Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Mass Shootings: Victims that matter, Mother Jones and Middle America

With the recent mass shootings at Sandy Hook Elementary and Aurora Colorado the debate over gun control has been thrust into the fore front once again. Mother Jones compiled a list of mass shootings from the past 30 years. Their numbers seem to be showing that mass shootings have been on the rise in recent years thus logically prompting a call to action.

 However their database is rather selective as it excludes: gang related violence, shootings where the primary motive was armed robbery and shootings that involved more than one shooter (although they decided to make two exceptions for school shootings). If you don't make the exclusions Mother Jones did you end up with a graph from FBI data that shows mass shootings to be nearly constant since 1976 with wild peaks and troughs of number of victims. Why the discrepancy in the data?

Some people will conclude that Mother Jones' data collection reflects their support of gun control so they came up with a data set to support an issue because Mother Jones is a liberal magazine. But Mother Jones' data is an accurate representation of mass shootings against 'victims that matter'.

I will take a moment to explain what I mean by 'victims that matter'. It is a concept that we are all familiar with. If a black teenage male shoots another black teenage male in a poor neighborhood he may be mentioned on the local news for 15 to 30 seconds. If you are a white female like Natalee Holloway you may very well generate a media firestorm by disappearing while on a vacation.

So while Newtown Connecticut is a national tragedy that deserves to be mourned because 20 school age children were murdered it is worth noting that nearly every year more Chicago school age children are killed than were killed in Connecticut. And while there are some crucial differences like the mass shooting in Connecticut happening all at once, smaller shootings in the 90s such as those that took place in Oregon and Arkansas got tremendous media coverage as well.

The difference is best described by David Dennis in his recent article in the guardian where he said
"American tragedies occur where middle America frequents every day: airplanes, business offices, marathons. Where there persists a tangible fear that this could happen to any of us. And rightfully so. Deaths and mayhem anywhere are tragic. That should always be the case. The story here is where American tragedies don't occur.

American tragedies don't occur on the southside of Chicago or the New Orleans 9th Ward. They don't occur where inner city high school kids shoot into school buses or someone shoots at a 10-year old's birthday party in New Orleans. Or Gary, Indiana. Or Compton. Or Newport News. These are where the forgotten tragedies happen and the cities are left to persevere on their own."

So Mother Jones includes 'real american tragedies' because they are filled with 'victims that matter' and exclude the poor urban blacks (who are about 50% of all homicide victims) because the readers of Mother Jones care about their own chances of being a victim of a crime but are not concerned about the murders in the inner cities. 

Sunday, May 19, 2013

Political Correctness: Redskins, Rob Parker and the politically correct tango

I had a good discussion with my friend after Daniel Snyder said that he'd "never going to change the name of the Redskins". I argued that there is a reasonable debate to be had about whether or not the name Redskins is appropriate. Does the nickname honor native americans by denoting how brave they are? Paying homage to a noble people by stating that we use their name to strike fear in our opponents because they are a fierce an mighty warrior. Or does the name denigrate a group of people by stating that they are thought of as mascots and therefore sub-human? I hoped that the media would focus that issue instead of asking whether or not 'Redskin' is politically correct.

My friend then asked me: what is the difference between 'politically correct' versus just plain correct or 'morally correct'. The easiest definition is to define something that is 'politically incorrect' and that is something that is true but offensive to someone or some group of people. When Bill Cosby ranted about how poor black families were not bringing up their end of the bargain and were not properly valuing education few attacked the substance of what he said. No one said that he was wrong or not properly conveying the truth but instead that it was 'harsh' and 'offensive'. Had Cosby's words been aired by anyone other than an African American he would have been labeled a racist.

The three step process of responding to someone saying something 'political incorrect' is to 1) be offended 2) call the person a bigot (a racist, a homophobe, a sexist) 3) call on the person to apologize and if necessary 4) pressure the person's livelihood until the apologize. It is the politically incorrect tango, a simple four step that is easy to learn. What is missing from those four steps is any real discussion of truth or values or any meaningful discussion at all.

When Rob Parker of ESPN mentioned that some people in the black community questioned the Washington Redskin quarterback's blackness (Robert Griffin III or RGIII) because he is rumored to be a republican and is dating a white girl Parker referred to RGIII as a 'cornball' brother he sparked a controversy because he had said something that was not politically correct. The four step politically correct tango then followed as his comments were labeled 'offensive' and 'small minded' he was called on to apologize (which he did) and pressure was put on ESPN who opted not to renew his contract.

Well many people who were a part of the outrage machine patted themselves on the back for a 'job well done' Rob Parker had been fired and all was right with the world. They neglect to notice that real issue in this case was never discussed in any meaningful way. The incredibly important issue is the subject of 'acting white' or that some how blackness is something that you have to be and act out instead of something that you are. This horrible belief leads black children to be labeled as sellouts and 'acting white' when they apply themselves in school and try and get an education.

Next time someone says something that is 'offensive' or isn't 'politically correct' maybe instead of doing the politically correct tango we can try and have an honest discussion about the issue. And maybe the next time something is labeled 'offensive' we can ask... is it true?

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Opposing Gay Marriage: Religion or Bigotry?

There has been a lot of progress on the movement of gay rights but even with more states approving same sex marriage there are still millions of Americans who oppose it. Often liberals who support gay marriage will paint with a broad brush and call anyone who does not support marriage equality as 'intolerant' or as 'bigots'. These sort of insults on people serves no purpose other than to make people hide their beliefs but it certainly does not move them towards changing them. There is a big difference between people who oppose gay marriage for religious reasons and those who oppose gay marriage due to bigotry but claim that it is for religious reasons.

1. Those who oppose for religious reasons.

There is a large segment of the population who opposes gay marriage due to strongly held religious beliefs. The Bible clearly states that homosexuality is a sin and these people of faith do not want to endorse something (by making gay marriage legal) that they find to be immoral.

The people that have these views tend to be soft spoken and extremely polite. Often times people are surprised when someone that 'seems so nice' opposes gay marriage. The reason that this comes as a shock to people is that religious people who oppose gay marriage don't hate gay people. They don't harbor ill will towards gay people. You won't hear them use slurs like 'faggot' 'fag' 'homo' or 'queer' nor would you witness them mistreating gay people (being rude, etc). That is because the bible commands them to be good people and treat everyone with dignity and respect.

There really is no use arguing with them about whether or not homosexuality is a sin in the bible. It is pretty clear in the Bible that homosexuality is a sin. What is not clear is what the implications of that are in a society. The Bible never states how Christians are suppose to behave when they are ruling a society. This is based on when the Bible was written.

There are some reasonable discussions/arguments to be made with these people like how the new testament pretty clearly states that men are superior to women or that there are a bunch of rules in that no one follows (like having a women's head covered and men growing beards).

But these people shouldn't be labeled as bigots nor should they be screamed at that they should practice tolerance. There are two things fundamentally wrong with the tolerance movement. The first is that people aren't looking for tolerance they are looking for acceptance. I tolerate a screaming baby on an airplane but what gay people are looking for is acceptance as equal members of society with an equal ability to marry whomever they want.
The second problem with the tolerance movement is that it has no answer for people that they perceive to be intolerant. People will argue that religious people need to 'be tolerant' of gay people, while at the same time ridiculing their beliefs.

2.  Pseudo-religious/bigots

This is a group that does not like gay people, they don't feel comfortable around gay people and they don't want anything to do with gay people. This group often isn't particularly religious but will often harbor their feelings of resentment towards homosexuals as being religious in nature. That is because they don't want to own up to the fact that they don't like gay people and want to use something to deflect that.

It is in fact relatively easy to distinguish people in this group from the people who are actually religious for a couple of reasons. The first is that you will hear slurs about homosexuals in this group. The seconds is that they aren't particularly religious so they will have a hard time quoting multiple Bible passages and are easily stumped about where their belief in homosexuality being immoral comes from (unlike the actual religious group who will be quoting enough Bible passages that you'll have to go look them up). These individuals may be rude to homosexuals or make snide remarks either around a gay person they interact with or behind their back.

Friday, May 3, 2013

Binders Full of Women

During one of the Presidential Debate Mitt Romney made his famous comment about having "Binders full of Women". This was to emphasize that he took seriously the issue of women being overlooked in executive positions and his attempt to tackle the issue.

What followed was an internet meme, comedians lampooning the quote and the media being very critical of the claim. What was missed from the story was this: "Binders Full of Women" is in fact excellent policy.

One of the most common complaints with hiring women and minorities is that the people doing the hiring simply don't see enough qualified applicants. "We'd hire more ____ (blacks, Latinos, women) if only we had more qualified applicants". Binders full of women eliminates this problem by having binders full of qualified applicants.

This of course doesn't eliminate covert discrimination where someone doesn't want to hire a minority or a woman. It doesn't eliminate subtle bias either where a person is unaware of their own bias in preferring someone of a specific gender or race. But "Binders Full of Women" does tackle one giant issue.

I'm not the only one that noticed that it is a good policy.

Thursday, May 2, 2013

Income Inequality: the wrong argument

Much has been made in the past few years about income and wealth inequality in the United States. Most liberals (politicians, writers, bloggers) have all jumped on the band wagon and throw out numbers about how a CEO makes 1,100 times what an hourly worker makes or that how the top 1% has as much wealth as the bottom whatever percent. The exact numbers are irrelevant because the entire argument misses the point. Inequality measures aren't a useful measure of anything.

There are a couple of ways to illustrate this point. The easiest is with a story.

 The first is to look at a scenario with little inequality and create inequality.
Let us imagine that we have discovered a small island in the south pacific that is pristine and untouched. A small tribe that has about 100 inhabitants, they are fishers and hunters and gatherers. There is almost no separation in wealth on the island. The chief of the village has a slightly larger hut but that is the only wealth inequality.

Now an Englishmen thinks that this would make a great resort. So he puts up the capital to open a resort. He hires 50 people from the village to work there. Five of them are made managers of various operations and one is his VP to oversee the entire operation. All 50 people who work there only work 40 hours a week and make a decent living, they are able to buy imported steel and bricks for nicer housing on the island. The managers are paid three times the hourly workers and have a few nicer things in their new houses. The VP is paid 20 times his hourly workers and he is able to take a vacation away from the Island once a year.

The other fifty people who do not work for the company decided to keep on with their same lives, to hunt, trap and fish for their livelihood. For them life did not change one bit since the opening of the new resort with the exception that they occasionally see foreigners wandering around taking photographs.

At this point in the story it is useful to stop and think about the wealth inequality. Before the Englishman arrived there was very little wealth inequality on the island. But since he has opened his resort there is now a huge chasm between the top 5%, the top 1% and the rest of the Island. In fact the top 1% is so rich that he is able to leave the Island on a regular basis, something that had never been done before.

Let us look at the bottom 50%. They are now much poorer relatively since the resort opened on their Island but they are living in the identical conditions they did prior to the resort opening. Herein lies the problem of wealth inequalities argument is that poverty isn't a relative thing but rather an absolute. The 50 islanders who kept on living their same way of life were completely and utterly unaffected by the other half of the Island who decide to get jobs and live a different way.

Chapter two of our story picks up when a visitor to the Island happens to be a liberal economics teacher who teaches the people living on the Island about the horrifying conditions of wealth inequality and all of the horrible implications both morally and economically.

A Small band of Islanders decide that they will rid their Island of wealth inequality. They burned the resort and all of the new houses to the ground. They passed a law stating that no foreigners were allowed on their sovereign soil and they made everyone return to their lives as hunters/fishers/trappers. Everyone was returned to the previous state like that resort had never been built and the Island was returned to its previous pristine state. Wealth inequality was solved.

That is not the only way to solve wealth inequality but it is by far the quickest and most effective. When a small amount of people have a large amount of wealth trying to redistribute it can be tricky (particularly if it is land or a company) but destruction is the quickest and most effective means at leveling the wealth playing field.

There are a number of incredibly important our country needs to address about poverty. How much should we provide to people who cannot or will not work for themselves? How do we do a better job of making sure children in our country aren't hungry? How do we provide services for the poor and needy without providing incentives for not working and/or having more children? There are shortcomings in our social safety nets and it is a shame on our nation that we have hungry children. We need to work together to address these issues. One issue that does not need to be addressed is income inequality.