Friday, March 29, 2013

The NRA and the Truth

Wayne LaPierre of the NRA said something on Meet the Press last Sunday that he shouldn't get away with, but it looks like he's getting away with it.

He was talking about the M16 rifle and its variants, which use a .223 (or 5.56 mm) cartridge. Using his usual "anybody that knows anything about firearms" ploy, he announced that the .223 was one of the smallest cartridges available, wasn't very powerful -- and he had no idea why people kept talking about large exit wounds.

I think he wants people to think the .223 is just like the .22 Long Rifle that kids used to shoot tin cans with, back in another world. A typical 40 grain .22 LR cartridge has an energy of 104 foot pounds of force. A 62 grain M16 cartridge has an energy of 1,303 foot pounds. The 9 mm Parabellum pistol cartridge -- the round you're most likely to be shot with in Philadelphia -- has an energy of 420 foot pounds.

It's true that the .30-06 rifle round, used in World War II's M1 rifle, typically has an energy of 2,820 foot pounds. The Browning .50 caliber machine gun round typically has an energy of 13,144 foot pounds. This is used in sniper rifles as well as machine guns.

So, yes, there are more powerful rifles out there. But the M16 was designed specifically to produce maximum mayhem at short ranges. It does this, first, by allowing the shooter to fire a lot of bullets quickly. Second, the round is designed to yaw and fragment in the victim's body. It's like inserting a small fragmentation bomb inside a human being and then exploding it.

And, yes, there are large exit wounds.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

What Is to Be Done?

The new pope likes poor people.  I'm glad.  I just hope he's able to see them as individuals.

I think a lot of people tend to see the poor as a herd.  What happens when that happens?

Let's say we're out in the middle of America, in the middle of the nineteenth century.  There are all these buffalo (bison actually).  Wolf packs always knew what to do with the buffalo -- eat them if you can catch them.  The railroads came along and didn't like the buffalo standing on their tracks.  So they had a chat with the buffalo hunters.

Extermination is no longer considered politically correct when the victim is defenseless.  Exploitation, however, remains a gray area.  And, boy, do we exploit the herd of the poor.

That's not usually what you hear about the poor, of course.  Exploited masses, my goodness, that sounds like Karl Marx (and we know he's bad).  No, we demonize them.  I don't think the language about "the criminal classes" is still current, but we don't need to go beyond Johnny Cash's song "Welfare Cadillac" to get an idea of the way many people see the poor.

It would help if we could see the poor as individuals -- fallible, certainly; grasping, every once in a while; vicious, yes, there are a few; trying to navigate through a difficult life, perhaps to know love and find some happiness, yes, there are many.  I think I could walk into a bank on Wall Street and see the same picture (plus money).

The poor are not The Other.  They're people.  They're individuals.  We need to see them. 

Monday, March 11, 2013

Refusing Social Security

Here's another story from my father.  It happened at a cocktail party, possibly in our apartment on 79th Street in Manhattan.  Or it could have been at the Donahues', downstairs.  I found myself, along with other children, at such parties with some regularity.  And it was definitely better than the home alone thing, watching television.  In fact, it was a whole lot better than television.

Daddy was talking with a friend about an older colleague who was very opposed to Social Security.  Opposition to Social Security is pretty much a fringe thing nowadays, but it's important to remember that this wasn't always so.

Anyway, Daddy teed the story up pretty nicely -- he was a golfer, after all.  The older colleague, never a fan of President Roosevelt or the New Deal, had often proclaimed in the doctors' cloakroom at the hospital that he would never, ever collect Social Security benefits under any circumstances.

Here's the kicker.  The older colleague had recently retired.  And, yes -- very quietly -- he had begun to collect Social Security benefits.

I think that's how social welfare gets accepted in this country.  The Foghorn Leghorns never climb down from their fiercely held positions.  They just quietly collect.

I think this was the night that I looked at my father's hands -- they were probably about eye-height -- and actually saw them.  He was a surgeon.  His hands looked like boiled lobsters.  I looked at his friend, also a surgeon apparently, and his hands also looked like boiled lobsters.

Decades later I was on a train somewhere between New York and Philadelphia, talking to a very nice R.N. who sold medical supplies.  I asked her about my father's hands, and she smiled.  Contact dermatitis from all the scrubbing in.  Occupational hazard.  These guys literally had their skin in the game.