Not so Random Matter?

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By Mike Cronin

I started out thinking I had several disparate items for this week’s post, but they all seemed to tie together:

It’s science-project season at my son’s school.  He brought home an information/instruction packet.  He had to get a parent to sign the first page – which is a letter to parents explaining that the kid has to do the science work on his own, but parents can help with the non-process portions of the project (e.g. helping the kid get materials) etc., etc. On the reverse of the first page is a progress tracker.  The kid has to get his parents to sign each time he hits a milestone on the project.  My son got dinged on the first milestone because I didn’t sign it.   The first milestone is to have a parent sign the letter to parents.  Yes, that’s right: The purveyors of the science project’s hand-out material failed to notice they are requiring a parent sign the back of a form in order to certify that the parent signed the front of the form…and they make the kid take the hit if the parent doesn’t jump through the hoop.  On a science project. You know, Science?  The subject where they teach kids logic, critical thinking, precision, peer review, attention to detail, right? Little things like that.

Speaking of science, I work in a small office with five other people. All five are scientists and/or engineers. Our office serves as a kind of internal think-tank. We do quantitative and qualitative analysis, among other things. I am the only one in the office who does not have a degree in science, technology, engineering, or math (STEM).  My colleagues can run rings around me on any kind of math-based reasoning or problems.  On the other hand, I usually get the better of them when it comes to verbal expression.  I like to tease them that they are all experts at qualitative reasoning, while I am the quality. At any rate, our work sometimes involves (mathematical) models and simulations. Someone in the field once quipped that “all models are wrong, but some models are useful.”

Given the public’s current fascination with the phenomena of “fake news,” I think an adaptation of the “models” aphorism is apropos as a guidepost for judging the efficacy of anything in the media: “All news is fake, but some news is useful.” Two cases in point:

Some right-wing media sources are reporting that Christiana Figueres, Executive Secretary of U.N.’s Framework Convention on Climate Change, as much as revealed that the UN’s plans to combat climate change are really a set of blinders to hide the real agenda: the destruction of capitalism. While the UN is no friend of capitalism, context matters, as does the thing that is not being said.  Figueres undeniably advocates for the alteration of the global economy when she says:

“This is the first time in the history of mankind that we are setting ourselves the task of intentionally, within a defined period of time, to change the economic development model that has been reigning for at least 150 years, since the Industrial Revolution,”

Note that she stops short of stating that the current global economic development model that must be changed is capitalism (it isn’t, by the way – it’s a mix of capitalism and controls), or describing what model should obtain.  I would not be surprised to learn that Figueres is indeed anti-capitalist, nor would I be surprised to learn that UN efforts to combat global warming are indeed a smokescreen to hide the destruction of capitalism, but Figueres’s statements fall short of being a smoking gun – more like an eyebrow-raiser. The subject bears watching.

Meanwhile, on the left side of the fake news spectrum, we have the New York Times’ headlines for Friday’s attack at the Louvre in Paris by a “lone wolf” Islamic jihadist. Their first headline read: “Louvre Museum Evacuated after French Soldier Opens Fire.” At best, this headline leads you to believe the incident revolved around the actions of a French soldier. At worst, it leads you to believe a French soldier went nuts and started shooting up the Louvre.  A few hours later, the headline had changed to read: “Assailant Near Louvre Is Shot by French Soldier” Again, the French soldier’s actions seem to be the focus.  As mentioned previously, context matters, and what is not being said matters. What the vaunted New York Times neglected, or purposely refused to highlight in their headlines, was that a man shouting “allahu ackbar!” (i.e. “God is great” in Arabic) and wielding knives attacked some French soldiers and was shot by one of them in response.

It would not do to depart from The Narrative by highlighting yet another attack by a Muslim against Western targets, even as the militant arm of the “tolerant” left is convulsing over President Trumps’ recent “anti-Muslim” immigration restrictions, now would it? Instead, the “Newspaper of Record” felt it must mislead readers with deceptive headlines. I’m not suggesting the Times should have gone with “Islamo-Fascist Nut-Job Takes Knives to a Gun Fight in Paris; Wins Darwin Award Nomination,” but something like “Assailant Shouting in Arabic Shot by Soldier At Louvre” might have hit the right balance between not jumping to conclusions about the attacker’s religion, intentions, and connections, and the response of the soldiers.  All news is fake, some news is useful.

Blanket Guilt or Precision-Guided Accountability?

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By Mike Cronin

Q. What do all of the following have in common?

A. You might be tempted to answer racism or bigotry, but that doesn’t cover the last item. The correct answer is that in all of the above examples, an entire group is being held accountable for the supposed sin of an individual or individuals. It is a hallmark of collectivism.

Consider: The sniper who killed the Dallas police officers on Thursday was seeking revenge for the deaths of some black men who had been shot by some white police officers in other states.  In other words, in his mind, since some white police officers in other locations had killed black men, all white officers were racists. The sniper committed the very same crime he believed the white officers had committed:  he held a group responsible for the actions of a few, or of one.  He tried, convicted, sentenced, and shot the Dallas police officers for crimes they didn’t commit, or for the non-crime of being white.

Mr. Trump’s proposal to ban Muslims is less combative, but it still stems from a collectivist mentality: If some Muslims are coming here to do us harm, then we can reduce the potential for such acts by banning ALL Muslims from entering the country. There is certain soundness to the logic here: If no Muslims can enter, it must follow that the jihadist sub-set of Muslims can’t enter.  Nonetheless, setting aside the difficulties in enforcing such a policy, the idea goes against the principles of individual liberty: it applies a sanction to an entire group for potential crimes yet to be committed by some members of that group.

Consider:  If you take the Bible literally, then you believe God created Adam, the first human.  Adam was tempted by Eve (who was herself tempted by the serpent) to eat the forbidden fruit from the tree of knowledge.  Human souls have been tarnished by this “original sin” ever since. Put another way: Humanity is being held to account for a supposed sin we could do nothing about, because it happened thousands of years before any of our births. In essence, we have been born convicted of a crime we didn’t commit and commanded to atone for it or suffer eternal damnation.

The problem is that collectivism belongs to our infancy. Our country was founded on the principles of individual liberty and personal responsibility, but they conflict with the collectivist principles at the root of most religious doctrines, so there has been a constant duality in American culture.  For example: During World War Two, The US Government rounded up US citizens of Japanese ethnicity and “interned” them in concentration camps for the sin of merely having common ancestry with an enemy; yet after the war, our government largely did not hold the Japanese people accountable for the brutality of their vanquished rulers.  Instead, General MacArthur’s occupation forces went after the actual individuals who led the Empire.

It is all too human to project our fear, or anger, or hatred, or resentment over the sins or crimes committed by an individual onto a group, yet there is no justification for doing so. Humans have been doing this since we were stone-age primitives trying to protect our “turf” from rival clans. It takes some enlightenment to dial down our naked aggression and apply accountability with precision.  It is a thing we must learn if we are to advance as a species.

Storm Warning: Orlando

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By Mike Cronin

There are many aspects to the tragedy in Orlando that defy reason, but we may yet be able to put many of the chaotic elements into context and derive some small degree of understanding.

Keep in mind the following as you watch the news and listen to the pundits and demagogues:

As we’ve discussed elsewhere, the news networks’ primary job is to sell advertising. They will dwell on every aspect of this story as long as they can in order to keep you coming back to watch commercials find out the latest breaking wrinkle.

The anti-gun fanatics will exploit our fears in order to advance their agenda to ban ___ (take your pick of anything gun or gun-related).  They’ll be sure to shout that this was the worst shooting in US history.  That might be true if you discount several massacres of Native Americans and the Civil War; I don’t know.

Pro-gun zealots will exploit the fear that the left is coming to take our freedom. They will jump up and down to expose every error the anti-gunners make about the specific gun used, how it was obtained, and about how it is already illegal to have a firearm inside a place that serves alcohol in Florida, so gun bans demonstrably don’t work.

Strident religious groups will be in a hurry to tell us that what happened in Orlando was God’s punishment for the sinful behavior of the club’s clientele.  In fact, one such group, ISIS, took credit for the attack!

Let’s try to unscrew ourselves from the ceiling a bit and put some more context to this storm:

Was it the worst mass-shooting in US history?   Ever hear of Bear River (~250 dead), Sand Creek (up to 163 dead), or Wounded Knee (150 dead)? They were but three of dozens of massacres of Native Americans committed in the 1800s.  How about the various battles of the Civil War (~600,000 dead)? (Granted, some might say those events don’t count because they weren’t “crimes” or terrorist attacks; instead, they were (directly or indirectly) government operations. I think that not only do they count, they exemplify the very reason we must not give up the right to keep and bear arms!)

Was it the worst terrorist attack on US soil? No; that was 9/11. (~3000 dead).

Surely it was the worst domestic terrorist attack?  Nope. That dubious title goes to the Oklahoma City bombing. (168 dead)

Nor was Orlando the worst nightclub attack; that distinction belongs to the “Happy Land” club arson fire in the Bronx in 1990 (87 dead).

It does look like Orlando might actually be the worst attack on the LBGT community; though there was an attack nearly as bad in 1973: 32 were killed at the “Upstairs Club” arson attack in New Orleans.

To like-minded folk that believe the second amendment is under attack and should not be infringed upon any further:  Yes, the anti-gunners will shamelessly exploit mass shootings.  We don’t need to follow their example and squawk and honk at each inaccuracy or inane statement made while the tape is still around the crime scene and the blood is still on the floor.  Those rounds are largely wasted.  Save them for the letters to the editor and to your politicians.  Let the anti-gunners make their mistakes in the heat of the moment.

As for the religious condemnation: If you believe Jesus was the son of God, then ask yourself: what would Jesus do?  Would he kill homosexuals?  Would he add salt to their wounds after such a tragedy by saying they were killed because they were sinful? Most especially, would he do that just to get attention? If he wouldn’t do those things, it might be wise to follow his example.

If you are a radical Muslim jihadist, I know that nothing I write here will sway you in any way. Even so, I must say it. If you purport to be a devout member of the so-called religion of “peace,” what is peaceful about slaughtering people whose behavior you don’t approve of, either here or in Syria, or Iraq, or the rest of the world where Islam holds sway?

If ISIS was indeed ultimately behind this attack, what have you gained? All you have accomplished is to show your clients and constituents that one jihadi with a gun and a lot of ammo can kill a lot of unarmed people.  And….what? Is this supposed to terrify us? We are not terrified. Is it supposed to gain you recruits?  You’ve caused just as many, or more, to deplore your cause.

We live in an era with instant news and constant competition for our attention. We are in the middle of one of the most contentious election cycles in recent memory. We are in a shooting conflict with ISIS. The Orlando massacre served as a catalyst to energize a storm of bloviating. We can let it die down a bit so we can hear ourselves think before making hasty conclusions.