possibly even donate. I have even gone so far as tell Republicans to get off my land, that politicians with an (R) at the end of their name are not welcome.

Democrats are not perfect on science either, but the difference is significant. In 2008, when asked during a Republican debate if any of them didn't believe in evolution, three of them raised their hand. This is just embarrassing as an American. If Republicans are going to be so stupid to put people like this as a candidate for the most powerful position on the planet, why should we be polite with them? It seems obvious to me politeness is not working. I normally choose to be civil, but when civilization itself is at stake, the stakes are too high. In the past two years, 80% of America's counties have requested aid for national disasters.  New York City is now looking at a Holland style seawall because their once-a-century flood has happened twice in the last three years. During this year's Republican Convention, head moron Romney laughed at President Obama for wanting to use government to heal the Earth (like most other civilized nations are doing now).  Romney received applause. This is what we are dealing with. People are so stuck in their own bubble that they disregard evidence and logic and applaud for (and unfortunately, vote for) someone who reinforces their ignorant beliefs. Democracy is scary sometimes. If it wasn't better than all the alternatives, I'd be joining the revolution. Until I see some significant change on this front, I am going to be as rude as my mood allows to any Republican I feel like. They pretend to be concerned about their children's future and they ignore global warming, for shame.

How did we get here?  The United States used to lead the world in our vigor for science.  We invented the internet, we landed on the moon, the telephone, the phonograph, mass production ... these amazing feats are American. Some say it began in 1918 with William Jennings Bryan's "The Prince of Peace" speech where he began to blame Darwinism for the moral decay of America. The speech had legs and ultimately lead to the Scopes Monkey Trial in 1925. Some say it started much more recently, during the American involvement in the Vietnam War, President Nixon announced a supersonic transport program, when his science advisers came out against the program, he fired them all. This set a precedent in that if you don't like what science has to say, just ignore the science. A similar situation arose during the Reagan Administration over Strategic Defense Initiative. Wherever it some point, someone figured out that preying on people ignorance and/or fear of science can get you elected. As ignorance of science grows, the effectiveness of this type of politics does as well.  

I am pleased with the results of this year's election. It gives me some hope that the Republicans may get the message, but the margin of victory was too small.  How many more storms will it take before the tide turns more towards reason?  Perhaps, I don't have to be rude ... mother nature is being rude for me.