Wednesday, December 9, 2015

Political theater of the absurb

The latest high profile mass shooting -- the incident in San Bernadino a few days ago -- seems to have brought out record levels of The Stupid in various pundits and politicians. I was listening to the radio yesterday and got treated to a lot of blathering about maybe revisiting the idea of "threat levels" as well as working on ways to better monitor who's liking what on Facebook and other social media. Why? Because Tashfeen Malik and Sayeed Farook had liked posts on Daesh websites. Apparently if we can just magically monitor every Facebook account in the world and then place surveillance on every person who "likes" anything associated with Daesh or other terroristic groups, we'll be able to prevent incidents like the San Bernadino attack.

The Stupid, it burns. There are literally thousands of groups out there that advocate violence in some form or another. Then when you add in the millions of people who create memes using quotes from Chairman Mao, Lenin, Che Guevera, and others who advocated revolution, you're looking at a lot of server hours as various programs search for key phrases or names. If I quote Mao in a post, e.g., 'power comes from the barrel of a gun,' am I going to end up on a watch list or have FBI agents knocking on my door? Probably not, given that my profiles all indicate I'm an older-than-dirt white female retiree. But how would anyone know my profiles are accurate? Like they say, on the Internet no one knows you're a dog. People's profiles can be 100% fictitious. You may not be able to obtain a fake passport or a phony driver's license as easily as you once could out in the real world, but when it comes to creating fake personas in cyberspace? People do it all the time. Toss in the infamous "dark web" and various encryption programs and if someone is serious about hiding who he or she is, they're able to do it. Bottom line: bloviating about being able to protect us from fanatics of any ideological stripe is just that: bloviating. Sound bites meant to placate the public but almost utterly devoid of any practical content. I will concede that with sufficient personnel and computer equipment, it's possible to track down the dumber ideologues, the morons who do their plotting on devices sitting in their own living rooms, but intercepting the smart ones? Not nearly as likely.

Of course, the meaningless blathering about monitoring cyberspace isn't the only example of The Stupid, It Burns. Once again we got to hear about the "arsenal" the couple had assembled. Arsenal? Compared to the weapons stashes owned by quite a few Americans, the "arsenal" Tasheen and Sayeed had was pretty patethic. Even the ownership of the assault rifles is no big deal in today's gun obsessed landscape. When the younger daughter lived in Texas, she had a couple of co-workers who were ammosexuals, a married couple that loved to take their Bushmasters out into the back yard and fire off a thousand or so rounds almost every weekend. They lived in a rural area so didn't have to go to a range. Hearing about their hobby made me happy we don't have any neighbors quite that enamored of assault weapons -- the worst we deal with is a neighbor who's into black powder so for a month or two in late summer we get to hear him firing off what sounds like a cannon as he practices for deer season. I always wonder just how much of the deer is left if he actually shoots one because it always sounds more like he's firing off a mortar of some sort than a long gun, but that's a digression.

The bottom line is that there was absolutely nothing unusual about the number of guns the San Bernadino couple owned. When you can step into Dunham Sports (like the S.O. and I did yesterday) and find gun safes on display that will hold 36 long guns, you know that it takes a lot more than a handful of weapons to qualify as an "arsenal." Maybe a reporter or a pundit who isn't into guns would view a grand total of four guns as an arsenal, but to anyone who's ever been around hunters? Four guns? That's it? That's not an arsenal. That's barely dipping into a hobby. You get out into rural areas, and the average household is going to have at least double that (a small caliber varmint gun or two, a couple shotguns, a deer rifle or two. . . maybe some hobby stuff, like a muzzle loader that uses black powder. . .) The attempt to read something sinister into the possibility that the couple actually went to a gun range to practice was pretty bizarre, too. Lots and lots of people go to gun ranges every day. Some just go occasionally to brush up on their skills; some are there every chance they get. Ted Nugent used to brag about going out in the woods on his place to cut down trees with automatic weapons; I'm sure there other gun nuts out there who do similar stuff. Does that mean that one of these days they're going to stroll into their workplace and off their co-workers? Probably not. (Statistically they're more likely to kill themselves or a a family member before they go after casual acquaintances or strangers.)

And then there were the pipe bomb components. . . yet another sign of just how out of touch with the real world the pundits and talking heads are came when I heard someone on NPR talk about how hard it would be to make pipe bombs because there's all the work involved in cutting a pipe into the right lengths or how technically difficult it would be. The man has apparently never set foot in a Home Depot or, for that matter, a local hardware store. Walk into the plumbing section and you can find lengths of pipe ranging from just a couple inches in length to many feet. Why use a hacksaw when you can buy stuff ready cut? Although I guess I should be glad no one apparently thought about that. If the talking heads had, no doubt we'd get to hear a lot of blathering about how law enforcement should start monitoring hardware stores for people buying plumbing parts.

The Stupid, it burns. 


  1. Trump has already suggested that we might need to shut down the internet. And says that 1st-Amendment-based objections to this proposal are "foolish."

  2. We are putting these disturbing events in a particularly alarmist context at the moment, I feel, almost as if the media is looking for a story all the time.

  3. any teenager can make a black powder pipe bomb from scratch. i know this


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