November 30, 2008

Not the America I remember!

(November 30, 2008, 13:14)

While the world watched aghast as terrorists stormed through Mumbai on an uncontrolled killing spree, American shoppers in New York trampled a store clerk to death and two men in a Palm Springs toy store watched their female companions beat each other bloody then the two men pulled out guns and shot each other.

What in heaven's name has happened to America? The terrorist attacks in India I can understand. I cannot condone them, but at least I can look at the cultural and social factors which drive people to terrorism and point out social and legal practices that must be changed if we are ever going to stop creating terrorists. I can understand shoppers in Tokyo or Beijing busting down the doors and trampling a store clerk. There are a number of cultural elements prevalent in Asia that contribute to the kind of callousness, jealousy, greed, and aggression of the kind demonstrated in New York last Black Friday. However, to the best of my knowledge, none of those cultural assumptions are true for the United States, especially not on the East Coast.

Concerning the shooting in Palm Springs, I feel the same way. This is not the kind of thing that California culture tends to create. If it turns out the two shooters where successful middle-class professionals (i.e., doctors or stock brokers) then it becomes even more baffling. I grew up in California. I lived in some of the most gang-ridden neighborhoods of Los Angeles when I was ten and eleven, but Palm Springs? People in Palm Springs might carry guns, but they don't shoot each other in toy stores. Instead, they call their lawyers.

What in the world has happened to America?

(November 30, 2008, 16:24)

Union Claims Wal-Mart Death Preventable

I stopped shopping at Wal-Mart when Sam Walton's son took over. The first thing the son did was slash salaries of first year workers, revert all non-managerial positions to part-time positions without benefits, and tell managers below the executive level they could either take a stiff pay-cut or resign. Union recruitment was banned and in place of a union senior management created an employee organization to handle any and all employee complaints about work conditions.

Well, eventually they did have to accept a real union, but nowadays store managers make less than clerks made while Sam Walton was alive and non-managerial positions are not only part-time only, they cannot remain an employee longer than five years. At the five year mark, they must resign and seek "more suitable employment" before reapplying, usually three to six months later, at which point they start over as first year employees.

So I don't shop at Wal-Mart. Period. Not even a pack of gum. As long as I have another choice, that chain will get my business. Unless, of course, that chain is just as bad. Nowadays whenever I travel to America I start by seeking out local merchants to buy from and only if there are no local merchants do I resort to buying from a retail chain.

Read the article above. It sets out in simple terms the callous, insensitive, and highly irresponsible attitude of executive management. As far as Walton's son and his board of directors are concerned, anyone not part of the executive office is not even human.

November 24, 2008

Why now?

Miles O'Brien is an educated man with a strong interest in astronomy and space exploration. He has in the past done detailed reports on, and provided commentary for, a wide variety of important events including space shuttle missions, the international space station, Mars rover landings, and Hubble telescope repairs or discoveries. So I was quite shocked to open CNN this morning and find this:

The timing of this report, especially when presented by someone as well-respected as Miles O'Brien, strikes me as extremely odd. The world economy is in shambles, the American presidency is in transistion, the never-ending conflict in Afghanistan and Iraq has just entered a troublesome phase (covert American attacks in Pakistan are on the rise and the Iraqi government is ordering America to leave). Into this cloud of tension a well-respected journalist suddenly decides to do a four-minute video that sounds like an episode of X-files?

Something is brewing. I've already stated over and over again that it's going to be a long, hard winter. Why do I suddenly have the feeling it's also going to be weird and unnerving?

I have a really bad feeling about this. Call me paranoid, but I get the feeling we're being set-up for yet another shock to our established assumptions about life and reality.

November 15, 2008

The Right to Keep and Bear Arms

The Second Amendment at GPO Access
The Second Amendment at Wikipedia

A video on Gun Safety:

I grew up surrounded by guns. My father owned guns, all of his friends owned guns, and for my twelfth birthday the one gift I received that lasted me for years was a lever-action, single-shot .22 rifle.

The National Rifle Association has a number of platitudes that people who fear guns do not understand and cannot agree with. A couple of these are, "if guns are outlawed only outlaws will have guns" and "guns don't kill people, people do!"

I live in Japan where gun ownership is so tightly controlled it is basically impossible for me to even consider owning a gun. One reason for this is that Japan has a long history of forbidding normal citizens from owning any kind of weapon at all. Well, one of the reasons I hate living here is that the result of this long history is a culturally reinforced level of individual arrogance and egocentricity that would make a backwoods Georgia cracker blush in embarrassment. There is a cultural assumption that people in positions of power not only have the right to verbally, physically, and emotionally abuse their subordinates, they have a duty to do so in order to "make them stronger". This problem is so widespread that a high school teacher who kills a noisy student by hitting him over the head will go to trial and proudly confess that he struck the child, "to make him a stronger, better man. It's not my fault he was too weak to withstand a simple blow on the head."

The Japanese samurai have a worldwide reputation for being honorable, loyal, and meticulously polite with one another. What the world does not know is that samurai of all ranks regularly raped peasant women, regularly killed peasant children to test the edge on their sword, and performed other atrocities with no fear of resistance or legal consequences. Only the samurai had weapons and the legal system allowed them to use those weapons however they liked as long as they did not use them against one another. Yes, that's right, a samurai could rape a farmer's daughter, test his blade by killing the farmer's wife, or even beat the farmer to death because he was bored and nothing would happen to him, but the minute he turned his sword on another warrior to duel both duelists were subject to anything from heavy fines to death sentences.

The same is true of feudal Europe, the Chinese empire, and countless other historic systems where an armed minority commanded an unarmed majority. The founders of the United States knew firsthand the kind of atrocities and excesses made possible by similar laws in the British Empire and in order to prevent that situation from ever arising in the United States of America, they wrote into the constitution right from the very beginning that every individual in the country should be allowed to keep a weapon. It is not an accident that the second individual right enshrined in the constitution, before freedom from search and seizure or anything at all except freedom of speech, was the right to self-defense.

America has tens of millions of guns, perhaps even billions. Of those, a few thousand are involved in violent crimes. Less than 1 in every 1,000,000 guns gets used in a violent crime. More people die in traffic accidents or industrial accidents than die in gun-related accidents. In my hometown, almost every single person in town owns many firearms. Nonetheless, there have been only a few firearms related accidents in the entire history of the town and not a single firearms related homicide!

I know guns are scary to someone who only knows about them through movies, television shows, and the daily news. I understand this. Murders, assassinations, mass school/workplace shootings are terrible, horrifying tragedies. Just the thought of some gun-wielding nut walking into your child's school (or your own workplace) is enough to both keep you awake at night and then give you nightmares when you finally fall asleep. I understand because I have those same feelings. In my case, those feelings are even stronger because I don't have to imagine the damage a gun can do. I was an avid hunter all through high school and I have seen first hand what happens when half an ounce or less of solid lead slams into flesh at high speed. The thought of seeing such wounds in my children or wife is nauseating.

And that's exactly why if I lived in the United States I would keep a gun, probably several guns. If some nut walked into my house intent on doing harm, the only person leaving on a stretcher would be the nut. If you feel dialing 911 is good enough, if you believe the police (or a private security company) could arrive quickly enough to keep you and your family safe that's okay with me. I have no objection to your insistence that you don't need a gun to feel safe. But that does not give you the right to demand I feel the same way, believe the same things or accept the same reality!

I can promise you this, if I owned a gun my gun would never be stolen, fired in anger, or involved in an accidental death. Gun safety is a very serious matter to me personally and everyone in my house would be trained to safely use and diligently secure the guns in our household. There are tens of millions, possibly billions of firearms floating around the United States that will never, ever be a threat to you and yours. Gun control laws do not stop the criminals. The only thing gun control laws ever succeed in doing is creating an environment where armed criminals are free to roam about doing whatever mayhem pleases their sadistic minds.

It was true in medieval Japan. It was true in medieval Europe. It is true today in England. It is true today right here in Japan, widely believed to be the safest country on the globe. I am forced to take many additional precautions to insure my family's safety because I cannot own a gun. I lay awake many nights wondering if all the doors and windows are properly locked, and sometimes I get up several times a night to check them. If I wake up in the morning and discover someone has gone out and left the door unlocked my heart freezes in my chest. On many occasions over the past three decades nightmares of home invasion have woken me drenched in sweat and screaming for help.

It is now mid-November and there have been a dozen home invasions in Japan this year. A dozen places where multiple people died in their sleep and entire families were stabbed, strangled or bludgeoned, and then had their houses burned down around their corpses. Burglars operate in my neighborhood with complete impunity even though I live in one of the safest neighborhoods in one of the safest cities in the world. I cannot relax in Japan because I cannot know when the time will come when I will find myself face to face with a much younger, much stronger man intent on doing harm to me or my family and the only tools I will have to protect us are my wits and my aging body.

Yes, it's true. Violent criminals and sadistic people are rare. They make up about 17% of any given population group.

Seventeen percent is not as rare as you might think. If you personally know 100 people then seventeen of them have the potential to do something so unspeakably violent you will shake your head and say, "I never would have believed it of them."

Will they act on that potential? Probably not. If they do, and if they target you, who will keep you safe?

Some other relevant blogs and articles:
Gun Control Discussion among Obama/Biden supporters
"Right Pundits" Analysis of Obama on Gun Control
"Blue Star Chronicles" on Gun Crime in America
"Blue Star Chronicles" on Gun Crime in Switzerland