Sunday, March 17, 2013

America's Real Problem

Yay, time for another rant (as I sit here eating a gigantic salad no less). :)

I felt like I left a lot unsaid in my last blog post. Indeed I think I meandered a bit, at least from the posts headline. At the end I alluded to following up on such topics as income inequity and ideological divides in our culture. And I will get to those. But in getting to those I feel like I need to make a larger claim. A claim that is likely to draw some critical ire. But so be it.

America's Real Problem is the title. How does one define this in a mere statement, like I'm about to do? I think it's easier than you would think, though most people would be reluctant to couch the problem the way I'm going to. And I'll back up my claim as best I can, so bear with me, before you unfriend me. :)

America's real problem?

America is no longer the greatest country on earth.

There. I said it. Perhaps it once was, but it is DEFINITELY NO LONGER THE CASE. The reason why it is such a profound problem, with so many devolving complexites? I believe firmly it is precisely because so many people....still think we are the greatest country in the world. Delusion and hubris are not a good basis upon which to solve anything.

Some bullet points...

  • Income distribution as a function of the population (GDP). We rank neck and neck with UGANDA??? Really???? Uganda. That bastion of....not very nice placeness....hmm.... (1)
  • Infant mortality rate. We rank 51st. 51st!!!!!!! Not first, 51st!! (2)
  • CEO Compensation has increased by a factor of 9 since 1970, despite it remaining steady for the prior 40 years. Not 9% people...A factor of 9....900% (3)
  • Minimum wage has basically not risen against inflation since the 1950's, and there are three times as many citizens on the minimum wage as a function of the population as a whole. All the while static expenses (food, housing, education, fuel) have risen dramatically (4)
  • We spend more on our Military than do the next 13 big spenders....COMBINED. And this doesn't take into account discretionary or V.A. spending, money spent via the NSA, the CIA and other covert operations spending (black budget), or the amount of the national debt we have to pay down because of the financing of past wars. Do that math and we spent more than the next 26. (5)
  • In 2011, roughly 49% of all households (and this includes retirees who are receiving their SSI *benefit*, which is not an "entitlement") received funds of some kind (Welfare, EBT, WIC, AFDC, Housing assistance, Earned Income Credit) from the U.S. Government. Consider the tragedy that this is perhaps necessary, stave off...heaven collapse?!?(6)
I could go on and on trying to make my points here, and backing them up with reasonable source data to at least give the impression I'm not pulling my opinion out of the ether, but I trust my basic point is made.

America excels at pretty much nothing anymore except blowing things up. We're really good at saber rattling. Everything else? Is a train wreck. AN UTTER AND EGREGIOUS TRAIN WRECK.

Until we collectively STOP PRETENDING OTHERWISE, all that is really going to take place is the gerrymandering of our ideas and ideals by the few who are reaping the benefits of all of this. 

Guns? Gay marriage? really??!?!??!?!? These are the divisive issues of our day?



Friday, March 15, 2013

The Nature Of Violence

I know I have blogged several times about the gun debate, so apologies if I am beating a dead horse at this point. But as I continue to exercise my brain on this topic the more confused and incensed I become at how polar opposite and equally wrongheaded both sides of the political spectrum have become over the issue, at least to my way of thinking.

As is usually the case with me, I like to get my thoughts out in the open. I do this primarily because it helps me keep my logical and ethical "filing cabinet" organized, but I also enjoy it when (occasionally) people respond with ideas that give me pause and make me think harder.

So with these ideas in mind lets dive in. :)

The tragedy of the Newtown massacre has collimated the overall political zeitgeist on the nature of violence. Or has it?

The drivel spewing out of both sides of the political spectrum here in America, at least insofar as I've seen, have had almost nothing substantive to say about the nature of violence. What we have seen is political talking points, that when taken by themselves (and grossly out of context) appear to be valid points.

- More than half of all gun deaths in the U.S. are suicides
- Gun involvement in domestic violence
- Accidental deaths of children
- Who needs an assault weapon?
- High rates of gun violence in inner cities

It doesn't take much in the way of research (or intellectual honesty) to come up with compelling counters to these types of points either.

- Suicide rates in the U.S. are lower than most of the rest of the world. A rest of the world with far less guns.
- Domestic violence incidents per capita are lower here than in most of the rest of the world. 
- Infant and child mortality rates are much higher in most of the world (though not as low as most of europe)
- What is an assault weapon? The definition is murky and relates to aspects of a firearm that have nothing substantive to do with its lethality in any way whatsoever.
- Inner city violence has a clear correlation with poverty and not per-capita gun ownership. 
- Gun violence is almost always statistically lower in cities where per-capita gun ownership is higher. But, this coorelates with income more strongly than gun ownership itself.

Granted, anyone who reads this who *IS* dedicated to some semblance of intellectual honesty can also see that *merely* making counter arguments is not enough. But the point I am trying to make is a deeper one than "guns are good" or "guns are bad".

That point being, that NONE of the debate seems to be focusing on violence at all. Not on the psychology of violence, the politics of violence, or the economics of violence. The proliferation of guns in America is a topic worthy of it's own blog (indeed of it's own encyclopedia), but I think we can at least grasp that the gun pointed at a fellow citizen, and not one pointed at a paper target, or a deer, is at the heart of the matter here. And thus we are really talking about violence and its nature.

A lot of people, most of them young children, died needlessly in Newtown at the hands of a maniac. People are assaulted and often killed in needless displays of gun violence every day. Suicides, drive-by's, domestic violence, mob turf wars. For us to be a country that incarcerates more of it's citizens per-capita than any country in the world, you would assume we had this licked by now. And it is abundantly clear that we do not.


I see the two sides of the political spectrum being equally naive about this topic. On the one hand you have those on the left who think that guns should be eliminated, that only law enforcement should have them, and that all of our violence problems will vanish. On the right you see abject fear and distrust of the government and its motives, and a fear that giving any ground on gun rights equates to the slippery slope of a police-state.

The left argument is horrendously flawed for quite a number of reasons. First, and perhaps most importantly, most of the argument stems from a near absolute paranoid denial of what a gun is, and what it isn't. I am still horrified by that now rather famous picture floating around the internet of Senator Feinstein brandishing an AK47 (and a fully automatic one which is already illegal) with her finger in the trigger guard. Such a gesture on a gun range will get you removed from said gun range for being both dangerous and stupid. This is basic gun safety 101. The first lesson you learn....assuming you have any credible expertise with one. I tend to discount the opinions of people who have no expertise upon which to base their opinions.

Those who believe only law enforcement should possess lethal weapons have a poor understanding of the nature of violence period, and a poor understanding of what law enforcement is legally obligated to do for the citizenry. The realities of violent attacks are that they are almost always without warning and occur quickly. Even those who say things like "if the worst weapon a person could have is a knife" are being stupid. Having studied martial arts and self defense for quite a number of years, I can tell you that the sobering reality is that almost nothing you can do weaponless will give you an edge of any kind on a knife wielding attacker. An attacker wielding a knife is not going to be kind enough to allow you to set up your favorite disarming technique. That's not to say that defense training is useless. But the only reliable way to defend ones life in such a situation is to shoot that person at range. Once that attacker is in range, someone is going to experience massive and perhaps fatal blood loss. That crazy shit Steven Seagal can do? Remember you are watching a movie.

And lets not forget that countless appellate court rulings and even a few rulings at the "big bench" have made it abundantly clear that law enforcement is under no legal obligation to protect you. NONE. 

Most on the left who have these pie-in-the-sky views about violence and prefer to "let the government do its job and protect us" are likely just people well off enough and lucky enough to have not experienced a significant amount of violence in their lives. Moreso, given that most people regardless of belief or political affiliation are not violent, I imagine that more than a little perception bias is at play here.


Those on the right squawk the 2nd Amendment. And if you read that amendment carefully it is clear WHY the amendment exists.

"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." 

What the statement says, both clearly and eloquently, is that governments have a vested interest in having a standing army, and regardless of this the rights of the people to arm themselves cannot be taken away. 

The comma is not an unambiguous pause, as some claim. And one need go no further than the personal writings of Thomas Jefferson or Alexander Hamilton or (insert name of founding father here) to realize that the amendment was written specifically to establish that the government absolutely cannot deny citizens the right to defend themselves or their liberties. And as with any freedom, there is a price to be paid.

Still, we are a couple of centuries and change removed from the drafting of this amendment. Drafted during a time when there were basically four weapons qualified as "arms". A musket, a pistol, a blunderbuss, and.....a canon! Clearly today we have far more advanced weapons technology. 

Insofar as the "right of the people" is concerned, again one need only look at writings of some of our founders to find plenty of evidence that even revolutionary wacko's like Thomas Jefferson (who sadly would be an unelectable man in our modern climate) considered those rights only tantamount for those who were law abiding and decent. Even Justice Antonin Scalia (who is about as left leaning as I am a koala) found that constitutionally the right wasn't an open ended one. 

Do I have the right to defend my home from invasion with my 15 round semi-auto pistol? The Supreme Court says I do. Do I have the right to own an RPG so I can reliably take out an attacker's armored vehicle before he gets to my house? The Supreme Court seems to think that having the ability to level a building is not covered by the 2nd Amendment. I tend to agree with this reasonable distinction. 

Those on the right also squawk about the slippery slope of tighter regulation leading to national gun registries. And perhaps this is a real concern, but I think not given the nature of things. 

On the one hand you have history lessons. One of the main reasons why the Nazi's (for instance) were able to so cleanly conquer Poland with next to no resistance movement forming during the entire war, was because Poland required gun registration. The Nazi's knew this and deliberately went after such records immediately after capturing Warsaw, and then proceeded to surgically disarm the citizenry. 

On the other hand you have the nature of information in the modern world. I have blogged about this topic before, and about how parochial ideas of anonymity and privacy simply do not exist anymore (and about how this isn't quite the bad thing it seems to sound like).  Suffice to say it is not rocket science, given modern data mining technology, for such information to already be easily available to law enforcement or the government without changing any laws. Indeed given the rise in social media and the internet in general, really effective work can be done with a PC and google for cryin out loud.  In other words, this slippery slope is a relatively non existent one. That genie is and has been out of the bottle for some time already. 


I suppose at the end of the day I'm most deeply trouble by the polarized nature of the discussion, and the sobering reality that NONE OF IT is focusing on the actual problems we should care about. Violence and human suffering are the most important of social concerns. But none of the discussion is about any of the real root causes of these problems.  I will try to blog about THOSE in another post...



etc..... And to paraphrase an oft quoted line "Guns don't proliferate violence, Humans proliferate violence"

We *can* do better, but only if we honestly examine why we aren't.