The Atmospheric Density of Accelerated Matter, and Other Cultural Touchstones




Pulse reading with target

A friend of mine from Washington DC wrote up a funny bit:

From the minutes of the meeting:

“Ok, folks, dangerous terrorists have vowed to kill us. We need ideas on protecting people. Go!”

“We could x-ray people’s shoes at airports?”

“Good! Keep ’em coming!”

We could also make sure no one has full-sized bottles of shampoo when they fly.”

“Excellent! What else?”

“Ooh! We could indiscriminately scoop up vast amounts of people’s digital data; it would violate their privacy and we’d have no hope of using it effectively, but better safe that sorry, amirite?”

“Definitely! Anything else?”

“Well…just thinking outside the box here…we could do something to keep them from getting the weapons they would use to kill us…”

[Stony silence; no one makes eye contact]

“Right, so, how about endless, drone-based surveillance of everyone? Too much?”

“Now that’s what I’m TALKIN” about!”

All in favor say aye…

This early morning’s massacre in the other major Orange County, with the other U.S. Disney Theme Park — at the Orlando LGBT Bar named “Pulse” —  brought together the three main “culture war” themes from Presidential election years past: “God, gays, and guns.”

  • “God”: the killer was a Muslim who asserted, in a 9-1-1 call just prior to the massacre of over 100 people (of whom 50 have thus far died ), sworn allegiance to the leader of ISIS/ISIL/IS/Daesh.  (I’ll use the term “Daesh” here.)  Donald Trump literally took credit for predicting such a disaster.

Well, big whoop.  If you want to go out in a blaze of blood-spattered glory these days, and you’re even a non-observant Muslim, you can claim fealty to Daesh and be famous post-mortem.  Daesh will cooperate, claiming credit after the fact whether they knew of it in advance or (as likely here) not.  Thus your violent misanthropic assholery will get a political gloss that detracts from the fact that you’re simply a violent misanthropic asshole who found a PR angle.  And the killer was born here to an Afghan immigrant, raising the question for Trump of whether he not only wants to keep Muslim immigrants from the country but their home-born-and-raised children as well.  To the extent that religion is implicated, it is the cultural conservatism that binds the most orthodox religious factions — among the Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Hindu, Buddhist, and Pagan faiths as well, as well as some non-religious creeds — for which cultural heterodoxy like openly celebrated homosexuality is a grave affront.  The shooter was virtually guaranteed to be a homophobe of some stripe, but not any particular religious brand of one.

  • “Gays”: most of the targets were gay men, who according to the distraught father may have been targeted because the shooter was affronted at seeing two men kissing, a claim that others dispute.

I’m going to presume that no one willing to write here under their own name, at least, will breathe a public sigh of relief that some other group, some group to which they do not (publicly) belong, was targeted rather than stolid heterosexual them.  But that targeting is not lost on anyone, is it?  Here’s the thing, most readers — this didn’t happen to “People Like You.”  You were not being terrorized, which we can roughly define as facing threats either to get you to do something or because of the characteristics you share with others.  As with the attacks on Paris, the victims were chosen for their being at least slightly counter-cultural: those attending an alternative rock concert, those sitting in chichi coffeehouses, and now those spending late nights in gay bars.  And so if you cannot see it as terrorism not against non-Muslims — who knows, really, if there were any Muslims in the bar — but specifically against LBGTs — then you’re either not paying attention or not willing to follow your attention to its logical conclusion.  While the specific religion of the killer was incidental, the sexual orientation of his targets was not.

  • “Guns”: and this takes us to my friend’s imaginary government meeting with which I began.  If we’re serious about our security, and by “our” I mean most of all the “soft” targets appealing to the reactionary temperament, then we have to understand that the means of this killing was not incidental to the scope of the carnage.  Yes, a bomb could have done much the same, and probably an arson fire as well.  But There’s Something About Guns.

Already we see quibbling everywhere — that the AR-15 used in this attack (and a Newtown, and at Aurora, and at …) was not an “assault rifle” because it was not an automatic weapon.  Yes — and no.  Yes, there’s no such technical category of firearms as “assault rifle,” so it’s fair to say that it was not one.  No, because “assault rifle” was a marketing term made up by firearms vendors to sell this very kind of weapon.  I agree that we should get rid of the meaningless term “assault rife” — I’ll agree to do it on behalf of all liberals if the industry and fans will give it up in their marketing and fandom, which they won’t — and talk about a more scientific category: weapons that have the ability to create more than a given level of Atmospheric Density of Accelerated Metal in a given place.  In other words: how many bullets, how many shell fragments, can one get into the air within a given space at a given time?

One nice thing about this notion is that it works for non-nuclear or incendiary or purely concussive explosives as well: a bomb and a grenade, can be measured by the same metric.  One could even adapt it to apply to knives, maces, throwing stars, and wrecking balls.

How much matter, accelerated to the point where it can puncture or shatter flesh and bone, can one get into the air within a given space at once?

That — with some tweaks to the formula, I’m sure — is what the argument is really about.  A handgun is an extremely dangerous machine, but it will add fewer bodies to the death toll than an AR-15.  And a knife will do less than a handgun.  An an AR-15 with a standard magazine that takes time to reload will do less than one with an extended magazine, or any device that facilitates quick shifting between them.

Q: How many shooters are taken down while they are reloading?

A: Not enough of them, and not quickly enough.

For a liberal anti-gun-violence activist, I’m relatively tolerant of guns.  Whether the Second Amendment was intended to provide for it or not — and it wasn’t, being intended to protect the ability of slave states to press their citizens into militias to go capture runaway slaves, but I think that the Heller v. D.C. decision recognized one of those “penumbral rights” assured by the Ninth Amendment just as much as Griswold v. Connecticut and its forebears did for the right of personal privacy — I think that the notion of a constitutional right to firearms for personal protection of the home based on the Second, Third, Fourth, and Ninth Amendments is probably correct.  But there has to be a limit — as there is with the First Amendment as it has been applied (and don’t even get me started on the Fourth Amendment) — and when we discuss that limit we should use some metric like the one proposed above.

You want to be able to kill people, at home or in public?  OK — let’s figure out how many people you think you should need to be able to kill, and how quickly, and work backwards from there.

And if you’re one of those who identifies only with the prospective shooters, rather than the victims, of the privatization of doling out death, then maybe your opinion doesn’t matter quite as much as others.  Sorry to be blunt, but at least I wouldn’t kill you over it.

About Greg Diamond

Somewhat verbose attorney, semi-retired due to disability, residing in northwest Brea. Occasionally runs for office against bad people who would otherwise go unopposed. Got 45% of the vote against Bob Huff for State Senate in 2012; Josh Newman then won the seat in 2016. In 2014 became the first attorney to challenge OCDA Tony Rackauckas since 2002; Todd Spitzer then won that seat in 2018. Every time he's run against some rotten incumbent, the *next* person to challenge them wins! He's OK with that. Corrupt party hacks hate him. He's OK with that too. He does advise some local campaigns informally and (so far) without compensation. (If that last bit changes, he will declare the interest.)