What’s With The Weird?

Marc Champion over at Bloomberg thinks it’s weird that police in Iceland feel bad about having to shoot someone for the first time, ever.

Are we supposed to celebrate when the police shoot someone? Are the police supposed to celebrate? A peaceful society where the police don’t have to go around shooting people all the time might be unusual, but weird? Really?

By the way, the reason Iceland’s police hardly ever have to shoot anyone is because Iceland’s people don’t commit many violent crimes. Less violence in the population, less violence from the police. Simple.

Why is the population less violent compared to, say, the United States? Iceland is socially and racially homogenous, with no real drug or gang problem. Most of the violent crime in the US is gang-related. No gangs, no violent crime, no police shootings. No mystery to it.

Good Work, Schools

As hilarious as it is predictable. School anti-bullying videos turn out to be instructional videos in how to bully.

Who Pays The Price?

Bruce Schneier, as usual, makes some good points, but I wanted to expand on one thing he says.

The people who make the decisions on whether or not to implement some new security law or policy only benefit; they never suffer from the side effects. The police chief isn’t going to have a SWAT team show up at his house. The President isn’t going to be frisked and strip-searched at the airport. They get the political benefit of looking tough on crime/terrorism/drugs/whatever, we pay the price out of our time, dignity, and sometimes our lives.

Down Syria Way

A good overview of what’s about to happen in Syria.

I’m really not sure what our leaders hope to gain from a war there. There aren’t any resources to speak of in Syria itself, so the only logical reason would be to break up one of the regional powers. But politics isn’t always logical.

Democracy Overrated?

Interesting article on the BBC about the necessity of democracy.

I, for the most part, agree; democracy can be useful, but it is not necessary for freedom or civil liberties. What if, for example, in a democracy the majority of the voters support ‘ethnic cleansing’ of a minority? What if the major political parties agree on how they’re going to screw-over the populace and only confine their ‘opposition’ to areas that don’t really matter? What if a ‘democratic’ government decides to keep secret from the people what it’s doing in their name? How much good is your democracy then?

Good government is more important than the particular form of that government.

Independence Day

IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

Thinking Point #13

If all gun owners share collective guilt over the Sandy Hook shooting, do all Muslims share collective guilt over the Boston Marathon Bombing? If not, why not?

Welcome To Reality, America

In the aftermath of the Boston Marathon Bombing, we’re hearing the usual refrain, about how unimaginable it is that someone would do something like this. How could someone possibly murder innocents? Nothing like that has ever happened before! It’s completely outside of all human experience!

The Onion even ran a little supposedly satirical piece about This what world like now

Saying that being completely shocked by an urban bombing is now a thing of the past, officials confirmed that it’s no longer outside the realm of possibility for a mother, son, daughter, or husband to leave home in the morning and not return at night.

The problem with their attempt at humor, and all the shock and surprise at this most recent outrage, is that this isn’t how the world is now. It is how the world has always been. We’ve always lived in a world where sudden death could strike at any time, from accident, natural disaster, or deliberate violence. Just ask the dinosaurs, or the people of Pompeii, or the woman who had her young child ripped from her arms by a tornado, or any of the people in any of the countries around the world who have lived with the threat of violence for years or generations. On the same day as the Boston bombing 25 people were killed by a bomb in a cafe in Baghdad. Americans have been insulated from this fact of reality, because we’ve been fortunate over the last century in natural disasters, and we simply don’t care how many people get blown up in far-away countries, but reality it is.

Our splendid isolation is cracking, though. The modern, global, economy is so interconnected, and our own society so polarized and fragmented, that we are no longer out of violence’s reach. Much like the Romans as their empire declined and the legions could no longer entirely keep the barbarians out, forcing them to build walls around cities that hadn’t been threatened in two centuries, we need to realize that we live in the same world as everyone else, and are subject to the same threats. We aren’t that special.

We can no longer tell ourselves that something is ‘unthinkable’ when it has happened several times before. That is no longer innocence; it is delusional.

Not only is this delusion embarrassing, but it also costs lives. It makes us a softer, easier target. Look at the Boston bombing. The bombers left stuffed-full backpacks in the middle of a crowd and walked away. Try that in some city in, say, Israel and you won’t make it five steps away before being tackled or shot. (That’s part of why terrorists started using suicide bombers.) But in the United States, most people are completely unaware that there is any possibility of bad people wanting to hurt them. This disbelief makes the terrorist’s job ludicrously easy.

Here’s a tip: If you are at a major public event and someone walks up next to you, sets a backpack or suitcase down on the ground, and walks away, that bag is not filled with cupcakes and rainbows. Get out of there and alert the authorities immediately, in that order.

I’m not encouraging paranoia, or living in fear. Quite the opposite; I’ve often said that the best way to fight terror is to simply not be terrorized. In order to not be terrorized, though, you must be mentally and emotionally prepared.

The world is as it has always been, and people are pretty much as they have always been. Neither is likely to change in the near future, so it is up to us to learn how to live in the world we have. That doesn’t mean being fatalistic or accepting of random violence–we can and should do our best to prevent such acts, and a tragedy is still a tragedy–but it is time to stop denying that such things can happen. Preventing, surviving, and living with the aftermath of such events requires it.

Many years ago, Col. Cooper invented the Cooper Color Code, to define a person’s state of mental preparedness to react to violence. (In his system, he’s talking about reacting with violence, but for our purpose that doesn’t have to be the case. Fleeing the scene can be a perfectly valid response.) The four stages range from completely unprepared to ‘lethal mode.’ Most Americans are in Condition White most of, if not all of, the time.

White: Unaware and unprepared. If attacked in Condition White, the only thing that may save you is the inadequacy or ineptitude of your attacker. When confronted by something nasty, your reaction will probably be “Oh my God! This can’t be happening to me.”

How often have we heard some survivor of a violent event say that their first thought was, “This can’t be happening!” That state of denial is the very definition of Condition White. It is what leaves people in a state of shock when they are forced into Condition Red: Violent things are happening.

Here is a summary of the rest of Cooper’s color codes:

Yellow: Relaxed alert. No specific threat situation. Your mindset is that “today could be the day I may have to defend myself”. You are simply aware that the world is a potentially unfriendly place and that you are prepared to defend yourself, if necessary.
Orange: Specific alert. Something is not quite right and has your attention. Your radar has picked up a specific alert.
Red: Condition Red is fight.

I think that we would be much safer, and healthier, if more Americans spent more time in Condition Yellow instead of White. Not paranoid, not constantly on edge, but simply aware that something bad might someday happen, and that they may be called on to act.

This is really not that much of a mental leap. Most adult Americans spend a good part of their day in Condition Yellow already, in a different context; when driving. Consider:

When you are driving, if you are at all good at it (and we have too many people who aren’t, but that’s another topic), you spend your time behind the wheel in Condition Yellow. Relaxed, but observant, aware of your own vehicle, road conditions, and the cars around you. When another car drifts too close, you notice and escalate to Condition Orange. A possible danger has caught your attention and you respond, probably by slowing down or changing lanes, but at least watching that car more closely. When the car lurches into your lane, you’re ready, in Condition Red now, taking emergency action. You brake or swerve out of the way.

Compare that to someone driving in Condition White, oblivious to the cars around them. They become aware of the threat only when the other car enters their lane, and by then it is probably too late for them to take evasive action. Crash.

On the road of life, we are a nation of bad drivers, constantly surprised and traumatized by completely predictable events. It’s time to grow up and pay attention to the world around us.

Dirty Water

I never lived in Boston, but I did grow up in Massachusetts. I haven’t been back in years, and probably never will, but Massachusetts will always be a part of me. I remember the trees and hills, and the long, dark winters that seemed to go on forever, but which could hold a spark of beauty in their bleakness. (Cold morning, walking to school after a fresh snowfall, shortcut through the woods and stopping, abruptly aware of the total silence of the world, the stark study in black and white that surrounded me; gray blanket of sky, pure white snow covering the ground and the top of every branch, the uncovered bark of every tree black with moisture.) I remember staying up late on a school night to watch Carlton Fisk hit one over The Wall and off the foul pole that now bears his name. I remember cold April mornings, all the kids walking to school with warm coats on, but then scampering home in the sunny afternoon, coats tied around our waists and flapping behind.

There are things I have to say about the Boston Marathon bombing, and our reaction to it, but not now. Not yet.

What Goes Up….

James Shelley talks about Ibn Khaldun and history.

For Khaldun, the symptom of society’s decline is people’s incapacity to act for themselves. When people (presumably distracted by luxury to the point of complete apathy) fail to take concern for the affairs of their tribe (or city, state, or civilization), it is only a matter of time before the very civilization that fostered their luxurious prosperity implodes on itself.

Our civilization is not eternal. Nothing is.