One Example of Why I Hate the Press

I complain about the press a lot.  Mostly I complain about them being really, really, really bad at their job.  But, I have other reasons for hating them.  Yesterday, there were headlines all over the internet about processed meats causing cancer.  Bacon is as bad as tobacco, they said.  I’m not exaggerating, I saw more than one headline saying that processed meat is as bad as cigarettes like this and this.  Reading the headlines made it seem pretty terrifying.  And, the problem, the reason I hate the press so much, is that these are completely misleading headlines that are designed to scare us.

If someone were to actually look at the information, they would find that eating 50 grams of processed meat a day increases the likelihood of colorectal cancer by 18%.  The World Health Organization put it on their list of cancer causers because there is a legitimate rise in a specific kind of cancer with the consumption of at least 50 grams of processed meat a day.  But what does that mean?  First of all, 50 grams is about the equivalent of two strips of bacon.  I can’t speak for everyone, but I don’t come anywhere near two strips of bacon a day.  Second, according to the linked article above, only about 6% of British people get colorectal cancer.  And according to the American Cancer Society, it is only about 5% of Americans.  That risk is increased by 18% by eating processed meats.  That means the likelihood of getting cancer increases by about 1%, if you eat at least two strips of bacon a day.

1% isn’t nothing, but it certainly isn’t worth the doom and gloom headlines.  The press is supposed to keep us informed, not mislead us, not scare us.  It’s too bad they are so bad at their job that they can’t figure that out.


A Problem With the Election Coverage

I have a problem with the election coverage. No one is talking about it. The election is in less than two weeks and it seems like most people don’t even know who’s running, let alone who to vote for. How is a democracy supposed to work when elections get ignored.
If the press would do their job, I think things would get better. People need to know that they can have a say in their mayors and school boards and town councils. In some cases, they even have a say in their fire and police commissioners and even judges. If people knew that, why would they ignore the election?
So, here I am, trying to do my part. There is an election on November third and it will impact you whether you vote or not. So try to make that impact as positive as possible. Take five minutes to find out who is running. Find out what they want to do with your schools, roads and taxes. Then, on November third, go vote.

Guns and Christianity

The Bible is a very long and complex book.  It is well worth the effort, though.  Not only does it have plenty of fascinating and insightful material on its own, it is the primary source of religious knowledge for all Christians.  Any serious scholar of religion knows that there are right and wrong ways of reading the Bible.  It isn’t a text book, interpretation is a necessary part of the experience.  But, not any old interpretation will do.  If someone says that Moses was never allowed into the Promised Land because Jews aren’t worthy, that person is reading it wrong.

For Christians, there are a few things to keep in mind.  The New Testament trumps the Old Testament (aka the Hebrew Bible).  The sayings of Jesus trump everything else.  And Jesus often spoke metaphorically.  Here are some examples:  The Old Testament lays out the conditions and procedures for a couple to divorce.  The New Testament specifically says that remarriage after divorce is committing adultery.  So, it doesn’t matter, for Christians, what the Old Testament said, divorce and remarriage are not allowed.  Peter and Paul never contradict anything Jesus said.  It’s not like Jesus said, “Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s,” and then one of the Pauline Epistles starts with, “Well, actually. . .”  And when Jesus says, “It is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of God,” he is not talking about somehow squeezing a camel into a tiny hole (or enlarging the hole to the size of a camel).  It is a metaphor.  It is saying that the moral pitfalls that confront the wealthy are very difficult (or impossible) to avoid.

The Bible is naturally silent on the issue of guns since guns hadn’t yet been invented when the Bible was written and made canonical.  That, however, doesn’t mean we cannot glean what Jesus would have us do with the issue.  This gets into a somewhat tricky area, it becomes kind of a, “What would Jesus do,” scenario.  But, there is a pretty good way to look at the issue from a Christian perspective.

Basically, we just have to decide what it is that guns are for, and then figure out what Jesus says about those activities.  We should set aside the government’s use of guns (military and police) since separation of church and state precludes using the Bible to legislate, and the personal moral question is much more interesting.  So, what do regular people use guns for?  There is sport, hunting, protection from nature, self-defense, crime, protection from the government and collecting.  Most of these are pretty obvious.  Sport, hunting, protection from nature and collecting all seem OK.  I can’t think of any relevant Biblical passages that comment on these things, and certainly not in a way that would ban them (perhaps the Kosher laws would have something to say about hunting as it circumvents the proper method of slaughter, but Christians normally believe that Jesus created a new covenant, making the Kosher laws unnecessary anyway).  Crime is simply not allowed.  Both the Old and New Testaments agree that crime is bad.  They may not always agree about what constitutes a crime, but we can all agree that Jesus would not allow guns for criminal activity.

That leaves just two reasons for owning a gun that might be difficult to know what Jesus would want us to do, self defense and protection from the government.  But these aren’t really hard at all.  The quote above about rendering unto Caesar goes a long way towards answering the protection from the government reason.  If we combine it with one of the most famous passages in the whole Bible, both of these reasons are non-starters for Christians:

But I tell you who hear me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. If someone strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also. If someone takes your cloak, do not stop him from taking your tunic. Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back.

Many would say that this passage is the single most important Christian teaching.  And according to this teaching, self defense is wrong.  We must love our enemies, not fight back against them.  So, it seems that someone who wishes to follow the teachings of Jesus cannot own a gun for self defense or for protection from the government.

We shouldn’t make too much of this.  This isn’t a claim for government action or morality in general.  It is simply a look at the some of the more famous sayings of Jesus and how they apply to the gun debate.  If a person is really interested in being a Christian, then hand guns, automatic weapons, semi-automatic weapons, high capacity magazines, armor piecing ammo, etc., are all impermissible since their only uses are self defense or protection from the government (or crime).  It’s interesting how many of the loudest and proudest Christians seem to value their guns more than their faith.

The Sliding Scales of Baseball Justice

If you follow baseball, you know what happened, but just in case, here’s a quick recap. During Saturday night’s game between the Mets and Dodgers, Chase Utley was the runner at first when there was a ground ball up the middle. If the Mets turned a double play, the Dodgers were out of the inning, so Utley had only one goal, to break up the double play. Anyone who knows anything about baseball knows that. Utley wasn’t trying to make it to second safely, he was trying to break up the double play. He slid very late, like when he was on the bag late. He succeeded in breaking up the double play, but Ruben Tejada, the Mets’ shortstop, broke his leg on the play.
It was announced today that Utley will be suspended for the next two games. That strikes me as completely ridiculous. Yes, it was a late slide, but the injury was an unfortunate accident. Utley wasn’t trying to hurt anyone. And, frankly, if Tejada had been in the proper position, he wouldn’t have gotten hurt. Utley has slid like that dozens of times and never gotten suspended for it before. And Utley is a second baseman. He’s had people slide into him like that dozens of times before, and they never got suspended. It was an unfortunate accident, that’s it. There’s no need for a suspension or a rule change. Let’s just go back to watching baseball, and hope Tejada fully recovers in time for next year.

The 2015 MLB Playoffs

The 2015 MLB playoffs start today.  It’s mostly a good group of teams and looks to be a fun few weeks.  Here is each team along with the reasons why you should root for them.

Houston Astros 86-76 Second AL Wildcard:

Houston is a perpetually snake-bitten franchise and no one expected them to contend this year, so they have the whole underdog thing going for them.  Jose Altuve is awesome.  They have the best baseball names of any team in a long time.  Look at their 25 man roster:

C Max Stassi R / R
C Hank Conger B / R
C Jason Castro L / R
DH Evan Gattis R / R
IF Jonathan Villar B / R
IF Luis Valbuena L / R
IF Jon Singleton L / L
IF Jed Lowrie B / R
IF Marwin Gonzalez B / R
IF Matt Duffy R / R
IF Carlos Correa R / R
IF Chris Carter R / R
IF Jose Altuve R / R
OF Preston Tucker L / L
OF George Springer R / R
OF Colby Rasmus L / L
OF Jake Marisnick R / R
OF Carlos Gomez R / R
P Vincent Velasquez B / R
P Joe Thatcher L / L
P Dan Straily R / R
P Tony Sipp L / L
P Chad Qualls R / R
P Oliver Perez L / L
P Pat Neshek B / R
P Collin McHugh R / R
P Lance McCullers L / R
P Dallas Keuchel L / L
P Scott Kazmir L / L
P Will Harris R / R
P Luke Gregerson L / R
P Mike Fiers R / R
P Josh Fields R / R
P Michael Feliz R / R

I haven’t seen baseball names like that since I was a kid rooting for Ozzie Smith, Willie McGee, Jim Rice, Jack Morris and Fernando Valenzuela.  If I were writing a book about a baseball team, these are the names I would pick.  Oh, and Jose Altuve is awesome.

New York Yankees 87-75 First AL Wildcard:

I’m sorry, but there is no reason why anyone should be rooting for the Yankees.  That goes generally, but especially this year.  They are completely unlikeable and they aren’t even a good team.  Let’s all just hope they lose to Houston so we can enjoy the rest of the playoffs.

Texas Rangers 88-74 American League West Champions:

Sort of like Houston, Texas has defied expectations, which is nice.  They rescued Josh Hamilton from Anaheim, which is also nice.  And Mike Napoli is one of the most likeable players in all of baseball.

Toronto Blue Jays 93-69 American League East Champions:

Toronto hasn’t won since 1993.  A title drought always makes for a good team to root for.  Plus, they have actually been a pretty good team for a while now, but they have had the unfortunate luck of playing in the AL East.  I swear there was a ten year stretch where they came in third every year and would have been first in any other division.  And they have a knuckleballer in their starting rotation.

Kansas City Royals 95-67 American League Central Champions:

There are just so many reasons to root for KC.  Salvador Perez is amazing.  Lorenzo Cain catches everything.  That bullpen is fantastic.  And they are just an all around fun team.

Chicago Cubs 97-65 Second NL Wildcard:

First of all, they’re the Cubs.  Saying you don’t like the Cubs is like saying you don’t like puppies.  They could win ten years in a row and they’d still feel like underdogs.  Arrieta is a legitimate ace.  Bill Murray would be thrilled if they won.  And they have ivy on their wall.

Pittsburgh Pirates 98-64 First NL Wildcard:

Talk about a fun team.  Andrew McCutchen is probably the most fun player in all of baseball.  He should be the most famous, too.  They are stuck with the Cardinals in their division, so no one seems to notice just how good they are.  Their ballpark is beautiful.  Even on TV, it’s nice to look at.  Plus, they won 98 games and they are stuck playing a wildcard game.  If there were any justice, they would win.

New York Mets 90-72 National League East Champions:

It’s been a while for Met fans.  They have a fantastic rotation.  And it would be great for the Mets to get the spotlight for a while.  They are so much better than that other New York team.

Los Angeles Dodgers 92-70 National League West Champions:

Zach Greinke and Clayton Kershaw  are the two best pitchers on the planet.  The more we get to see them pitch, the better.  When he’s healthy, Puig is the most exciting player in baseball.  They are full of tradition and play in another beautiful ballpark.  They haven’t won in more than 25 years.

St. Louis Cardinals 100-62 National League Central Champions:

This is a tough one.  They did have the best record in baseball, so I guess they deserve to be in the playoffs.  And they aren’t the Yankees, so there’s that.

So, there you have it.  This year’s MLB playoffs and reasons to root for each team.  Sorry about the Cardinals and the Yankees.  It’s not my fault there aren’t any good reasons to root for them.

Guns and Mental Illness

As I stated in yesterday’s post, after a mass shooting, there are always people who say that guns aren’t the problem, mental illness is the problem.  This bothers me because it is just a smokescreen used to prevent any real discussion of the real issues.  But it also bothers me for deeper reasons.

Very generally, it bothers me that we distinguish between health, mental health, dentistry and optometry.  I can’t see any good reason why a broken leg and cancer are medical problems, but a toothache, blindness and schizophrenia are different and handled by separate fields and might or might not be covered by insurance.  They are all health problems and should be treated as such.

Mental health in particular is not only treated differently by doctors and insurance companies, it is perceived differently by the general public.  As a result, when people talk about mental illness as a cause of gun violence, they are really talking about a caricature of a person with a mental health issue rather than the reality of people with mental health issues.

Most of us, at some point in our lives, suffer from a mental illness.  This is just like the fact that most of us, at some point in our lives, suffer from a physical illness.  All it really means is that, just like from time to time our bodies don’t function quite like they should, from time to time our minds don’t function quite like they should.  In both cases, it is usually not serious, there is no need to see a doctor.  With a bit of down time, we make a full recovery.  And, in both cases, there are times when it is serious and requires medical intervention.  And, again in both cases, there are in between cases.  These are cases where we would recover without a doctor’s help, but it would take longer with more suffering.  So, hopefully we have access to a doctor in the in between cases so we don’t suffer needlessly.

This really does matter when talking about mass shootings.  Blaming them on mental illness does several things.  First, it helps stigmatize mental illness.  That, in turn, can make people who need help avoid talking to their doctors.  Second, it vilifies something that is quite common, if not ubiquitous.  Mental illness is a huge blanket category.  It’s so big that it isn’t helpful as a descriptive cause of anything.  Third, it makes us both paranoid and amateur psychiatrists.  We’ve probably all known someone who has openly speculated about an acquaintance being a murderer just because that acquaintance is a little odd.  Even in jest, that kind of speculation isn’t good for anyone.

The worst thing, though, about this talk of mental illness in relation to guns is that it tries to create a separate class of people, a class who is not equal under the law.  In the US, we are famously innocent until proven guilty.  This is one of the things that Americans are most proud of.  We talk about it all the time.  It’s part of what we think makes America great.  It pretty obviously follows from this idea that we are innocent before any crime has been committed.  But, people would have us make sure that guns are kept out of the hands of the mentally ill.  Aside from the practical problem that almost all of us are mentally ill at some point, this viewpoint is saying that peaceful, non-threatening, law abiding citizens should be kept from exercising a Constitutional right* because they have an illness.  What’s next?  People with glaucoma can be forced to incriminate themselves?  Paraplegics aren’t allowed to peaceably assemble?  This is scapegoating at its worst and decidedly un-American.

Please keep this in mind the next time someone tries to confuse the debate about guns with a debate over mental health.  There are myriad problems with our healthcare system, including the way we treat mental illness.  I would love to seem them fixed.  But, they have nothing to do with guns or mass shootings.

*I really wish that gun ownership was not a Constitutional right, but it is.  Unfortunately, that’s what the Supreme Court has done to us with their idiotic interpretation of the 2nd Amendment.  If we lived in a sane country, one where guns ownership wasn’t a protected right, then we could easily prevent people with certain mental illnesses from owning guns.  It would be just like preventing the blind from driving cars.  If we ever get to that world, I’d be happy to discuss which mental illnesses would disqualify a person for gun ownership (it wouldn’t be many).  Until then, the only thing that can prevent a person from exercising a Constitutional right is being convicted of a fairly serious crime.

Guns Again, Naturally

There was another mass shooting yesterday at Umpqua Community College in Oregon.  I was going to write about it yesterday, but I was too sad and angry.  I read that this is the 45th school shooting this year.  That is shocking to me.  I had only heard about a few of those.  Apparently school shootings only become newsworthy if at least five people die.  I’m still sad and angry.  I think the reason I can write about it now is reading the all too predictable reactions to the tragedy have made me even angrier.  The two reactions* that have really made me angry are the one about people being too quick to politicize the tragedy and the one about mental illness being the real cause.

There are many problems with the statement that it is too soon to politicize the massacre.  First of all, the statement itself is a political statement, so the person saying it sounds like a hypocrite.  Also, it has the effect of minimizing the tragedy.  Ten people died, but let’s all worry about etiquette.  Besides, what is the etiquette anyway?  Is it a longer waiting period the worse the tragedy or is it shorter?  Was Lincoln too quick to politicize the attack on Fort Sumter?  Was Roosevelt too quick to politicize Pearl Harbor?  How about Bush with 911?  You may counter that those were different, The United States was being attacked.  But, this was an attack, too.  And a lot more people have been hurt and killed by gun crime than all three of my examples put together.  There is simply no such thing as being too quick to politicize a shooting.  It was politicized before it ever happened.  In many ways it was politics that allowed it to happen.  And, sadly, it will take politics to stop it in the future.

The mental illness talk makes me even angrier than the people who don’t want it politicized.  Depending on who is using it, it is either a non sequitor or a red herring.  It’s the verbal equivalent of yelling, “Look over there!” and then running out of the room rather than engaging with the real issue.  Mental illness certainly isn’t a special problem that we suffer from in the States.  It is a problem all over the world.  But shootings are a special problem that we deal with in the States.  Here’s a quote from John Stuart Mill, “If an instance in which the phenomenon under investigation occurs, and an instance in which it does not occur, have every circumstance save one in common, that one occurring only in the former; the circumstance in which alone the two instances differ, is the effect, or cause, or a necessary part of the cause, of the phenomenon.”  According to this Method of Difference, mental illness cannot be the cause.  Since shootings like this only happen in The United States, the thing that is different in The United States must be the cause.  And that thing is guns.

So, I very much want people to talk about this.  It is a tragedy, but the best way to honor the victims is to learn and try to prevent it from happening again.  That means we should all want the politicians talking about it, too.  But, at the same time, we want them talking about the real issue, guns, openly and honestly.  Only then will we stand a chance of progressing.

*I have a very strong hunch that the people trying to make a religious issue out of this shooting will make me furious, but I don’t have enough information yet to know for sure.