Monday, September 01, 2008

Firearms in society: what are we to do?

Gun laws are part of the world these days. As is the occurrence of people ‘going postal’ or school killings. And the responses to these new threats and outbreaks are as varied as the nations they occur in.

In Canada as a response to the murder of Anastasia De Sousa and injury of 20 other people at Dawson College in 2006, a new law - ANASTASIA'S LAW – has been enacted in Quebec. This law restricts firearms in public transit, and at schools and daycare centers. It requires psychologists and other medical professionals to report people with high-risk behavior and/or gunshot injuries.

Jacques Dupuis, Quebec's public security minister, said that the package "is not perfect. But, it's a piece of the puzzle, a way to try to prevent tragic events like Dawson from happening again."

In England the fear is their terror in becoming what is perceived as American life

“Everyone wants to be a gangster now, mainly the kids. You have five or six in a little crew and one of them will be carrying. They want handguns - shotguns are too big and bulky. The sawn-off doesn't look so good but use a machine gun and you get known as a heavy guy. They have them just to be a chap on the street, to pose. Some of them walk around all day with a .38. It's 16-year-olds at it and it's getting like America, silly as it sounds.”

Though their problems are not American imitation as much as the breakdown of social morals that every nation these days faces.

“Playground squabbles are now being settled with guns," he said. "And drug dealers are taking a policy decision to get youngsters to carry guns.”

But in the U.S. there are some other views.

“Spurred by fear of a violent attack or because they have actually survived one more Washingtonians are getting a concealed pistol license. The license, or CPL, allows them to travel with a hidden gun among an unknowing public. License holders jumped from about 179,000 to 258,000, 43 percent, between 2003 and 2007. The state Department of Licensing says permit applications in Kitsap County jumped from 1,587 in 2004 to 3,339 in 2007.”

“Mike got his concealed pistol license about four years ago and carries a .45-caliber Glock (he has a smaller 9 millimeter for when he's wearing lighter clothes or is in the company of his "anti-gun" relatives). He carried intermittently until the Virginia Tech massacre, in which 32 people died when a gunman shot up classrooms in a building and then killed himself.

“It was then that I realized that you can't count on help being there when you need it. You're only guaranteed a chance when you are able to defend yourself," he said.”

And in at least on school

“Harrold Supt. David Thweatt said some of the school's 50 employees are carrying weapons, but he wouldn't say how many.”

So which thought is the right one? Which provides the best answer to the public?

Is Canada right in their restrictive measures? But what happens when a criminal or crazed individual does get a firearm, which in England is easy and cheap, and the police are minutes away? What if a teacher, or a responsible trained civilian with a liscenced concealed weapon is right there and able to prevent the wanna-be ganster with a machine gun, or end the threat that could create a Dawson College or Virginia Tech. What if a teacher or school employee is able to stop a Columbine before dozens are injured or killed.

The issues involving firearms are universal in this world. There are always people who want to be a gangster, or are criminals, or deranged. There is no preventing the proliferation of firearms – whether converted, smuggled, or sold legally – in a world where the internet can provide the instructions to convert a fake or rendered safe firearm into a functional weapon.

Blame is a wonderful tool to obfuscate the resolution. Blame movies, or television, or drugs, or cartoons, or American culture. Blame never resolves the issue at hand, nor brings the dead to life. Blame never prevents violence.

So what is the best answer?

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Wednesday, July 02, 2008

Cycling, the other gasoline alternative

Let’s assume that the price of gasoline has been rising every year for the past 6 years. Let’s say that you live in a major metropolitan city. Let’s say that the number of obese people in your nation has grown almost as much as the waistlines. What do you do?

In America you blame the other political party, offer a tax break or threaten to tax the oil companies (depending on your party affiliation), mandate an alternative fuel source that drives up the price of food and that 98% of the population can’t use, and then sit back as unprecedented numbers of people go out and buy scooters or motorcycles. In America its drive or die you know.

But if you happen to be in England, well then it’s another story completely.

In a nation where gas gulping Hummers never took hold the obvious choice was to ride a bicycle. And that is something they have been doing in droves.

Since 2000 there has been an increase of 90% in the number of cyclists hitting the roads. In fact the government there has just created a ~$250 million incentive package for 12 cities, including Bristol, to become modern cycling cities. Not that does not match up much against the ~$10 billion spent on transportation in London alone (of which approx $110 million will be going to cycling) but it’s an impressive number.

Considering the huge numbers of eco-fanatical people in America concerned about green house gases and global warming, the food police demanding that every meal be an organic mix of veggies and nuts, and the ping pong battle over drilling for domestic oil anywhere I have to admit I’m shocked that not even San Francisco has made similar moves if not to lead the world with cycling.

Cycling is not just the sport of France, or an event in the Olympics. It’s a real solution to rising oil prices, obesity, and global health. No matter how the politicians spin the polispeak the fact is that there is something that can be done, and England is doing it.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Why is Islam feared?

With all the emphasis in the years since 2001 on Islam I wondered what most Americans actually know about the religion. My questions have become more prominent as emails lying about the faith of Senator Barack Obama have circulated the internet since November 2007 (at the latest) and influenced some in the Democratic nomination process.

I am not a Muslim, so my understanding is limited. I do not intend to insult any Muslims, and if my ignorance leads me to an incorrect statement I apologize. But with the results of exit polls from the West Virginia Democratic Primary revealing that some chose not to vote for Senator Obama because they feared he was Muslim, I thought something should be found out.

Islam, the name of the religion, started in the 7th century with the prophet Muhammad. The word Islam comes from Arabic and means submission or to submit to God. A Muslim, or follower of Islam, means one who submits to God. So we can see immediately that Muslims are not much different from Christians, Jews, or any other major religious group in the world today. They have a firm and devout belief in a single God.

Islam is not a fringe religion. While not as populous in America as some places in the world, Islam is the 2nd largest religion in the world today. There are reports that also state it is the fastest growing religion and will in the near future have more members than found in any religion. I take from that the fact that obviously many intelligent, respected, and normal people across the globe have found this religion to be the spiritual answer they sought. These are the same people that provide healthcare for the ill, research new technologies, transport people and goods in planes and ships, farm, and generally do most any job that any person in America might do.

I want to take a moment to look at a couple of practices of Muslims that some seem to fear. One of the most well known outside of Islam may be the 5 prayers that must be performed each day. All Muslims are required to pray facing Mecca 5 times a day, at specific times, unless it is impossible to do so. Thus doing surgery or fighting a fire would not be impeded by the need to pray, but watching American Idol would be (no loss there). This is no different that the high holy days among most religions, or actions observed by orthodox believers. Going to accept ashes on the forehead on Ash Wednesday or being home by sundown, or even going to mass on Sundays. The fact that it occurs individually – say at O’Hare Airport – is little different than those that wear a yamika or cross to me. It is following a faith and expressing that faiths belief in God. Some may be embarrassed or upset with such an expression, but that would be a personal problem of the viewer and not the Muslim.

Another practice that some cannot understand is the fasting during Ramadan. This one seems simple enough to me. It seems similar to Lent, except that it is done by all practioners and is organized as opposed to the individual sacrifices made by Catholics during this time. Again it’s an expression of faith that is not unusual or scary as some believe.

One precept of this faith is the requirement to give to the poor and needy. Again this is a requirement of all that can afford to do it and based on individual wealth. Where this is unlike the collection plates in Sunday mass, or the tithing some provide their religious institutions this is done directly by the individual Muslim as I understand it. Thus there is no centralized religious organization that has all the wealth of parishioners which is distributed at the choosing of that organization like say the Roman Catholic Church or such (which is not necessarily bad either).

A different aspect of Islam than some other religions is the Sharia laws. Many are unfamiliar with this aspect of Islam, including myself. What I can say about that is that since many Muslim nations and cities interact with the international markets and business every day it can’t be as demonized as some reports make it out to be. There is always the exception of fanatical beliefs, but I will get to that in a moment. Essentially the laws are different than our own, but so are those in England, France, Russia, Japan, and so on. Each nation has its own cultural based laws that some in America would dispute or dislike. Sharia on its surface is no different.

Of course there is the concept of Jihad. It may be one of the most misunderstood concepts for those outside of the Islamic faith. It has been made the brunt of jokes, and the point of great hate. But what is it?

I cannot say exactly what it is or what it entails beyond what I have read. That said it entail more than just a military aspect. It involves the spiritual self-perfection of a Muslim as well as exertion against non-Muslims. It can be a personal effort, or one done by certain individuals on behalf of others. In its most military aspect it might be equated with the motivations for the Crusades or the Spanish Inquisition. But I don’t begin to say that this is its only interpretation.

All of these things are neither new to the world nor a danger in them. Long before the 20th Century Muslims have existed and interacted with the world. And had not fanatics attacked America, this nation wouldn’t care. But fanatics did.

Like in any faith there are fanatics. Those that have the most extreme views that the majority in their religion do not agree with. In the Christian faith here in America there are those that believe killing doctors that perform abortions is ok. Yet they ignore the commandment that Thou Shalt Not Murder. And this is just one example. Every religion has them. Even some would call the actions of Buddhist monks setting themselves on fire a fanatical act.

Given that there are always extremists in the world, and that some will always justify a vile and despicable personal action with their belief in a particular religion, we have seen this with Islam.

So I have to wonder, given all the similarities and non-threatening aspects of Islam, why so many in America are terrified by it. Why does this one religion cause some to refuse to vote for a candidate of that perceived religion? What causes such anger?

Acts by a small group of fanatics that do not share the same belief as the majority in a religion is the answer. No different than throughout history, just this time it happened to us. It’s important to realize this, because it obscures a hard and fanatical edge of our own. Instead of fearing and hating a religion most never heard of 9 years ago, I suggest a bit more research. Because nothing is more powerful and destructive than hate fueled by ignorance.

I hope that this has helped, and opened a path for more communication.

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Friday, February 29, 2008

What if they took away Black History Month?

This is a repost from Black Entertainment USA and can also be seen at Black & White Blog

What if Black History Month was removed? Would anyone have noticed? Would anyone complain?

It seems not.

Why would I say this? Because I just learned that the school system in Endicott New York has removed all Black studies in the curriculum. There was nothing discussed in this past month about Black History, not even Dr. Martin Luther King, because the entire subject was deemed unimportant.

Hello, stop and read that again. Unimportant and having no place in the minds of any of the children, including those that are African American. And this was all done without a single word to the parents, a single complaint from ANY of the students. It was just wiped out without a concern as if it was no more than a piece of errant string found on a piece of clothing.

Why am I upset? What if the school decided not to discuss the Holocaust, or Native American history? What if all the history about England was removed, or France, or Ancient Rome? What if history in schools forgot about President George Washington, just not ever mentioning what he did, or the Constitution?

People would be up in arms. Parents would be inflamed. Jewish communities would claim its anti-Semitic, Native American Indians would say it’s a slap in the face. Whole communities would demand a reason why their rich pasts were being denied their children. Cries that the fundamental based of what is America was being corrupted.

And I ask, in what way is this different? How are the lives and blood of the African Americans that helped build and shape this nation any less important than anyone else? I am not just talking about the Slaves that literally built the foundations of the nation, but the inventors that created thousands of items we use every day, like the stoplight, or save millions of lives, like blood transfusions. How can we value the lives of soldiers like the Tuskegee Airmen, or those that fought in the Civil War, or the American Revolution with any less honor than every other American.

I don’t know how we can equate those lives and contributions as less, but obviously this town in Upstate New York has. I’m willing to bet that they aren’t the only ones. What are the odds that kids in Montana, or Florida, or Ohio, or any other State have no idea about these inventions or people? How many believe that being a slave, less than a dog or piece of furniture, was no different than having trouble getting a job? I know there are more than a few as I’ve read comments that insist that the trouble the Irish had in getting a job was the same as working 20 hours a day for your entire life, with no days off or concern for your health, without pay, and with the reality that at any moment your entire family may be sold away from you and that you can be killed for no more than amusement or the crime of looking at the wrong person.

If we can allow these schools to just toss away a piece of American History, a history of an essential people that helped found and defend this nation, what will go next? Dr. Martin Luther King’s Holiday? A holiday that over half the nation fought from coming into existence, and many still ignore? Maybe the laws dealing with segregation could be next. And if we get that far, why not restate Jim Crow? Hell, just bring slavery back and make it national.

It’s not that crazy. Slavery was just 5 lifetimes ago for some families. Jim Crow was just 2 or 3. Segregation was just 1. And a people without a history aren’t really a people are they?

And this was so important an issue, that not one child mentioned it. Not one parent noticed. Not one meeting was held. It was just understood that it was ok. As long as no one spoke about it, and no one asked why.

So as long as no one asks you if you are Black, or Hispanic, or whatever color, religion, or background you claim, you are nothing. And you can’t hurt nothing. You can’t defend, offend, steal from, brutalize, rape, murder or anything to nothing. And in Upstate New York, that’s what they are equating being African American with. Perhaps the Jews will be next?

Are you nothing? Is your history, your family nothing? Are you sure?

“Don’t learn Black History because of what you know, learn it because of what you don’t know” – C. Miller

I don’t have children. I’m not a teacher or involved in the school system. Maybe that’s a cop out, maybe not. But I am now aware, and so are you. Part of my responsibility is to let you know, and ask for your comments. What will you do?

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Friday, February 22, 2008

Green energy advances in Europe and Britian, but lags in U.S.

The move towards global green energy usage took a few steps forward today with announcements by the EU and Wales. These moves are important not only because of their attempt to reduce carbon emissions but also the diversified sources they seek to gain renewable energy from, and the economic stimulus they plan to implement in the process.

The European Union earmarked almost €9bn for investment in green energy projects. This is to be distributed to proposals and projects that research, develop and improve efficiency of alternative energy sources and the reduction of carbon emissions. The net goal is the reduction of dependence on fossil fuels. One such example of this is the Danish project to turn the island of Samsø into a carbon neutral community.

Across from Europe in England similar actions are now planned in Wales. The goal is for Wales to be self-sufficient with renewable energy within 20 years. The main source of the energy would come from wave and tidal energy with "minimum environmental distrubance". In addition to this wind turbines are another planned source,

“Wind presents great economic opportunities and the potential for Wales to become a world class centre of excellence for the development and manufacturing of low carbon technologies” - John Woodruff, British Wind Energy Association chairman.

But in the United States there continues to be large debate on which renewable energy sources to use. Nuclear and coal energy sources are considered part of the renewable energy portfolio. And a bigger issue looms over the proposals that have been made.

“However, the plan stops short of deciding the sticky question of how and when utility companies will be regulated in the future.”

Reluctance of lawmakers to adopt timeframes and standards bog down efforts to improve the green energy capabilities of States and communities across the nation.

Green energy and renewable energy sources are economically feasible alternatives. The European Union and other initiatives prove that. So efforts to generate those same alternatives in the U.S. need to receive more than debate and exclusive responses.

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