San Bernardino shooting

That title could really be “Any shooting”, but San Bernardino is the one happening now so I titled it that. Plus, this one is affecting me. No, I don’t know any of the victims. I’m not shocked or outraged or believe this will be the turning point in the gun debate. I’m affected the way Larry David finally started caring about the environment:

I’m affected because ABC is showing the man hunt instead of broadcasting Jeopardy. I know that sounds terribly callous – and if anyone actually reads this, feel free to be as faux outraged at me as you like. But the truth is, that’s where we are with these things now. They happen with such frequency they don’t even register. I mean look at this:

So with no Jeopardy, I decided to write. At some point in the future my ancestors may want to know what it was like to live through this era. I figured this would be a good time to document my thoughts.

First, let me note I don’t fear these kind of shootings. Even though they happen every day, I realize the risk to me personally or my family is low. It can happen anywhere, but as long as it continues to not be here it really doesn’t matter. Sometimes you think of a shooting affecting you, but it’s kind of like playing the lottery. Sometimes you hear that the Mega Millions jackpot is huge and you fantasize for a minute. Then you forget about it and go about your life.

So why am I so numb to this? Well, I didn’t always used to be. When they were less frequent I would get mildly upset. And that started waning. But then Sandy Hook happened. 20 fucking kids were murdered! That was sad. And it was the one that was finally *FINALLY* going to affect change. But then it didn’t. And more shootings happened. And we realized, “OK, this will never change.” Dan Hodges summed it up better than anyone:

Legislation is impossible. You hear that people on terrorism watch lists are not blocked from buying guns and you realize how powerful the NRA is. You learn that Bernie Sanders – the most liberal major Presidential candidate – is a “gun nut“. As Senator, he voted for a law that protects gun manufacturers, distributors, dealers, and importers from lawsuits. No other industry gets this protection.

So that was that. Shootings just became part of life in America. This excerpt from the Economist sums up the reality of our relationship to gun violence in the absence of any political will to address the problem:

Those who live in America, or visit it, might do best to regard them the way one regards air pollution in China: an endemic local health hazard which, for deep-rooted cultural, social, economic and political reasons, the country is incapable of addressing.

But then in August there was a murder broadcast live on TV! That was different. It was in our faces. There was a sliver of hope that something would change. But only a sliver. And of course, nothing changed.

Through it all there was a lot of talk. Some were interesting ideas. I learned that Australia actually enacted a massive buy-back to reduce guns. And it worked!

Wow, at this point it actually sounds like a great idea. But mostly there was a lot of meaningless talk. I loved that these two tweets came though my feed within a couple hours of each other:

Thanks Representative MacArthur! Now that I know you have prayed, you got my vote!

A few shootings ago I had a conversation with Pops and Dave. Is there anything that could happen that would actually cause change?

One suggestion was if the President was assassinated. No. I don’t think that would do it. Hell, half the country always hates the President. They would be too happy that he was killed.

Another was if the head of the NRA was killed. No. I don’t think that would work either. Though I would personally laugh my ass off if someone put a bullet in Wayne LaPierre, I think the NRA would use it to double-down on their bullshit.

I got to thinking, there is no one individual person that could be murdered that would cause a significant change in our gun laws. So it would have to be a group. But if kindergarteners and people on live TV didn’t spur Congress to act, what deaths could? And then it hit me…a shooter would need to infiltrate Congress itself. The mass murderer would need to actually make it into the Capitol while they were in session and wipe out a chunk of these guys. Now I’m still not 100% sure that any gun law changes would happen, but it would get the attention of those that remain. Unfortunately it’s probably the only real chance to get those that can actually enact the change to have a real conversation.

The Business of Religion

One of the things that bothers me about organized religion is the preferential tax treatment. Churches are treated like non-profit organizations and therefore are exempt from income tax. This is widely accepted to be OK. But really it shouldn’t be.

Religion is business. It’s a big business. Church is in the business of selling faith, spirituality, and a bunch of other bullshit I don’t believe in. But if you do, fine, good for you.

There are lots of people that need help to manage their mental well-being. Many can get by with the personal relationships that they have with their family and friends. Others turn to professional help, like therapists. So why should a doctor have to pay tax while the church remains exempt? I’ve thought this unfair for awhile, but a couple recent things have really crystallized this for me.

Pam and I recently watched Going Clear: Scientology and the Prison of Belief. The documentary is mostly about how wacky Scientology is. (Side note: I told Pam halfway through the viewing that the stuff they believe didn’t sound that much crazier to me than any other religion.) There’s also a lot about how Scientology gained church status with the IRS. Basically they muscled, intimidated, threatened and annoyed the IRS into capitulating. To hear the director describe it, you would think he was talking about the mafia.

The other thing that left an impression on me was John Oliver. On Last Week Tonight he recently took a page out of Stephen Colbert’s playbook. Colbert created a Super PAC to prove how ridiculous campaign finance laws are. Oliver created a legally recognized church. The video below starts at the part where he discusses the exemption, but the whole show is worth watching. (The first 8 minutes are about sleazy televangelists.)

The only requirements in IRS regulations to qualify as a church are that “beliefs are truly held and are not illegal”. Oliver captures the ridiculousness of this by saying “truly held beliefs that are not illegal is almost every belief”. So if every belief can be a religion, then they’re all nothing. And if they’re all nothing, then the tax exemption should be repealed.