Neither Reason Nor Excuse

Point of Inspiration:
re-sized-Calvin-Hobbes

Song of Mood: Queen – Bicycle Race

Last week I moved to the Great Lakes area and took a preliminary language proficiency exam for my doctoral program. After that was done, however, I found myself idle in my friend’s suburban home, far from the city and far from exciting things to do.

Growing up in cities my entire life, I have to say I’m REALLY not used to the suburb. You can see through every window, climb over every fence, push down every door…I really can’t get used to such obvious security vulnerabilities even though I know that it’s safe here.

In any case, what have I been up to after my test, couped up in semi-civilization? Well, apart from some reading and other school-related things, I’ve been practicing BIKING!!

It’s true, I only learned how to bike a little over a week ago. My dad took me out a few times to practice when I was 5 or 6 years old, but I guess I must have chickened out and never really learned. Or maybe it’s because we moved to a tiny apartment in Taipei and couldn’t keep the bikes? I don’t remember.

decided to maim first

In any case, a week and a half ago I decided that enough was enough. It was time to do this.

There were free bike lessons in NYC for Summer Streets, but when I got there the adult classes were over. I managed to convince the staff to let me learn with the kids, but that did of course mean that I’d have to learn alongside a bunch of little kids.

But that wouldn’t stop me. I made up my mind that even if I have to ride a pink Hello Kitty bike and a flower helmet, I WILL learn how to ride, and I WILL SUCCEED. Every insult or jeer would simply fuel my determination!!

At first I tried using one of these monstrosities to learn:

A Citibike. This 45-lb leviathan handles like a motorcycle without a motor.

A citibike. This 45-lb leviathan handles like a motorcycle without a motor.

Apparently I’m not the only one who had a hard time with it. According to even the guys teaching the lessons, it’s a very lousy bike to learn on.

After quite a few failed attempts to start the Citibike with no progress, I figured I should probably try a different bike. I imagine I’d be set for life if I could successfully learn to ride on that, but the staff in charge of the lessons let me borrow one of their bikes to learn on instead.

The way they taught was to first have you focus on balance (I skipped training wheels, thankfully). They take off the pedals, have you try to use your feet to get the bike moving, and then try to get the bike to go a dozen or so feet without losing balance. After you succeed doing that, they then put the pedals back on and then have you try starting on your own.

calvin balance2

The reason for this method is that if you can’t balance the bike, starting up the bike would prove difficult since getting the bike started is by far the hardest physical part.

After only about 30 minutes of constant failure on the bike that was NOT designed to be a bullet-proof tank, I succeeded in starting the bike up on my own! And, much to my pleasant surprise, I didn’t fall a single time the entire day!

By the end of the 2 hours I had available, I could start up the bike on my own pretty consistently, balance and ride the bike for a good 100 yards without stopping, and make small adjustments while riding to avoid hitting anything. For the first time in my life I knew what it felt like to have the wind on your face while biking!

Several of the bike teachers even shook my hand congratulating me on my success before I even felt confident that I “could ride a bike” 😀

VICTORY.

…Heh. Apparently every child is born a genius, but society and the environment actually turns them all “normal” as they grow older.

Genius little kids, huh? Well then EAT it, “geniuses.” After two hours you’re still messing with training wheels? This old late-bloomer left you in the dust. IN THE DUST!!

You'll never forget...

You’ll never forget…

All in all, it really is true that learning to bike is a “muscle memory” thing, which is probably why you never really forget how to do it. Despite my attempts to mentally break down all the steps, learning it wasn’t so much a conscious step-by-step process but rather a matter of your muscles and subconscious adjusting and learning on its own.

However, I’d say the hardest part of the whole learning process was the psychological aspect that comes with learning this kind of thing as an adult.

Imagine it for a sec–Learning how to bike as an adult? How embarassing! What would passerbys think if they saw you failing at things little kids and mentally-disabled people can do? Were you too chicken to learn your whole life? Did you never spend the effort to learn something so easy?

I imagine these thoughts are the #1 learning deterrent for people who, for whatever reason, would like to bike but never learned as kids. It’s the projected stigma, and the self-consciousness.
It’s not the pain of falling, the lack of time (it only took 2 hours for me, it’d probably be even faster for others!), or even the fear of injury. It’s the self-induced SHAME.

Gotta turn the tables.

Gotta turn the tables.

But shame be damned, avoiding the challenge doesn’t solve the problem, be it with biking or anything else. CONQUERING it solves the problem. Get past your own doubts, and you are an open-minded child with unrestrained potential once again.

Then practice. Keep at it and it gets increasingly easier and more enjoyable.

…Just try to get a bike that’s not too big for you, or else you’ll be icing your poor, bruised groin after every riding session like me…

Calvin's_killer_bicycle_2

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A Tribute…of sorts.

Ahh, to feel loved. It’s strange, it’s almost…bittersweet. On one hand there is immeasurable pride and joy, but on the other there is a sense of guilt–as if I was entirely undeserving of the love and gratitude I was shown:

Feeling unexpectedly on top of the world serves as a good point of inspiration...

Feeling unexpectedly on top of the world serves as a good point of inspiration…

Song of Mood: You Raise Me Up

Well, my internship has come to an end, and I’ll be moving away for my PhD in a week. Even though I’ve said my farewells and given my hugs, It’s only fitting that I give some sort of reflection on my blog as well–as a tribute, in a way, to those I worked with and worked for this past year.

So, how shall I talk about my experiences as a youth leader? Well, it started off kinda like:

leadership

As I said in an earlier post, a lot of leadership in the earlier stages involves bumbling around not knowing what the heck to do, but still doing stuff while just hoping that things don’t blow up.

After a while, though, things started getting familiar and I began to understand the ropes. Unfortunately, by then some people began to expect certain results, making me very nervous about my performance:

ScaredKitten

I was always being extra careful to do everything perfectly, following all the rules, playing it safe, making sure everyone was happy and ensuring that nobody died, but…we all know that playing safe doesn’t work for long.

bad respawn

One moment we were all just cruising along doing our thing, but then suddenly the HUGE surge of super big challenges popped up!

We had to coordinate inter-organizational events, entire-weekend gatherings, off-site meetings, all while training new leaders…ugghhh.

During that time I often wished for nothing but to escape:

escaaape

OKIMOUTTAHEREGOODBYE

But…once all was said and done, I sat down and took a deep breath. The worst was over, and we all survived and nothing exploded.

I reflected on what we all did as a team, and then I–

Zzzzzzz.....

Zzzzzzz…..

…when I finally woke up, it was ALL OVER! My next degree beckoned, and I had to go! Daww, right when I finally sort of understood everything and was no longer completely bumbling around like an idiot, it was already time to go! How sad! I wish I could do more for you guys, and do it RIGHT for once…

But as I’ve come to learn, it’s not my performance or the things I had to “do” that really matter. It’s YOU guys that matter. You guys taught me what it means to serve, to lead, to care for and to be silly–and these are things I’ll carry with me to wherever I go.

As a result, I can say this now with a content heart:

i-must-go-my-people-need-me

…I’ll be sure to visit pretty often though. Love you all! I miss you already.

-Cc

 

NINJA ANGEL!? A Review of History Channel’s “The Bible”

Point of Inspiration:
the bible title

Song of Mood: Faith – By Hans Zimmer and Lorne Balfe

So after a long time being too busy with my thesis, work, and PhD applications, my muse (along with some free time) has finally returned. I just finished watching The Bible series on the History Channel, and well….

Overall, I have mixed feelings about it. A third of the time I was like, “Whooaaa epiccc”, a third of the time I wanted to tear my hair out due to inaccuracies or questionable portrayals, and the other third of the time I just laughed at how silly some parts were.

For the record, I’m not gonna care about spoiling anything in the series. This is a 2000 year old story; if you don’t know it by now it’s your own fault.

I’ll start with the Good Things:

1) Multi-ethnic portrayals. It was a little weird seeing Samson being played by Nonso Anozie, but I thought it was really cool too. The Bible itself says the Israelites were a “mixed multitude,” consisting of many different peoples uniting together under a single cause and single faith. The portrayal of people with many different dispositions ties well with the overall message, and I’d say it actually subconsciously promotes a global, international mindset.

Samson_Mother_Bible

BICEPS

2) Portrayal of King Saul. Definitely my favorite part of the series; it shows a tragic Macbeth-esque character corrupted and twisted by his own power, slowly descending into madness and paranoia while trying desperately to cling to his morality and sanity only to fall to his enemies in the end. I wish there was much more of this kind of internal drama (and believe me, the United Monarchy/early Divided Monarchy narratives have a TON of potential in this regard), but credit is due where it is due.

3) The Pharisees and Sadducees. They took some liberties with Nicodemus I think (perhaps there’s a Catholic/Eastern Orthodox tradition I don’t know of?), but I really like how the series was able to communicate the plight the religious leaders had to go through with regards to Jesus. Of course, from a biblical standpoint they were corrupt and sinister, but I agree with the series’ portrayal of how desperate a situation they were really in. They were “bad guys,” sure, but not without a very legitimate reason.

4) The Soundtrack. Oh my, the Soundtrack. Hans Zimmer strikes again. Oh yeah, if you clicked on the Song of Mood linked above you’ll know what I mean.

The Bad Things:

1) Its overly Christian (particularly, American Evangelical) in interpretation. I feel like they overall did a good job choosing which major events to portray given their distribution of the episodes, but skipping all the narratives about Jacob (he’s only mentioned), the gradual moral decline in Judges, and the ENTIRETY of the Divided Monarchy really just screams “THE NEW TESTAMENT IS MORE IMPORTANT.”

As a result, the series just doesn’t adequately give the Hebrew Bible enough credit, and this I believe is the #1 problem I have with the series. This is not to say they didn’t take the Hebrew Bible stories seriously, but just from the script I felt that every event before Jesus was pre-interpreted into nonchalantly saying “hey, this is all a prelude to Jesus” when I would have preferred to have had the show let the viewers decide that from the events themselves.

2) This is more the script’s struggle between the biblical text and the added creative license than anything else, but too many lines and scenes just make the characters seem…craaaazy. There’s a rational way and an irrational way to communicate anything, and maybe this is just me but do people not think about how something might be perceived by someone NOT exactly like themselves?

abraham and isaac

“This is gonna be a tough one to explain to Sarah…”

The issue I’m talking about is showcased in the scene where Abraham’s offers Isaac as a sacrifice. There could have been exposition explaining the idea of sin and atonement, the idea that Abraham believed that just as God could give him a child in his old age God could raise Isaac from the dead, or simply some exposition to explain why Abraham had faith; maybe like a reference to Romans 4. Faith is based on HOPE, not blindness.

Instead, in this series you just have a crying father that’s about to stab his son in the heart, screaming at the wind. Yeah…that looks crazy if ever I saw it. Thankfully we all know how the story ends.

Now don’t get me wrong; I LIKE the creative license in this series. I LOVE what they tried to do in this series by making the biblical characters more ALIVE, and it turned out GREAT with characters like King Saul and High Priest Caiaphas. But not so with Abraham, and many other instances in the series. The actors were willing, but the script was weak.

3) They took too many liberties with interpretation of events.  

Again, I LIKE the creative liberties with the CHARACTERS when done correctly. But the issue I’m addressing here is the interpretation of events; the identification of cause and effect.

For example, Daniel surviving the lions’ den (which was under King DARIUS, not Cyrus as the series depicts) was not the reason the Persians let the Jews return to Israel (which was actually under the edict of CYRUS). This kind of implied causation is prevalent throughout the series, and sure it still captures the “spirit” of the stories but I just can’t stand how many corners they cut by doing this kind of thing.

800px-Cyrus_Cylinder_back

The Cyrus Cylinder mentions repatriation of peoples and the rebuilding of temples, but nothing explicitly referring to the Jews.

The Funny Things (minor things that made me laugh)

1) “God tould me ta build a BOWT!” I didn’t know Noah had a Scottish accent. I wonder if that was a homage to Montgomery Scott from Star Trek, being that he’s in a ship and all…

2) Ninja Angel. And of course, he’s the only East Asian in the series. No, I’m not kidding. He freaking dual-wields swords and twirls around killing Sodomites (as in, the people of Sodom). I mean really? Is that all we East Asian people are good for on TV/movies that even a story on the BIBLE has to have its own Asian kung fu homage? Ughh.

kung fu angels

!!! Asian Guy!

ninja-angel-sodom-bible

…and on the 8th day, God created the ultimate manifestation of his wrath: Ninjas.

Well, at least he looked pretty sweet. Gotta give em that. And I do appreciate the attempt to include East Asians in this Bible series; we’re definitely not seen very much in Bible adaptations.  It’s just…NINJA ANGEL!?

3) They also really managed to find a Jesus character that looks EXACTLY like the classic white Jesus:

white jesus

Diogo Morgado as Classic White Jesus.

4) Keith David is the narrator.
As soon as I heard his voice, whatever he was really saying immediately turned into:

anderson

“Commander Shepard, I should tell you a story that may assist you in your fight against the Reapers…”

(For those of who you don’t know, Keith David also played the voice of Admiral Anderson, a major character from the Mass Effect video game series).

And, of course…

5) Satan. Yes, I heard about how he looks like Obama and whatever nonsense. Yes, I see the resemblance, but it’s nothing to buttclench over. Get over it, some people look alike, and some people love Obama while others hate him and want him to be Satan. If someone actually starts thinking that Obama actually is Satan purely because of this show, that person probably isn’t someone you want on your political side anyway.

obama-and-satan

I don’t care if it’s coincidence or not, and neither should you.

Conclusions:

Overall, I feel like “The Bible” was very entertaining, but not much more. I can’t say I’d recommend it as educational material (for historical or religious purposes) just because there are too many interpretive decisions, too many changed quotes and shortcuts with the story while claiming to keep to the “spirit” of the Bible…whatever the creators meant when they put that disclaimer in the intro.

Due to how the episodes are laid out and how the script is written (and the whole “spirit of the Bible” thing), I can’t help but feel that it gives off too obvious an apologetic/evangelical intent. It’s like the directors were thinking, “Hey, let’s make yet ANOTHER portrayal of the Bible on TV, but let’s put it on the HISTORY channel so people will LOVE JEEZUS!!”

This goes back to what I already mentioned; I don’t like how they skipped so many of the other stories to get to the obvious “climax” of the series which was nothing more than another cliche rendition of the Jesus story. It wasn’t poorly done by any means, but its overemphasis unfortunately ended up stifling the potential of all the other stories.

Really, though, I am being harsh here. Despite its writing and planning flaws, the series has some great scenes, some great acting, and it provides the viewer with an interpretation of the entire Bible story under a single, consistent style. And that’s a feat worth mentioning.

My overall rating: 5.5/10.

As a final point, I’m hoping for a Jewish response/re-adapatation of this series with more detail of the Hebrew Bible narratives and perhaps including portrayals of the Maccabean/Hasmonean periods (obviously without the Jesus narratives though). That would be pretty interesting to see.

…..

No, but seriously. Ninja angel? NINJA ANGEL?!?!?! NO I AM NOT LETTING THAT GO.

Non Sequitur

Hello, blog. I’ve missed you. Now that things have calmed down a little, I can stop pretending to be a composed leader-figure and intellectual champion and instead vent out some frustra–er, silliness once again.

Point of Inspiration:

My mood exactly.

My mood exactly.

Song of Mood:
NO SONG OF MOOD FOR THIS POST. RAAAWR!!!

*breathe deeply*
…It’s been said that one should endeavor to understand more than to be understood; and frankly I don’t think people would consider me anything but open-minded. The nature of my work and studies requires it. I never stubbornly hold to any belief or idea if I get sufficient information that points to the contrary.

But there are still a number of things that I have never really understood after a good number of years. These things are not deep, philosophical, or political. These are minor, trivial things that just boggle my mind or just frustrate me to no end.

1) Sound Boards.

Obviously fancy performances and recordings require fine tuning, but surely there can be simple versions that can be attached to those big speakers instead of a thousand buttons and knobs and wires and bells and whistles and chicken bones and wooden levers?

I mean, I just want the microphone to work, and to be able to adjust volume. That should be as simple as an ON button, an OFF button, and ONE KNOB that controls VOLUME. VERY SIMPLE. But noooooo, I have to deal with THIS:

Oh you mean this is the cockpit of a space shuttle?

Oh you mean this is the cockpit of a space shuttle?

2) Rich people food.

And I don’t even mean fancy $100 steaks. I mean like, food that’s so obscure and semi-poisonous and totally impractical that costs like a month’s salary per meal.

Of course, I’ve never tried food like that so I confess to not actually knowing if it tastes good or not (if I were ever served something like that, I’d ask everyone in the room how I might exchange it for the cash back). If for some reason I get to try these and I find out they taste really unique, of course I’ll change my stance on this.

In reality though, I’m willing to bet that the ingredients themselves don’t actually taste that great, and most DEFINITELY wouldn’t fill anybody up! It’s almost as if the very definition of “rich people food” is actually just a matter of finding the MOST obscure, ugly, bizarre and inedible substances on the planet earth and turning them into food somehow.

Bacon cheeseburger? PEASANT FOOD. I only eat squishy goop that costs the lives of 100 firstborn sons.

The only reason rich people eat them, then, is because it costs a boatload of cash and for absolutely no other reason. It’s a mere statement saying, “I’m eating this semi-evolved brain of a cross-mixed radioactive jellyfish-octopus-squid that tastes like snot JUST BECAUSE YOU CAN’T, PEASANT!”

If I ever become rich, I hope I’ll still enjoy $2 pizza more than alien toenails extracted from metereorites. If I want to be “fancy” I hope I’d stick with a juicy steak, expertly made with simple but quality ingredients instead of some walking fungi that grow on the armpits of specially-bred orangutangs living only in the subterranean crystal caves of mount Kilmanjaro.

3) Aluminum window blinds.

Sure, in concept they must have sounded great; imagine being able to control how much light is let in by gradual adjustment, and you can even collapse the whole thing! Also, you can bend one strip to peek outside without rolling up the entire thing. Sounds great, right?

At least the cloth kind is more comfy.

At least the cloth kind is more comfy.

But CLEANING those bloody things! There’s probably an easy way to do it, but my dormitory instructors never showed me one other than just going through each strip with a wet cloth and back then I didn’t have access much to internet.
What happens when cleaning them, then, is that the crap stuck on them ends up collecting around the parts where the strings are, and you have to use like a freaking q-tip to clean that section. What’s worse, you have to be careful and slow or else you’ll bend and damage them. It takes FOREVER and it’s FRUSTRATING!!

…don’t even get me started on the strings getting tangled too. Aluminum blinds DESERVE to be bent and mutilated just for EXISTING. 😡

4) “On” Buttons that also serve as “Off”, “standby”, and “sleep.”

Since projectors have to warm up and cool down, if I want the thing ON, I’d like ONE button that does ONE function. No number of additional presses of that button should change a thing. If I want the thing OFF, I’ll have a SEPARATE button for that.

But no, these designers decide to put four good functions on a SINGLE button. So I press the button…I hear sounds, but no light! Is it still charging? Is it on “standby”? Do I press it again? Ok I’ll press it again. NOOO I DONT WANT STANDBY I WANT IT “ON”! JUST ON!

And after I finally get it working and want to turn it off, how many times do I have to press it to turn it off!? Alright, I pressed it once…it should turn off. Uh. Why isn’t it turning off? Must be on standby. Ok I’ll press it again–what? NO DON’T TURN BACK ON–

GRLBDRLGTRZRLRTDRGRLBRLZ.

*sigh*. Callllmmmm downnn…think of happy place…..relaaaxxx……..everything’s gonna be fiiiine….

Incy Wincy

Song of Mood: Drifting, by Andy McKee.
A very well-known song, but still–such incredible skill and talent never gets old.

I’ve been back from my summer travels for a longer period than I was gone already. Time certainly flies when one is having fun, but I find it flies even faster when things become routine. Either way, I’ve been thinking a little about all my travels so far and came up with the idea for this short post.

Point of Inspiration:

Thanks, Dave.

When I started unpacking my bags after I got back from Belize, I opened up my toiletries bag and suddenly this tiny baby Belizean spider frantically crawled out of it, definitely scared like no other. I tried to smush it but THAT BUGGER was a MASTER evader. Holy cow, it (I’ll call it Dave) dodged my smacks 4 times before escaping between the panels of my wood floor. I grew up in Taiwan–bugs NEVER escape my wrath, but Dave DID!

Dave is in for an adventure like no other. Now, instead of the warm, moist environment of the Belizean jungles, Dave must now brave the cooler, dryer strange new world known as urban America 1600 miles away from home! What foods will it have to eat now to survive? What strange, unknown predators will it have to evade now? Are there any other species’ of spiders like it, or is it all alone here? Will Dave every try to go home…?

Dave, you poor little fellow. I pity you for having to go through this, but at the same time…I kinda envy you.
I kinda wish I could experience that feeling of utter strangeness as you explore your new world. I wish I could face the same kinds of challenges you will face, savor the same thrills and overcome odds as great (and exciting!) as yours.

I envy you, because no matter how many challenges I set up for myself and no matter how many adventures I undertake, unless something entirely bonkers happens on them those struggles will never be as exhilarating as yours, and will likely never be as educational as yours.

The reason for that is simple–I chose my own adventures, knowing what I was getting into…whereas your adventure chose YOU (well technically YOU crawled into MY bag, but…)
Between the two of us, Dave, you are the traveler who can claim that badge of honor that distinguishes you from everyone else. Whereas I willingly searched out my adventures, it is you who is the RELUCTANT hero, the Challenger of Fate!

Here’s to you!

…assuming, of course, you haven’t been eaten or smushed already.

My Right to Bear Intellectual Arms, Exercised.

…Shall not be infringed.

Song of Mood: Deus Ex: Human Revolution Extended Remix, by Michael McCann.

Taking a temporary break from my travel logs to discuss something more…controversial.

In light of the recent shootings across the US as well as the upcoming election, I find myself as a gun owner to be feeling almost obligated to give my perspective on the issue of guns and gun control in the United States. This is an INSANELY controversial and complex issue, so I apologize for the ridiculous length of this post–but I don’t take positions on controversial topics without a good bit research.

Point of Inspiration:

Maybe, maybe not. We shall see.

In this discussion I will attempt to take both sides into consideration to the best of my ability and cite credible sources.  Since proper annotations are annoying and this is a BLOG, my citations will use links instead.

While 100% objectivity is inevitably impossible, hopefully the methodology of my post will, at the very least, demonstrate that I remain open to new data and am not necessarily set in my ways. That said, do understand that anecdotal accounts and emotional appeal don’t really help shift my position; I try to have my conclusions based on DATA and SOUND LOGIC.

One final introductory point: Since statistics are different each year and studies aren’t conducted every year, there will be a margin of error in some cross-annual comparisons. Overall it seems that the statistics in the United States are relatively consistent for the last decade or so based on the UNODC, but there will be some estimates and approximations used in this post.

So without further ado…

THE SECOND AMENDMENT
A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the People to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

I won’t spend too much time on the historical aspect. The Second Amendment was first passed in the late 18th century. That’s quite a long time ago, and since then society and guns have both changed quite a bit.

While the “militia” according to founding father George Mason “consists now of the whole people”, it would appear that the original intent for a “well regulated militia” was primarily directed towards a CORPORATE threat–that is, an organizational threat such as a corrupt government, an invading country, or a rebel group. Today this argument may seem like a silly one–if our government is corrupt, an M4 Carbine isn’t going to stop that missile from hitting you. No country dares invade the US through conventional means, and individual gun owners in theory don’t stand much chance against organized crime.

At the same time, however, we need but look at Vietnam and the Middle East and realize that with good organization one does not need massive hi-tech ordinance in order to give the US military a hard time–maybe even to the point of making concessions.
So in THEORY, I think the amendment can hold to its corporate-oriented intention in the FUTURE if things go bad; but ultimately I think the issue AS IT IS NOW is not a matter of corporate threats anymore (NWO conspiracy theories aside) but rather an issue of PERSONAL SAFTETY.

I will admit, organizing the outline for this post proved to be an absolute nightmare. It’s a very convoluted issue, but I think I covered quite a few bases with these few issues:

Issue 1: Do guns make our society safer or not?

Let’s make this absolutely clear: Neither the Pro’s nor the Anti’s want innocents to be harmed. The question is, how can we best achieve that end?

The Pro’s argue high gun ownership means LESS crime. The argument here is a matter of deterrence–case in point, the open-carrying soldier-citizens of Israel. Criminals are less likely to commit crimes when everybody around them is willing and able to shoot them. More on this below.

The Anti’s, however, argue that low gun availability correlates strongly with low gun crime–especially when other nations are considered. What the Anti’s position suggests is that gun crimes are high in the United States because guns are widely available. Well, this claim can be examined:

Internationally the United States may have the highest gun homicides per capita among certain FIRST WORLD states, but the real issue at hand is not simple quantities but whether there really is a definite CORRELATION between gun ownership and violence.

Before going any further, we have to note that “homicide” according to these studies is not the same as “suicide”, and may or may not include justified homicides.
Looking at the United States, according to the CDC in 2009 (as mentioned above it seems that there isn’t too much change between the years, so I would daresay that 2009 is fairly representative of the general pattern) there were:

-554 unintentional firearm deaths
-18,735 firearm suicides
-11,493 firearm homicides
-Estimated 3,000 non-fatal suicide shootings
-Estimated 44,000 non-fatal assault shootings

Unquestionably, they’re high numbers. But please read on.

While the Anti’s contend that one need only look at Europe’s low murder rate to justify anti-gun positions, according to the Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy (downloadable pdf) murder in Europe was already at an all‐time low BEFORE the gun controls were introduced (page 654). Nations such as Norway, Finland, Germany, France, and Denmark have high gun ownership rates compared to their neighbors but low gun violence rates. In addition, nations such as Luxemborg with very low gun ownership and complete handgun bans had murder rates 9 times that of Germany, and Russia (also with very low gun ownership) had 20 times that of Germany as of 2002 (page 652).
As far as England is concerned, following the total ban of all handguns in the 90’s, in the early 2000’s violence (although perhaps not with guns) actually dramatically increased–to the point it was even worse than the United States per capita (page 656).

In the United States, during that same period of time gun ownership steadily increased but violence noticeably decreased (page 656). However, it is possible that the dramatic increase in prison size and/or the economic situation as a result of the internet bubble were a large factor in contributing to this change as well.

In essence, there is NO solid correlation that directly supports the idea that high gun control/low gun ownership leads to low violence, but there is some (albeit not much) evidence of a correlation between higher gun ownership and LESS violence. Perhaps high gun ownership can lead to more GUN violence, but the data seems to strongly suggest that violence/murders do NOT increase with more gun ownership.

To summarize, it would seem that while the data doesn’t fully swing to the Pro’s position in suggesting that more guns always equals LESS crime per se, it most certainly goes against the Anti’s claim. That said…

Would this have even been an issue in the first place if there were no guns period? If the United States was like Taiwan in which guns were never part of its culture, it’d be fine. I can say for a fact that when I was living in Taiwan, I didn’t feel I ever needed a gun and certainly didn’t feel like it should be legalized. It would be a solution asking for a problem at best.

But the United States is not Taiwan. Guns are already too numerous and ubiquitous for any ban to cause any good now.  Criminals in the United States often have guns and are often willing to use them. When they’re already shooting at you (God forbid), it’s a little late to be trying to call the cops or trying to reason with the criminal. The proper response is to shoot back, provided the backdrop is clear. To allow criminals to have free reign over law-abiding citizens is unacceptable. If cops were omnipresent, omnipotent, and all-good, great–but they’re not. When they’re not here, we have no choice but to take care of ourselves.

Issue 2: Guns for self-defense in the United States

This is where selective media reporting inevitably creates an enormous bias of perception. Countless times shootings make sensational international news, but how often is a defensive gun use (DGU) reported in international news? Especially if no shots are fired? But this swings the other way too; how often do armed robberies (using guns) make international news? Thankfully, there is research on this from credible academic journals and FBI reports, although due to the dynamic nature of crimes (reported vs. unreported, varying sampling methods, etc) it was difficult to pinpoint specific data points that are reliable and relevant.

As mentioned above, in 2009 there were 11,493 homicides that took place in the United States, about 3,000 non-fatal suicide shootings, and about 44,000 assault shootings.
In contrast, in 2006 armed robberies occur at about 1 per minute, 42% of them with guns. That means the number of armed robberies that used guns that year (and probably of more recent years too) is around 220,000. This makes robbery by far the most frequent gun-related crime.

To put this in perspective, as of 1995 fewer than 3,000 criminals are lawfully killed by gun-wielding victims each year according to the Journal of Criminal Law and Criminology.
However, according the same journal DGU’s overall number at 2.2 to 2.5 MILLION each year throughout the United States. That’s about once every 13 seconds. (Remember, a DGU doesn’t necessarily mean shots were fired.) I found this difficult to believe when I first read it, but the study speaks for itself.

(Side note: Further details on the sampling methods are available in the link above. The NCVS survey, being based upon volunteer statistics and WITHOUT granting subjects anonymity, effectively failed to account specifically for the nature of reporting GUN defenses in their study and thus resulted in unreliable data.)

15.7% of that number stated that they or someone else “almost certainly would have” been killed, with another 14.2% saying they “probably would have” been and 16.2% responding “might have” been killed had they not used their gun. Even if we consider only the 15.7% (in addition to margins of error as a result of difference in year), the number would still be about 340,000-400,000 DGU’s that “almost certainly” saved a person’s life that year. Threat of rape, injury, or loss of property account for the remaining percentage.

Again, it is impossible to fully gauge the veracity of statements such as “almost certainly would have been killed”. Nonetheless even if we only accept 15% truthfulness of the estimated DGU cases (such as if we only accept “almost certainly” cases as an actual DGU of any sort) it would still place the number of annual DGU’s ABOVE the number of ALL gun-related suicides, accidents, assaults, homicides, and even robberies of 2009 COMBINED.

Long story short, in the United States guns are used VERY FREQUENTLY in self-defense regardless of whether or not the attacker/robber was killed or even shot at.

It is important to note that DGU’s may occur frequently because crime is frequent too. If one believes that guns are the CAUSE of crime which then forces people to need guns to PROTECT against those crimes,  the whole gun debate turns into a chicken versus egg question.
Ultimately, I personally believe discussing “which came first” is irrelevant. The fact is, we live in a dangerous country and guns seem to be heavily relied upon for peoples’ well-being. The right question to ask is: should you, personally, own a gun for self-defense? You have the right to make that decision yourself. In that consideration, we now turn to issue 3.

Issue 3: Domestic Violence and Gun Negligence

Accidents and domestic homicides are the tragic part about guns. Inevitably, there are those who do not properly manage and respect its power.

76.7% of homicides in the home were by a relative or someone known to the victim, and about half of all homicides involved guns whereas knives and all other improvised weapons combined accounted for the other half.

However, there is strong correlation between gun violence in the home and a history of violence in general in the house, use of drugs/alcohol, and romantic/job problems prior to the homicide incident. As a result this is also a multi-faceted problem that cannot be fully blamed on gun ownership:
Though only 15% of Americans over the age of 15 have arrest records, approximately 90 percent of adult murderers have adult records, with an average adult criminal career of six or more years, including four major adult felony arrests.” (Kates and Mauser, 667)

Without question, however, is that a high ownership of guns in the household in the United States fairly strongly correlates to high domestic gun homicides. Of course, high domestic violence itself may be the cause and the GUN violence merely the effect, but the correlation is there.

A ban or major restriction on guns might solve the domestic aspect of the gun debate, but an act like that would ultimately cause more harm than good in the larger picture. The numbers of “accidents” (actually negligent discharges) and even gun-related domestic homicides are considerably low compared to non-domestic gun crimes and especially DGU’s as mentioned above. Again–there were 554 unintentional firearm deaths and 11,500 homicides in 2009 according to the CDC, compared to 2.2-2.5 million average annual DGU’s.

I realize I sound as if I’m downplaying this problem here–I’m not trying to. Even if the annual number of unintentional firearm deaths are low compared to DGU’s, domestic violence is a legitimate and serious problem but as of yet there seems to be no viable solution that can isolate this problem and not cause more harm on a different arena.

Essentially, background checks cannot account for a person’s economic future or lifestyle choice after he/she purchases a firearm. Additional safety mechanisms, I would argue, are pointless if people don’t already follow the four cardinal rules of gun handling.
Personally, I believe proper training, good parenting, and personal integrity to be the solution. Perhaps a mandatory class on gun safety could accompany one’s first gun purchase or something along those lines might help prevent some dumb mistakes, but removing the right to gun ownership due to potential future job problems is unreasonable. Gun ownership demands wisdom–but you cannot enforce wisdom. You can only enforce wise laws.

Issue 4: Extent of Regulation

Based on what I’ve said above, if there are to be any gun laws passed, every gun law must:
1) Allow law-abiding citizens to buy and own weapons
2) Keep guns away from criminals and likely would-be criminals
3) Minimize risks of negligence and accidents
4) Prevent creating an enormous black market
5) Demonstrate an understanding of how firearms actually work

Unfortunately, it’s almost impossible for gun laws to successfully account for all five.

Case in point: The Assault Weapons Ban of 1994. Why is the definition of an “assault weapon” entirely based on fully-modular components?
Guns are not mystical alien death rays from obscure extraterrestrial planets where gun manufacturers reside. They’re highly-modular, customizable human-made machines. If you outlaw any “part” or “function” of a gun, it’s EXTREMELY easy for a criminal to just replace it with minimal mechanical knowledge.
For example: This is no secret. A simple zip tie can turn a semi-automatic AK-47 (legal) back into fully automatic (illegal). Plus, guns are ancient technology; they can be home-made with minimal materials!

Either way, there did not seem to be enough evidence for an identifiable decrease in violence as a direct result of many bans, including the folding stock and pistol grip–er, “Assault Weapons” ban.

While I understand that collectors and gun enthusiasts who maintain safety precautions view banning of many such weapons as pointless since murder with “assault weapons” may be extremely rare, personally I believe a full automatic weapon is rather excessive for self-defense cases against non-corporate threats. Still, safe recreation need not be denied. Just keep it SAFE, please.

Here are some real/potential legislations I don’t NECESSARILY agree with (I might). None of these will probably work in any statistically noticeable manner if the CDC is right, but I can at the very least see some reasoning in them:

1) Background checks – If a person has had a history of drugs, assault, and other questionable things, I’d be inclined to think that this guy isn’t particularly safe to be around if he’s without a gun–let alone with one. Still, requiring law-abiding citizens to have to go through this and sometimes even have their purchases input into a government registry seems like it punishes the citizen for the criminal’s crime.

2) Required safety training for first-time purchasers – Not tactical weapons training, but gun safety procedures and proper protocol. Keeping it away from unsupervised kids, always treating it like it’s loaded, etc. This’ll require more staff and have some other difficulties of enforcement, however.

3) Required Tests for Concealed Carry – As I understand it some right-leaning states actually have this requirement already. In order to carry concealed in public, one has to demonstrate that he/she is an ASSET to society and not a LIABILITY.

In Conclusion:

With all above factors considered, it seems that the data and best arguments support a small amount–and ONLY a small amount–of well-enforced and well-reasoned gun control. The Anti’s extreme position of entirely repealing the Second Amendment will almost certainly do far more harm than good, but the Pro’s extreme position may allow people that are too often liabilities to society to access guns. Bans on specific weapons are basically pointless, background checks filter out at least some obvious liabilities, and guns are VERY often used in self-defense.

Ultimately, we can never account for all possibilities; there is no foolproof plan or policy, because fools are always so ingenious.
Personally, like many others, I believe the heart of the gun “problem” is not about the guns, but about society, culture, and personal issues. Providing opportunities, supporting moral standards, and good parenting especially are far more effective at preventing ANY AND ALL crimes than gun control.

Maybe one day in the distant future, guns can be relegated to recreation only–but that day is not today.

The Captain Goes Down With His Ship – Part I

YARR, the Cap’n ALWAYS goes down w’is SHIP!

Point of Inspiration:

The ship under my command: Square N11!

Song of Mood:
Margaritaville – By Jimmy Buffet

This last summer I was in charge of two things:
1) Square N11 in an archaeological excavation in Israel
2) The lives and wellbeing of a missions team full of TEENAGERS (I hates u…)

To top it off: In two weeks, I will also be starting a year-long internship that involves me managing MORE teenage kids (ARGH!) on a weekly basis.

As a result, I’ve thought about my predicament a little bit and while I didn’t “learn” anything new per se, some old lessons on leadership were certainly made clearer to me. I’ll probably make this a two-parter.

Lesson One: IT’S ALWAYS YOUR FAULT.

Let me just say this: Israel was a blast–probably the funnest of the 3 times I’ve been there. I loved my minor position in the excavation and my teammates were awesome beyond measure. I greatly enjoyed my responsibilities and would love to do so again–so much so, that every now and then I get slightly depressed because I miss it already.

As a square supervisor my responsibilities included keeping track of everything (who dug what, what elevation and position was X artifact found in, which bucket to put Y potsherd in, etc etc) and telling my Locos where to dig and–more importantly–where NOT to dig.

Sure, there were a couple minor slip-ups here and there–But the main “mistake” happened when I was temporarily relocated to another task on the site, and my two Locos had to go on without me. As I was being transferred, apparently there was a new designation of a potsherd bucket in which we were supposed to place potsherds from a certain area of our square.

“…Ok Rob you dig from north to south on the Western side and then swing left, Josh you dig south to north on the East side and then swing right. Pottery Rob finds goes in the green bucket, Josh’s goes into the red one. I’ll articulate the areas in between and we’ll meet each other and–JOSH WHY ARE YOU WEARING YOUR HAT ON YOUR HELMET!?”

I remember telling them about it–but typically they would ask me throughout the day to confirm each piece, especially since their English wasn’t too good. But this time I was absent, and made the mistake of complacency: pottery was put into the wrong bucket (not their fault). I should have inquired and pressed as to what exactly happened when I was gone, but when I found out it was too late–pottery had been mixed.

What results from that is that since we rely on pottery types to determine the date of the layer we’re excavating, if we mix pottery from different time periods together the entire bunch of pottery we find is “contaminated” and has to be dumped. It’s not life and death, but it’s still forever-lost data. Archaeology has no second chances; once you excavate something, you can’t un-excavate it.

INSIDE THE BLACK BUCKET = DEATH

Thankfully it didn’t prove to be too big a problem since my Locos remembered where exactly they found the important pieces so we could retrieve them, and my superiors were cool (and rather humorous) about it–but ultimately, I was responsible.

Again–the mistake happened when I WASN’T EVEN THERE, but it was MY SQUARE. Hence: MY fault, regardless of the circumstances. The captain goes down with his ship!

Second: With great power comes great responsibility, but “power is a curious thing…it resides where people believe it resides.”

Teddy Roosevelt said, “In any moment of decision, the best thing you can do is the right thing, the next best thing is the wrong thing, and the worst thing you can do is nothing.”

Let’s face it, sometimes when starting up in leadership positions (among other positions) you are already in charge of people and they look up to you, but you might have very little idea as to what the heck you’re doing. So what do you do? You do your best to figure it out, and BLUFF your way through the rest.

It may sound reckless, but the decider often doesn’t have the luxury of playing safe. When in doubt or feeling suspicious (which, unless you’re stupid, should be always), you decide–and CHARGE. Hesitation kills.

Ok let’s see: square N11, bucket 6, locus 12, east side! Wait what happened to bucket 6 WEST side?!

If you’re unlucky, you decided incorrectly. If you’re lucky, you decided correctly.

But…If you’re VERY lucky, you may have decided incorrectly, but you earned the respect of those under you.

This time in Israel, I was VERY lucky. After I explained the ordeal of my mistake to my guys, Josh said to me, “You see man? You leave here for a little bit and everything goes s–t. Why did they take you away? We need you here, my friend!

Ah, Josh, I love you in the most bromantic heterosexual way.

You may or may not learn what you did wrong from the mistake; you might get punished for it. But if you earn your followers’ respect, nobody can take that away but you. You are THEIR leader, whether you or anyone else likes it or not.

If you earn their respect, it means you always had what it took; you didn’t bluff after all. It means you always had the power–you just didn’t know it yet.

And sometimes, you also get a Terminator at your disposal…if that’s the kind of power you were thinking of…