Kipling’s Own Filter

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Long before Filter the Feed came to be, the famous poet Rudyard Kipling captured some lightning  in a bottle with his poem “If.” I can only hope my scribbles might one day provide such clarity:

If—

BY RUDYARD KIPLING 

(accessed from  http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/175772)

If you can keep your head when all about you
    Are losing theirs and blaming it on you,
If you can trust yourself when all men doubt you,
    But make allowance for their doubting too;
If you can wait and not be tired by waiting,
    Or being lied about, don’t deal in lies,
Or being hated, don’t give way to hating,
    And yet don’t look too good, nor talk too wise:
If you can dream—and not make dreams your master;
    If you can think—and not make thoughts your aim;
If you can meet with Triumph and Disaster
    And treat those two impostors just the same;
If you can bear to hear the truth you’ve spoken
    Twisted by knaves to make a trap for fools,
Or watch the things you gave your life to, broken,
    And stoop and build ’em up with worn-out tools:
If you can make one heap of all your winnings
    And risk it on one turn of pitch-and-toss,
And lose, and start again at your beginnings
    And never breathe a word about your loss;
If you can force your heart and nerve and sinew
    To serve your turn long after they are gone,
And so hold on when there is nothing in you
    Except the Will which says to them: ‘Hold on!’
If you can talk with crowds and keep your virtue,
    Or walk with Kings—nor lose the common touch,
If neither foes nor loving friends can hurt you,
    If all men count with you, but none too much;
If you can fill the unforgiving minute
    With sixty seconds’ worth of distance run,
Yours is the Earth and everything that’s in it,
    And—which is more—you’ll be a Man, my son!

Battlefield Christmas

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By Mike Cronin

Like many wars, the so-called War on Christmas is senseless. The flames are being fanned by ogres on both sides.

To hear non-Christians tell it, Christians are trying to impose their religion on everybody else with the greeting “Merry Christmas,” nativity scenes, and the like, or they say that the predominance of Christian trappings are offensive to non-Christians, and that any such displays set on government property constitute an official “establishment of religion” in violation of the First Amendment to the Bill of Rights. The most vocal anti-Christmas militants are just looking for attention more than resolution.  If this argument were settled, they’d be stirring a different pot.

The most strident Christian voices are driven by the same motivation as the anti-Christians.  They’d be tilting at another windmill if this one wasn’t available. To hear them tell it, they are being persecuted for their beliefs. They argue that the true meaning of Christmas is the celebration of the birth of Jesus, the son of the one true God, who is acknowledged (at least as a prophet if not the messiah) in Judaism and Islam; thus Christmas should be no more offensive to adherents of those faiths than Hanukah or Eid al-Fitr is to Christians, and that accommodation to atheists, pagans, and other non-believers is not a factor due to their relative scarcity in our society.  Extremists argue that Christian decorations on government facilities do not violate the First Amendment because the adornments acknowledge the most prevalent belief system of the people, but do not compel anyone to adopt those beliefs.

Let’s see if we can shed some light into this dark corner.

The termChristmas” certainly does pertain to the birth of Jesus Christ. But humans have been having winter solstice festivals with lights, gift-giving, gathering to make merry, and breaks from labor since before the current calendar existed and even before Jesus was born.  Our ancestors were celebrating the end of the fall harvest and chasing away depression during the darkest time of the year.  The Romans called these seasonal celebrations Saturnalia or Natalis Invicti. Norsemen celebrated jól (Yule), a similar pre-Christian winter solstice festival, and origin of the seasonal term “Yuletide.” There are a host of other winter solstice traditions and festivals around the world.

The fact that winter solstice festivals pre-date Christmas as the celebration of the birth of Jesus is not seriously disputed by Christian scholars.  Christians that insist that Christmas pertains only to the birth of Christ and, by extension, that the true meaning of Christmas commemorates his teachings, are right at the literal level and wrong at the historical level. They are accurate only in the context of strict application of the term “Christmas,” but they are evading the larger fact that there is no hard evidence that Jesus was born on December 25th (or any specific date, for that matter). They are also evading the evidence that the Church has a history of absorbing the holidays and festivals of other groups, including solstice celebrations, and spinning them to its own ends.

Yet the mystery of the exact date of Jesus’ birthday predates this phenomenon. The bible does not give a date for Jesus’ birth.  According to biblical historian Andrew McGowan, celebrations of Jesus’ birth were not recorded until about 200-300 years after his death. In fact, early Christians avoided attempts to celebrate Jesus’ birth because they associated birth celebrations with paganism.  Even today, exact date placement varies among various Christian sects.  (Note that Eastern Orthodox Christians still celebrate Christmas on or near January 7th; (Western) Christians refer to this date as the Epiphany and place it on January 6th. There are 12 Days of Christmas between the December 25th and January 6th!)

Specifying a precise date of December 25th as Jesus’ birthday was more likely an attempt by the earliest Christians (who were being persecuted) to either rationalize joining in the existing celebrations and/or to use those celebration to provide “cover” for their own. Constantine converting to Christianity in the mid fourth century marks the time when Christianity began to gain supremacy as the religious tradition of the west, and pagan festivals and feasts were subsequently “Christianized” as a matter of policy. In this way, strident Christians are susceptible to the accusation that their religion re-branded solstice festivals as Christmas and bent it to their own ends.

G vs S

The so-called war on Christmas is being waged in ignorance – from both sides. Anti-Christian scrooges would have us believe Christian greetings, decorations and sentiments are offensive and even illegal. Christian grinches would have us believe Christmas only exists to celebrate Jesus’ birth and teachings, and all other interpretations are wrong, offensive to Christian values, and even heretical. Both are right…to a very shallow point.  The power behind each side’s argument is not derived from superficial facts that evade historical context, it is generated by your willingness to listen uncritically and act on their messages.  I choose not to do so; I’ll be too busy enjoying celebrating the season with friends and family.

Merry Christmas and Happy Holidays!

When Everything is a Crisis, Nothing is a Crisis

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By Mike Cronin

Dear politicians, intellectuals, pressure-group leaders, and media mouths,

All day every day you bombard us with crisis after crisis. Drugs. Guns. War. Climate. Celebrity drama. International tensions. Rape culture. Income inequality. Racism. Sexism. Immigration. Political correctness. The list goes on ad-nauseam. Most are real issues that need reasoned efforts to solve or mitigate, but you spin them into crises, then you anoint yourselves as experts and saviors that can save us – if only we turn over our rights, our money, or our reason (or all three!) to you.

We understand that at some level you have to market and advertise your issue, your ideals, your narrative.  On the other hand, you need to understand that at some point we will succumb to crisis fatigue and stop caring about your cherry-picked and manicured emergencies.  We will become apathetic.  Most of you don’t want that; you want your pet cause to be solved or cured. But some of you do want an apathetic populace.  An apathetic populace is ripe for manipulation by a charismatic tyrant.

If you are one of the public figures I opened this letter to, and you genuinely want your problem solved, dial down the urgency settings on your rhetoric or you will defeat yourself!

If you are a tyrant in waiting:  know that your tactic is exposed.  You are not fooling anyone.

That is all.

Some Thoughts on Mass Shootings

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By Mike Cronin

In my last post, I tried to moderate the gun debate by debunking the myths that 1.) Shootings and violence are on the rise; 2. The police can and must protect you; and 3). The 2nd Amendment does not protect an individual’s right keep and bear arms.

A sharp-eyed commenter pointed out that I was largely silent on the sub-issue of mass shootings, so I thought I’d have a go at trying to cut through some of the alarmism* emanating from the media and gauge how bad the problem really is. Let’s take a look:

According to Mass Shooting Tracker, there were 363 mass shootings in 2013, 339 in 2014, and 353 in 2015 as of Dec 6.  Mass Shooting Tracker doesn’t articulate their criteria for what exactly a mass shooting is, though they do state that their mission is “providing unbiased, raw statistics, all with verified sourcing to inform society of the number of Mass Shootings that occur in the United States each year, no matter the cause or intent of the toll of victims.”

Nearly one mass shooting per day sounds horrific, right?  But the folks at Pew research recently published an article that shows that gun homicides have been going down since the 90s.

But wait! In June of this year, President Obama recently started “that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries. It doesn’t happen in other places with this kind of frequency.”

And this Wall Street Journal article screams that the US leads the world in mass shootings.

So what gives?  Gun homicide has been going down, yet mass shootings are an almost daily occurrence?

We certainly have gun violence and mass shooting in this country; there is no denying that.  But is the problem really a crisis spiraling out of control?  Are we really the worst place among developing nations, or have we run across a vast case of weasel-ese?

chluke “What we’ve got here is a failure to communicate.”

We are being fed a tangled web of facts and data woven to further an agenda by spinners adept at using truth to lie or mislead or to “shape a narrative.”

My own agenda is to try to help people understand the world through the use of reason and rationality.  I am biased in favor of freedom, individual rights and liberty, free markets, and capitalism.  I took an oath to support and defend the Constitution of the United States.  Once I did that wearing a uniform, now I’m trying to do it in part with this blog.  To that end, when I cite references or statistics or other data, you can bet I tried to find sources or data that support my point…but I also will tell you that.

The leading adversaries in the gun control/gun rights debate do the same thing, except that they are much less likely to tell you their bias or agenda like I just did. The people who want more gun control, or even full confiscation, know that they are up against the 2nd Amendment.  They will use, or misuse, every statistical trick, fact, and rhetorical tactic in a way that makes gun violence in America seem as bad as possible.

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Conversely, there are people who would have us believe that the entire mass media is hell-bent on eradicating guns from America, or that Liberals just don’t get the concept that making something illegal won’t make it go away. They will also use, or misuse, sources and data to back up their positions.

Here are  a couple of tricks spin-meisters like to use:

Use absolute numbers vs rates to make a comparison between populations. The Wall Street Journal article does this.  It claims the US leads the world in mass shootings.  They are using absolute data to back that claim.  It is a fact that the US has more mass shootings than any other developed nation…but that is not the whole story. The US has more people and more guns than the rest of the developed countries, so of course we will have more mass shootings and more deaths, in absolute terms.  But do we have the highest death rate from mass shootings?  Nope.  We’re somewhere in the upper- middle. So which country is the worst? Would you believe it is statistically more likely that someone in Norway (?!) will die in a mass shooting than in any other developed country? That makes President Obama’s June assertion incorrect. Mass shootings do happen in some other developed countries with as much or more frequency per capita than in the US.

Omit context:  How many of the mass shootings in the US are justified self-defense (i.e. not a crime)?  We are not told.  How many are being committed by perpetrators with weapons that are already illegal to possess? We are not told. How many perpetrators were in the country illegally? How many were crazies off their meds who should not even be in public unsupervised? We are not told. How many happened at places where it was already illegal to have a gun at all (i.e. so-called “gun-free zones”)? We are not told. How many were attacks by terrorists? We are not told.  It is factual, but misleading, to merely count up incidents and report them without providing any context.

Another way to omit context: Make a crisis out of some aspect of a problem that supports your point, while ignoring or evading that the larger problem is within normal bounds. Mass shootings are but a subset of shootings, which are but a subset of violence, which is but a subset of causes of death.

Is there some other cause of death that is more of a problem than mass shootings? If so, why isn’t it getting as much attention?

In fact, there are several. The top ten causes are various diseases, accidents, and suicide. The homicide rate is roughly only half the suicide rate. Sadly, Heart attacks, cancer, accidents, diabetes, and suicide are not very newsworthy in and of themselves, but a killing spree is high drama.

So is the mass shooting problem as bad as we are led to believe? I’ve given you a peek behind the curtain, but you’ll have to decide that for yourself.

*Here is a mild example of the kind of alarmism I am referring to:  The Mass Shooting Tracker data listed above clearly indicate there are very nearly enough mass shootings (according to their unstated definition of mass shooting) to equal one per day over the last three years.  A PBS article citing this very same source ran with the headline “More than one mass shooting happens per day in the U.S., data shows.” Call me guilty of splitting hairs, but claiming a source indicates “more than one per day” when the data show “nearly one per day” is either sloppy exaggeration, ignorance of the length of a year, or irresponsible sensationalism.

Moderating the Chain-Reaction Gun Debate

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By Mike Cronin

The recent shootings in Paris, San Bernardino, and Colorado Springs have brought out the usual heated debate over guns and gun control.  Perhaps we can moderate the chain-reaction with a bit of reason by dispelling a few myths:

Myth: Gun violence is exploding in America. Mass shootings are up, and more people than ever are being killed by guns.

Fact 1: Not true. It’s very hard to find source material on this issue that is reasonably free from bias – either liberal or conservative.  The least-biased source I found, Pew Research, shows that “National rates of gun homicide and other violent gun crimes are strikingly lower now than during their peak in the mid-1990s, paralleling a general decline in violent crime, according to a Pew Research Center analysis of government data.

Fact 2: Even if we set aside any policy or philosophical agenda on the part of the media, consider that news organization select stories based on several factors of “newsworthiness.”  “Mass shootings” fit several of these criteria.  They are sensational stories. It is good business to hype sensational stories; ergo killing sprees get lots of coverage…and perpetuate a sense of dread or crisis.   It’s just not as sexy to report that “no one was shot today” when an armed citizen deterred a gunman from committing a violent act.

Myth: Why do you need a gun when you can just call the police?

Fact: The average number of police officers in cities with 50,000 or more residents is 17 cops per 10,000 people.  When you account for shift work, days off, and detectives, supervisors, and special teams (like SWAT), one quarter or less of those 17 will be uniform-wearing officers “on the street” available to respond at any given time.  You might be able to call the police, but it’s very unlikely they will arrive in time to get between you and whatever or whoever is threatening you.

Myth: The police have to protect me.

Fact: No they don’t.  They are obligated to protect society as a whole via the deterrent value of investigating crimes and arresting criminals, not protecting you as an individual.  Don’t take my word for it; the Supreme Court has maintained this position over several cases dating to at least 1981, including Castle Rock v. Gonzales and Warren v. District of Columbia.

Myth: The Second Amendment was about arming the militia, not the average citizen.

Fact:  The Supreme Court ruled in D.C. v. Heller that the 2nd Amendment affirms the individual right to keep and bear arms.  The founders themselves made clear in their writings independent of the Constitution and Bill of Rights that the people must not be prevented from owning and bearing firearms. Consider these few examples from some of the most prominent founders:

“Firearms stand next in importance to the constitution itself. They are the American people’s liberty teeth and keystone under independence … from the hour the Pilgrims landed to the present day, events, occurences  (sic) and tendencies prove that to ensure peace security and happiness, the rifle and pistol are equally indispensable … the very atmosphere of firearms anywhere restrains evil interference — they deserve a place of honor with all that’s good.” -George Washington

“The supposed quietude of a good man allures the ruffian; while on the other hand arms, like laws, discourage and keep the invader and plunderer in awe, and preserve order in the world as property. The same balance would be preserved were all the world destitute of arms, for all would be alike; but since some will not, others dare not lay them aside … Horrid mischief would ensue were the law-abiding deprived of the use of them.” -Thomas Paine

“The great object is that every man be armed.” and “Everyone who is able may have a gun.” -Patrick Henry

“Those who hammer their guns into plowshares will plow for those who do not.” -Thomas Jefferson

“The constitutions of most of our States assert that all power is inherent in the people; that … it is their right and duty to be at all times armed; … ” –Thomas Jefferson

“The best we can help for concerning the people at large is that they be properly armed.” -Alexander Hamilton

The bottom line: 1. Gun violence, though dreadful, is not as bad as you are lead to believe. 2. You are responsible for your own self-defense, not the police!  3. The right of the individual to own a firearm is absolutely what the founders intended to protect, and what the Supreme Court has upheld, in the 2nd Amendment.

Disagree?  let’s hear it!