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Dan Phiffer Dan Phiffer builds websites, makes art, and teaches in NYC

Three weeks, 2,000 lives lostwww.nytimes.com

From Nicholas Kristof’s op-ed in the New York Times:

For three weeks American politicians have been fulminating about the peril posed by Syrian refugees, even though in the last dozen years no refugee in America has killed a single person in a terror attack.

In the same three weeks as this hysteria about refugees, guns have claimed 2,000 lives in America. The terror attacks in San Bernardino, Calif., and at the Planned Parenthood clinic in Colorado Springs were the most dramatic, but there’s an unrelenting average of 92 gun deaths every day in America, including suicides, murders and accidents.

See also: Friday’s front-page editorial, “End the Gun Epidemic in America,” the first since 1920. Also: The Guardian’s visualization of mass shootings.

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Why we don’t have much good data on gunswww.nytimes.com

From Michael Luo’s 2011 series on guns and public safety, this gets at the heart of the political limitations on doing research into the health risks of guns in America.

C.D.C. financing for research on gun violence has not stopped completely, but it is now mostly limited to work in which firearms are only a component.

The centers also ask researchers it finances to give it a heads-up anytime they are publishing studies that have anything to do with firearms. The agency, in turn, relays this information to the N.R.A. as a courtesy, said Thomas Skinner, a spokesman for the centers.

Invariably, researchers said, whenever their work touches upon firearms, the C.D.C. becomes squeamish. In the end, they said, it is often simply easier to avoid the topic if they want to continue to be in the agency’s good graces.

Emphasis added. I’m curious if these circumstances have changed much in the past 4 years.

Link via southpaw

Adam Gopnik on the Virginia Tech shootingwww.vox.com

Max Fisher writes in Vox “this is the best paragraph I’ve ever read on gun control and mass shootings,” quoting from Adam Gopnik in the April 30, 2007 issue of the New Yorker.

The cell phones in the pockets of the dead students were still ringing when we were told that it was wrong to ask why. As the police cleared the bodies from the Virginia Tech engineering building, the cell phones rang, in the eccentric varieties of ring tones, as parents kept trying to see if their children were OK.

Gopnik’s Comment piece ends just as strong.

There is no reason that any private citizen in a democracy should own a handgun. At some point, that simple truth will register. Until it does, phones will ring for dead children, and parents will be told not to ask why.

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On The Media: After Oregonwww.onthemedia.org

This week’s On The Media was a rerun, but they ran a podcast extra about the Umpqua Community College shooting that’s worth a listen.


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Also, here is Michael Luo’s Medium post about his role in provoking Oregon’s state legislature to restrict public access to gun license records.

I had planned to cross-match the data of license holders with other records on criminal convictions. But Oregon officials repeatedly delayed turning over the records, and I wound up focusing instead on the licensing process in North Carolina, where officials released the gun permit data to me right away. I discovered that about 10 percent of permit holders in North Carolina over a five-year period had gone on to commit felonies or misdemeanors. Perhaps more disturbingly, I found that the authorities had failed to revoke the permits of many of those who had been convicted of felonies.

Stone-walling journalists from uncovering these kinds of legislative oversights is dangerous—not just in the rhetorical sense—it is literally endangering citizens.

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“This is something we should politicize”www.youtube.com

President Obama’s speech is worth watching in its entirety. Starts at 23:18.

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We are not the only country on earth that has people with mental illnesses, or want to do harm to other people. We are the only advanced country on earth that sees these mass shootings every few months.

Somehow this has become routine. The reporting is routine. My response, here at this podium, ends up being routine. The conversation in the aftermath of it, we’ve become numb to this.

Have news organizations tally up the number of Americans who’ve been killed through terrorist attacks in the last decade and the number of Americans who’ve been killed by gun violence, and post those side-by-side on your news reports.

Vox’s Zack Beauchamp took up Obama’s challenge.

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David Simon on Stand your grounddavidsimon.com

From a blog post by David Simon on how the news media is focusing too much on Trayvon vs. Zimmerman, in terms of character, and missing the larger story about what Stand your ground legislation really means:

And now, quietly, by dint of both cash infusions from the gun lobby to legislators and scant attention from a hollowed-out press corps, this cautious standard is gone in twenty states. Now, anyone—regardless of their role, training or ultimate purpose—can bring a gun to an argument and take a life. And then, if they can manufacture enough of a threat to their person, they can justify the act. Maybe witnesses will be present to contradict their version of events; maybe not. Maybe there will be physical evidence to invalidate their claims; maybe not. But now, the baseline for responsibility lies not with the shooter, but with the state.

Guns don’t kill people, people do—this is the mantra that for generations has defined the prevailing ethos of the firearms lobby. But now, the argument has moved on: Guns don’t kill and neither do people; now, folks are just killed. Shit happens is the new credo for this quiet, epic revolution in our country–one that has already led to many more homicides that defy prosecution in the affected states.

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Antonio Bolfo’s NYPD vs Ramarley Graham’s NYPD

This morning I was taking a second look at this post from the excellent Lens blog. It’s an interview with ICP- and RISD-trained photographer Antonio Bolfo, who became a cop and did some amazing photojournalism of rookies patrolling housing projects in New York City.

From the roof of a housing project, Officer Weadock looks over Mott Haven in the Bronx. October 2009.

I was curious about how the Lens editors might have connected the project, called NYPD Impact, with the Ramarley Graham shooting, which happened two days before the post went up. It turns out there’s no mention of Graham in the post, and I couldn’t find any comments that made that connection.

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I did find this link to an anonymous response:

‘This is like a safe haven for them,’ Bolfo tells the Times. ‘Kind of like, collect their thoughts, talk to their loved ones, be people. Shed their police persona and relax a little bit.’ It is a place forbidden to civilians. The intensity of the relief this seclusion brings the officers is inverse to their connection to the community. The more they are merely foreign occupiers, the more they enjoy the view, a view that the very residents of the buildings on which they so symbolically trod are not allowed to enjoy … The many must be excluded so that the few may have the privilege of aesthetic contemplation. After all, isn’t that the way Art works?

It’s a pretty harsh perspective, but I can’t help but wonder whether the audience for NYPD Impact actually includes those who live in the projects. The Lens piece does mention the symbolic aspect of Bolfo’s project:

[The photographs] are at turns raw and tender, scary and sweet, and they humanize people on both sides of the badge — those who wear one and those who face them, night after night.

The photos are definitely amazing (be sure to check out the full set) and certainly humanize the NYPD. But I wonder if they do so to the same degree for residents of the housing projects. I wonder about the timing of the interview, which is about a project from 2008-2009. It’s hard not to see the post as a response to community outrage, although I realize it’s most likely just an unintended coincidence.

Update: I contacted Michael Wilson, the reporter who interviewed Antonio Bolfo, and the timing of the interview was in fact coincidental:

The piece was scheduled to run when it did about a week prior, and it was completed and filed in the system before the shooting, I believe. It’s even possible the piece was edited the day of the shooting. I can see where your questions seem like obvious ones after the fact, but at the time, it just wouldn’t have occurred to anyone here to link the two.

Violence and video in the Occupy movement

There’s a grim undercurrent, following the Occupy Oakland eviction on Monday night, that Scott Olsen may be America’s Mohamed Bouazizi. If you haven’t seen the following video already, I urge you to take a moment and watch it. It really hits me in a visceral way, it fills me with dread and anger and nausea.

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Last night’s march in solidarity with Occupy Oakland in New York City produced a similar video showing police clashing with protestors. Both videos use slow motion to help explain what’s happening, while elevating the emotional stakes.

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In the second video police are swarming against singular individuals. But I also see a police force that’s outnumbered, that’s barely holding their own. While protestors are not responding violently, per se, this is clearly outside the bounds of effective nonviolent protest. Aggressive yelling is not the same as tackling and pinning somebody, but it’s going to increase the likelihood of escalations in violence.

The only way the Occupy movement can achieve meaningful change is through nonviolence. Similarly, the use of video to mobilize the public in solidarity must not overstate the case that police are wielding an inappropriate response against protestors. We only need to look to Oakland for evidence that current police tactics are dangerous and unwarranted. Or to Staten Island.

Goading on a conflict between police and activists, either as a release valve for built up frustrations or for the sake of damning YouTube case studies, is bad for the OWS movement. Obviously it’s bad for police. But it’s also bad for everyone else who are watching from a safe distance hoping that something transformative can come out of all this.

Stephen Hawking on climate changewww.charlierose.com

The video Pink Terror by Mike Barzman includes a short excerpt from a 2008 Charlie Rose interview with Stephen Hawking.

I like how straightforward Hawking is about climate change (about 48 minutes in).

Charlie Rose: What worries you most about the future of the universe?

Stephen Hawking: I am not worried about the future of the universe. The universe will continue whatever happens. But the future of the human race, and of life on earth, is much less certain. We are in danger of destroying ourselves by our great insensitivity.

CR: What are we not doing to prevent these disasters that we absolutely should be doing?

SH: Not acting with sufficient urgency about climate change.

CR: Do you think we will survive?

SH: Maybe. (smiles)

I went to a public lecture by Hawking at CalTech a few years ago and was blown away by the experience. The first 10-15 minutes I was keeping up, but then suddenly I realized I wasn’t getting the math. The Q & A period was also well over my head, but I was struck by Hawking’s humor and stage presence.

Link via Jason Kottke and Beautiful Decay