The Boston Marathon bombing was not terrorism on the scale of 9/11. But it's similar in that it was terrorism that hit close to home. Nothing since 9/11 ever felt like it could affect me. There have been sporadic attempts in the United States, but they always looked like amateur hour. Many more attacks happened across the world to our allies and our troops, but those never felt threatening. 9/11 didn't happen in my backyard, but it was big enough to shake everyone. The bombings last Monday didn't shake me, but I could see how I could have been harmed by them. I don't live in Boston or Brookline anymore, but I've been watching the marathon from Beacon Street for a decade now. On Monday we went into the city with the kids and camped out at our old stomping grounds in Coolidge Corner, 2 miles from the finish. A friend invited me down to Copley, and he eventually made a choice between a bar close to the bombing and one a little down the street. This is not me saying "OMG, I was so close to DEATH!" We heard about the bombing as we were driving out of the city. I'm just saying I could have easily been in harm's way.
I have to admit having some pretty weird feelings about this bombing. It must be because I just moved out of the city, but I don't feel at all unsafe. Also, while I've been glued to the local news and Twitter, I don't feel a strong connection to it. The reason I brought up 9/11 is to make a certain comparison. I was in college in 2001, so I heard a lot of people comparing the death and destruction in New York to other situations around the world. I'm not talking about some of the America-blaming that followed the attacks. These were calls for empathy. At the time that sentiment annoyed me. I learned pretty quickly that asking victims of a tragedy to be empathetic to other victims of a tragedy right after the former tragedy was not going to win you friends.
So it's weird that I'm feeling we need to show empathy to others. And I've been hesitant to talk about it, because I've felt the anger at others doing the same. A couple of weeks ago 29 people were burned out of their homes by an arsonist in my hometown and nobody thought to remind me that people in Haiti still don't have homes from the earthquake that ruined their lives in 2010. Maybe it's because, in the week before the bombings, I read two stories about Afghanistan. In one, US bombs killed 30 Afghanis at a wedding. In the other, US bombs killed 11 children. Intentional or not, those were our weapons of war bringing anguish to some other community.
I love that my friends have been checking in on me. I love that people around the country are showing solidarity. The "pray for Boston" stuff...well, considering we were just praying for Kobe Bryant's achilles last week, that's kind of lame. The #bostonstrong hashtag is fine. The merchandising we could all do without. I love that all my friends who have moved away from Boston gave the city a shout out on Facebook. It reminds me of how many friends I have met in this city. And it reminds me that, yes, I do love this city. I'll always be from Boonville, New York, but the Boston area has been my home my entire adult life. It's where I met and married my wife. It's where I learned my trade and where I work. It's where my kids were born and where they'll grow up. I still hate their fucking sports teams, but the Boston area is my home.
I just feel like Boston is going to be fine. Yeah, Boston is tough. I kind of felt like Obama didn’t even need to come. It was the right thing to do, but this town didn’t need the President to give it a pep talk. Enough people have already pointed out how tough Boston is. But that's not it. We're still pretty safe here. The "lockdown" on Friday was an extreme precaution meant more to help the police than protect citizens. A lot of the "locked down" areas were over 10 miles from Watertown. I think Bostonians were more fascinated than scared. And they were pissed off. They were willing to sit in their homes for days if it meant catching the guys who fucked with the Marathon, with Patriots’ Day.
The thing is, we could afford to lock down the city. I think everyone knew this was a one-time incident. Looking at the suspects I would be surprised if they were seriously linked to any major terrorist group. We could afford to shut down the economy for a day because we knew things would get back to normal soon. This wasn't like 9/11. It doesn't feel like we're all in danger now. Looking back, I've come to realize that 9/11 wasn't even 9/11. Only a tremendous amount of luck allowed those 19 hijackers to take down 4 planes and 3 buildings. Terrorism is hard. And because you end up dead or in jail most of the time, it doesn't attract the type of people who can solve the logistical problems of coming to America to blow shit up, all the while evading a large security apparatus. We are safe here.
This is kind of where the empathy thing comes in. What happens in cities across the world where manhunts like this happen monthly? What happens in Latin American cities plagued by the war on drugs? What about in Iraq? Or Sudan? What about places around the world with active rebel groups? These people don't have the luxury of shutting down their lives when something like this happens. If they sat inside every time the cops looked for the bad guys that might be a significant portion of their work week. I admit to not knowing much about the everyday life of these places. It's easy to see a few bad news stories and form a lazy opinion. I’ve heard people active in African current events lament just that. But it is clear to me that there are places in this world where violence is more prevalent than what we see in Boston and America (or maybe not America). There are places where this terrible incident happens more frequently. And life doesn’t stop the way it did for us. We shouldn’t feel guilty for that. We have something good here.
I don't know. I don't know why when terrorism hits closest to home - I was 2 miles away when it happened - I feel like looking elsewhere. It’s almost like this horrible event made me realize how blessed I am living where I do. And that makes it hard to feel what most people do feel and should feel about a terrorist attack like this.
4/23/2013 1:13:25 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: boston boston+marathon boston+marathon+bombings
Terrorism is Meant to Terrorize
Note: I wrote this blog post and then read Bruce Schneier's piece in The Atlantic. It's a better version of what I wrote, written by a security expert. I won't blame you if just read that.
Three people died in yesterday's bombing of the Boston Marathon. There were more than 100 injured, including injuries as severe as amputation. There was also physical damage to buildings. Each one of those deaths is horrible, Martin Richard's being particularly hard to stomach. The injuries certainly count as major casualties. The blasted storefronts do not represent major damage in the grand scheme of the attack.
Three deaths though, is not a lot. It's a bad night in a bad neighborhood. It's a car accident. This is not meant to diminish the deaths, the injuries, or even the property damage. But all of this damage was not the main goal of whoever set these bombs off. This was a terrorist attack. The purpose of a terrorist attack is to terrorize. None of the damage represents a significant threat to national security. If the "War on Terrorism" was a traditional war then these casualties, while still tragic, would not be a deadly blow to the overall fight. We suffer these blows every week in Afghanistan and Iraq. One hundred of these attacks across the country would not put a dent in our manpower. One hundred blasted out store fronts would not put a dent in our economic might. They can't beat us. Only we can beat ourselves.
The most significant damage of an attack like this will be to our collective psyche. And a lot of that will be determined by how we react to the event. There's going to need to be a discussion about security along the marathon route next year, and about security at large gatherings in general. The Boston Marathon is actually a decent metaphor for this country. It spans a large area. There are people of all different types from all over the world along the route. And it cannot all be protected at all times. There is only so much that can be done.
I guess what I'm saying is that our reaction can't be like our reaction to 9/11 or even Sandy Hook. We cannot throw a whole host of civil liberties down the drain for this, as horrible as it was. Whatever powers we give - and it is still we the people who will be granting those powers - to the government will be used for more than stopping homemade bombs from blowing up on our streets. It has already happened with the Patriot Act, a law whose provisions were long in the making before 9/11. Remember, Al Qaeda, as crazy as they were, never thought they could bring us to our knees with bombs. Their theory was that we would do it to ourselves by over reacting to the threat. We knew this, and yet we went ahead with the Patriot Act and the Iraq War. And if this is a domestic terrorist attack I would think that the terrorists would be even more attuned to this. Whatever wing of American politics may have done this must know how its partisans feel about the other wing administering force. We can't afford to react the way the perpetrators of this crime want us to.
I have a confession to make: ever since Carol and I had our first child I have become a gigantic baby. When I see kids getting hurt, whether it be on the news or in a TV show, in the United States or somewhere like Afghanistan it hits me pretty hard. Hell, when I see adults get killed I think about how their children are going to understand what happened. I can't imagine losing my kids, nor can I imagine how they would react to losing one of us.
For some reason though, after this attack, I have this odd sense of dread about how we are going to react that seems to be taking over my reactions to this tragedy. I just feel like we have nowhere else to go with the powers we are giving the government to stop these things. And given the venue for this attack, I'm worried about the level of fear that will understandably move into our hearts. This was in public. Are we going to allow ourselves to be in fear as we walk down the street? And if so, what are we willing to give up to alleviate that fear in a time when we are actually getting safer and safer? I'm of the opinion that whatever group did this is at best a bunch of gangsters and at worst a bunch of wannabe revolutionaries quoting Thomas Jefferson on their Facebook wall. We can't go into lockdown because of them.
4/17/2013 2:37:14 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: boston boston+marathon boston+marathon+bombings
Blame Mike Rice and the NCAA
Rutgers men's basketball coach Mike Rice was fired today for physical abuse of his players that included grabbing, pushing, kicking, and throwing basketballs at his players. Rutgers suspended him for 3 games earlier in the season but did not disclose the extent of his actions. With ESPN getting a copy of video documenting the abuse the administration obviously had to fire him. I'd like to see any school official with knowledge of this to be forced to resign or have Rutgers face sanctions from the NCAA. Players, as should be with any NCAA sanctions, should be allowed to transfer without penalty. I'm not holding my breath for any of this to happen.
The NCAA talks a big game about how it cares about the "student-athlete". March Madness has been peppered with an ad campaign that shows a student-athlete with a cheer squad or marching band in tow. That’s great and all, but Mike Rice’s actions belie these claims. The student-athletes that Mike Rice abused and called "fairy faggots” had little recourse. They could push back against their coach, but he, like all coaches, controlled their playing time. If a coach doesn’t like an athlete’s attitude the coach can sit them on the bench for 4 years. Or worse, the coach might not renew the athlete’s scholarship. It wasn’t until recently that multi-year scholarships were even allowed, but they are still not required. Most schools don’t give them out and probably won’t for a long time, given that 62% voted against allowing them. So the player has no recourse with the coach.
Going to the administration did little in Mike Rice’s case. As ESPN reports (hey, they can report!):
A former employee gave Rutgers athletic director Tim Pernetti a copy of the video on Nov. 26, after a June meeting with Pernetti in which the former employee had initially described the behavior. Pernetti said Tuesday that he investigated the allegations twice -- once in June and then again in November. Pernetti in the fall suspended Rice for three games, fined him $50,000 and ordered him to attend anger management classes.
The athletic director’s job at a major college sports program is to maximize revenue, not take care of student-athletes.
A source close to the Rutgers University Board of Trustees told "Outside the Lines" on Wednesday afternoon that "Pernetti's job is safe" for now because of his prior work on getting Rutgers into a lucrative Big 10 deal last fall.
Finally, the student-athlete could transfer to escape a bad situation, but the NCAA puts heavy restrictions on transfers:
Q: Why do football and basketball players have to sit out a year after they transfer?
How many words into that answer did you roll your eyes? The part I bolded is particularly instructive. The sports that make the most money are the ones where transfers are required to sit out a year in all cases. A better way to put that is that student-athletes are punished for transferring in these sports because more money is at stake. The schools and coaches want more control because there’s more at stake.
A: The year-in-residence is required to help student-athletes adjust to their new school and ensure that their transfer was motivated by academics as well as athletics. Student-athletes who participate in most NCAA sports are eligible for a one-time transfer exception, which allows them to compete immediately after transfer once in their college experience if they meet all other transfer requirements (such as being academically eligible).
However, student-athletes in sports that are historically academically underperforming – including basketball, football, baseball and men’s ice hockey – are not eligible for the exception. Though student-athletes in these sports can’t compete in their first year at their new school, they can receive an athletics scholarship and practice with the team. A waiver process is available to all student-athletes, and each waiver request is reviewed individually. From April 2011 to April 2012, the NCAA approved 91 transfer waivers and denied 71.
And this is why you get abusive coaches. Because there’s really not much a student-athlete can do. And that’s the way the NCAA and its member schools want it. There’s big money in college athletics and the NCAA isn’t about letting teenagers mess that up, let alone share some of it with them.
4/4/2013 12:19:43 AM
Filed Under: Sports
America: Not a Business
I love reading stories about the ineptitude of the Romney campaign. It’s not because I harbor any ill will toward the man though. I actually think the Boston Globe piece makes him look much better as a person than he was advertised during the presidential race. The campaign’s failures are instructive though. They poke holes in the widely used claim that Mitt Romney was most qualified to be president because he was a businessman.
Take this conversation between Ezra Klein and Chrystia Freeland on the campaign’s failure to see the writing on the wall:
Ezra Klein: You and I spoke shortly before the election for a piece I was doing on Romney’s history as a manager. These folks, too, are purportedly very data focused, very good at assimilating new information. So I find it genuinely scary that neither Romney nor his super-rich backers had any idea he was going to lose. All the polls, all the models, all the betting markets said he was likely to lose. How did a group of people who, in their jobs, have to be willing to read and respond to disappointing data convince themselves to ignore every piece of data we had?
There are skills required to run a business that translate to running a campaign, there are skills that do not, and there are skills required to run a campaign that you wouldn’t need when running a business. That’s to say nothing of being the chief executive of a government. Being successful in one area does not necessarily translate into other areas. Knowing how to make money doesn’t mean you’re a leader or a good person.
Chrystia Freeland: That’s the single most astonishing thing. By his own definition, Romney’s single strongest qualification to become president was analytically based, managerial excellence. And if the election campaign were the test of that, and even if you were ideologically his fan, you should think it right that he lost. Now, how could it happen? My first thought was it was also the case that all the smartest guys in the room managed to lose a lot of money in 2008 and managed to convince themselves of a set of very mistaken beliefs about where the markets where going to go. It was a lot of the same people on the wrong side of both bets.
It’s the same problems with comparisons to a household. People choose one aspect - in this case, balancing a budget - and focus only on that. It is true that the federal government does things with money that a family or a business would never get away with. It is true that excessive debt is not good for a household, a business, or a government. But the comparison is ultimately shallow.
The federal government is not a business nor should it be run like one. Think about the characteristics of a successful business. A successful business probably makes a profit or at least maximizes its revenue. Does anyone want the federal government to maximize its revenue? The federal government certainly has the tools to maximize its revenues. It has a large bureaucracy to manage the collection of money, regulatory control over the media, and a military or police force to enforce collection. I don’t think you’d like the federal government maximizing its revenues. The federal government does things that could be extremely profitable. I would pay good money for the protection a police force or a fire department provides, for access to roads, for a social safety net. Hell, I guess I do pay good money for that. The federal government could easily make a profit off of these services. But the government shouldn’t do that.
A business also has a target demographic. It caters to certain customers and ignores others.The federal government is at its worst when it does just that. It is a poor government when it caters towards the rich and powerful instead of the poor and weak.
A business seeks to eliminate its competition and expand into new markets. The federal government is big and bad enough to muscle its way into any market and, even if it doesn’t create a compelling product, kill off its competitors.
Businesses fail and that actually helps the economy. If the US federal government fails that will not be good for the economy.
Then there’s the issue of “creating jobs”. Businesses create jobs and so it’s logical to think that a business owner would . But, in a healthy economy, you don’t want the government “creating jobs”, you want it to create a good environment for creating jobs. There is a difference.
You can see the distinction. A government shouldn’t be doing all the things that a business does. Mitt Romney’s career at Bain Capital wasn’t a self-evident reason for his presidency, (much like George Bush’s - the “MBA President” - qualifications didn’t make him the best candidate). Good businesses help their customers but ultimately are - with some exceptions - looking out for their profits, for their shareholders. This is not what you want government doing.
3/28/2013 1:53:13 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: mitt+romney government business
About two out of every three updates on Facebook today were profile picture updates supporting marriage equality. On a day when the Supreme Court was hearing arguments about the constitutionality of the Defense of Marriage Act and California’s Proposition 8 it was great to see my friends supporting marriage equality.
I’ve been on the gay marriage bandwagon for a long time, but not so long that I should brag about it. It was early in college when I realized that being gay wasn’t immoral and probably wasn’t a choice. After that it wasn’t hard to figure out that “fag” wasn’t any better “nigger”. Not long after I realized this - particularly marriage - was our generation’s civil rights struggle. I’m not trying to say I got in earlier than you. And I’m not saying I’ve seen it all. That was 1999. I can’t imagine what it was like before that. Well, I was in high school before that, so I can sort of imagine based on what “gay” to us meant back then.
My point in bringing this up is that I’ve seen the progression for over a decade now. From Goodridge to the supposed backlash in 2004 to successful ballot initiatives around the nation defining marriage as a union of a man and woman to judicial rulings in the Northeast saying banning gay marriage was discriminatory to failed ballot initiatives around the nation defining marriage as a union of a man and woman to the President of the United States coming out in favor of gay marriage.
I’m not saying March 26th couldn’t be a monumental day in civil rights history. And I’m not saying that we’re already there, because, while much progress has been made in gay rights, there’s still a long way to go. And I’m not saying your Facebook profile picture change was pointless, because everyone who did it is at least a little bit awesome now. But look, for most of my life gay rights activists were pushing the rock uphill. Sometime in the past decade they got to the top of the mountain and started rolling it downhill. I think I always thought gay marriage would be a reality, probably because the way you’re taught history is that progress is always being made. Things are always getting better and, in my mind, gay marriage would be better; ergo, gay marriage. There was a point though when I realized that it was really going to happen, and probably in my lifetime. I probably realized this several years after gay marriage got to the top of the hill - we might look back and realize Goodridge really was that moment - but I’ve know it for a while now.
It shouldn’t have like felt this, but when I saw everyone making a big deal out of it today, it just seemed so uninteresting to me. It felt like everyone was finally watching and raving about this great show that you’ve been watching for 5 years now. There’s a lot of work to be done, but yeah, the rock is tumbling down the hill and there ain’t no one gonna stop it. We got this.
3/27/2013 2:17:48 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: gay+marriage doma prop+8 gay+rights
Good Job, Good Effort
Last year the Miami Heat lost game 5 of the NBA Eastern Conference Finals, falling behind the Boston Celtics 3-2. When it looked like all was lost, one Miami fan famously tried to keep the team's spirits up.
Some people thought this kid was awesome. Many turned it into a meme (e.g. "good job, good effort" for the Hindenburg disaster). Some thought it was a commentary on a culture that gives everyone participation trophies. I won't begrudge people their internet memes, but the haters are just ridiculous. This kid is clearly awesome and I'll tell you why. While I'm sure the Heat's performance constituted a "good effort" it certainly wasn't a "good job" relative to what was expected of them. But it didn't matter to this kid. He is a kid sports fan, and there is nothing more pure and good than that. These guys are his idols. And he'll love them until those vultures in the sports media get to him. He might know all their stats but he is in no way objective about them. And he'll never be able to be truly objective about them (ask me about Pat Kelly). He doesn't get that these guys could suck. He doesn't get that they could be jerks. He lives and dies with them. I know. I was there in the 1990s.
3/8/2013 1:24:59 AM
Filed Under: Sports
Keywords: basketball nba miami+heat
No one was elected to the baseball Hall of Fame this year and that kind of irked me. Now, my general rule is to talk about the issue, not the media's presentation of the issue, but the media - many, not all, of the members of the Baseball Writers of America Association - are the issue in this case.
Basically what happened this year was that a large number of writers decided to throw a hissy fit about baseball in the 1990s - aka "the steroid era" - and not vote for obvious Hall of Fame candidates. Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens were arguably the best hitter and pitcher of our era, respectively, but were linked to steroids so their exclusion represented the height of steroid hand wringing. Mark McGwire, Sammy Sosa, and Rafael Palmeiro were also linked but have less clear cases for the Hall. But of course if it was just those guys we would just be talking about the hypocrisy of letting performance-enhancing drugs save your sport after a labor stoppage only to denounce the users of those drugs later. Instead we're talking about an injustice (with regards to baseball, not real injustice). Let's ignore players like Edgar Martinez, Tim Raines, Curt Schilling, and Craig Biggio, who I think have good cases for the Hall but were probably kept out for other reasons than the widespread use of steroids in baseball. It's Mike Piazza and Jeff Bagwell who represent the injustices.
See, at some point baseball players started using performance enhancing drugs. In hindsight it was pretty obvious. At the time (let's call it "the mid to late 90s") though, nobody said anything. The people getting paid to cover baseball at the time, for whatever reasons, didn't do their job. They didn't expose the obvious even though they were collecting paychecks.
The time (let's call it "the early 00s") came when it became common knowledge that players were using these drugs. When that happened the people who covered baseball at the time assumed that this was a new thing, despite in the past players like Hank Aaron and Willie Mays admitting to encountering amphetamines, and books like Jim Bouton's Ball Four having exposed the use of "greenies". They didn't do the historical research on drug use in professional sports even though they were collecting paychecks.
Given the last point, I guess you can't blame the people who covered baseball at the time for failing to compare the benefits and risks associated with drugs used in different eras even though they were collecting paychecks.
And, of course, given that the people who covered baseball at the time didn't do historical research, they just decided that steroids were the cause of every home run in the past decade. They didn't try to determine if it was solely because of steroids. Could it have been the smaller parks? Could free agency and rising salaries have brought more talent into the game? Could the dilution of talent caused by expansion have had a greater negative impact on pitching? What about weight training? What about the fact that these athletes make enough money to get personal trainers and nutrition experts devoted to keeping their bodies in peak shape? What about year round training regiments? Did baseball culture begin to more incentivize home runs over contact hitting? Were big swings more acceptable as the the stigma against striking out decreased? They didn't really ask those questions, even though they were collecting paychecks.
All that lack of work doomed players like Barry Bonds and Roger Clemens. But then there were other players like Jeff Bagwell and Mike Piazza. After all their non-work the people who covered baseball at the time failed to differentiate those players from the ones linked to steroids, even though they were collecting paychecks.
The funny thing about the issue is that steroids don't make you stronger. Sit on your couch for a year taking steroids; you won't gain an ounce of muscle. Jonah Keri wrote an article about the Hall of Fame and steroids over at Grantland. One of his commenters perfectly described what no one seems to understand about drug use in baseball.
1) I see a lot of people making the argument that amphetamines simply let you be "who you are" whereas steroids making you "something you are not". This is a false, and ultimately uninformed, distinction. "What you are" as a human being is a bag of bones that gets tired with prolonged physical exertion, and thereby performance drops. This is the human condition. Amphetamines allow you to overcome this limitation of the human body and play 5 long, hard games in a week, sometimes two per day, over the course of many months at mostly full capacity. This is not natural. The greenies overcome that natural limit, and yes, there are health consequences. Furthermore, what do steroids do? They do not just magically make your muscles bigger as many seem to think. They allow your muscles to recover more quickly form workouts, allowing you work out more and harder. It's really almost the same thing, conceptually. Your body has a natural limit on how much you can work out, steroids helps you overcome that limitation. And yes, there are health consequences. The health consequences are the one and only reason steroids should be banned. The "cheating" stuff is a red herring.
(Emphasis mine.) Taking steroids allows you to work harder and longer. Based on my (limited) understanding of how amphetamines and steroids work, I consider the former to be a greater form of cheating. The implications of pre-game amphetamine use are that you don't have to be in as good of shape (i.e. you don't have to work as hard) to get up for a game, whereas steroid use means you are committing to working long and hard during the off season. Maybe you disagree, but either way you're working for your paycheck. The people who cover baseball now, on the other hand, have collected a paycheck doing virtually no work at all. That sounds a lot like cheating.
3/7/2013 3:02:29 AM
Filed Under: Sports
Keywords: ped baseball mlb
The Federal Government is Not a Household
People like to compare the federal government to a household. The image to the left is an example of this. Let's leave aside the fact that this image compares the money we spend on the US military to sewage. Even without that analogy, the comparison is poor. Over the past four years the federal government is spending about $3.5 trillion and bringing in $2.5 trillion per year. I have heard people compare this to a household making $25 thousand a year while spending $35 thousand. A household that did that for half a decade would certainly be in trouble. It is true that this isn’t what you want your government doing either. That’s about where the usefulness of this comparison ends.
If your household was losing $10 thousand a year would anyone lend you money? And if they did what would your interest rate be? Creditors are still lending the United States a lot of money. If they weren’t the debt wouldn’t be rising. Not only are they lending the government money, they are lending it at interest rates that are, when you adjust for inflation, negative. That link is to a blog post written over a year ago. Go to the Treasury’s page now. The 5, 7, and 10 year rates, adjusted for inflation, are still negative, while the 20 year rate just flipped to positive a few weeks ago and the 30 year is about a third of a point.
Think about that, our national debt to GDP ratio is about 1:1, our deficits over the past few years having been running at 40%, and we’re still getting an interest rate that no household would ever get. That doesn't mean our deficits and our debt are good things. We should try to balance our books. But the comparison to a household is ridiculous. The United States is the greatest money making machine in the history of the world. We have a lot of public debt but it’s clear to the institutions lending to us that we have the ability to pay them back. And given the interest rates, they think it’s a pretty safe bet. On top of the historical robustness of the US economy, the US federal government is a government, which gives it the power to tax all sorts of things and the resources to collect large sums of money. It owns hundreds of millions of acres of land. Households - especially poor households with a lot of debt - can’t do the things governments can. In fact, if we were to find one such household it would probably be in the process of having its assets taken from it and maybe it would even not have a place to live. This doesn't sound like the federal government of the United States, so stop comparing the two.
Image via Steve V. on Facebook.
12/28/2012 12:42:27 AM
Filed Under: Sci/Tech
Keywords: national+debt taxes budget
I don’t know what it is, I just can’t spit a blog post out like I used to. I’ll get 75% of the post done and then just quit for the night, leaving it to languish into irrelevancy in a text document on my computer. Sometimes it languishes long enough to become relevant again.
Today my thoughts about armed guards in schools became relevant again thanks to the NRA’s Wayne LaPierre's embarrassing speech in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. Let’s skip over his pathetic attempts to blame the national media and his peddling of the debunked link between video games and violence (not to mention music videos and movies). Instead let’s talk about his proposal to put “armed security in every school”.
Everyone is rightly trying to figure out how we as a society could have stopped this and armed security in school is a fairly common proposed solution. I don’t think it’s a good idea to be arming adults (I’m hoping no one is advocating arming the children) in schools to stop this kind of thing from happening though. This is a recipe for maybe stopping a once in a decade mass-killing by an insane person in exchange for single death shootings by cops, security guards, administrators, or teachers. I don't mean to say that a statistically significant number of these adults are terrible people. What I'm saying is that there are 100,000 public schools in American and 80 million students. It would not take a lot of mistakes to have 20 dead kids a year across the country. Let’s take a look at the possible people that could be given a gun in the school.
A cop in the school is probably the best possible scenario - one trained gun holder. And yet, have you ever read Radley Balko’s site? He posts a lot of scary stories about cops across the country. And he points out that we don’t have good statistics on the use of deadly force by cops. Do we have any statistics on incidents in schools that already have armed guards? There’s an entire blog devoted to photographers being arrested for photographing cops. Have you seen the number of dogs that get shot by cops? And these are the best people we have. I really don’t want to say cops are evil killers. I’m just saying some make mistakes and yes, a few are criminally malicious. I don’t really see a security guard being any better. Aren’t we just talking about a cop with less training and possibly a complex about not being a cop? People really need to do a little research on police violence - accidental and malicious - before they start advocating for cops in schools.
Oh, and by the way, Columbine had an armed guard.
Teachers and administrators are the worst option. For one, you’re giving the weapon to many more people, opening yourself up to more chances for someone to be poorly trained or mentally unequipped to bear the responsibility of handling a gun - either because of malice or incompetence. The guns are also going to be closer to the kids in this case. Either they’ll have to be in a locked box or on the teacher. In the former case the kids would know where it was and it wouldn’t travel with the teacher. The problem is that if they’re in a locked box they won’t be accessible as quickly in the case when a shooter enters the building. In the latter case the guns become much more accessible to the kids because teachers are constantly interacting with students. Someone could grab the gun.
Going back to the training issue, you have to wonder what all those teachers think is the proper use of force. Cops train on this stuff all the time. They are constantly faced with these decisions and even they screw up more than you think. What’s going to happen when a teacher sees a particularly bad fight? What if a student gets up in their face? Though an advantage the teachers would have over cops would be that the former would have a better relationship with the students because of their constant interaction. They would know what kids are quick to anger, what they are capable of, and how to calm them. Building relationships is tough, and something that I don’t think a cop or security guard would have the opportunity to do as well patrolling the entire school or guarding the door. This is something they should be doing when they’re out in the community. I’m guessing the good ones do just that, but there are certainly plenty who don’t.
There is a saying from Robert Heinlein that gun rights advocates love to quote:
An armed society is a polite society.
The problem is, they omit the next part of that:
Manners are good when one may have to back up his acts with his life.
The idea is that I won’t insult you because you might kill me. This is a real failing of a lot of gun rights advocates. They just don't see the danger in guns. And that is the crux of why arming adults in schools isn’t a good idea.
That’s my attempt at a practical case against guns in school, but I also believe there is a question about what type of society we want to live in. When these cops enter our schools or we give guns to our teachers we have truly admitted that we are not safe and we are not free. I have two kids. One of them is in pre-school. I have some fears about their safety when they are out of my care. But I know I can’t protect them against everything. And I know that as horrifying as Sandy Hook was - and it was probably the toughest thing I’ve dealt with emotionally on the news since 9/11 - it is still rare even in our gun-laden society for this to happen. I don’t want to militarize our schools. I don’t want my kids entering lockdown where they go to learn. We pay a price for an open and free society. Free speech allows hate. Guns invite violence. Personal privacy enables crime. These are tradeoffs. We should face these tradeoffs when a tragedy like this occurs, unlike that coward from the NRA. But ultimately we should seek to keep as many of the rights as we can.
12/22/2012 12:59:08 AM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: gun+control sandy+hook
Time For (A Conversation On) Gun Control
If you only sort of know my political leanings (proudly liberal) you might be surprised to learn that I support the personal right to own guns. Based on the wording of the Second Amendment I'm not so sure that's what the founding fathers intended, but they're all dead so I say we interpret it to give us more rights. This is coming from someone who has never held, let alone fired, a gun. Despite the horrible shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary School my first inclination is against sweeping restrictions against gun ownership. If my only goal was to preserve gun rights then I would probably be arguing that now is not the best time for debate - everyone’s too emotional, we don’t have all the facts, etc. To be honest though, even though I fear rights will be taken away as a result of this debate, now is clearly the time to have a conversation on gun control and gun rights.
That’s not to say we shouldn’t have our facts straight. I mentioned on Twitter and Facebook that I was disturbingly interested in finding out who this shooter was - I just don't see how anyone could deliberately shoot six year olds. I think some people thought this meant I wanted his name and a picture right away. I was more interested in learning the deeper details about his personality and motives though. The name and picture thing that everyone was rushing to report first ended up causing someone else to be identified as the shooter. I would have thought people would have been a little more careful about this stuff after Spike Lee tweeted the wrong address of George Zimmerman during the Trayvon Martin affair. People have short memories though, which is one of the problems with waiting to talk about this.
Obviously jumping to conclusions is not the way to evaluate this or any situation. I'm flat out amazed at how many people were posting about the need for more gun control within hours of the shooting. Control of what? How can you propose new gun controls that would have stopped a soul-crushing tragedy like this without even knowing the most basic details?
But I'm not saying we should wait to talk about this. Sure, things are going to come out years later, but now is the time to have a discussion about gun control. And again, this is from someone who is a "Second Amendment as the right to own a gun" supporter. Sorry if you feel that talking about it is "politicizing" it, but the shooting has political implications. We're not going to wait two weeks to talk about this because in two weeks Syria is going collapse or there's going to be an earthquake or some celebrity is going to do something. I wish it weren't that way, but that's our nation's attention span. We're talking about it now because it's on our minds and it's important. Let's do it with a basic understanding of the facts of the case, but let’s not let the opportunity pass, whether you support more or less gun control.
12/17/2012 7:35:57 PM
Filed Under: US Politics
Keywords: gun+control sandy+hook