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.

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!