The Sojourn: Putting some firepower behind gun safety

Case in point: These days, there’s a lot less thunder Down Under.

A couple of weeks ago, I laid out my case that America’s status quo on gun violence is both unique and unacceptable. Something’s got to change, and while ultimately “people are the problem” – as I keep getting told – guns are a much easier fix than human nature. As I argued, the one-dimensional solution is the most effective one.

So let’s start there.

I’ve taken some deserved heat for my ambiguity when it comes to a real method for adequately disarming America, which some have taken to mean a solution doesn’t exist. It does, and if any one country proves that (lots of them do; all one needs for proof is to look at gun violence and gun restrictions elsewhere in the developed world, but I digress), it’s Australia.

The nation of criminals of old could teach us a thing or two about gun violence.

On April 28, 1996 a gunman opened fire on tourists at Port Arthur in Tasmania, killing 35 and wounding 23 more in the worst mass murder in Australian history. In response, 12 days later, the Australian government announced a bipartisan initiative to severely restrict guns.

See, we could be learning already.

The centerpiece of the new initiative was a ban on semiautomatic and automatic rifles and shotguns and tight restrictions on the type and caliber of handguns that may legally be sold or owned. The ban was accompanied by a nationwide mandatory buyback program, which over the space of a couple of years saw the country collect and destroy more than 700,000 guns – about one fifth of Australia’s private arsenal. The new law also prohibited private sales – which account for about 40 percent of America’s own firearm transactions – required that all firearms individually be registered to their owner and required that prospective gun buyers provide a “genuine reason” for needing to buy a gun. Self-defense does not count; reasons include pest control, hunting, target shooting or collecting. Purchase also requires a 28-day waiting period, similar to the one Canada recently enacted.

In the decade that followed, Australia’s gun-related homicide rate fell 59 percent, with no correlating increase in homicides unrelated to guns. The suicide rate fell 65 percent. In the decade prior to Australia’s gun crackdown, the folks Down Under lived through 11 mass murders accomplished with a gun. Since then: zero.

Unless you’re a zealot, those results are hard to argue with.

Granted, America’s problem is bigger and harder to solve. With 300 million or so guns already in private circulation, we’ve got many times as many firearms than have ever existed on the island country. A national American buyback would be much, much more extensive and expensive – 50 million guns or more to achieve a result equivalent to Australia’s. But it’s not unreasonable to expect a similar drop in gun-related deaths were we to copy conservative  prime minister John Howard’s reforms. Would it solve American violence? No. As pro-gunners frequently argue, where there’s a will there’s a way.

But that, as former W. speech writer David Frum argues at the Daily Beast, is asking the wrong the question (and, I might add, an intentional obfuscation):

When thinking about gun measures and mental health measures, the right question to ask isn’t: will such-and-such a measure prevent all killings? The right question is: will it contribute to reducing the number of killings as we have previously successfully reduced automobile fatalities?

Ah! Auto fatalities. Let’s go there, next.

More times than I can count over the last few weeks I’ve seen the infinitely smug and infinitely stupid supposed-to-be-rhetorical “well, should be ban cars then, too?” question pop up to counter proposals of stricter gun controls. I guess this question is supposed to be the buzzer-beating slam dunk. Too bad it’s on the wrong basket. And that just makes you look amateur.

In 2010, 32,885 people died in motor vehicle traffic accidents in the United States, just higher than the number of people who died in total firearm deaths. That was the lowest number of auto fatalities since 1949. If current trends continue, gun deaths will overtake car deaths by 2015. Back to Frum:

Since 1960, the United States has reduced the rate of deaths in automobile accidents by about four-fifths: from about five deaths per 100 million miles driven to about one.

This reduction in the casualties from driving was achieved by a complex of measures: cars were improved, new safety devices were introduced, road standards were raised, trauma medicine advanced, and tough measures against drunk driving introduced. People still die on the roads and always will, but we no longer suffer the carnage of the early 1960s.

Few but the auto industry would argue that the “loss of freedom” wasn’t worth it.

If greater restrictions can work with cars, they can work with guns. In the same vein, people will still die by the bullet and always will, but by implementing laws akin to Australia’s we may one day no longer suffer the carnage of the early 21st century. Even if total annual guns deaths were reduced by just one-third, a fairly modest hope, it would mean 10,000 lives saved. And even if we didn’t see as drastic a drop in gun homicides as Australia, which already had a relatively low rate of violent crime and declining gun-homicide rate, the suicide reduction alone would be worth it.

Of America’s 30,000 gun deaths a year, nearly two-thirds are self-inflicted. The mere presence of a firearm in a house at least doubles the likelihood that a member of that household will kill themselves. Some studies put those statistical odds at 10 times higher.

Guns account for a mere 5 percent of total suicide attempts, but suicide attempts with a gun succeed 90 percent of the time. Sixty percent of America’s successful suicides are completed with a gun. Contrast that with the most popular way to attempt suicide: Drugs account for about 75 percent of all attempted suicides – they’re successful in less than 3 percent of cases. And just like the tripe that mass murderers will find a way to mass murder, people who attempt suicide once are not bound to succeed. It’s likely that a majority of suicides are impulsive, and guns make that impulse easier to scratch and much harder to reverse – a true tragedy, considering that 90 percent of people who attempt suicide and fail do not go on to die by suicide.

In Australia, the suicide rate fell by 65 percent. A similar drop in America would save 13,000 lives a year.

Freedom, indeed, is not free.

But why stop there? Australians aren’t the only cats with firearm solutions. Let’s take a trip to America’s favorite friend to learn a thing or two more.

As many of the gun lobby’s members are usually quick to point out, for its Middle Eastern darling, the best defense is an offense with overwhelming firepower. In the streets of Israel, though, the maxim doesn’t hold true. In addition to banning assault weapons except in the case of Greater Israel’s communal settlements deemed to be a security risk, gun owners in Israel are limited to a single pistol and must undergo an intensive battery of mental and physical tests in order to earn that capability. Because in Israel, where random shootings of strangers is virtually unheard of, the Right to bear arms is actually the Privilege. It’s not a privilege extended to many, either. Only those with two years as an IDF captain or lieutenant colonel, those who live or work in the West Bank settlements, or professionals whose job involves hunting or transporting dangerous goods can earn their one-pistol opportunity.

Perhaps that’s why only six people there were murdered with a firearm in 2011.

I argued in my first piece on this subject that restricting ammunition is just as critical as restricting guns themselves. A properly cared for gun has no real expiration date; ammunition does. Israel agrees. Israeli gun owners are limited to 50 rounds a year; Aurora, Colorado, theater shooter James Holmes bought 6,000 before he allegedly killed 12 people and wounded 58 others. An Israeli likely wouldn’t even have that many bullets.

But there’s an opportunity here to do what America often does best: commandeer the ideas of others, enhance them and lead on.

Restrictive measures like those in Australia undoubtedly would save American lives. More so when coupled with those in Israel. Or Japan, where possession of almost all guns is illegal excepting shotguns and air rifles, and the qualifications to earn ownership of those are intense. But why not make it our own? Why not set an example for the rest of the world to follow?

This would be my example:

A full ban on automatic and semiautomatic weapons – handgun, shotgun, rifle – that can hold more than six bullets or have a detachable magazine (speedloaders, too). No firing more than six shots at a time; no snap in and keep shooting. No private sales, and no new, unregistered guns following a massive buyback program to collect and destroy as many old guns as possible. After that, harsh prison sentences for those caught dodging the new law. Punishments for crimes committed with a firearm should be upgraded; the cost of committing a crime with a gun must be made too high to risk for the common criminal. This would be far more effective than the absurd assault weapons ban being introduced to Congress, which prefers to fret over silly technical specifics that serve only to make firearm-illiterate anti-gun people feel better and rile pro-gun people rather than seriously tackle gun violence.

Lives matter far more than the ease and speed of firearm entertainment; anyone who thinks otherwise has some severe moral deficiencies and serves as a case in point for gun control all on their own.

Only those who pass rigid mental fitness tests and background checks should be eligible to own a manually loaded, six-shot-maximum gun. Anyone who lives in a prospective gun owner’s household and might have access to the firearm(s) must do the same. Those who qualify to buy a gun must complete comprehensive education classes with strict tests before they earn the privilege to own one. The purchase of any gun should come with a waiting period of at least a couple of weeks, and laws should require that all firearms be stored in locked containers, separate from ammunition, which also must be stored in a locked container.

Why would anyone want the irresponsible, incapable or unstable to have quick or easy access to a tool designed for dealing death?

Next, limit the number of bullets an individual can purchase each year, register those bullets to the individual and mandate stamp technology to imprint a unique stamp created in the course of firing each individually registered weapon, in addition to making serial numbers much more difficult to remove from the guns themselves. Stamping technology soon could be law in California; it should be expanded nationwide. As a concession to target shooters, those learning to shoot and firearm enthusiasts, shooting ranges could sell unlimited bullets for use only at the range.

None of these solutions can happen overnight. It will take years of attrition to remove one by one illegal guns from our saturated streets, although if Australia is any indication, a large rapid buyback would result in a rapid decline in the firearm suicide rate. In Tasmania, which had the biggest and fastest buyback, the suicide rate dropped more than 3 per 100,000 in just five years. And no gun safety measure or restriction will ever eliminate gun violence altogether.

But that’s not the goal. The goal is to save lives and make society safer. Australia proved it can be done, as do the scores of other countries whose tight regulations do their best – and far better than our own – to make sure guns don’t result in crime, suicide, accident or murder. It works there; it can work here.

Sure, people, not guns, are the root of gun violence. But American society has a choice: solve a hundred of thousand years of human nature or solve the gun problem. Actually, with lives on the line, that’s not much of a choice at all.


The Sojourn: It’s Time to Abolish Guns

Yesterday, I was mulling over the purchase of a gun; now, I think we should take them from our “cold dead hands,” if that’s what it takes.

This sounds like an emotional reaction. It is. And it’s not.

I struggled against tears more than once yesterday, looking at the photos of parents and children, faces covered in hands and their own tears as they stood around an elementary school in rural Connecticut where 20 of their classmates and six adults had been butchered.

I raged inside as I slammed morning coffee and sorta-afternoon wine and tried to grasp the type of mindset required to systematically execute an entire class of kindergarteners, all ages 6 and 7, and murder your own mother.

Amid all of the emotion, I had a moment of reasoned clarity.

I grew up around guns. I’ve shot plenty of guns. I nearly bought a gun a few months ago. I’ve defended the rights of people to carry guns, hunt with guns and defend themselves with guns. But yesterday, I realized that a country in which I never saw another gun would be a better place, and that imaginary country could be a reality. If we make it one.

America has baptized itself in a river of violence and death – a river peerless in the rest of developed world.

Drowning in Bodies and Casings

SINCE DYLAN KLEBOLD and Eric Harris blasted 13 of their fellow high school students and teachers into oblivion and injured 24 others at Columbine High School about an hour north of my childhood home in Colorado Springs 1999, the United States has had 31 more school shootings.

The rest of the world combined has had an estimated 14.

Then there’s the Aurora theater shooting, the Sikh temple shooting, and the Portland-area mall shooting just two days before a 20-year old named Adam Lanza walked into a classroom at Sandy Hook Elementary with a pair of handguns and a .233 caliber rifle. And those mass shootings, from this year alone, are just popped kernels in the bag of American shootings, which make up the bulk of our country’s violent deaths. Since 1982, there have been 62 mass murders carried out with firearms across the nation.

Roughly 30,000 people die in the U.S. at the muzzle of firearms every year. According to the OECD’s better life index, America’s assault rate is 1.5 percent of citizens, which ranks it third best, just behind Canada and Japan and much lower than the OECD average of 4 percent. But, America has about five intentional homicides per 100,000 people ranking it 32 out of 36 in terms of murders. Brazil, Mexico, Russia and Estonia are worse, and the OECD average sulks in at 2.1, less than half of America’s, which mercifully is trending slowly but steadily downward.

Sixty percent of America’s homicides are committed with a firearm.

Our American cult of violence is not a one-dimensional problem. It involves media that glorifies killing in movies and video games, inadequate access to mental health treatment, community disengagement, and our worship of the gun. But it can have a one-dimensional solution.

It’s time to abolish guns.

This Isn’t Redcoats and Rebels, Anymore

“A WELL REGULATED militia being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed,” reads the Second Amendment to the Constitution.

Context, as always, is important. When the Bill of Rights was written and ratified in 1791 the single-shot musket was the firearm available to the newly minted citizens of the United States. Having just fought a separatist war for independence (the British army, I might add – and this will be important later – also had access to only those same weapons. Between renegades and redcoats, the battlefield more or less was level), the Founding Fathers believed that with no standing army to protect the country against foreign aggression or government oppression, the citizens needed the means to protect themselves in either scenario – a sentiment written into the Declaration of Independence and espoused by numerous Founders in letters – especially within the confines of “a well regulated militia,” though the Supreme Court has since decided otherwise.

But today is not 1791, and the Founders certainly were not right about everything (women’s rights and slavery anyone?). They also were egregiously wrong about this one.

Today, we have much more than single-shot muskets in the hands of everyday citizens: We have handguns, which are used in the bulk of shooting murders, of all calibers, magazines that hold six bullets, 12 bullets, 15 bullets and more. We have high-powered rifles that can take out moose or people from far-away hilltops. And we have assault weapons, designed for warfare, for the explicit purpose of extinguishing of other people’s lives.

It’s time for all of those things to go away.

The gun lobby makes a few compelling arguments for the right to own and use guns, and my goal here is to deconstruct them – namely that guns are mere tools and “guns don’t kill people, people do,” and that they’re necessary to an individuals’ right to self-defense against gun-possessing criminals and a potentially oppressive government.

Proponents of gun ownership argue that guns are just a tool. They say we should blame people who misuse tools, not the tools themselves. But guns are a tool with a singular purpose: to kill and kill well. Yes, there are plenty of other ways to kill – knives, fists, baseball bats, cars, etc. But all of those things have purposes far and beyond killing; they can be misappropriated for violence, sure, but violence isn’t written into their technological DNA. Firearms provide criminals and psychopaths with a uniquely effective way to perpetrate the vilest crimes. The gun is a unique tool for a unique purpose – to kill effectively and in large numbers.

Take, then, as a juxtaposition the case of a Chinese nutter who committed a heinous crime of his own on the same day as the Newton, Connecticut, shooting. A knife-wielding 36-year-old villager, Min Yingjun, stabbed 22 children and an adult at a primary school in a Henen Province village Friday. Not a single one died.

Adam Lanza shot 28 people in Connecticut, including himself. Twenty seven of them died.

Furthermore, as a reader of Andrew Sullivan’s wrote on his blog, planes don’t kill people either, but people who fly them into buildings do. After terrorists used planes to kill nearly 3,000 Americans, we cracked down to make sure those tools didn’t fall into the wrong hands to be used incorrectly.  Banning planes altogether, rightly, would be silly. It would deprive us of the function for which they were created – alacritous travel all over the world.

Banning guns altogether also would deprive us of the function for which they were created – killing with ease.

Take an international example for larger context, this one near and dear to the general political leanings of the gun lobby. Iran has a stated goal of wiping Israel off the face of the map. They could attempt this with conventional weapons, probably with minor success in killing Jews, or they could attempt it with a nuclear weapon. There’s good reason the international community, by and large, does not want the Iranian theocrats to possess a nuke. The intent might be the same, but the result is not.

I can see the slogan already: “Nukes don’t kill people; people do!”

In the 21st century, gun ownership should not be a right any more than the possession of another “tool” – a bomb, grenade, flamethrower, nerve gas, tank – explicitly for dealing death. Guns are not tools citizens need, so long as no other citizens have them, either.

There’s the Cat, But Where’s the Bag?

BUT AS JEFFERY Goldberg argues, there are an estimated 280 million to 300 million guns owned by private households in the United States, an average of 88 guns per 100 people according to the 2007 Small Arms Survey, with 47 percent of American households responsible for their ownership. The country with the second most, Yemen, has just more than half that at 54 per 100 people, while the best-armed European and third most gun-owning country, Switzerland – a frequent talking point among gun enthusiasts who make note of its high rate of gun ownership and low rate of violence at just .77 per 100,000 with 72.2 percent committed with a gun – has 47 per 100.

With that many firearms already in our homes and in our streets, a full, immediate ban on buying or possessing a gun probably would do little in the short term to stifle the flood of violence perpetrated by guns. And with that many guns already out there, the criminals have plenty of access, too. That itself seems like a good reason to own a killing tool, as “gun free zones” seem more like human hunting zones than anything else.

Goldberg’s argument is that arming more law-abiding people, instead of fewer, might deter crimes and end more mass shootings early, a common argument among gun proponents. And plenty of statistics and anecdotes back them up, particularly when it comes to concealed carry permit holders and their propensity, or lack there of, for violence. Maybe a teacher or administrator with a gun could’ve stopped the slaughter Friday. And maybe that’s one solution.

Or maybe the culture of fear that for many – some of whom have already lost family and friends to gun violence – would accompany the fact that countless strangers on their streets, in their stores and in their schools are packing the means to quickly and efficiently end lives at will would harm quality of life more than it helps. The freedom to carry comes at price. I, for one, have embarrassingly (or intelligently) shied away from confronting rude individuals in movie theaters, stores or on the streets in the face of that fear, however small the risk.

Maybe, the power to kill would escalate too many arguments (like the case of 45-year-old Michael Dunn, who just weeks ago killed 17-year-old Jordan Davis in a gas station parking lot because the music coming from Davis’ and his friends’ car was too loud), make it easier to end domestic disputes or snuff yourself out (like Kansas City Chiefs’ Devon Belcher), and end in too many fatal accidents (in 2010, according to Goldberg, 606 people died in accidental shootings, many of them children), all of which could contribute further to our culture of death.

At this point, we don’t really know. We haven’t really tried. The sample size is too small.

In rounding up instances where gun-toting citizens stopped mass murders specifically, Eugene Volokh puts it best:

So it appears that civilians armed with guns are sometimes willing to intervene to stop someone who had just committed a mass shooting in public. In what fraction of mass shootings would such interventions happen, if gun possession were allowed in the places where the shootings happen? We don’t know. In what fraction would interventions prevent more killings and injuries, as opposed to capturing or killing the murderer after he’s already done? We don’t know. In what fraction would interventions lead to more injuries to bystanders? Again, we don’t know. Finally, always keep in mind that mass shootings in public places should not be the main focus in the gun debate, whether for gun control or gun decontrol: They on average account for much less than 1% of all homicides in the U.S., and are unusually hard to stop through gun control laws (since the killer is bent on committing a publicly visible murder and is thus unlikely to be much deterred by gun control law, or by the prospect of encountering an armed bystander).

We do know, however, that a person without a gun cannot kill anyone with that gun. That should be our goal.

But It’s a Lofty One

REMOVING GUNS FROM the hands of Americans is not easy prospect, as Goldberg’s numbers indicate. Penalties have to be harsh and enforcement diligent.

Criminalizing gun possession with mandatory punishments upon conviction akin to attempted murder would put us on that path. The risk of holding lovingly to a tool of murder must be high. Conversely, so much compensation to individuals for their confiscated property – a fine tradeoff for a decline in dead kids, even if it means the loss of “comfort and emotional reassurance,” not to mention feeling of power and control that firearms bestow.

Registered guns should be collected by law enforcement immediately. Those who are later found to have not complied with the law should know their future will be a long one behind bars. Coupling such action with an equally rigidly enforced federal ban on ammunition, without which guns are rendered about as useful as hammers and almost as appealing as a tool of murder, is critical. With determination and diligence, citizen gun ownership and subsequent gun deaths could disappear along with the gun culture. This is not authoritarian; it’s a battle for the liberty to live and pursue happiness in the commonwealth. Certainly, America will never rid itself entirely of every gun, but to cut the number to a tiny fraction of its current peak would crush our epidemic of gun violence and make the country a much, much safer place in line with the rest of the developed world. If we choose to exercise the willpower necessary to save our children, our friends and our collective souls, that is.

The rest of the free world has done it (yes, yes, Switzerland has lots of guns and very few gun murders; they’re clearly not possessed by the same cultural demons that afflict America). And to fight the old and inaccurate adage, in Japan, Singapore or most any other country with strict gun safety measures, the criminals really don’t have firearms, either.

When the Tree of Liberty Wilts

BUT WHAT ABOUT refreshing the tree of liberty with the blood of patriots and tyrants, if that day ever comes in our republic? A disarmed citizenry would prove easily subjugated by oppressive, tyrannical government, having no means to rise up against Big Brother, would it not?

The freedom-fighting fantasy, one that I’ve occasionally found myself dreaming, is just that – a fantasy. In a world where governments make use of advanced technological surveillance and an apparatus of mechanized war that includes jet planes, “smart” bombs, missiles, tanks, aircraft carriers, chemicals and drones, an armed rebellion is doomed to die. And most of the blood refreshing Jefferson’s tree is that of innocents.

Another mass murderer ended the lives of dozens of children Friday and nearly every other day over the past year and more: Bashar al-Assad. The civil war in Syria, like that of Chechnya before it, is a case study in what happens to the citizenry when “freedom fighters” take up arms to end tyranny. Then, compare Syria and Chechnya to South Africa, India and the American Civil Rights Movement before them. Against the success of non-violent mass protest movements, the dream of armed insurrection is defrocked for what it is: a path to more mass murder.

Enough is Enough

DISARMING AMERICA ISN’T an action the American government can undertake unilaterally under unpopular legislation. Without a broad anti-gun mandate from the American people, prying guns from the hands of staunch gun owners, anti-government types and citizens deeply concerned for their own safety in our most dangerous neighborhoods will not be painless or easy. And if our country as a whole would rather keep its guns than the lives of its kids, girlfriends, friends and parents, this is a fight that’s already lost, and bullet holes will ever fill our news holes.

But yesterday, through blurred vision, my eyes were opened. And maybe, with the blood of 20 more children – babies, really – on the hands of We the People, the eyes of good and moral people across America will be, too. This time, maybe enough really will be enough.

The Sojourn: What The Sagan Generation Didn’t Foresee About Our Impending Doom

I’d begun to wonder if my deep-seated depression about the future of our human civilization was misplaced.

Then, I started watching Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos: A personal journey”.

More than 30 years since its 1980 release, Sagan’s saga communicates much more than the still-relevant science of our universe, our world and our selves, accompanied by his undoubtedly marijuana-induced pictorial journey from our cells to the stars – a blast from a time before computer graphics. The science is not science for its own sake, though, but a look into our past and our potential – potential to create, to travel to the stars and other worlds.

But most critically, it provides a warning about our potential to destroy ourselves.

Released with the Cold War in full swing, Sagan’s weaves his series together with the threads of his fear of nuclear apocalypse. With the power to split the atom, Sagan saw the full potential of the human race – creatures whose advanced evolution gifted them with capabilities of great understanding and accomplishment but also with the capacity to annihilate themselves.

Annihilation, Carl. Total, complete, absolute annihilation.

But Sagan faces down that threat with a certain unshakable, steely-eyed optimism. With education and dedication – with science – we could overcome, he says. If we don’t back down from our innate humanity, our innate and unsurpassed intelligence, a great destiny was ours for the taking.

In one sense, the man whom Isaac Asimov once described as one of two people whose intelligence surpassed his own was right. But mostly, his optimism is refreshing and misplaced.

For the moment, the proverbial mushroom cloud no longer hangs over our heads. Others, less sinister looking but equally dooming, have taken its place.

In “Cosmos,” Sagan’s vision for the future is a mixture of hope and fear, pivoting upon how we choose to use or abuse our discoveries. But he was wrong about our potential paths; we’ve chosen a third way: we simply ignore it.

Four presidential debates now have passed with nary a mention of global climate change – the single greatest threat to peace and stability on our planet, especially when coupled with our exploding, and starving, global population. For years, I ground my teeth at the idea that in the United States, the existence of anthropomorphic climate change – a fact agreed upon by every major scientific body on earth – remained a politicized debate among the American populace, discounted by more than a third of the population until recently (never mind their continued refuge in the lunacy of biblical literalism in rejection of evolutionary fact).

Now, though, even as the ice caps melt off before our very eyes, sea levels rise in Bangladesh and extreme weather becomes the norm, it seems the best course for next leader of the free world is to simply ignore it entirely.

If a problem doesn’t exist, it doesn’t need to be fixed.

Beyond that, popular, and particularly right wing, media mock research like the study of the metabolic rates of crustaceans impacted by pollution. Just liberals putting shrimp on treadmills, after all; never mind the rapidly approaching (2050, according to scientific groups around the world) collapse of global oceanic life as overfishing, pollution and CO2 absorption bleach coral, alter ph levels and deplete our fish stocks.

Shrimp on treadmills? How silly. As Mike Huckabee put it “I don’t want my shrimps on a treadmill. I don’t want my shrimps going to the gym.”

Who needs to understand the oceans, anyway?

It didn’t stop there, either. “Conservatives” sneered at a study that measured nicotine levels in smokers’ toenails (because lung cancer isn’t relevant). They laughed at research into how people build relationships in online games (understanding human relationships is for bleeding hearts). And they attacked a project that created a robot that could fold towels, noting with much hilarity that the robot takes 25 minutes per towel.

What a waste. Rome was built in a day, after all.

Energy research often is equally derided as hippy bullshit; a pipe-dream of communo-facist environmentalists. Instead of taking on the creation of efficient and affordable clean energy as a challenge of the highest order – a nearly last ditch effort to halt the inevitable conflicts that will erupt over ever-more-scarce resources, particularly in the developing world, as is our duty  – we’re content to carry the big stick.

Let the private companies do it for profit, if it must be done at all, never mind the role conventional energy is playing in paving the path to our own hot, black misery. Politicians – including Barack Obama, the left’s grand champion of renewable energy, in the second presidential debate – pander to “clean coal,” as if the phrase made any sense, while disparaging failed companies like Solyndra for their government-assisted attempts to seed a better way.

Science, it seems, is just for money-grubbing schleps.

And then, perhaps the thing Mr. Sagan would’ve lamented most: the end of the American manned space program. For now, we’re content to abandon the cosmos to some probes, robotic miners and military munitions, including arming space with the nukes Sagan most feared. Forget the future; embrace the now.

When our water, our flora and fauna disappear from our ruined world we won’t even have a way to go somewhere else.  Science won’t be there to save us; we’ll have forgotten it existed for anything but profit.

Sagan’s days of impending and immediate man-made destruction may have passed. It no longer seems likely that we’ll go out with a bang.

No, unless we rediscover intellectualism, our death will be slower – one, it seems, we’ll refuse to acknowledge until, with a death rattle, we disappear with a whimper. Our fate no longer rests in the hands of our own decisions; we’ve simply decided not to decide. Rising to the challenges we create simply seems to be too much of an effort.

Carl Sagan hoped that a far more glorious dawn awaited us.

Sorry to disappoint you, Carl. These days, that’s what we’re best at.