Tuesday, January 22, 2013

Real Concerns with Media Violence and Behavior

I just got off the air with a talk show host on WPHT; the subject was the existence of a link between media violence (mainly video games) and shootings like the recent tragedy at Sandy Hook, Aurora, and today in Texas. It gets so frustrating talking with people who are essentially anti-science (some people are "evil") and who set up straw men (PROVE that video games CAUSED a particular shooting) for people to argue. This host in particular keeps saying over and over on the air that it is mental illness that causes the violence and shootings, but doesn't seem to get that mental illness has environmental as well as organic roots.

Recent research in neuroscience, research studying adoloescent boys, shows a strong correlation between the duration and intensity of viewed violence and a host of behaviors, in particular a desensitization to violence, aggressive behavior, and a lack of prosocial behavior. Such behavior in young males is of particular interest because their prefrontal cortex is not fully developed, and so the part of the brain responsible for "moral thinking" is prone to influence; that is why teenagers tend to engage in risky behavior and why it is so important to be teaching kids "right from wrong."

One of President Obama's executive orders mandates a study into the relationship between media violence and violent behavior, no doubt focusing on shootings in particular. I don't know whether this will be original research or a review of the literature, but I'm pretty certain the work will confirm the relationships I mentioned above. The real issue will be in choosing a course of action.

My concern quite frankly with shootings in particular but with the social fabric. As a conservative, I place great emphasis on our relationships with one another, and I am thus concerned with how we interact with one another, the compassion and empathy we demonstrate towards one another, and our willingness to engage in altruistic and generally cooperative behavior. In this regard, I am convinced that media violence, while it may not lead to an increase in random shootings, will add a tear to this social fabric. When combined with the deterioration of this fabric due to a thinning in the middle class, the glue that holds our society together, this is just another sign that our nation is "losing its soul."

What we do with this new research will be subject to much debate, and no doubt calls for banning some videos as a component of the President's overall gun control strategy.The conservative in me abhors this propensity to legislate. What we really need is stronger, more effective parenting and boardroom decisions that more greatly reflect "the parent" in these capitalists. It would also be incumbent on the media to stop sensationalizing the news, attracting viewership with violence, and for movies and television drama to find storylines that don't center on violent activity.

There is alot we can do in the area of gun control- like requiring liability insurance and increasing buybacks- that do not trample on an individual's right to own a gun. Similarly, there are steps we can take to slowly but steadily decrease the glorification of violence and use of weapons. The law is there to support but not direct this change. Neuroscience has confirmed that the correlation exists, it is now up to us as a society, and not our politicians, to "resew" the social fabric.

Friday, January 18, 2013

Nothing Brings Out the Crazies Like Gun Control

For those among you that need reminding there are still crazy people within our borders, nothing works better than discussion of the Second Amendment. Listening to the yahoos, survivalists, and phony "original intent" devotees that surface, you would think we were living in some kind of imperial or dictatorial system where our leader, by mere whim, can eviscerate the rights established by our Founders, relished by the public, supported by our legislators, and confirmed by our courts.

President Obama's recent legislative proposals and executive orders were little more than a rehash of past policies, calls for greater research, and demands for greater enforcement of existing laws. Yet listening to the voices of unreason on Fox and among the guests on CNN and CNBC, you would think that we are a step away from federal marshals showing up on your doorstep to take away your guns.

First of all, the NRA has done such a great job of influencing legislation that the ATF has less staff than it had 20 years ago, in spite of the proliferation in gun ownership and the outlets for legal and illegal transfer of guns and ammunition.

Second, even those in the general public- including NRA members - that support increased registration and better oversight of gun sales and possession, and support limits on the purchase of some forms of weaponry, believe in the inviolable right of citizens to own and keep firearms.

Third, the text of the Second Amendment says "a well regulated militia," so even if you believe that the Amendment refers to individual ownership rather than things like the National Guard, there exists textual support for regulation.

Similarly, there is little written by our Founders with regard to the Second Amendment, and very few of the ratifying states maintained a written record of debate over this and other amendments, so gleaning "original intent" is problematic. And even if the Founders declared an individual's right to own weapons, they also made it clear that, as a scientific document, the Constitution was subject to further interpretation and change as "knowledge" expanded and man's understanding of and ability to affect the physical world also changed. They readily acknowledged there was much they did not know.

Fourth, those among the crazies that are true conservatives must concede that local communities, if not the federal government, have the right to establish the rules and customs of their territory. As a conservative on this issue, I believe that change to our culture and custom should be relatively gradual and done more by popular will than legislative dictate. Is there really something wrong with our society trying to tone done the glorification of violence and weaponry often expressed through the media and the marketplace.

And finally, do our Second Amendment zealots remember that we have a conservative Supreme Court interpreting any gun related legislation, and you can be sure that challenges to any enacted laws will begin almost immediately. In the Heller and McDonald cases our Supreme Court clearly established an individual's right to own a firearm, and while granting states and the federal government the power to regulate, strongly indicated that those regulations would be subject to strong scrutiny.

It is just incredible to hear people talk about nullification of laws and secession from the Union as if we were reliving the 1840's and 50's. I've heard people on You Tube talking about blood in the streets and taking up arms against our government as if we were living in some future dystopia. My gawd :)

Personally, I have little argument with the President's initial proposals. If I had a say I would have placed more emphasis on the use of moral suasion and gun buybacks, and included a provision requiring gun owners to take out liability insurance for their guns. Still, nowhere in the proposals did I see anything to alarm anyone that our government was looking to take away anyone's right to own a firearm and defend their "castle."

I have heard more than one person refer to the "post Sandy Hook" period as a "tipping point" in the debate over gun control. I don't dispute that characterization, and can only hope that our nation can begin a serious discussion about the character of our nation and its obsessive infatuation with violence and gunplay.

The moment is at hand to quell the voices of irrationality and confront the NRA for its obstructionism and truculence. That in and of itself would be a victory, though I hope that we can do more. We'll never get rid of the crazies, but it is time to take away their platform. Let them find some windmills to fight and give the rest of us a breather. They aren't too bright, but they are terribly exhausting.

Need for a New Military Branch

As military operations in Afghanistan wind down, the issue of what kind of presence we will leave behind has become a great source of debate. Even while our forces were at their strongest, questions existed about how best to establish and maintain our legitimacy among the Afghani people.

The need for a strong military posture is obvious, necessitated by the inadaquacy of the Afghani military and the continued threat posed by terrorist and other destabilizing forces. However, a failure on the part of the US to improve the quality of life, and the quality of politics within the country will affect our ability to influence events once the country is able to restore its sovereignty, meaning its ability to maintain a stable border and and relative stability and tranquility in the domestic sphere.

The US military is under great pressure and scrutiny, expected to fulfill a myriad of responsibilities that are not typically part of their job description. I believe that increasing the breadth of responsibilities for our military compromises its ability to do any particular thing well. The Army, Navy, Air Force, and Marines should be responsible for fulfilling military objectives, nothing more. Turning our traditional fighting forces into peace keepers, mediators, infrastructure builders, and government advisers falls way beyond the scope of their mission.

What the US needs is to create a new branch of service, one that is solely responsible for rebuilding the nation during and after the cessation of conflict, for providing peacekeeping, and for advising government officials under scrutiny to create a political system that reflects our interest in republican government.

Think of them, if you will, as a hybrid that would include peacekeepers, engineers (yes I know the Army has a Corps of Engineers), lawyers, educators, urban planners, diplomats, and doctors. They would provide the expertise we now ask of our existing military branches, leaving our military to attend to its primary mission.

As we enter this final phase of our invasion of Afghanistan, we are justifiably concerned about stability in the region. Pakistan, Iran, China, and India are all motivated to extend its influence, in addition to the nongovernment groups, indiginous tribes, and terrorist groups inhabiting the region. Creating a viable Afghanistan is crucial if the State is to be at all able to project the legitimacy it needs to be acknowledged as sovereign. The presence of a US force empowered to improve the quality of life, government, and infrastructure in Afghanistan will go along way to supporting that effort while similarly dampening concerns that we are interested in turning Afghanistan into a vassal of the US. There are many ways to establish influence, and in this case guns and tanks may not be the best prescription.

Wednesday, January 2, 2013

Truth About the 47%

Obviously Mitt Romney was viciously callous in his mischaracterization of a large segment if the American population; most people prefer work to dependence and are honestly pursuing a path to independence and self-sufficiency. In fact u could legitimately argue that a significant percentage of the wealthy and a sizable number of corporations are dependent on government programs and "breaks" to marginalize their costs and maximize their profits. You can find some sort of dependence anywhere.

But to get back to Romney. I am right now at the welfare office in Trenton, and the number of young women here with children is staggering. What bothers me the most is the apparent absence of any sense of shame among the young and what appears to be some rather weak parenting skills.

Is just show so hard to shake this sense that these children are little more than a source of income.

These young adults are just the kind of people that play into the thinking of Romney and many of his fellow Republicans. It is here at this level that the social fabric has become seriously frayed.

Decades ago the late Senator Moynihan warned us of the consequences caused by changes in the family structure and traditional values, and those consequences are center stage here at the Social Services office.

If we are to regain our strength as a nation we must do a better job providing opportunity in the inner city through better education and use what ever moral power we can to dissuade young women from seeing this path of dependence as somehow legitimate and justified.

There is just too much at stake for our nation to let this behavior go unabated.