Thursday, December 27, 2012

Spree Killings Part I: Spree vs Murders, Guns vs. Cars, National Causes of Death

Various list of spree killings can be easily found [1,2,3,4]. For purposes of this series of blogs, I will consider five incidents:
  • Beltway Snipers, GA, MD, VA 2002
  • Blacksburg, VA 2007
  • Tucson, AZ 2011
  • Aurora , CO 2012
  • Newtown, CT 2012
Before I look at these incidents, some background information is in order.  The American public doesn't spend a lot of time publicly discussing mortality rates and personal risk and yet these are statistics worth trying to get a handle on. Here are a couple of graphics that could indicate that murder is down in America but spree killings are increasing. One chart is from Google public data , the other from an American Progress article:

Saturday, December 15, 2012

Another spree killing...

Another spree killing....How many this year? this decade?  This one seems to ask us to believe mostly atrocious press reports that assume a 20 year old Asperger's sufferer (with no apparent violent history or small arms training) loaded his mother's weapons (after killing her) and filed hundreds of destructive rounds into children and adults before killing himself; succeeding in taking the lives of 27 innocents plus himself!  I am going to check whatever  small amount is left of my trust in what I read at the door for now.  Actually, I am going to lock that sense of trust under a big fat lock and key for quite awhile. Maybe for a long time.

The press reporting (with certain exceptions) has been awful here and the national response has resulted in a a kind of internet collectivized paparazzi-amateur-sleuth-'troll till I die' pseudo-journalism that initially fingered  the suspected killer's older brother! Decidedly not one of the world wide web's finest moments.  Among all the reports, I found the first responder broadcasts the most informative. material has been uploaded to the web and the first five minutes are especially provocative.  In what appears to be the opening moments of the tragedy, a local policemen appears (to my untrained ears) to chase down two suspects and put at least one in custody:

1:10 "Reports that teachers saw two shadows running past the building, past the gym which would be in the rear...they are shooting."
1:23 "Yea, we got `em. They`re coming at me down Kirk's (sp?) way! Coming up the driveway on the left side!"
1:36 "We got `em"
1:42 "...Last known gun shots were in the front of the building."
1:50 "I got them proned (sp?) out!"
2:08 "Last known shots were were in the front...maybe the roof..."
2:40 "To the party in custody..."
2:38 "He's in the driveway...between the [inaudible]"
3:45 "One suspect down...
3:47 "Where?"
3:51 "Probably to the left."
4:23 "Be advised we have multiple weapons including one rifle and shotgun."

Whether the current nationally appointed suspect,  one Adam Lanza, is actually guilty of his crimes may be difficult to determine. Not only did he supposedly kill himself, he murdered his victims thoroughly with multiple shots and destructive ammunition. Actually it appears  (at least for now) that he fatally shot almost anyone that could possibly have seen or identified him! For now, there appears to be only one possible (injured) witness to the shootings. Pardon my cynicism if I point out that there are some very skilled and highly trained teams of assassins and special forces who possess exactly the same type of prowess and foresight.

I'm not trying to seem bitter and cynical.  I am father of small children myself.  This event is atrocious and incomprehensible to almost all of us. And that's precisely my point.  There have been far too many spree killings in America that seem to fit exactly this pattern: allegedly mentally ill young 20 somethings, an almost improbable amount of multiple deaths (sometimes of political figures), with the perpetrators themselves having little previous violent history.  I'm checking my tendency to believe whatever  police spokesperson, pro-gun, anti-gun, morally presumptuous psycho-rabble spew reaches my ears on the subject of spree killings. Something is very wrong here. That something is worth thinking about deeply.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Book Sale: "Friends of the Bellingham Library"

The Friends of the Bellingham Library are hosting their annual December Book Sale: Almost all books @ $1 per  book. The place was packed at opening. They were thousands of used books on display for sale and more in boxes in a closet waiting to replace them. I picked up my usual assortment of science, math, logic and children's book and a darn nice zippered purple tote bag ($7). Here'a a snap of the front of the tote:

While I was there, I noticed a clean cut young man with a scanning device on the top of a phone checking the bar codes on the books in the science and math section. He would scan a book, look at his device, and either keep the book or keep going.  A volunteer described to me how Canadian book sellers will come down and scan books to see if they have a competitive price for online sales. (Almost all  books today retailed for $1 or less.)

I have to admit, that this is a probably a brilliant way to make a living and contribute to our library.  But in doing so, booksellers are also profiting from volunteer donations some of which are overstock  from our public library and many of which have been donated by Village Books.  What should happen next is that the Friends should receive some help to work the same type of  racket: retailing the best books online for which they can generate a significant profit for our library.  This could be done on a continuing basis, since the Friends are always receiving donations of books.   It is probably a shame that we need non-profits to support our libraries and schools, but that's standard practice in almost every community in America now.  Canadians are propping up everything else in our county these days, including store retail, gasoline, hotel, grocery chain sales, hair stylists, restaurants, coffee houses and probably our new Regal Crown 16 movie theater which has it's grand opening next week. Might as well have the Canadians help save our libraries as well I suppose.

The Bellingham Friends Book Sale : get their early and often for the next few days...

Monday, December 3, 2012

Building a Jail in Whatcom County: Part I

via Prison Population Rates per 100,00. The United States leads the World.

There will be a presentation on the new jail siting Tuesday, December 4th at  Whatcom county council chambers. The council meeting starts at 7:00 PM. Kudos to the indefatigable Riley Sweeney for keeping us in the loop on this issue during the Christmas Season. See Riley's  provocative posts here and here.  If you are attending or concerned, I found the 02.03.2011 minutes of a packed public meeting a very good read. Jean Melious discusses jail siting impacts and that meeting here. There are also interesting 9/15/2011 Whatcom County Jail Planning Task Force minutes here. Here is the Whatcom County Jail Siting Index. Here is the Whacom County Sheriff and Jail Budget for 2013 and 2014. Here is 'Sheriff Bill Elfo's blog' and his recent budget presentation to the County Council.  And here is a partial list of a bunch of really scary articles on the growth in our prison population and its service by private corporations:

Here are some really scary wikipedia (wikifile) charts:

Amazon Books 'peak inside' at Marc Mauer's "Race to Incarcerate"

Clearly, at the current increasing rates of incarceration in America, the best reason for attending a meeting on jail or prison planning is that someday each of us is likely to spend some time incarcerated. I don't have much to say about all of this.  I know Sheriff Bill Elfo. He is a really competent and approachable public servant.  I would be surprised if he wasn't doing his absolute best to bring safety and justice to Whatcom County.  On the other hand,  I find that living in a society where financial interests like "Seeking Alpha" discuss prison building as  a recession proof and reliable American growth industry terrifying.

My father died last Christmas. He was a high school American history teacher of no small charisma. I have been remembering his analogies and speeches from week to week as I wander through this world without him.  My father loved to demonstrate the polarities of human nature by discussing Athens and Sparta. My guess is half of what he told me has been historically repudiated by someone. But here is what my Dad used to say:  "We have two choices in life. We can live openly and honestly with respect for the opinions of others, the arts, music, and our own creativity. In this case, we will be Athenian in our lifestyle: willing to grant each other the respect it takes to build a working, creative, democracy.  Or we can live like Spartans: lives of strict self-denial and discipline. No ecstatic victories of intellectual achievement, just slave-taking for our conquests.  Eventually, through such a path, we will take on so many slaves and incur so much hatred that we will have to spend more and more resources to control those we have enslaved and protect ourselves. And then we will be neither happy nor free."

No matter how inaccurate my father's historical moral analogy might have been, his thoughts are worth thinking about when we consider American incarceration rates today and their costs to all of us.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

The Xmas Season is in full swing in Bellingham, WA

Christmas Trees at Leopolds, Santa Sleigh at The Village Inn,  Lunch at Magdalenas, a packed Village Books.  We've got two eight year olds and a toddler in tow and life is very good...