Archive for December, 2015

A national disgrace

Posted: December 14, 2015 by watsonthethird in Current Events, Guns
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It boggles my mind that this nation could do nothing–nothing–about gun violence and mental illness in the wake of the Sandy Hooking shooting, which happened three years ago today and took the lives of six educators and 20 elementary school children. A national disgrace.

This Washington Post story, from six months after the shooting, is still powerful and needs to be shared.

Why join ISIS?

Posted: December 10, 2015 by watsonthethird in Current Events, Terrorism
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The Atlantic published an interesting piece yesterday, titled “Why Join ISIS?”. It summarizes the findings by Quantum Communications, which analyzed the statements of 49 current and former ISIS fighters to determine their motivations for joining ISIS. You can read more at The Atlantic, but here is the summary. The Quantum researchers grouped the fighters into nine categories, based on the reasons they gave for joining ISIS or other extremist groups. They are:

    • Status seekers: Intent on improving “their social standing” these people are driven primarily by money “and a certain recognition by others around them.”
    • Identity seekers: Prone to feeling isolated or alienated, these individuals “often feel like outsiders in their initial unfamiliar/unintelligible environment and seek to identify with another group.” Islam, for many of these provides “a pre-packaged transnational identity.”
    • Revenge seekers: They consider themselves part of a group that is being repressed by the West or someone else.
    • Redemption seekers: They joined ISIS because they believe it vindicates them, or ameliorates previous sinfulness.
    • Responsibility seekers: Basically, people who have joined or support ISIS because it provides some material or financial support for their family.
    • Thrill seekers: Joined ISIS for adventure.
    • Ideology seekers: These want to impose their view of Islam on others.
    • Justice seekers: They respond to what they perceive as injustice. “The justice seekers’ ‘raison d’être’ ceases to exist once the perceived injustice stops,” the report says.
    • Death seekers: These people “have most probably suffered from a significant trauma/loss in their lives and consider death as the only way out with a reputation of martyr instead of someone who has committed suicide.”

The researchers also categorized the various influences that led to the fighters joining ISIS, which are counted up in this chart:

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From the article:

Perhaps one of the most important findings is that the fighters’ motivations tended to vary by their country of origin.

Foreign fighters in the sample from places like the United States and Western Europe were far more likely to be facing some sort of identity crisis, a desire for a personal sense of recognition that ISIS can provide. They were also more likely to be motivated by a rejection of Western culture. A story in The New York Times over the summer, titled “ISIS and the Lonely Young American” detailed how ISIS sympathizers made contact with a curious and socially isolated Westerner and then manufactured a sense of community and belonging through constant online interaction (not simply one-way messaging, as some have suggested).

People in the sample who joined ISIS or similar groups from another Muslim country, however, were far more motivated by the perceived plight of the Syrian Sunnis. For this group, the report found that “assisting Muslim ‘brothers’ and fighting the Assad regime are the most common catalysts (45 percent).” They were primarily thrill and status seekers.

The fact that joining ISIS or a similar group could improve one’s immediate social status underscores how differently ISIS is perceived in the Arab world than in the West.

Sunni fighters primarily from Syria and Iraq were also motivated by money and status. “Internal fighters believe they have a mission to defend their community (duty, Jihad) but they also have personal interests (money, staying alive),” according to the report.

It quotes one jihadist: “He asked me, ‘Why don’t you join us … leave your work and consider me your financier.’”

Clearly, a survey of 49 people is not a scientific poll, but it does give some insight as to the varied themes that attract individuals to ISIS. One thing it reinforces is the degree to which Shia-Sunni conflicts dominate, as well as the extent to which money is a motivating factor.

In any event, the article goes on to describe efforts, both current and planned, to “reach the group’s target audiences with something more appealing.” As I was saying to Rusty in the comments of my previous post, as long as there are recruits, ISIS will continue to survive, if not thrive. The key to neutralizing ISIS is to cut off the flow of recruits, and the key to doing that is to make ISIS a less attractive (indeed, completely unattractive) options to the alternatives.

So there’s a meme going around that President Obama is to blame for the rise of Donald Trump. I think this theory may have first been voiced by Peggy Noonan back in October in the Wall Street Journal:

The only thing I feel certain of is how we got here [with Trump’s standing in GOP polls]. There are many reasons we’re at this moment, but the essential political one is this: Mr. Obama lowered the bar. He was a literal unknown, an obscure former state legislator who hadn’t completed his single term as U.S. senator, but he was charismatic, canny, compelling. He came from nowhere and won it all twice. All previously prevailing standards, all usual expectations, were thrown out the window.

See? According to Peggy Noonan (whose readers should know a thing or two about low expectations), Barack Obama lowered the bar of the presidency to the point that “Anyone can run for president now.” In fact, the presidency has been so debased that 1421 people have worked up the nerve to register with the FEC as a 2016 presidential candidate. My Gawd, even Peggy Noonan could–gasp!–run for president!

But she’s hardly the only one. It’s a fine theory, but I think it misses the real reason President Obama is to blame for The Donald. Remember this?

Guns are not cars

Posted: December 7, 2015 by watsonthethird in Current Events, Guns
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I’m always amused when conservatives defend guns by citing the fact that people die in the operation of motor vehicles. The argument goes along these lines: Cars kill and no one is suggesting that cars be banned! Therefore, no one should argue that guns be banned, either.

Why, just the other day our friend Amazona made that very argument:

I do understand that guns are loud, and scary, and that they are very very intimidating. But so are cars and trucks. More people are killed by drunk drivers than by guns, yet there is no demand to take cars off the road, or make them harder to buy or own. In this case, it is understood that the culprit is the driver, not the car. Even when cars are purposely used to inflict harm or death, being driven into crowds or at police officers, there is no cry to restrict car ownership. But we KNOW cars. We are familiar with them, we grew up around them, we handle them on a daily basis, and we know how to handle them. Most people don’t know guns, so they are alien and outside their frames of reference, and all these people think they know is that guns are dangerous. And they are, if used improperly.

Let’s unpack this a bit.

First, her claim that “more people are killed by drunk drivers than by guns” is simply not true, regardless of the certainty in which she states it. It is telling that she rattles off such statistics without bothering to provide a source–telling only in the sense that she would not have found a source. She simply believes it to be so because it fits her narrative.

The facts, according to the Center For Disease Control, are that in 2013, 10,076 people were killed in “alcohol-impaired driving crashes.” In the same year the CDC reported that 33,636 people were killed by guns. It is true that, as of 2013, about the same number of people were killed by motor vehicles—33,804—as were killed by firearms—33,636. But it may well be the case that once the 2015 statistics are available, more people in America are killed by guns than by automobiles. (I wonder if tired will work up the nerve to gently correct her, since no one else is allowed. Be a man, tired! You can do it!)

But aside from telling fibs, the comparison of guns to automobiles comes up short in a few ways. First, automobile manufacturers are subject to regulations that increase the safety of automobiles. Seat belts, airbags and other safety features have evolved and become required features, all in response to injuries and deaths caused by automobile accidents. Cars have become increasingly safe as the years go by. In fact, the number of motor vehicle deaths per mile driven have decreased almost in a straight line ever since records began being kept in 1921. (The number of deaths per mile driven is less than half what it was in 1988.)

Conversely, the gun lobby—namely the NRA—stridently opposes any modifications to firearms that could make them safer. The classic example is what happened to Smith and Wesson a decade or so ago. They proposed a number of new safety measures for their weapons but were nearly put out of business by an NRA boycott. If the gun manufacturers (and owners) were as serious about gun safety as the automobile industry, we would see such safety features evolve and be embraced, if not demanded, by gun owners. Instead, we see an absolute refusal to adopt any such measures.

Second, conservatives who liken cars to guns gloss over the fact that in order to operate an automobile, one must become licensed. One must be trained and must demonstrate that he or she is capable of safely operating a vehicle, and must continuous renew their license over the course of their life. Unsafe drivers lose their ability to drive and can wind up in prison. Guns, on the other hand, can be legally purchased in many cases with no background checks or vetting of any kind, let alone proof that the purchaser is capable of safely handling the gun. As for automobiles themselves, many states require that they be inspected on an annual basis to insure that they are safe to operate.

Third, while the statement that automobiles are familiar to Americans–whereas guns are not–is true (only about 37% of Americans own guns), it ignores the most important point of all, which is that the intrinsic purpose of an automobile is transportation, whereas the sole intrinsic purpose of a handgun or assault rifle is to kill other human beings as efficiently as possible. The statement that guns are dangerous “if used improperly” is true, but it leaves unsaid the case in which they are used properly. The fact is that killing or maiming other human beings is using these weapons exactly as they were intended to be used.