Thursday, February 28, 2013

Sex sells, but so does fear

"Could your family be in danger from this new threat? Our reporter has the exclusive story tonight at 11, tune in to keep your loved ones safe." Tune in to almost any cable news channel, and you'll hear some variation of this. We're scared, so intoxicated and addicted to being afraid of something that when one perceived threat is gone, we freak out if there isn't another to take it's place.

We've become so accustomed to a 24 hour news cycle of salacious headlines and the fear cranked up to 11, that we are almost unable to digest anything other than junky, addictive "information". Tap the remote or touch your smartphone and instantly, there's a slew of fear and controversy tailored for your consumption.

The thing is, fear sells. The cliche statement is that sex sells, but so does fear. Sex appeals to our basic reproductive instinct (and ego), but fear preys on our survival instinct. You can use fear to keep people hooked on your product, your political party, your TV channel, your news-aggregating website, etc.

Then there's the slow news days and the need for filler stories to keep the ratings up in order to get the most money from advertisers. Instead of an insightful and thought-provoking story about some cool but obscure topic like you'd get on NPR, it's a hyped up story on some urban legend or political spin that has been debunked repeatedly by or Why? Because a 15 minute bit about a remote village in Peru isn't going to drive traffic to a website where people might click on the ads. A short documentary on what global warming will do to a fishing community in the South Pacific isn't going to cause viewers to run out and buy Life Alert systems or stock up on guns and ammo.

It really has become an addiction, and addicts to sensationalized information that is easy to digest and require no analytical thought just keep coming back for more. Why do you think it is so hard to convince viewers of Fox News of anything contrary to what comes out of the mouth of Bill O'Reilly, Sean Hannity, etc? To be fair, there's a ton of progressives and liberals who do the exact same thing when asked to back up their claims, and it's just as maddening to me.

How do we stop the madness, the constant manufacturing of a newer and greater outrage? Simple solution, refuse to buy into it. If someone tells you share a story from a rarely heard of website to "spread the truth about" (insert wacky conspiracy theory or bogus news item here), take the time to read it with your bullshit filter on extra high alert. Fact check your friends when they post stuff you know is completely false and/or manipulative, and for the love of god, stop being afraid of everything.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Don't be a sucker

I have a problem with blind ideology. I'm not going to toe the line of one political writer or idea, and neither should you. Just because someone made a cool meme or bumper sticker that attempts to dumb down a message into a couple of sentences, that doesn't mean you have to post it to social media or the back glass of your vehicle.

Whether it is left, right or other, you're being sold something, literally or figuratively. You're being counted on for a vote for a candidate, and giving free promotion to a product (blog, website, book, etc) or idea. Not that there's necessarily something absolutely wrong with that, but at least go into it with your eyes open, and don't be afraid to have a view that different from others. Don't let political figures, or the people selling you their idea of what you need to believe, don't let them dictate your beliefs. Is it true because it's actually true, and backed up with facts and links? Or is it "true" because some hack writer who is making money from or some other site that pays for web traffic, is it because they say it's true and you should share it?

I have some friends and family members, bless their hearts, who believe and share anything and everything that reconfirms their biases. Whether it is conservative or liberal, if it backs up what they already think, I hear it parroted back at me almost verbatim from what was on Fox News or MSNBC, or some social media site that same day. Not all liberals are selfless, noble knights on white horses and not all conservatives or libertarians are selfish Ayn Rand worshipers who would put your 8 year old kid to work in a factory if they could. Yet, selling this one size fits all narrative of what the "enemy" stands for is how the status quo makes money and keeps power.

Think for yourself and take the time to research a story. Don't be afraid to be skeptical and go outside the box. After all, isn't that what being progressive is about to begin with?

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Let's not kid ourselves about social media

You've seen it, the "like and share if" memes, articles and other links that have become more prevalent on social media. Whether it's pitbulls, kittens, disabled people or even memorial pages for Sandy Hook, there's always someone looking to make a buck.

I've had people ask me how it is possible for a page to make money this way. First off, Facebook pays nothing but if you have a page with 500,000 and you post links to a site that has ads on it, money can be made from the volume of traffic and/or advertisement clicks. It's really simple. Take a recycled meme like the one that led you here, slap a link on it and get as many people to share it as possible. You get more "likes" for your page, which builds your audience, and eyes on an article, like this one.

Even legitimate businesses have found that it is easier and cheaper to run contests telling their subscribers to like and share a photo to win something, instead of paying for advertising. When you think about it, it makes good business sense. Why pay Facebook for promotion when you can get it for free? Why run print ads or TV slots when you can get your product featured on social media for nothing?

There's the complete nonsense pages which often say something like "if I get one million likes, my daughter will stop smoking" or "one million likes against cancer" and so on. Sure, there's some legit ones but there's many that aren't. Often, once a page has reached a certain number of fans, it's sold off to someone else who then fills your feed with links to weight loss referrals, free iPhone survey scams and so on.

Then there's the political pages. You've probably read my rants about them in the past. Those are run by people create a page around a political view or viral event, and then get as many people to "like" it as possible. Take a political quote, slap it on an image, stick a referral link back to your page and voila! you're a Facebook activist.

Pages promoting other pages? Chances are, they're owned by the same collective and trying to make sure they get maximum viewership. Behind the scenes, there's constant bickering over images, sharing and so on. Remember the recent blowup between Americans Against The Tea Party and We Survived Bush, You Will Survive Obama? That was about control over a page that was sold to someone who wanted to push more of their articles. It's not about activism and making a difference, it's become about pushing shitty articles to pad a bank account, in the name of activism.

Regardless of where your beliefs lie, believe you me, there's people ready to cater to your views and make money from it. That's just the way it is. Right, left or other, a lot of it is to make some cash.

Saturday, February 9, 2013

In defense of the 2nd Amendment

To those people who want a ban on all guns, knock it off. Honestly, you annoy the fuck out of me almost as much as the crazy people who think that Obama and the woefully ineffective United Nations are going to send confiscation squads to take their guns. You're also just bolstering the argument of the wingnuts. If you don't want a gun, you don't have to have one.

There's plenty of us gunowners who aren't brainwashed by the NRA and Fox News. We keep our pistols and shotguns out of the reach of children. We don't allow mentally ill people to get access to our firearms and we don't mind undergoing a background check to purchase a weapon. We own them because we use them to shoot targets, hunt and defend our homes. I got a .22 at the age of 7 and I've shot thousands of rounds from nearly every pistol, rifle and shotgun made since then, and never at another human being.

There's a firearm for every man, woman and child in the United States, so stop trying to push an outright ban. It's just not going to happen, and every time you bring it up, you just hurt an adult conversation that the rest of us are trying to have.

We can have a honest discussion about what a private citizen should own but not everyone who has a gun wants to shoot an unarmed minority kid or take on an imagined tyrannical government. Gun shows may not be your thing but folks like me enjoy them and we aren't there to buy ammo for the next mass shooting.

If you want to actually make a difference, how about getting behind sensible regulations that will actually work? How about getting away from the ideology of a world without guns and easing towards something more realistic like universal background checks and licensing for high capacity weapons without stirring up the NRA idiots?

However, if you really want to freak out some gun nuts, I suggest showing up to gun shows wearing an Obama shirt and buy up what you can afford. Maybe then, if they think liberals are arming themselves, perhaps they'll finally scream for some regulations.

And finally, if a ban on all firearms is ever proposed, I will stand against it. Until that point, let's not let a bunch of wingnuts on either side hijack our freedoms or this discussion.

Thursday, February 7, 2013

Not all bullets are the same

Since the gun debate has flared up once again, one of the most popular arguments I've heard is that a .223 (AR-15) bullet is no different than a .22 bullet you might use for plinking cans or rats. This is a very disingenuous thing to say, especially when it comes from a gun enthusiast who damn well knows the difference.

First of all, bullet size. A .22 Long Rifle round runs between 32-40 grains. A .223 is usually a 55-62 grain round, so the length and weight are significantly more.

Next, speed. A .22 bullet, depends on the load and grain, travels anywhere from 1,100 to 1,500 FPS (Feet Per Second). A .223 round leaves the barrel between anywhere from 3,000 to 3,600 FPS which is more than double the velocity of a .22 rimfire.

Distance? The maximum range a .22LR bullet is considered to be consistently effective at is 150 yards although I can tell you from personal experience that past 100 yards is difficult. A .223 is effective out to 500 yards.

I know a lot of people also like to say that the Sandy Hook shooter could have done just as much damage with a .22 but that's bogus. There's a reason SWAT teams and the military don't carry AR-15 rifles chambered with a .22. It's because it does not have the velocity and knockdown power that a .223 or 5.56mm does.

Long story short, if someone presents you with this argument, it's a load of crap, and they know it. It is basically a test to see if you know the difference when it comes to bullets, and if you don't, then they can then claim since you don't know the difference, you aren't qualified to talk about guns.

Sources cited:

Tuesday, February 5, 2013

Nobody is trying to take your f*cking guns

Over and over again on Facebook and other social media, I see the same old story. "Obama is going to take our guns away" or "you'll take my guns from my cold, dead hands", these are all things I've observed people I know type out, sometimes in ALL CAPS.

Sadly, it's not like you can talk sense to them. If you're not in 100% agreement with their little delusion, you're either considered ignorant, or part of the great conspiracy to take their deer rifle. Calmly explaining that you in no way would ever support laws that ban the private ownership of firearms and that regulation does not equal confiscation, this does nothing to help. They're so hyped up on the results of the November election (in which a guy who actually signed anti-gun laws in Massachusetts lost) and the false narrative being pushed by the gun lobby, talking sense just doesn't work.

You can't tell them that over and over again, the Supreme Court has upheld the right of an individual to keep and bear arms. Tell them that President Obama has signed into law two different pieces of legislation that expanded the rights of people to carry weapons on Amtrak and into National Parks, and they won't believe you. Go ahead and point out that their fears of some powerful secret UN conspiracy to take away every gun in the US is completely ridiculous, when time and time again, the UN has proven to be ineffective in even maintaining a ceasefire. They either sputter and change the subject, or again, accuse you of being party of the plot.

As our regular readers know, I own guns. I like guns and I use them from time to time. I'm a bit of a gun enthusiast, to be honest with you. If somehow there was a door to door confiscation of guns going on, I'd resist it as well. I support many liberal ideas but an outright gun ban is not one of them, even if it was somehow deemed Constitutional. Hell, I'm not even too big on the idea of banning "assault rifles" but let's get real here. You do not need a 100 round ammo drum to defend your home or shoot deer. You do not need a 31 round clip for your Glock unless you're planning on defending a crack deal gone bad. And seriously, who or what the everloving fuck do you need armor-piercing rounds for? Last time I checked, the only people who tend to wear bulletproof vests are...oh wait, cops.

There you go, and that's what it's really about. A completely paranoid delusion, fueled by the gun industry, that even though we currently have the loosest gun laws in decades, a government that can't even balance a budget can somehow confiscate every gun with the help of the UN which can't even keep civilians from being slaughtered in Kosovo. Who really thinks that a government which can't even keep track of billions in cash that went missing in Iraq can somehow round up every gun owner at the drop of an imaginary tin foil hat and force them to hand over their weapons?

So let's drop the rhetoric. You can own a gun in every state. You can get a concealed carry permit in every state except Illinois if you're willing to go through the hassle. Yes, it's probably too much work in some of those states and I'd like to see the rules loosened for law-abiding citizens, but stop pretending that more guns and less regulation is the answer. Being so fucking paranoid that you don't even want a background check on all gun sales, that's not being pro-2nd Amendment, that's just proof that you've swallowed the whole line of bullshit fed to you by the gun lobby.

You don't need a private armory. At the most, you need a couple of rifles for hunting. Maybe a bolt action .308 for long range deer hunting, and a .30-30 for shooting deer and wild hogs in the brush. A .22 for shooting tin cans, a 12 gauge for an all around hunting/home defense gun, and perhaps a 9mm if you want a concealed carry weapon. Anything more than that, fine should submit to a background check.

And if you really believe in a country where religion and guns are first and foremost, I suggest moving to Afghanistan. After all, isn't that whole line of armed nuttiness you wanted us to fight against in the first place?