What Annoys Jeff this Week?

1. Loaded Thursdays. A few weeks ago I thought it would be a good idea if I loaded Thursday from top to bottom with meetings. Getting them out of the way, having the bulk of the week to prep for them, and generally ruining as few days of the week as possible running hither and yon to these sessions really felt like I was on to a winner. Compressing meetings onto one date should free up time and be efficient. Maybe it is, but in my planning I forgot the First Rule of the Bureaucracy: The Bureaucracy must expand to consume all available time and resources. I now have more meetings and less prep time than I did before arranging this new wonder schedule. If someone could step in and hit me in the face with a shovel the next time I have a good idea it would be incredibly helpful.

2. Common sense. If you log on to social media and call for common sense legislation on any topic, but then call anyone who disagrees with you on any point an idiot, a terrorist, or worse, you’re pretty much the reason we can’t have an effective dialog in this country about anything. On issues of social policy, thinking people can have wildly differing opinions about the whole array of ends, ways, and means. Refusing to so much as discuss any idea that differs from your own forecloses any possible avenue for progress. In a republic of free people, what may be “common sense” to you, may well be nonsense to another. There’s no hope of finding a scrap of common ground without the conversation, though.

3. I’m not the decider. Look, I gave up an dreams I ever had of being a professional decision maker a long time ago. I can advise, I can recommend, I can object strenuously, and I can present information in any format and order it needs to form a coherent platform from which to base decisions. What I can’t do is fight city hall. I won’t be the guy who’s tilting at windmills. Let someone else take on the burden of making a decision based on the best data and analysis I can provide them. I don’t want it. But for the love of Pete, once that decision is made can we all agree to shut up and move out smartly? No? Fine. Let’s all just sit around and piss and moan that we think it should be different. That’ll do the trick.

Common sense…

In the wake of today’s presidential decree of executive action on the issue of gun control I keep hearing the refrain that we need “common sense” legislation. That leads inexorably to the discussion of how we define common sense. The very definition of those two words will be very different depending on whether you happen to be one of my gun grabbing friends on the left or my open carry friends on the right. What smells like common sense to me likely wouldn’t satisfy either group. Perception is a bitch like that.

Until we arrive in a place where one side isn’t viewed as wanting to put a rifle in every hand and the other side isn’t viewed as wanting to melt every barrel for scrap, I don’t see a way towards even a basic definition of what “common sense” legislation might look like. Until we find that definition we’ll continue to have what we have today, which is both sides entrenched and able to hold the other largely in check indefinitely.

As long as we’re locked into an argument where the slightest retreat by either side is seen as threatening the collapse of their entire position, I can’t imagine what common sense might look like. I foresee only continued entrenchment and both camps racing away from the middle of the discussion.

What’s changed?

The great debate over the virtue of the Second Amendment rages today as loudly as ever. Both sides scream past each other, fearing that giving an inch of ground will inexorably lead to the tide running hard against them.

There have been firearms in the United States since before we were the United States. The first colonists to wade ashore in Jamestown brought ball and powder in equal parts to hunt on and defend the new world they intended to carve out of the American wilderness.

What you don’t hear about them doing is walking into a tavern or church and taking a pot shot at their neighbors. I’ve not done an exhaustive study on the topic, but I can’t think of a large number of historical example of what we’d commonly call random acts of “mass violence” in schools, businesses, and public places until the latter half of the last century. I have no doubt they happened, what with humans being a particularly violence prone species and all, but a quick look doesn’t point to seeing it happen with particularly great frequency.

So my question, then, is what’s changed? What makes the average American in 2015 more likely to walk into a church to unload both proverbial barrels than his counterpart in 1815 or 1915? Access to firearms isn’t a satisfactory answer. If anything, a gun was easier to get throughout most of American history than they are today. They hung on the mantle, were propped in the corner, or lived in bedside tables without benefit of trigger locks or gun safes. I’m old enough to remember a time when a rifle behind a truck’s bench seat in the school parking lot meant that hunting season was open, not that one of the students (or the teachers) was plotting mayhem and chaos.

What’s changed? Are we intrinsically worse human beings than our predecessors? Are we less able to judge the relationship between action and consequence? Or do we just tend more towards being batshit crazy than our saintly ancestors?

Politics as usual…

First, let me say up front and for the record that the actions of this small excuse for a man are absolutely abhorrent to every right thinking person. I had hoped that we could collectively take at least 24 hours before turning tragedy into something political. Looking around Facebook, Twitter, and the major news sites that clearly was overly optimistic. Instead of focusing on the demented actions of a single coward, many in the amateur and professional electronic media this afternoon rushed to the “guns are bad” banner.

Plenty of smart people, many of my friends included, believe that to be the case. I think they’re wrong, but today still isn’t the moment for that debate. I’ll only leave you today with a single thought: No gun law in existence here or anywhere else on the planet can prevent bad men from performing evil deeds. I’m sure to be roundly criticized for saying it, but the root of our problems isn’t an inanimate object, whether that object is a gun, or a knife, or lead pipe. Deal with the underlying causes, and the profoundly unfortunate effects will largely go away.

Though he was writing specifically about the history and use of rifles, a quote from Jeff Cooper‘s The Art of the Rifle seems particularly relevant to the inevitable discussion of what happens when people and firearms intersect. On days like today, I’m reminded that “The rifle itself has no moral stature, since it has no will of its own. Naturally, it may be used by evil men for evil purposes, but there are more good men than evil, and while the latter cannot be persuaded to the path of righteousness by propaganda, they can certainly be corrected by good men with rifles.”

A question for the masses…

This is probably one of those things that’s “too soon” to rant about, but I’m looking for some guidance from you good and wise people here on the internet. I want to know what the hell goes through someone’s head when they wake up one morning and decide that it’s a good day to go on a shooting rampage at their local college, high school, box social, cafeteria, or other public place. I have a vague recollection of being in high school, and sure, it has its moments of pure suck. I did the college thing and for the most part had a fantastic time although it too had its moments. I also grew up with guns in the house, watching violent movies, and playing early versions of the now-infamous “first person shooter” video games. Somehow, I and everyone I know managed to survive this experience without shooting up 50+ of our friends, acquaintances, and associates. Come to think of it, we didn’t shoot anyone. The worst thing that ever happened was the occasional fist-fight. Brutal? Yes, of course. Deadly? No, not so much.

I’m too damned young to start telling stories that start off “well, when I was in school…” But still, I want someone to fill me in on what the hell has changed in the last 8-10 years, so if you’ve got the answers, now would be the time.