Saturday, April 25, 2009

Increasing Gun Violence in the United States

A New York Times op-ed was published containing the most alarming and concise rundown of gun violence stats I've read lately. Bob Herbert wrote A Culture Soaked in Blood. He begins with this: "Roughly 16,000 to 17,000 Americans are murdered every year, and more than 12,000 of them, on average, are shot to death."

But it doesn't end there. More than 30,000 people are killed over the course of one typical year by guns. That includes 17,000 who commit suicide, nearly 800 who are killed in accidental shootings and more than 300 killed by the police. (In many of the law enforcement shootings, the police officers are reacting to people armed with guns).

And then there are the people who are shot but don’t die. Nearly 70,000 fall into that category in a typical year, including 48,000 who are criminally attacked, 4,200 who survive a suicide attempt, more than 15,000 who are shot accidentally, and more than 1,000 — many with a gun in possession — who are shot by the police.

The medical cost of treating gunshot wounds in the U.S. is estimated to be well more than $2 billion annually. And the Violence Policy Center, a gun control advocacy group, has noted that nonfatal gunshot wounds are the leading cause of uninsured hospital stays.

What's your opinion? Is this guy and his newspaper a shill for the anti-gun movement? Do you think these stats are cooked, as they say?

What I want to know is how can any responsible gun owner not feel personally touched by this. I don't seem to be hearing that from them. Mainly I get defensive posturing about how each person is responsible for his own actions and how all this violence has nothing to do with them. I keep hearing that the guns are not to blame, it's the violent people using them.

I remain unconvinced. Once I was asked what if anything would convince me to change my position. I said I don't think there is anything. Now, that's not the same as saying there's absolutely nothing you could show me that would change my mind. In fact, I read every pro-gun comment and most of the attachments. I read pro-gun blogs and comment on them. I have kept an open mind, but remain unconvinced.

I really believe if I were a gun owner who professed to be exercising his 2nd Amendment rights, I would feel partly responsible for this. Does that make sense to you? Can you understand what I'm saying?

As far as a solution goes, I am convinced that the proliferation of firearms plays a part in much of this bloodshed, and diminishing the number of available guns would address that.

What's your opinion?

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana

Check out these scenes of Sicily. I've been thinking of this music since Easter. In the opera Cavalleria Rusticana, the action takes place on Easter Sunday. Here's what Mimameior, who posted this video on Youtube, has to say about it.

The famous Intermezzo from Cavalleria Rusticana, the sensational verismo opera composed by Pietro Mascagni (1863-1945). Written in great haste, for submission to a competition, it was his first operatic work. It won first prize, Mascagni received forty curtain calls, and next morning the Intermezzo was being whistled in the streets. Cavalleria Rusticana went on to take the world by storm, and by the time Mascagni died it had been performed over fourteen thousand times in Italy alone.

This orchestral interlude, the most popular excerpt from the opera, is intensely dramatic and comes at a crucial point in the story. Played over the setting of an empty square, the villagers having gathered for a church service, it is itself a moment of quiet, a brief respite from the naked emotions of the drama. At the same time, however, it looks back over the mounting passion and betrayal that preceded it, and foreshadows the bloodshed and tragedy to come.

Alabama Shooter Michael McLendon

CNN reports on the release of a note written by the Alabama Shooter Michael McLendon, whom we've discussed before.

An Alabama man who went on a shooting rampage in March, killing 10 people and himself, left a note saying he put his mother "out of her misery" and that "some of the people who made us suffer will pay," according to newly released police records.

Among the dead were family members and strangers gunned down at random, police said. McLendon's letter offered only this explanation: "For me I've been miserable for a long time and can't take it no more. "

McLendon tried to become a Marine and couldn't make it. He was discharged from basic training in October 1999 for "fraudulent entry," according to records found in the house. He apparently failed to disclose a chronic shoulder dislocation. In a warning letter, one superior officer wrote: "He needs to improve his physical strength and confidence. ... He does not appear mentally sharp."

He was hired as a police officer in 2003, but let go a month later for what police called "physical issues." These disappointments must have been awful to bear.

Investigators found 41 DVDs focused on shooting and weapons, with titles such as "Deadly Effects: What Bullets do to Bodies," "Handgun Workout" and "How to Handle and Fire Fully Automatic Weapons."

Police removed two loaded shotguns, two loaded pistols, 22 empty ammunition boxes, a knife, a bayonet, two bulletproof vests, a gas mask and survival gear from the house. They also found some pornography in a footlocker.

On his rampage, McLendon was armed with two assault rifles, and two pistols and a shotgun were found in his car. Police said he fired more than 200 rounds.

Do you think Michael McLendon might have been the type of gun enthusiast who was trying to compensate for his insecurities? Understandably, gun owners don't like this kind of talk, but this type of person does exist, does he not? For me the only question is how prevalent is he. If he represents a "significant" percentage, then I think we need to consider that lenient gun policies create problems by this very fact.

What's your opinion? Are the Michael McLendons of the world an anomaly? Are they rare? Or, do you think like I do, that this type is responsible for too much damage and a way needs to be found to prevent him from getting guns.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

The Rise and Fall of the Microsoft Empire

CNN reports on the recent difficulty faced by Microsoft, a difficulty they've not experienced in their entire 23-year history.

Microsoft Corp. said Thursday that declining PC sales hurt revenue, as the software giant reported quarterly sales that fell for the first time in its 23-year history as a public company.

The company has had a difficult time combating slumping demand for its Windows operating system, as the economic slowdown has dragged PC sales down 7% to 9%, according to Microsoft's estimates.

In January, Microsoft announced its first mass job cuts in its 34-year history in an effort to bolster its bottom line The company slashed 1,400 position during the quarter with another 3,600 expected to be cut by mid-2010. At that time, the company said it was also adding a few thousand positions, mainly in its online advertising division.

Do you raise a silent cheer at reading a story like this? Are you one of those iconoclastic types who roots for the downfall of the leader, especially one which has monopolized the market like Microsoft? Do you like companies like Google, Amazon and Yahoo, who although they aren't in direct competition with a software giant like Microsoft, represent the underdog, the come-from-behind, more tenacious competitor?

One area in which they do all compete is advertising. Even there, poor old Microsoft is taking a beating.

Microsoft has also continued to struggle to compete with rivals Google and Yahoo in the online advertising business. Microsoft's Online Services division, which includes the online portal MSN and its Internet advertising sales, lost $575 million in the quarter, and sales in the division were down 14% from the same quarter a year earlier. Microsoft said the loss in its ad sales division was due to the significant decline of average rates in display advertising.

What's your opinion? What operating systems and IT products have you used? I myself have used almost exclusively Microsoft products. It just went that way, not so much by design, but more by default. I guess that's what a monopoly is all about.

Please leave a comment.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

Raymond "Chuck" Foster, KKK Imperial Wizard

Raymond "Chuck" Foster is being charged with 2nd Degree Murder in St. Tammany Parish Louisiana. He pleaded non guilty in March.

At 5 foot 4 inches tall with a long beard and wide frame, weighing about 300 pounds, the accused leader of the Bogalusa Sons of Dixie Knights must make an impressive appearance.

He is accused of killing a 43-year-old Oklahoma woman, who was recruited on the internet but later tried to back out of an initiation rite to join his organization. I wasn't able to find out exactly what that initiation might have been. Perhaps someone can inform us.

According to the CNN report, there was a shaving of her head involved in the ritual, but I'll bet there's more to it. One thing for sure, Mr. Foster who has a history of criminal activity, including a manslaughter charge under his belt, is no stranger to violence.

After the shooting, Foster removed a knife from his pocket and rolled over the victim and began a process of trying to remove the bullet from her body ... because he was trying to destroy evidence where law enforcement would not be able to piece these things together.

This week, the Imperial Wizard's son, Shane Foster was declared incompetent to stand trial. He's being charged with obstruction of justice. From

Dr. Michelle Garriga, who was appointed by the court to examine Foster and did so on March 16, testified Tuesday that Foster does "not have a factual understanding" of the law or its procedures.

She said he has "cognitive deficits," "an ignorance of legal understanding" and that he is "mildly mentally retarded or a little above that."

Garriga, who works in the Eastern Louisiana Mental Health System's forensic division, said Foster does not understand the role of judges, attorneys, jurors or defendants; does not comprehend the difference between guilt and innocence; and is not aware of his legal rights.

In Louisiana the severity of sentencing is legendary. For example, "obstruction of justice charges carry a maximum of 40 years in prison." I realize that's the max, but it strikes me as somewhat severe. How about you?

If the obstruction penalty is heavy, you can imagine what dear old dad is facing.

A second-degree murder conviction carries an automatic sentence of life in prison without the benefit of parole, probation or suspension of sentence.

No wonder they're still executing people in Louisiana. What's your opinion? Do those sentence guidelines sound severe to you? What about the son's supposed incompetence and "borderline" mental retardation? Do you think all that is just a ploy to avoid accountability?

One idea occurred to me, I don't know if you'll like it, but the son is just 21 years old and is totally immersed in the hate culture. Is that his fault? Doesn't his father bear some of the responsibility for that? I say yes. I wouldn't mind if the senior Mr. Foster were charged with child abuse as well as murder.

What's your opinion?

The E-Book

The Wall Street Journal published an article by Steven Johnson which outlines the transition we are undergoing right now with digital books.

Every genuinely revolutionary technology implants some kind of "aha" moment in your memory -- the moment where you flip a switch and something magical happens, something that tells you in an instant that the rules have changed forever.

The latest such moment came courtesy of the Kindle, Inc.'s e-book reader. A few weeks after I bought the device, I was sitting alone in a restaurant in Austin, Texas, dutifully working my way through an e-book about business and technology, when I was hit with a sudden desire to read a novel. After a few taps on the Kindle, I was browsing the Amazon store, and within a minute or two I'd bought and downloaded Zadie Smith's novel "On Beauty." By the time the check arrived, I'd finished the first chapter.

Johnson says this type of technology will change the way we read, write and sell books in profound ways. It will radically change the way we relate to books, the way we've related to them for 500 years.

He says very soon you'll be able to archive "every book you've ever read -- as a child, as a teenager, as a college student, as an adult. Every word in that library will be searchable. It is hard to overstate the impact that this kind of shift will have on scholarship."

Now that books are finally entering the world of networked, digital text, they will undergo the same transformation that Web pages have experienced over the past 15 years.

With books becoming part of this universe, "booklogs" will prosper, with readers taking inspiring or infuriating passages out of books and commenting on them in public. Google will begin indexing and ranking individual pages and paragraphs from books based on the online chatter about them. You'll read a puzzling passage from a novel and then instantly browse through dozens of comments from readers around the world, annotating, explaining or debating the passage's true meaning.

To me this sounds so exciting I can't wait to get involved. My only problem is I don't have enough time to read everything I'd like to now, but I guess that's what they call a positive problem.

What's your opinion? Do you think this is valuable technology? Do you think we're in a transition period right now with the same kind of impact as the Gutenberg period 500 years ago? Do you sometimes think the technology is advancing too fast?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Viva Zappa

Check out the crowd participation - it's truly phenomenal. (h/t Tripelkrauz)

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Florida Boy Shoots Himself in the Head

CNN reports on the awful tragedy which took place in Florida when a 12-year-old boy found a loaded pistol in the closet of his parents.

A Florida boy remains in stable condition just days after he found his parents' long-forgotten handgun in a closet and accidentally shot himself in the head.

Sheriff's detectives in Pinellas County, Florida, near St. Petersburg, say the boy found the .25-caliber European semi-automatic handgun in a box in a closet in their home.

This terrible story is a perfect illustration of what we discussed yesterday. Gun availability is a major factor in many incidents of gun violence. In this case, I don't know why the police have ruled out suicide, if they have. It seems to me a bit strange that a 12-year-old would point a gun at his head and pull the trigger by accident. But, whether by accident or not, the point is clear: guns and kids don't mix.

The boy's mother explained that she had received the gun years ago and left it in a box inside the closet, never firing it. Is that normal behaviour? How many of the 50 million gun owners are like this? The passionate gun enthusiasts talk as if the entire body of approximately 50 million of them are responsible and practiced with their guns. What percentage is this negligent, I ask?

What's your opinion? Do you think people like this should be punished for their irresponsible gun storage? Or do you agree with this?

Chief Assistant State Attorney Bruce Bartlett says that although laws are needed, an accident with a firearm can be a greater penalty than any judge could ever hand down.

"Sometimes, the injury of a child is more severe from a punishment standpoint than any kind of criminal charge," he said.

Please feel free to leave a comment?

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Kids and Guns

As proof that gun availability has a major impact on gun violence, I offer this:

Taken from page 110 of Private Guns - Public Health by David Hemenway. He quotes the statistical source: Mortality data from CDC WISQARS 2003.

The chart above covers the statistics of children's deaths from firearms, the children being from age five to fourteen, the time period covered 1991 to 2000.

The States designated "high gun" are eleven with a total population of 28.5 million, as follows: Wyoming, Montana, Alaska, South Dakota, Arkansas, West Virginia, Alabama, Idaho, Mississippi, North Dakota and Kentucky.

The States designated "low gun" are five with a total population of 26.2 million, as follows: Hawaii, Massachusetts, Rhode Island, New Jersey and Connecticut.

What's your opinion? Do you find the data compelling, as evidence that gun availability increases gun violence? Do you think all of it is negligible, given the tremendous proliferation of guns in America? If you think that, please remember, this chart only covers kids who died. There are also stats on babies under five, there are adult women and men, there are numerous less-than-fatal shootings, some of which leave people permanently disabled.

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Are We Ready to Reform Marijuana Laws?

According to NORML (National Organization for the Reform of Marijuana Laws) the country is ready for a change. Writing on the NORML Blog, Allen St. Pierre, NORML Executive Director has this to say:

I believe, there is a palpable zeitgeist in America right now favoring reform; the Obama administration appears amenable to some cannabis law reforms in ways that no prior president since Jimmy Carter has embraced; and lastly, with NORML’s nearly 600,000 ‘friends’ on Facebook and nearly 67,000 MySpace, more Americans than ever before who are keen on cannabis can create a viral effect that benefits reform.

Here in Boulder between 10,000-15,000 students and activists are expected to celebrate in what has become the biggest 4/20 event in the world.

A New York Times article expresses agreement:

Long stigmatized as political poison, the marijuana movement has found new allies in prominent politicians, including Representatives Barney Frank, Democrat of Massachusetts, and Ron Paul, Republican of Texas, who co-wrote a bill last year to decrease federal penalties for possession and to give medical users new protections.

I agree wholeheartedly that penalizing marijuana possession and personal use is wrong. I absolutely favor legalization. Whatever expense would be involved in the transition could easily be recouped in taxes, probably in a very short time. The letterhead, envelopes and business cards of the ATF would all have to be reprinted, of course. Would it be ATMF or AMTF?

What's your opinion? Is there a moral question in legalizing pot? Do you think it sends the wrong message to kids? Might it not improve the message by separating marijuana from the other drugs which are sometimes more harmful?

Please leave a comment.

Happiness and Freedom

Missouri and Guns

What is it with the State of Missouri and guns? Some years ago legislators decided to make Missouri a "must issue" concealed carry state, which means anyone who is not a convicted felon "must" be issued a concealed carry permit upon request. Only Vermont is more lenient than that; there you don't even have to apply. The interesting part for me is that surveys and polls taken at the time, indicated the majority of Missourians were opposed. These changes happened in spite of majority opinion. As my gun-loving friends have pointed out to me, this is the difference between a Democracy and a Republic. According to them, Democracy is dangerous because you can't always trust the majority to know what's best. That's why we have a Republic.

Now, the Missouri legislation is being expanded to include university and college campuses. This is from KBIA news.

JEFFERSON CITY, MO (2009-04-09) Republican Representative Brian Munzlinger sponsored an amendment that would allow people to carry and conceal guns on college campuses around the state.

This latest change, which still needs to go before the Senate, besides going contrary to public opinion, is not without it's detractors among those involved. The Maneater reports that the Missouri Students Association Senate voted in clear opposition.

The resolution to oppose the amendment passed through the MSA Senate Wednesday night, with 14 in favor, 9 against and 2 abstaining.

The House bill provided an amendment for weapons on college campuses, which concerned MSA Senate Speaker Amanda Shelton.

"For weapons to be introduced into any environment where they were presumably not present before, quite a bit of exploratory work is warranted to ensure that the change will provide a net benefit to safety," Shelton said.

Shelton began doing research into large-scale campus and community shootings in order to find possible benefits of having concealed carry on campuses, she said. Her findings led her to co-sponsor legislation in opposition to the proposed amendment.

Among State legislators, there are opposition voices as well. Democratic Representative Chris Kelly explained his stance on guns being brought to fraternities, and dormitories around the state.

"College boys who round up 25 possums half drunk can do amazingly interesting things with fireworks, bottles of gasoline, with all kinds of interesting devices. Fraternity boys are a very inventive lot, let's make sure we give 'em guns to play with too."

Kelly believes that guns will be misused on college campuses, while Munzlinger believes that it will make campuses safer. The Missouri House adopted this amendment.

What's your opinion? Will college campuses in Missouri be safer or not? Do you think something is wrong with the representative government that doesn't represent the will of the majority of the people? On something like this, shouldn't a straight majority decide? Is it better for a more vocal and more powerful minority to make changes that affect everyone?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Sunday, April 19, 2009

Baltimore Gangs Active in Prison from Baltimore reports on the real-life story of drug gang members operating from inside the prison. Sounds like The Wire, but is this a case of "life imitating art" or was the life scenario doing it first? We've talked about this before; it's not limited to the States.

Federal prosecutors said a drug gang known as the Black Guerrilla Family smuggled drugs, weapons, cell phones and luxuries such as champagne into Maryland prisons, where members continued to operate the drug ring.

The U.S. attorney's office announced indictments Thursday against 24 gang members and associates, including guards and other prison employees who helped smuggle contraband. All face conspiracy, drugs and weapons charges.

I would imagine it happens in both directions. The writers of The Sopranos and The Wire could have easily taken their ideas from the daily news, but the details in some cases could have been invented by them. It's fascinating to think that criminals might have learned some tricks-of-the-trade from films about criminals like themselves.

The most important thing is well expressed by the U.S. Attorney:

"It's not enough to catch bad guys. It's not enough to get them convicted and sent to prison. We need to make sure while they are in prison that they are isolated and not able to carry on their gang activities," said U.S. attorney Rod Rosenstein.

What's your opinion? Do you agree that sometimes "life imitates art" in the crime world? Would that make film makers irresponsible and somehow responsible? What do you think?

Please feel free to leave a comment.

Murder / Suicide in Maryland - 5 Dead

CNN reports on the tragic story that took place outside Baltimore yesterday in which a dad killed his family and himself.

A Maryland man believed to have shot and stabbed his wife and three young children to death before killing himself with a shotgun was having money problems and left a note saying he suffered from "psychological issues," authorities said.

Christopher Wood, 34, may have slashed at least some of his family members in the killings and used a small-caliber handgun on others, Frederick County Sheriff Charles Jenkins said.

He was found dead of an apparently self-inflicted shotgun wound at the foot of the bed where the bodies of his wife and 2-year-old daughter lay, the sheriff said.

Wood's sons were 5 and 4 years old, authorities said. His wife, Francie Billotti Wood, was 33.

Do you think this story is a little different from this one and this one? Is the fact that he also used a knife significant? In some of the other stories I've suggested that the gun availability might have played a part. In this case, it looks like the gun apologists are right when they point out that a man determined to kill can easily use another weapon, a knife in this case. What do you think?

Do you think gun availability plays a part in some percentage of cases? Of all the murders we read about and all the suicides, and remember for every one that makes the news there are another 100 or so that don't, what percentage do you think happen quickly enough and spontaneously enough that the easy access to guns plays a part? Is it a significant percentage (you can define "significant")?

What's your opinion? Please leave a comment.