Category Archives: Public Safety

Missing the Big Picture

I am lucky to be blessed with a full head of hair that should last me my entire life. This is especially useful this week, as I have been pulling it out reading commentary and suggestions of how to prevent another Orlando.

WIN_20160615_13_43_23_Pro

Too lazy to make an animated GIF so you can see me shaking my head as well.

Like I said in my original post, the arguments fall into two groups:

  1. Those, generally on the left, screaming for more gun control.
  2. Those, generally on the right, screaming for restrictions on Muslims.

Both of these are far too simplistic, because you can’t change one thing without having an effect on others.

And, yes, I know that the shooting was in a gay dance club. I do not want to minimize the importance of that, but most of the suggestions I am seeing are more generally addressing mass shootings and domestic terrorism. I am completely–COMPLETELY!–in favor of legislation that would turn sexual preference and gender identity into a protected class under civil rights law, but that isn’t the focus of this post.

Gun Control

I am not really on either side of the gun control debate. I believe that Americans should be able to own pretty much any weapon they want, but I do also believe that “well regulated” should mean something.

  1. I think that all American students should have a gun safety course as early as third grade. I want to make sure kids know how to behave properly around firearms.
  2. I think that all people should have to pass a gun safety course before purchasing a firearm or ammunition. Ideally, this would be marked on the buyer’s driver’s license or ID card.
  3. I think that, perhaps, gun licenses could be like driver’s licenses, with different classifications. Just as I need a different license with different testing requirements to operate a motorcycle or drive a semi, maybe we should have more in depth tests for people wishing to purchase semi-automatic military-grade rifles. (I freely admit that I am not as informed as I should be on this issue.)
  4. I think that that all transfers of firearms should require a background check, which should include running the identity against the Terrorist Watch List and No-Fly List. If the person does find out that they are on either of these lists, there should be a clear and expedient appeal process, where the government needs to justify their inclusion on the list in the legal system.
  5. Under current federal law the CDC is prohibited from research on gun violence, due to a ban put in place by members of Congress who are supported by the National Rifle Association. This ban needs to be removed. If the NRA doesn’t feel that guns are the problem, then they should let the CDC do the research. We don’t know what the research will show, and without this knowledge we cannot intelligently address the problem.

I also understand that none of these would have prevented Orlando. The killer underwent background checks and wasn’t on any watch list.

Radical Islam

The world is full of radicals. Most of them don’t blow themselves up to make a point. However, even “mainstream” Muslims around the world often have intolerant views, such as advocating for the death penalty for apostates.

The issue we have is that we cannot legally, without amending the Constitution, restrict people of a particular religion, whether it’s people already in the U.S. or people wanting to migrate here. Obviously, we can get around that by placing restrictions on people from specific countries, but that was loathsome when we did it to Chinese and Japanese people last century and it isn’t any less loathsome now.

We do also need to be realistic. We need to effectively screen people entering the country, especially those of military age. A grandfather bringing his daughter and her four children here aren’t likely to be a threat, but three brothers in their twenties should be screened very thoroughly.

Of course, this doesn’t stop an American Muslim from becoming radicalized.

 

So, what can we do? First, we can stop treating them like pariahs and start treating them like neighbors. Say hi and smile instead of glaring angrily. Be polite and respectful. Make them feel welcome and at home instead of making them feel like outsiders.

The Big Picture

I’m a free range parent. Too many people live their lives in fear and I refuse to raise my daughter that way. One of the reasons I am a free range parent is because serious violent crime is as low as it was in 1963. The world is a safer place than it was when I was growing up, when I was free to wander my neighborhood without parental supervision–and my neighborhood extended about two miles from home.

The funny thing is that the reasons for the drop in crime are not obvious. There are three main reasons, only one of which really seems connected.

  1. An increase in the incarceration rate. This one is obvious. The more people you have in jail, the fewer who can commit crimes. One estimate I saw, but, unfortunately, can’t locate at the moment, estimated that this resulted in a 12% drop in violent crime.
  2. The legalization of abortion in Roe v. Wade. One study suggests that a decline in unwanted births resulted in a significant drop in crime. (The study in #3 suggests that it is about 29%.)
  3. The removal of lead from gasoline. The least obvious reason may be the most significant. One study suggests that 56% of the crime decrease in the 1990s was due to the removal of lead.

There are, of course, problems with all of these. Increasing the number of people in prisons to the point where we have the highest per capita incarceration rate in the world (with the possible exception of North Korea) is effectively discarding much of our population for relatively minor offenses. Abortion has its own problems. Removing lead from paint and gasoline did cause some growing pains, but, fortunately, we are past those.

My point is that any solution to mass shootings will have to be a multifaceted approach. Gun control, immigration restrictions, and increased surveillance each have a role, but none can completely solve the problem. Income inequality, prejudice, a lack of a good mental healthcare system, and the Syrian Civil War all create mass killers, along with, probably, several other factors that we don’t even know. Under current federal law, only domestic abusers who abuse a spouse or child are prohibited from firearm ownership, so this is one area where a loophole could be closed easily with legislation (In 57% of mass shootings the killer targeted a spouse, partner, or other family member).

The Bottom Line

If your first reaction after Orlando was to be concerned about your guns, to want Muslims extensively monitored and restricted, or to want other people’s guns taken away, you are being too simplistic. This is a complex problem without simple answers. We will have to chip away at the causes of mass shootings as we learn more about them.

Think, then speak, not the other way around. We have enough of that already.

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Filed under Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

Musings on a Sad Day

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

Zari and me at Epcot, 2010

I lived in Orlando from 1995-1996 and again from 2000-2003. I still have many friends there, all of whom were, fortunately, not at Pulse last night. I have been to two other gay clubs in Orlando, Parliament House and Southern Nights. Clubs in general aren’t really my thing, but I’m not generally one to decline invitations, even if, sometimes, I felt like the only straight person in the room. I am uncomfortable in pretty much any crowded place, so I wasn’t more uncomfortable there than in any other club. The bottom line is that I have LGBT friends, so I get invited to LGBT places.

What happened last night is horrible. Early on in the news reporting, some news outlets were hesitant to call it terrorism. By my definition, someone killing unarmed civilians is terrorism. We may not know what flavor of terrorism it is, but it is terrorism.

Now we have progressed to the “We have to do something now!” stage. People are pretty much divided into two camps:

  1. Gun control
  2. Muslim control
  3. (There’s a disgusting third group who believes gays brought this upon themselves. I’m not sure we can do anything about them, so to avoid infuriating myself, I will ignore them.)

Typically it’s the Democrats/liberals pushing gun control and the Republicans/conservatives wanting to do something about Muslims. Frankly, I think they are both right…and wrong. The big picture is that neither of these addresses the root cause of tragic events like this.

Yes, with more restrictions on guns we can possibly reduce the magnitude of tragedies. We can force killers to reload more often. We can make it more difficult to get guns in general. In this case, as far as I can tell, the killer was a security guard with a concealed carry permit, meaning that, at the minimum, he passed two background checks. There are conflicting reports of whether he was on a watch list, but federal legislation to keep guns from people on the watch list was defeated (correctly, in my opinion, because we shouldn’t take away rights without due process, and there’s no due process for the watch list). If we ban guns, then terrorists will resort to suicide bombings like in much of the rest of the world. I’m not sure how that would have affected the body count in Orlando. I personally do not own a gun because I don’t think it makes me safer. If other people want them, I am fine with that, provided they know how to operate them safely and can store them securely.

Trump famously wants to keep Muslims from entering the country. In December he even suggested–then retracted–the idea of internment camps for Muslims. We already have the USA PATRIOT Act giving the government the ability to monitor communications with people outside the US. Amendment I keeps the government from favoring one religion over another, so instead, legislators are targeting countries. I try to stick to a bottom line: If someone asks me for help and I am capable of helping, I help. Yes, some of the time the person really doesn’t need the help and is taking advantage of my generosity, but I’m not willing to forsake those who really need it. Syrian and Afghan refugees need help. We are capable of giving it, so we should.

Neither of these really addresses the root causes. People are afraid. People feel abandoned. People are mistreated. Even worse, people are ignored. Most people want to be part of something larger than themselves. They want to live in a community where they feel like a valued member. They don’t want to be shunned because they are the nerd in a room full of jocks. If you’re a nerd, you’re going to gravitate toward other nerds, because they, theoretically, understand you better.

Except that they don’t.

We all live in this world. We all feel loneliness. We all crave acceptance by someone. We all want to feel wanted and needed. We want to be important to someone.

Too often, we’re rejected. We decide that we can’t befriend someone because they are too unlike ourselves. So we look elsewhere. Sometimes we find acceptance in books that relate to our experiences. Sometimes we connect with people online. Sometimes we don’t connect at all.

Between second and third grade, my family moved from Kansas City to Wisconsin. I entered a class of kids who had all been together since kindergarten. Worse, I had the horrible combination of a Southern accent and a speech impediment. The perfunctory entrance screening I was given mistakenly placed me at the bottom of my class.

I was pissed.

I was also relentless and focused. I worked as fast as the teacher would allow, and sometimes faster than she would allow. I taught myself to read and write upside-down so I could do both halves of the workbook simultaneously. But I also got into fights–usually on the losing end. Slowly, I made friends, or at least frenemies, as I would play baseball and get hit by pitches more often than anyone else or get stepped on or kicked when I fell during a game. I made friends, but even years later I felt isolated. I was popular enough, or, at least, got good enough grades, to get voted Most Likely To Succeed, but that didn’t make me want to stay. I resented the people in my town, and I wanted nothing more than to get away. So I did.

It took me a long time to understand what really happened, and that most people were good, even if we couldn’t relate to each other. I know now that my rejection was nothing compared to what many others have experienced. I wasn’t particularly adaptive, and they weren’t terribly inclusive. And therein lies the problem.

It’s always been the problem with immigrants. People who are already here want newcomers to abandon their old ways and embrace their new community. Very often, the immigrants moved because they had to move, not because they wanted to move, so they had no interest in adapting any more than necessary. So the immigrants keep to themselves and make no effort to integrate themselves, and the long-time residents shun them and feel taken advantage of when the immigrants use government services. Both sides could help each other, but neither does, and resentment grows. Both sides feel that they are treated unfairly, and they are both right.

We are all human beings. We should be treated with respect. We should help each other. We should teach each other and learn from each other. We should try to understand each other, even though that understanding will never be perfect.

Guns aren’t the whole problem.

Muslims aren’t the whole problem.

We are the problem.

Be kind. Make a new friend. Help a stranger. Smile, even when it hurts. We are all in this together. Act like it.

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Filed under Gay Marriage and Gender Issues, Immigration, Public Safety, Religion

What Scares You? The Wrong Things.

Bozo the Clown (Silver Bear Cafe)

Bozo the Clown (Silver Bear Cafe)

This morning I decided to do a little test. I went to major news sites and grabbed their top stories. From Fox News:

Fox News April 12, 2016 Lead Story

Fox News April 12, 2016 Lead Story

The other sites I visited all led with stories on the presidential campaign, but they have all been guilty of the same fear mongering as Fox. If you do a search for “online dating safety” you will get links to many horror stories, but what you won’t find–at least I didn’t–are reliable statistics for how dangerous online dating is. Oh, there are a ton of statistics out there, but when I try to track down the sources I come up empty. This New York Magazine story had a horribly leading quote:

Beckman wants a bigger disclaimer on Match.com’s site, like a pack of cigarettes. “They don’t say one in five are part of an attempted murder or one in five are killed,” she told Fox5. “They don’t tell you people are missing.”

Seriously? “One in five”??? I would like to see some reliable stats on whether online dating is more dangerous than other means. My gut feeling is that it is more dangerous than being introduced by a friend, but probably as dangerous or slightly less dangerous than meeting someone in a bar, but since I don’t have any reliable data, I really can’t make an informed judgment.

Fear gets ratings, so news outlets will exploit it to get readers, viewers, or listeners. Politicians also exploit it. The most notable example is Trump using fear of illegal immigrants to get votes, but Cruz feeds on Christian fears of secularism bringing down society, Clinton rallies her base by encouraging fear of guns and back alley abortions, and Sanders wants his supporters to fear the rich. Whether or not these fears are justified, the fact is that all candidates rely on fear to get votes.

[Note: As I was writing this, I went back over the posts I have made this election cycle. I was pleased to find that I haven’t used fear myself. It is very tempting to do so, but I’d rather stay as positive as possible.]

What annoys me is that people are constantly afraid of the wrong things. Fear of flying is a common fear, but it is almost completely irrational. Per mile traveled, the fatality rate is about fifty times higher for driving in an automobile than flying. (Fatality Analysis Reporting System (NHTSA) and General Aviation: Accidents and Fatalities) You are about eight times more likely to be killed driving to the airport than on the flight itself.

“Stranger danger” is another pet peeve of mine. The overwhelming majority–over 95%–of crimes against children are committed by friends or family members of the victim’s family (See Free Range Kids for a long list of well-sourced statistics on crime trends). The world is as safe as it has ever been–but you wouldn’t know that from the news. One of my standard rules for Zari when we go to Coolidge Park is “Go talk to strangers,” because that’s a good way to make friends.

Zari turns nine next week. The day after her birthday, despite her opposition, she is going to the doctor to get some shots. Some of the shots are for her summer trip to India, but one of the shots is Gardasil. Gardasil prevents the human papillomavirus (HPV) strains that cause 70% of cervical cancers, as well as preventing other cancers and diseases. I have seen friends die of cervical cancer, and I’m not sure I know a worse way to die. Age nine is the earliest she can get the vaccine, so I’m not waiting.

I recently got in an argument with an anti-vaxxer over the safety of Gardasil. See, there is an alleged side-effect of the vaccine: Guillain–Barré syndrome. Guillain–Barré syndrome is a painful muscle weakness caused by the immune system attacking the nervous system. In most cases, it lasts about a week. The risk of this side effect–for which a causal link has not been proven, is about 3 in 1,000,000. So about 0.0003% of women who get the Gardasil vaccine will get Guillain-Barré. (Stats from WebMD.)

Now, cervical cancer is a different story. According to the CDC, 12,042 women were diagnosed with cervical cancer in 2012, with 4,074 deaths. There are about 126 million adult women in the U.S. (US Census), so that gives us an annual death rate of 0.0032%. Now, Gardasil only prevents 70% of those, so we have an annual death rate of preventable cervical cancers of 0.0022%. So, we have a Gardasil-preventable annual death rate that is over seven times higher than the rate of Guillain-Barré that might be caused by the vaccine. But that’s not the whole story, since Gardasil is administered once, while the annual death rate is, well, annual. With the average female life expectancy at birth of over eighty (US Census), that means that the chance of dying from cervical cancer is over four hundred times higher than getting Guillain-Barré from the vaccine. And I don’t know about you, but I consider a week of pain to be significantly less severe than death. If you are more afraid of two injections than death from cervical cancer, you’re not rational.

Diseases are dangerous; vaccines aren’t. Strangers aren’t more dangerous than people you already know. Cars are more dangerous than almost every other form of transportation. Alcohol and tobacco cause far more deaths than marijuana.

It’s OK to be afraid. Just make sure you are afraid of the right things. Don’t text and drive. Look both ways before crossing the street. Put your baby to sleep on her back. Wear sunscreen and mosquito repellent. Don’t swim alone. Use protection. Wash your vegetables.

Be safe, but have fun, too.

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Filed under Public Safety, The Media

Traffic Safety and Technology

In a previous career I worked as a project manager for a U.S. Air Force/Department of Transportation program to develop a video “black box” for aircraft. My team received a patent for our efforts. As part of my research for the project, I studied seven years of aviation accident reports, making me a great person to sit next to nervous fliers, but I also attended a few general transportation safety conferences.

One complaint that my color-blind father has is that horizontally-mounted traffic signals can be confusing to someone who cannot distinguish between red and green. I had an idea a year or two ago that, since most new traffic lights are LEDs, putting the bulbs into different shapes for red (octagon), yellow (diamond), and green (circle) would make the signals easier for everyone to recognize. Dave Delisle of davesgeekyideas.com seems to have had a similar idea at around the same time, so I’d like to give him credit. I modified one of his graphics to illustrate how a horizontal version of his concept would look:

It seems to me that this would be relatively inexpensive to implement, if the legislation only required new bulbs after a certain date to meet this standard.

 

I have a confession to make: I’m a nerd. Some of my friends call themselves geeks, but in an era when a Miss USA can call herself a geek, I don’t feel like the term applies to me any longer. I read science fiction. I play HackMaster, a fantasy role playing game similar to Dungeons & Dragons. I almost certainly had my Amazon Kindle and Android phone before you did. I had an America Online account before it was America Online–and they were my third ISP. I am confident that, if elected, I would be one of the most technically savvy members of Congress. As such, I could try to make my colleagues understand why the Stop Online Piracy Act (SOPA) would be devastating to the U.S. economy–and likely wouldn’t even put a speed bump in the way of piracy–and I could help bring technological solutions to pressing national and international problems to their attention.

Thanks for reading. Monday nights are my weekly game nights, so if I have a post tomorrow, it will be very late.

Topher

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Filed under Public Safety, Technology