Jan 30 2011

By gum, you’re right — guns DON’T kill people.

Published by Patrick Solomon under Politics

I’m going to respond to a Facebook posting here, because my response would be far too long for a comment thread there.

Here’s the post:

To everyone who is calling for anti-gun laws in light of the tragedy in Tucson, may I offer this little tidbit: If guns kill people, then pencils misspell words, cars drive drunk, and spoons make people fat! Remember: Hold the PERSON accountable for their actions, not just the means they choose to utilize!!! Reposted from another friend’s status message. Don’t just like it…..repost it!

It’s amusing how this mixes something fundamentally right with an incorrect analogy, and all for naught.

The correct bit is that guns don’t kill people, any more than cars drive people from place to place (they will in a few years, but that’s besides the point) or pencils write notes. People use tools to accomplish goals, and those are just tools being used by people. And people should be held accountable for what they do.

But here’s where the analogy utterly fails. It compares the misspelling of words and drunk driving to killing people. The first two are a misapplication of the fundamental utility of the tool, while the last one is the correct application of the fundamental utility of the tool. It would have been more apt to say that guns don’t kill people any more than pencils take notes or cars successfully get you from one place to another.

A gun’s fundamental utility is to kill things — the nature of the utility is based on the type of gun, so that thing can either be an animal or a person. Let’s talk about handgus, though. The fundamental utility of a handgun is to kill people. That sentence probably caused someone on the NRA side of the fence to burst out “self defense” — but self defense is a USE for a gun, based on its fundamental utility. If you doubt that, ask yourself how successful a gun would be at self defense if it couldn’t kill someone.

Given a handgun’s fundamental utility, the posting above is for naught. Why? Because it misunderstands the true argument being made by gun control advocates. We don’t want to limit guns because we think they kill people — we want to limit guns because we don’t think that the proliferation of a tool whose fundamental utility is to kill people is a good thing. A subtle difference, but one that “guns don’t kill people” mantra spewers don’t seem to grasp.

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Aug 21 2010

It’s a bacon burger, with bacon IN THE BURGER.

I just got a grinder attachment for my standing mixer. I’d been meaning to get one for about 20 years now, but never got around to it.

First thing I ground was a chuck steak. It was pretty lean, so I ground up a couple of pieces of bacon with it to make up for the lack of fat. I ground it twice — once with a coarse die, then a finer one. I mixed in a little bit of salt (the bacon, I figured, is salty) and some fresh ground pepper, then loosely formed some patties and fried them up in a hot skillet.

A toasted bun, some avocado and HOLY CRAP THESE ARE GOOD.

Seriously, you may have heard some people on the Food TV telling you to grind your own meat for burgers — and they weren’t lying. And this was just a cheap chuck steak! I’m looking forward to trying out some different cuts of meat to see what else I’ve been missing out on for no good reason.

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Jul 29 2010

Here’s an implanted idea.

I’ve seen a lot of chatter about Inception, and it’s definitely a worthy subject for debate. Is it a meta-narrative about movie making? Is it a heist flick with delusions of grandeur? And did that top fall at the end or not?

What I find tedious in the discussions is the inevitable film “expert” who insists that Inception is nothing noteworthy. As if all this digital ink has been spilled about a topic not worthy of the expert’s time, but it’s apparently worth noting that it’s nothing noteworthy.

It’s noteworthy for many reasons, and not just the finer points of “what’s it all mean” that everyone has an opinion about:

  • It’s not a sequel. It references several earlier movies, but isn’t based on them or a re-imagining of anything.
  • It’s remarkably stingy with its computer effects. So much of the action is in-camera, like the scene pictured here, that it stands apart from typical summer action fare.
  • It’s relatively smart. It’s not incomprehensible; it’s layered. There’s a lot going on, including four concurrent action sequences, and it fits together remarkably well.
  • It’s successful. It’s the number 1 movie two weeks in a row, which isn’t bad for a long, thought-provoking actioner. It’s not revelatory in the sense that denser (Webster definition 1a) Hollywood projects will suddenly get green-lit over ones that are merely dense (Webster definition 2a) — but maybe it opens the door slightly to make that process easier. We’ll have to wait and see.

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Mar 30 2010

Health care economics.

Published by Patrick Solomon under Uncategorized

It’s distressing to think that the millions of dollars the health insurance industry spent on trying to defeat reform could have been spent on patient care instead. That’s “opportunity cost” — when you buy one thing, you’ve precluded yourself from buying another thing.

That’s probably the wrong way to look at it, though. Corporations exist to maximize shareholder value, not to take care of people. So it’s a little strange that shares in health care insurance companies went up after reform passed, as if the reform package was actually good for the shareholders of those companies.

If reform was good for shareholders, and the companies spent millions to fight the reform, then the current executives at those firms have performed very, very badly from a shareholder perspective. I’d expect that our capitalist system will punish them forthwith.

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Jan 01 2010

Song for song’s sake.

There have been a couple of times, watching some TV show or movie, when a piece of music suddenly appeared and the combination of images, emotions, lyrics and notes elevated whatever was going on. The use of “This Woman’s Work” in the film She’s Having a Baby is an example of how it can work brilliantly for dramatic effect.

I was thinking about that recently because I ran into an example this week that fires on all cylinders… in a video game, of all places.

I’ve heard the song “No Rest for the Wicked” by Cage the Elephant, and it’s okay. It’s fun, even. But pair it up with the pseudo-cell-shaded, dark-humored goodness of the sci-fi RPG shooter Borderlands and you’ve got a toe-tapping intro that revels in its own bad-assery.

If you’re the type of person who would enjoy a sci-fi RPG shooter, I defy you to watch that and not want to play this. It’s damn near perfect in setting up the visual and emotional tone of the game.

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Oct 09 2009

Suck it, Limbaugh.

Published by Patrick Solomon under Politics

Exactly a week ago, from Rush Limbaugh: “This is the greatest teaching moment for Obama and he won’t get it.  The people of the world hate this country more than they like him, and they don’t like him all that much.”

Today: Obama Wins Nobel Peace Prize.

I’m sure this is somehow a bad thing for America.

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Oct 03 2009

Pilots and possibilities.

Published by Patrick Solomon under Sci-Fi, TV

Stargate Universe“Stargate Universe.” Mostly harmless.

Pilots are funny things. They’ve got either .75 or 1.5 hours to make a good enough impression on you to keep tuning in. They’ve got to introduce a bunch of characters and a situation that is compelling on its own, but ripe enough with possibilities so that the remaining shows in the season don’t suck.

“Lost” had an amazing pilot.  “Star Trek: The Next Generation” had a pretty lousy one. SGU, as it’s known in the biz, just had a mediocre one.

It cribs visually from “Battlestar Galactica” and thematically from “Star Trek: Voyager” (or “Lost in Space,” for you old-timers.) There are too many characters. The setup is oddly contrived. The one thing it has going for it is that there are possibilities for the rest of the season.

So far, two thumbs enthusiastically sideways.

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Aug 17 2009

I don’t see anyone talking about half-blood princes.

District 9“District 9″ is not, despite some hyperbole to the contrary, the second coming of sci-fi cinema. But it has engendered some strong feelings — both positive and negative.

Yeah, there are clever allegories… and yeah, there are plot holes. Depending on who you talk to, the shaky-cam documentary-style cinematography is either a brilliant way to add to the sense of realism or a nausea-inducing brain fart of a first-time filmmaker. The third act is either a non-stop thrill ride or an unfortunate pandering to Hollywood sensibilities. The CGI effects are either gritty and utterly believable or a digital mess that comes off more as a demo reel than an element of an actual movie.

I’ve argued with people about various aspects of this movie, I’ve discussed its themes, and I’ve taken note of the way people are really arguing about his film. What I didn’t note during all that arguing and discussing is, I believe, one of the most important aspects of this movie: Fun.

I haven’t had this much fun at a movie in a long time. “Star Trek” was fun-ish,  but “District 9″ is made of fun. It’s brutal, sad, uplifting, funny — sometimes simultaneously. It’s filled with gore in exactly the way the “Saw” films aren’t, and I uncharacteristically found myself cheering as bodies exploded like water balloons.

And the digital characters? I want to rub George Lucas’ face in this film, because director Neil Blomkamp understands how to get a dramatic performance both from real actors and things that only exist in a computer and our imaginations. I was constantly impressed with what I was seeing, and I couldn’t wait to see what was coming next.

I understand some of the criticisms that have been leveled at the film, and I even agree with some of them. But doesn’t anyone go to the movies just to have fun any more? I’m not talking about Adam- Sandler-esqe in-one-eye-and-out-the-other comedic fun. I’m talking about genuine glee.

That’s got to be worth something.

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Jul 30 2009

Is Netflix the best thing ever?

Published by Patrick Solomon under Action, TV

The Men of 'Leverage'Okay, so their cheap envelopes force the USPS to crack Blu-ray discs. Other than that, what’s not to love about Netflix?

This isn’t a post about “Leverage” per se, despite the photo. (The show is amusing enough, and definitely worth checking out.) I just noticed last week that Netflix offers instant streaming for episodes of the show from season 2. As in, the season that is currently airing Wednesday nights. Each episode apparently becomes available for streaming the day after appearing on TV.

Oh, and the episodes are in HD.

That makes Netflix, in my mind, the best thing out there since sandwich bread started coming in packages already cut up. It also brings to mind two questions, and I’ll rely on you for answers:

  1. Are there any other series that Netflix is offering this way?
  2. Are the cable companies crapping their pants? Seriously, if I hadn’t already scaled back my cable to the lowest of the low packages, this sort of thing would have pushed me over the edge.

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May 22 2009

If it works, how can it be wrong?

Published by Patrick Solomon under Politics

I want to make two points about Dick Cheney’s views on waterboarding. Here’s what he said in his speech to the American Enterprise Institute in Washington, D.C., yesterday.

In top secret meetings about enhanced interrogations, I made my own beliefs clear. I was and remain a strong proponent of our enhanced interrogation program. The interrogations were used on hardened terrorists after other efforts failed. They were legal, essential, justified, successful, and the right thing to do. The intelligence officers who questioned the terrorists can be proud of their work and proud of the results, because they prevented the violent death of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands, of innocent people.

That’s a bold claim, and one that — conveniently — may never be provable. He can continue to point to real or fictitious classified documents that may or may not back up what he’s saying, and those documents cannot be unclassified for security reasons. He can even go through the motions of asking for such documents to be released, knowing full well that they won’t be.

Of course, he could have released such documents when he was in power, but didn’t. Applying Occam’s razor,  he’s lying.

It amazes me that we’re even having this discussion about the efficacy of torture. It’s beyond the point. The point is, you don’t get to do things that are unconstitutional. Police might have a much easier time with the war on drugs if they could just randomly enter people’s houses and search for contraband, but that pesky constitution says they can’t. Even if I could prove that such a policy would be efficacious, it’s not going to happen.

But let’s take Cheney’s logic to the next few steps:

  • If our enhanced interrogation techniques, which included waterboarding, are legal, essential, justified and successful, does that mean all methods of torture are thus? If you’ve waterboarded a guy 180 times in one month and he hasn’t talked, would it be okay to waterboard his young child in front of him? Why or why not? Would it be okay to switch to flaying?
  • If this works so well, why limit it to a few dozen suspects in Cuba? How about letting police departments all over the U.S. start using these techniques on anyone suspected of any crime? They’re legal and they work, after all.

I can’t believe this stuff even needs to be discussed in this country. Grabbing people and secreting them away to hidden dungeons where they’re tortured into confessing their crimes — that’s what we were told happened in the police state of the former Soviet Union. The United States was supposed to be fighting that sort of thing.

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