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The Challenges Posed by a Murderous Minority


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Dec 15 2012 6:54pm


On May 20, 1998 my wife was in the newsroom where she worked in Western Oregon. The news director had just heard something on the police scanner about some sort of non-specific commotion at a local high school. It had been a slow news day, so he told her to just go down there and poke around and see if there was a story anywhere worth reporting. My wife got there and phoned back that there did seem to be some activity, but she couldn't tell what it was. There were no other news agencies at the scene. And then all hell broke loose.

My wife was at Thurston High School in Springfield, Oregon. A short time before she arrived a student had gone into the school and began shooting his classmates. By the time he was subdued by a group of very brave students, 15 year old Kip Kinkel had killed two of his classmates and wounded 22 more. Soon afterward the bodies of his parents, killed the day before by Kinkel were found. My wife spent the day reporting for news outlets around the country live from the scene of one of the worst school shootings that had ever happened. Eleven months later at Colorado's Columbine High School the death toll would be much, much worse.

Not long after the Thurston High tragedy, I wrote an editorial for the Philadelphia Inquirer about school shootings where I compared what happened at Thurston High School to a natural disaster. We in the community had all been quite affected by the incident, my wife, who witnessed the actual scene more than most. It seemed so random to us all that it might as well have been a tornado touching down and killing those kids at school that day, and that's the position I took in the editorial. It left the community stunned and full of questions. But there never were any real answers. Kip Kinkel was, in the end, a tragic anomaly. How many anomalies does it take to become something more than an anomaly?

I found myself reflecting on a point that just isn't that clear when we think about what seems to be a rash of mass shootings in the U.S. these days: how really few people we are talking about here that perpetrate these crimes. Mother Jones Magazine tallied up the mass killings since 1982 in the United States and all those incidents combined are the work of well under a hundred individual assailants. (http://www.motherjones.com/politics/2012/07/mass-shootings-map). In a nation of between 250 and 300 million people to say that this is a miniscule percentage of people is a huge understatement. I try to remember this when I (or we as a country) are thinking of ways to reduce such violence, because our methods need to take into account how very few people it involves. How do you devise national policy changes to deal with what 0.00000033% (or less) of the population is doing?

Now, of course, these high profile mass shootings are far from the only type of gun violence the U.S. struggles with. We lose about 12,000 people annually to murders and another 18,000 or so to gun suicides. But it is these mass killings that seem to prompt the most talk of a need for solutions, and also the most conversation about what's changed in society to make such events seemingly more common. It's worth going into that a bit I think.

First of all, gun violence overall is far off it's highs in the U.S. This is something we dealt with extensively in one of our recent podcasts entitled “Aiming for Effectiveness” and available free via this link: http://traffic.libsyn.com/dancarlin/cswdcc34.mp3

But mass shootings of the sort we have seen recently are increasing. Obviously they involve a tiny subset of our population, but why would they be on the rise now (as opposed to any other era)? As usual, everyone is quick to look at the same equations/solutions/targets of blame, but I think there are more questions worth asking than answers to be had in cases like this.

To me there are some fundamental unknowns that keep springing up that lead me to lines of inquiry:

1. How much of this is "normal"? Is there a "failure rate" that one can reasonably expect at all times in a large society among people who just “snap” at some point? If there is, is it a constant percentage (therefore as population rises, you can expect to see more actual incidents) and if so, is it modified by anything we can put our finger on at the societal level (the economy/job prospects, the culture/media, etc.)? There are always "crazy people" too. Always have been. Are we seeing a rise in this problem/the number of cases...or is it stable and we just have more people so we have more individuals with mental health issues based on a percentage that has remained constant over time?

2. On that "culture" question: I am convinced this is where we are different than places like Europe. People want to focus on the guns as the problem, but we have a culture in the U.S. where guns are ingrained and where they have been so for centuries. The use of them has seeped into us. It is the desire to use them that's different. To think the guns themselves are the problem we would have to believe that the Canadians, Europeans and others with lower homicide levels all would like to kill each other at our rates...they just lack the guns to make their wishes a reality. That's ridiculous. The truth is that these other societies don't have as much murderous intent as Americans. Why not?

3. To the "Why are we more murderous?" question: WE (as a whole) aren't. But a subset of us is. This subset is what's interesting/concerning. Why can 99+% of us handle any of the violent cultural or economic influences (or the prescription medication for mental health issues or any of these other variables) but a small percentage is perhaps pushed over the edge at some point...maybe with the help of influences that lower inhibitions to acting out in ways that are deadly?. And if we are dealing with a tiny subset of people, does it make sense to make society-wide changes that affect the non-problematic 99+% to possibly diminish some of the damage caused by the potentially murderous subset?

4.While these mass shooting incidents that seem to be on the rise lately are certainly "crimes", this is obviously something very different from what we normally think of as "crime". Most of the gun violence in this country (The VAST majority) is involved in the sort of crime we all normally think about. Drug dealer shoots rival drug dealer in back alley of blighted neighborhood...man commits suicide and decides to take his estranged wife with him...burglar kills target in botched robbery attempt, etc. None of this is good, of course...but this is somewhat normal in the expectation of things (I have a book made of up photos from a scrapbook of a police officer from the 1930s to the 1950s and he shows you what sort of stuff they routinely ran into where people died...these criminal incidents we see today were common even back then. What you DON'T see in his book...because they were very rare back then...is mass shootings where 10+ people die in a single outburst of violence. The closest parallels that I can think of are things like the St. Valentine's Day Massacre in 1929 and whatnot. Again though...not committed by deranged/disassociated malcontents...but gang warfare. Murderous, but somewhat rational in its evil calculation. Certainly not cases where the assailants expected to kill themselves at the end of their violence. A different set of circumstances entirely from these school and mall type shootings.).

There are incidents I can find from the past that are analogous to what we see more and more these days with these recent mass shootings. The famous 1966 shootings at the University of Texas for example (where a man with a brain tumor killed 16 and wounded 30+ more before being killed by authorities). They are less rare today though. Perhaps we should look into possible reasons why something that was happening at one level of regularity a generation ago, is happening at a higher level now. One thing is for sure when you look at it that way: It can't be the availability of guns. That's been a relative constant in U.S. history. The variable must lie elsewhere. I'm very curious what might help explain this. Some that I have spoken to have brought up the idea that medication that some of these shooters might have been prescribed might have played a role in their behavior (a recent article that I re-tweeted to my twitter followers at @dccommonsense claims that 80+% of assailants in these recent mass shootings can be classified as having significant mental health problems). Considering that the warning labels on some of these drugs discuss possible suicidal impulses as side-effects, and most of these assailants kill themselves or expect to die in these attacks, perhaps this is an angle worth examining. Are there any sources breaking down how many of these shooters were on such drugs? Can any of this be quantified?

In many ways these mass shootings mirror the problem of terrorism in a modern society. How far should the society go in trying to defend people from a problem that involves so few actual perpetrators? Do you go crazy with security everywhere to protect a nation from a terrorism threat that kills few actual people (but when it does can do so in spectacular and very traumatic and fear-inducing ways?). Do you get tougher on guns when an overwhelming supra-majority of those who own and use them never have an issue related to them? How far do we go inhibiting the law-abiding and responsible to inhibit the criminal and irresponsible?

We have been wrestling with this issue for some time obviously. What I hate to see is us doing so in the same way we always have (the simple knee-jerk gun control versus 2d Amendment argument). We have a “murderous intent” problem in the U.S. and perhaps an increasing issue relating to the mental health (or possibly the mental health treatment) of some. Those issues do not provide the same easy talking points or simplistic answers at the legislative or political level that the gun angle does, but they may strike more efficiently at the heart of the problem. There's a reason we have more mass shootings than we did a generation ago. If it isn't guns (and it isn't...the current laws are tougher than in the 1960s and earlier) then what is it? And is it a growing issue for real? Or are 60 or 70 unbalanced and malformed humans shooting up public areas since the early 1980s making us think Americans are more murderous than we have always historically been?

I am not trying to pretend that these are answers. I just know that with decades of effort expended on the normal gun vs. anti-gun argument not bearing any tangible fruit whatsoever, I would love to see us approach this problem in a more novel way. Let's “three-dimensionalize” this debate and see if any new insights are forthcoming. Doing the same thing we have always done on this issue over and over and expecting different results is, after all, the very definition of crazy. And we seem to have enough of that going around as it is.







A Concentration of Forces


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Jun 14 2012 9:04pm

It is a sure sign of my inexperience in organizing (anything) that I put out a call for people to tweet those whom they intellectually admire and then provided no way for those twitter recipients to figure out what the heck they were being asked to involve themselves in. Let me apologize for that here and now.

This post is an attempt to provide something people can link to that will help flesh out and provide context to what it was I was proposing.

I have been discussing the problems facing the USA (and the world) for many years now. News “analysis” was always the term used to describe what I did. “Commentator” was another oft-used description. Many of the people who have been tweeted about this also fall into those categories. Now, one either does that sort of job to make a living, or to foster positive change (as they see it) or some combination of the two.

If the goal is to foster positive change, then I imagine we have all hit the same wall. We can analyze/define the current situation (call it “A”) and where we need to go (“C”) but the mechanism to get us from here to there is the missing ingredient in all of our equations. I can't seem to come up with an adequate idea for “B” that will actually succeed. How do we get from A to C? The action verb is missing here.

The problem of course is the corruption in our political system.

Now, as we all know, every system of government that has ever existed has some level of what might be termed “corruption” inherent in it. Sweden has it, so does Nigeria. But in Sweden the problem is so small that the system deals with it and it is almost unnoticeable. In Nigeria (no offense Nigeria) it is so endemic that it dominates everything. Every system can absorb a certain amount and function fine. But there's a tipping point when things eventually get to a place where you go from having a working political system with some corruption in it, to a corrupt political system. The United States is past that tipping point.

The problem in a representative system such as the USA's though is that we have a government that translates the popular will via intermediaries. In order to reform the corruption the votes of the very people who benefit from the corruption are required to fix it. I have used the analogy that in order to foster change in this area we need the foxes to redesign the chicken coop to make it fox-proof. The dilemma here is obvious. What to do?

For years I have advocated voting for people who are not part of the Big Two political parties as a way to combat this problem. This idea has little merit anymore because the Big Two parties have spent decades enacting roadblocks at every level (local, state, federal) to inhibit third party and independent candidacies which even without such electoral impediments are long shots.

Attempts to limit the influence of money have also failed. Even if our legislators sincerely wanted to reform the issue of money buying access and influence in government the Supreme Court seems bent on thwarting them.

Well-meaning protests movements with “boots on the ground” and committed people (from all political stripes) have elicited little but scorn and mockery from the media and others (and sometimes even calls for legal sanctions and surveillance from the government).

Voting. Legislation. Protests. These are the traditional methods historically used to fill that action-verb void. Those were the “B” in our A to C transition. When those fail, what should be tried?

I recently interviewed three people running for president under the Independent or Third Party label-Former Governors Buddy Roemer and Gary Johnson and former Mayor Rocky Anderson. Every one of them agreed with me about the analysis of the situation. All agreed the corruption is the Gordian Knot in our system that taints any other sort of legislative action. No bill can make it through our system to become a law without the corruption changing it (or emasculating or “loopholing” it if it was intended to reform or create real oversight). Yet none of these people had any real answer for “B” other than “Trust me. Look at my record. I will fight this”. How? Smart men. But no answers.

That's when I decided that I am a hypocrite if I don't do something more than what I am doing. There are many smart folk out there (you are probably one of them) doing their part to help. But we are all working within our little nodes (or in the case of some of you, not-so-little nodes) of operation. Is this the optimum way to do this? Could the potential impact for change be increased if there was some increased level of interaction and cooperation between these individual nodes?

If nothing else, figuring out the answer to the “B” action-verb question would be a huge leap forward in progress. This is where brainstorming (and the involvement of audience members with specific technical knowledge or skills perhaps) might prove a crucial breakthrough point. I know that I personally would feel much more effective if I could suggest people take some action that I knew had the real potential to create a better situation for us all politically (and by that I mean a system that responded to what the great mass of society needs instead of this or that corporation or interest group. We have a government that can't think about the “General Welfare” or the holistic whole because the “whole” isn't giving them money...this or that tiny segment or interest is).

And this isn't a call for any specific political proposals. Americans don't agree on that. Different people from competing ideologies have opposing views on the various issues of the day. That's to be expected and is even healthy in a system like ours. But the great mass of Americans want a clean system so that the will of the People (whatever that turns out to be) is translated into political outcomes. There are few overt defenders of a system ruled by the money of corporations and special interest groups.

Let's recall that getting esteemed individuals and thinkers together to discuss ideas towards reform is how we got a Constitution written once upon a time. It's got a long and respected tradition and has been effective in the past. The key aspect to my effort is not to get the defenders of the status quo together (the George Wills or Thomas Friedmans or David Brooks types) but those who have already demonstrated that they understand that the status quo is a one-way trip off a historical cliff. There are a decent number of those non-status quo esteemed thinkers around, and if I could aid their efforts by bringing them together, I would sleep better at night thinking I had done something helpful and positive rather than just bitched about problems we all already realize are out there.

What does “bringing together” mean? Some virtual forum to brainstorm would seem to be a logical first step. Why have me design how things are going to be done when we can make use of the very intelligence I am trying to corral to do this instead? Working on this right now...more to follow as we educate ourselves...

We are looking into the technical options right now. More to follow as I educate myself more. Thanks for your patience and understanding.







Thoughts relating to "Put Up or Shut Up"


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Jun 13 2012 3:50pm

This is a post I made on the Board explaining a bit more about the stuff we said in the latest CS show about me trying to help bring voices similar to my own (calling for reform) together to pool our combined strength and hopefully trigger a dynamic that can develop its own momentum...
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Much of what I have to say is for the newer people on the Board. Many of you veterans know how long I have wrestled with these questions of purpose.

Once upon a time it was about educating. I feel as though (not because of me mind you) many now understand what's going on (how could they not? Pretty damn obvious by now I think...even to those not paying a ton of attention). The Education part is a bit moot to me now...every third party/Indie candidate we interviewed agreed about the issue/problem. Now What?

Well...we have tried "solutions" for a long time on the show as well. I suppose that's where expecting someone else to come along and implement them (or run for office so that we could say "Vote for DBTrek! He will do the things we have all been talking about!" :goteam:). Well...that's not going anywhere either.

So, I thought about our Republican system of government (legislating via intermediaries) and thought: Well...citizens and activists require the same thing. That's what leaders are for. Look at the other times in history change has been pushed. Leader, leaders wherever you look. The 1960s had more leaders of movements than you could shake a stick at. How many of those types could I name doing that today? It's actually a bit of an unexplainable vacuum if you look at it through the historical lens of what you might normally expect to see. Why?

Well, that's where I started thinking about my own fore-bearings about leaders. I don't trust them. I won't follow them. I am anti-leaders. Then it occurred to me that this jibed with my generation to a great degree. The signs have been there for years (I cited my freshman orientation in HS...but there are other examples. I know many of you have your own examples you can point to).

But, if things don't go anywhere without leaders (because people have their lives to live...need to pay the mortgage...don't know what to do, etc. etc....there are many distractions) then what does being "anti-leaders" cost us? Can it help explain why we see less change/reform than our era and conditions seem to warrant?

So THEN I thought: Well...who would want THAT gig? Not me. And anyone who aggressively DID pursue a leadership role would trigger my reflexive response of suspicion and distrust. WHY do they want that role so badly? I don't trust those seeking power. I want someone who DOESN'T want the gig! How unrealistic is that? :roll:

Then I thought of hypocrisy. I am telling others to do things I myself am not willing to do (because I don't want to!). That's where the softball analogy came up (and yes...I was out there coaching my 10 year old's team last night. And it was, I must admit, a better experience than I thought. I rock at softball coaching apparently. :proud:).

How does one live their life in a way that they can respect the way they lived it when they look back on it at the end of one's days? Not by telling others to do things (especially if they don't do so). I don't have the answers apparently (or certainly not the ones that can be implemented given current circumstances). But I am not the only person thinking about these things. Which is where the idea of pooling the intellect of not just other commentators...but also their audiences. Maybe I can help by being the one to step out and call for us to start talking. I am frankly amazed that such a role is even open to me. Why hasn't someone else stepped forward and done it? It seems obvious, in a way. That last show basically reflected my commitment to say: "Well, I don't know why it hasn't been done yet...but it hasn't. So, I will try to make it happen...small as I am." I hope it doesn't appear ridiculous. But, as I said in the show, I can live with that. I can live with failure too (heck...part of me...the realist part I guess....EXPECTS failure). But I can't live with standing by watching all this go down while I sit and complain about it. It makes sense to have all these separated voices talking to each other and building upon the ideas of each other (and using our power with our own audiences and "juice" to help convert the intellectual into action). As I said, I feel a bit like a fraud doing it (after all...who amI?). But the vacuum is there...and it's been there for some time. Perhaps it waits for a podcaster who dislikes and distrusts leaders to fill it.

As far as the future of the CS show...well...have we not hit a wall in our development? Bitching and bitching is not what I want to do for a living. Some may bitch professionally because they get paid to do it. I can make more money ditching CS and focusing on HH. But CS is about doing something to make things better (I know...grandiosity personified... :oops: ). I realize both my, and my show's limitations. Which is why I am seeking to ally with others in the hopes that we are more capable together (certainly intellectually) than we are working in our own little nodes. I dream of a sort of synergy that might be created if we could just get the ball rolling. Imagine the juice a few million people (the combined audiences of a bunch of hosts/journalists/writers) could have compared to what we have now. Wouldn't that be an improvement over what we have now? Might all those audience members be able to bring skills, talent and intellect to bear that is greater than the sum of its parts? It's about more than getting the "Big Brains" (I hate that term) together. It's about getting those who listen to them together as well. (it also might create a group that others seeking just such a development say "Aha! Look at all those people I respect trying to do something! Greenwald, Taibbi, Napolitano, Carlin, etc. etc....I'm in too!" A stone must be thrown in the water to create the ripples...)

Pie in the sky? Ah...not really. I mean, it really shouldn't be that hard to get the ball rolling on talking about concerted action. Now, whether that concerted action translates into the change (any change...) we want is another matter. Sure beats where I am right now though.

I sure understand anyone who feels this is an effort doomed to failure. At the same time, I think all efforts seem a bit like that before you start them, don't they? What choice do we have? We sure can't wait for another "hope and change" candidate to come around and promise to do it for us, can we? :SilentRage:

Look...I feel totally inadequate to fill this role. But I feel as though that's becoming an excuse for not trying. I don't want to try. But I didn't want to coach softball either...and my girls won their game last night and remain undefeated and are having a blast. Sometimes things turn out better than a pessimist like I believe they will. But someone has to take the reins. I despise the idea of doing it myself. But I also don't want that wagon to go over the cliff without at least being able to say I made a dive for the reins before it did. It's something that we all need to ask ourselves some hard questions about I think. If not now, when? Every year we wait it's only going to be harder and more daunting and more laughable that puny efforts of citizens will work. I feel as though I have waited long enough.






EXTRA Hardcore History


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Jan 31 2012 10:14pm

Longtime HH listeners know that for some time we have been trying to add some special shows just on a pay-for-download basis. This was always going to be my famous, never-even-close-to-being-realized "Greatest Armies of All Time" podcast.

Unfortunately, I found that it was almost impossible to do that while doing the regular free shows we do (and we always give precedence to the regular free shows in terms of importance).  Many listeners suggested a good way to make use of research and effort that was already done would be to do a "show AFTER the show" podcast that was an addition to the previous big HH episode that recently aired.

It's a great idea, and we had been considering similar ones. We always have lots of leftover good stuff ("cutting room floor" elements) and it would be a great way for me to go more into depth into the military aspects and details  that I like. We also could make corrections or clarifications and also give "what we were thinking" breakdowns of the podcast, etc.

Well, we have actually almost finished the first one of these shows. Yes...we are as astounded as you are.  We don't know how good it is (it is totally off-the-cuff...just talking about the previous show. There's no storyline or anything) but it is about an hour long.  It is for only the few among you who didn't get enough (or way, way too much!) of the subject with "Thor's Angels".  It's Extra Hardcore History for the extra hardcore among you. We sure didn't want to "pollute the feed" for all the regular listeners with this content devoted to a subject they just heard for 4+ hours! These show will need to be downloaded from our website the same way archived podcast episodes are. Itunes and the like won't help us with podcasts if they aren't free.

Finally, we wish the idea of charging money never came up at all. Everyone knows we give our newest content away for free, and that's our business model.  But we have always needed to be nimble and inventive (as all New Media producers do). We have multiple ways to scratch a living...donate buttons....Amazon Affiliate Programs...selling old archived episodes...Audible Ads...and now some cheap "extras" to our free offerings.  No one avenue of funding is going to do the job, but perhaps by diversifying we can improve things.  Many of you have advised me to do just that. "EHH" allows us to squeeze some last drops of value from the reading, research and creativity that's already been employed in crafting a big show.

We want your feedback if you hear the episode.  Tell us if you think it was worth 2 bucks.  It should be about an hour long...and as we said, it's sort of like a "Thor's Angels" post-game show.

Also, next step (and my next task after the next CS is done) is to get on the design and development of a shorter free HH offering to post on the regular feed between larger episodes. It's just more of my New Year's Resolutions obligations being fulfilled...

Wish us luck...

...and thanks for everything...






HH #41 Progress Report


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Dec 27 2011 3:59am

I figured it was past time to issue a progress report on the latest Hardcore History episode (#41)...especially since we are currently two weeks past our self-imposed deadline.

This is not only not unusual for us, it has become the norm. We consider this to be a bad thing, but we really don't know what to do to alter the state of affairs. With this current episode we instituted three or four major elements to help us get the show out sooner, and none of them worked. Today in a discussion with “Ben” (if there is a Ben... ;) ) I just blurted out “Maybe we can't do one of these shows in two months.”. And maybe we can't.

Now, most people have been extremely understanding of our situation. It's somewhat rare (but not abnormal) to get somebody warning us that this will affect our business and personally being a bit frustrated with us. More common is the increase in subscription cancellations and the like as the show gets increasingly overdue. I can't blame people though. We say “A buck a show” not “Three bucks a month...auto deducted from your PayPal account”. I stick by that though. We don't expect to be paid when shows aren't out...only when they come out. The incentive is huge (in more ways than just that) to get them out as soon as possible. But, they seem to have a life of their own.

In fact, if I weren't always so stressed and worried about it, I think I would be fascinated watching the process from a third person vantage point. The creativity is popping all the time, and stuff gets added to the show as we go (and then we sometimes go back and insert thoughts that occurred to us only after the part they fit into had been recorded). The composition of the theater of the mind elements is a true art form, and “Ben” doesn't get the credit he's due (for obvious reasons. The Man is sick...). I will laugh regularly as he takes some element from pop culture and twists and warps it in ways to form background elements to go under (and enhance) my audio. It's a blast...theoretically.

In truth, we are stressed out about it all the time. We know we should be able to get these things out faster, and we know people aren't too pleased that we haven't done so. It's just a task that takes more time than you might think (the reading and note taking alone is a mammoth task...). It's like writing a song...a REALLY long song. And it just can't be forced...no matter how hard I try (and I try too hard sometimes...).

Here's where we are as I type this (Dec 26th). We have an hour and forty or so minutes of audio recorded and currently in the process of being scored (theater of the mind elements being added). I see at least another forty-five minutes to an hour of audio before we are done with the story. If that sounds long, know that we are as shocked as anyone. I specifically tried to pick a topic and everything that lended itself to a shorter show. We ended up covering 1,500 or more years of history instead. Once again I proved that I am terrible at this element of the show creation process.

I love some of the stuff in the current show. It's a topic that can easily get a podcast host in trouble, but I think so far, so good on that score. If you can handle how long it is, you may like it. Remember...if you get in trouble, there's always the pause button. ;)

Thanks for your patience...we are, and have been working hard. In fact, I've never worked as hard in my life as I do as a podcaster. That's because my boss is a slave driver.









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