Grab Bag 2: July 2015

As mentioned in the previous Grab Bag, this is going to be the last Run for about three weeks. I’m taking a bit of time off to focus on other projects, among other things. Real life is proving to demand a lot more time.

To be blunt, at this rate we could stay in the Newtonian mindset and cover the latest mass shooting, but that has been worn out elsewhere. Another man, another defenseless target, another shooting.

Interestingly, while there is wall-to-wall coverage about that mass killing, five people being stabbed to death by their own relatives warrants barely a mention (but it does warrant a remarkably less dramatic presentation, apparently).

So, this week, we’re dealing with other major stories not directly related to the theater shooting. Social Security as backdoor gun control, a doomed order from Marine Corps Recruiting Command, and arming the military on-base.

1.) Social Security. Recipients of Social Security could be barred from owning guns under a new concept from the Obama administration. It basically adds people who have others handle their financial affairs to the list of prohibited persons. There’s not much else to talk about here except for the brazen efforts to reduce the pool of eligible gun owners by barring people who have others handle finances alongside people with criminal records. (As we’ve discussed in the past, I tend to hold that anyone not in prison should at least have a path to restoring their gun rights.)

2.) Dress Blues. The DoD’s reaction to the Chattanooga shootings was to suggest that Marine recruiters not wear their uniforms in public. This, as you can imagine, was recieved well only by the people who suggested it, with Marines roundly criticizing what they perceived to be cowardice on the part of DoD brass. Interestingly, this was only coming from Marine Corps Recruiting Command. Neither the Corps at large, nor any other branch of the US military, put out a similar (equally-doomed) order.

Now, USMC Recruiting Command is backpedaling with enough force to power a city, saying that only a handful of recruiters actually got the order.

3.) Armed Security: Within. The DoD also waded into the idea of arming personnel on base. Basically, they do not support it in any way.

Gen. Ray Odierno also seems to be nervous about the concept, saying that the military should be careful about over-arming” itself. Civilians have taken to “standing guard” at military recruitment centers, but DoD has not really welcomed them either.

See you in late August. Until then:
Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.

Tactical Review: Radicalized

We’re here again, everybody. Another major shooting, and the politicians racing to find ways to exploit it by selling safety measures.

ISIS is an interesting form of terrorism. It shatters all of the previous rules we’re used to, and certainly wrecks the mystique politicians have used on a regular basis. It is no longer “the Nazis” or “Al-Qaeda” or some other specific organization. ISIS’ main way of reaching the states is through propaganda. It is through this propaganda that ISIS achieves one of the most covert, yet lethal, brands of follower; a dedicated person who radicalizes himself and is willing to commit acts like what we saw this week in near total darkness. All the “main” ISIS forces have to do is send out a Tweet or two.

As in Newtonian, we will examine the targets, the motives, and defensive measures. But this case it is also worth monitoring the sadly predictable political fallout. As in Newtonian, looking at the event clinically will require removing virtually all emotion from it.

1.) Radar. Virtually all reports say that the Chattanooga shooter was not on any anti-terror group’s radar. This is in line not only with other shootings on military bases, but also shootings such as the events in Newtown and Aurora. Put bluntly, the actors in these shootings planned their work out in secret, very likely working alone in order to keep it that way. We already know the Aurora shooter kept a diary, which prosecutors easily used to show criminal intent. (It was also a major part in the prosecution’s attempts to can the insanity defense the shooter’s defense cobbled together.)

That is what makes the so-called “lone wolf” so devastating. He operates alone, with incredible Operational Security, but is absolutely driven to commit whatever it is he intends to do. Now, while the objectives of the Aurora and Chattanooga shooters are obviously different, both “lone wolves” followed the same approach and were absolutely impossible to detect.

2.) Value. The military has a rather obvious place in society, both in terms of defense and just the cultural values they represent. This makes attacking a military installation of any kind (base, recruiting center, etc.) especially valuable for terrorism, as it both makes the military look practically defenseless on their own property and attacks an institution held in high regard by almost everybody (barring outfits like the Westboro Church, who have sworn to protest at the funerals of all five victims). As an excellent note from STRATFOR suggests:

By design, terrorist attacks are intended to have a psychological impact far outweighing the physical damage the attack causes. As their name suggests, they are meant to cause terror that amplifies the actual attack. A target population responding to a terrorist attack with panic and hysteria allows the perpetrators to obtain a maximum return on their physical effort. Certainly, al Qaeda reaped such a maximum return from the Sept. 11 attacks, which totally altered the foreign policy and domestic security policies of the world’s only superpower and resulted in the invasion of Afghanistan and military operations across the globe. Al Qaeda also maximized its return from the March 11, 2004, Madrid train bombings, which occurred three days before the 2004 Spanish general elections that ousted the ruling party from power.

(Keeping Terrorism in Perspective is republished with permission of Stratfor.)

In other words, terrorists look for maximum impact with minimal effort. Yes, exactly like the Charleston shooting which resulted the death of a state Senator and was intended to kick off a race war.

3.) Impact. In following with that theme, we have seen some (in many cases predictable) responses to the attacks in Chattanooga. We have seen gun control groups call for more gun laws (leaving aside that the targeted buildings were already gun-free zones). Gun control groups have also called to close what they call the “Charleston Loophole,” which basically repeals the current law stating that a firearm may be sold 3 days after a background check is initiated (when the FBI sends back a “delay” authorization instead of “proceed.”)

The National Shooting Sports Foundation has directly challenged the effort, saying that “Anti-gun advocates are choosing to fault the three-day rule, suggesting that the examiner did not have enough time to finish the background check. But it’s clear that whether the FBI had three days or two months, they were not able to get the right answers because they were asking the wrong people.” (It’s also worth noting that this delay needed a name that directly references a shooting for emotional effect.)

On the flipside, we have Representative Peter King, who has called for more surveillance efforts of virtually all Muslims after the Charlie Hebdo attacks in France, the hostage siege in France, the shootings in Texas in May of this year. He said that surveillance should be allowed in US Mosques or bloodbaths were certain.

All of that should be done despite the criticisms of “moron” civil liberties advocates.

On FOX News’ “The Kelly File,” King told host Megyn Kelly that the shootings in Chattanooga are reason for yet more surveillance of the entire Muslim community.

When the PATRIOT Act was up for debate earlier this year, King and Representative Rand Paul butted heads regularly, with Paul looking to sunset or diminish the power of the PATRIOT Act. King called Paul’s efforts “shameful and disgraceful” in June of this year.

In May, the FBI said that the PATRIOT Act didn’t really help anti-terrorism efforts. Specifically, the bulk collection of records belonging to people who, more often than not, had absolutely no ties to terrorism whatsoever.

4.) Solutions. There is no question that, in the modern world, some form of intelligence gathering is needed. In American culture, however, surveillance has become an extremely touchy issue. The debate now is where the line is between surveillance and paranoia. As we have discussed numerous times here, violence cannot be prevented, only mitigated.

Allow me to return to the STRATFOR report to provide some closing food for thought:

Terrorist attacks are relatively easy to conduct, especially if the assailant is not concerned about escaping after the attack. As AQAP has noted in its Inspire magazine, a determined person can conduct attacks using a variety of simple weapons, such as a knife, axe or gun. And while the authorities in the United States and elsewhere have proved quite successful in foiling attacks over the past few years, any number of vulnerable targets exists in the open societies of the West. Western governments simply do not have the resources to protect everything; not even authoritarian police states can protect everything. This means that some terrorist attacks invariably will succeed. How the media, governments and populations respond to those successful strikes will shape the way the attackers gauge their success. Obviously, the response to 9/11 meant the attackers probably were far more successful than they could have hoped. The London bombings on July 7, 2005, after which the British public went to work as usual the next day, were seen as less successful.

We discussed this in Blowback. It is completely likely and, indeed, inevitable that ISIS or someone inspired by their propaganda will succeed. The onus is then placed on the citizens to act in a way that shows not weakness and desperation to change how we live, but the strength to show that terrorism won’t change how we live.

The world is a dangerous place. Everyone is going to die, and some people are certain to die in a manner that is brutal or painful. Recognizing that terrorist attacks, like car crashes and cancer and natural disasters, are part of the human condition permits people to take prudent, measured actions to prepare for such contingencies and avoid becoming victims (vicarious or otherwise). It is the resilience of the population and its perseverance that determine how much a terrorist attack is allowed to terrorize. By separating terror from terrorism, citizens can deny the practitioners of terror the ability to magnify their reach and power.

Stay alert. Stay informed. Stay free.

Grab Bag: July 2015

Programming Note: Taking a break from the Run in early August. A little summer break.

This week, a bit of post-Blowback recovery. No real thread to all of this. Shooting sports make a resurgence in high schools, gun crime soars in gun control-laden cities (and gets almost no media attention) and Hillary Clinton’s promises to go ahead regardless. Very little worth covering, to be honest.

1.) Shooting Sports. In a move that is likely making some people apoplectic, Bloomberg Business (yes, as in Michael Bloomberg) is reporting that high schools in Minnesota have seen a surge in popularity in trap shooting While it is still illegal to have firearms on the campus itself (and the classes do not allow for such a thing anyway), there is something to be said about the sport taking off with such a young demographic.

2.) Clinton. It should come as no surprise that Hillary Clinton announced an extremely anti-gun platform this week. A spokesman for the campaign said “this is an important issue, and she believes that we cannot let partisan gridlock prevent us from continuing to seek ­common-sense safety measures.”

“Common sense” being a term that has lost all meaning in firearms, because that seems to be just about any regulation no matter how useless. (Besides which, the vast majority of gun control laws on the books would never pass strict constitutional scrutiny.)

3.) Case study. Of course, the last few weeks haven’t been kind to the idea of “common sense” gun control, either. Multiple cities, all of which with Democratic leadership have seen a major surge in violent crime despite the much touted gun control. Of course, what immediately jumps to mind is the ten deaths, 53 injuries Chicago saw in various shootings over the Independence Day weekend.

You’d think a story in which a seven year-old is shot dead would warrant wall-to-wall coverage in the news media, but apparently this isn’t the case.

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.

Blowback: Backbone

When one thinks about old-school images of American culture, what generally comes to mind is a rock-hard sense of self-reliance, an at least semi-informed understanding of the nation’s history (by which I mean history beyond Vietnam going back to the Revolution) and perhaps the works of artist Norman Rockwell.

What doesn’t come to mind are the terms “trigger warning,” “Pop-Tart gun,” and “zero tolerance policy.”

At least, up until recently.

For whatever reason, America has gone from a nation reaching for the moon, to one afraid to leave the house for fear of offending someone. Classical literature whose violence and graphic depictions of same have been accepted as inherently part of their time periods’ literature are now to be censored for those same reasons (and again, for fear of offending someone). Competition which was once seen as a needed motivator to improve either oneself or one’s products is now downplayed in youth sports and over-regulated in the marketplace.

This sudden loosening of standards has extended into basic fitness as well. It is no secret that preschools and elementary schools have cut back dramatically on recess and other physical activity to make room for teaching to standardized, one-size-fits-all(-for-some-reason) tests. In adulthood, we have seen the recent trend known as the “dad bod,” in other words not fat, but most definitely not trim. (It doesn’t help that anyone in even moderately decent shape is almost instantly accused of being a narcissist or on mountains of mostly-legal steroids.)

None of this is good for the country. There has never been an individual, a family, business, or non-profit organization that has been improved by lowering standards or by becoming overly reactionary. This is slowly being understood, and we are finally beginning to see resistance to it.

This year, we look at all of it. The problems, their impact, and most importantly, what can be and is being done about them. We look at how the country can find its backbone once again, and why doing so is vital to its survival.

1.) Colleges: Baseline. At one point, colleges were seen as a place to test new ideas, to learn multiple viewpoints, and to basically evolve past the relatively closed world of high school. No topic was off-limits, and virtually any topic was subject to deep study and perhaps intense ridicule if it was beyond logic.

That isn’t the case today. In an era where anything less than scheduling kids down to the minute is seen as bad parenting, where trophies are given merely for participating (which says a lot by itself in that showing up is worthy of recognition), and virtually nobody may be offended or lose a game; college has become a locked-down and politically correct echo chamber.

Comedians like Jerry Seinfeld say they themselves have either been told or simply refuse to perform at colleges because they are so easily offended, even if they don’t know what it is they are offended about. (As Seinfeld notes, “they just want to use these words. ‘That’s racist. That’s sexist. That’s prejudice.'”

Even Chris Rock has backed away from colleges for the same reason. Actor Steve Martin has said that the politically correct climate would prevent his 1979 comedy The Jerk from being greenlit were it to be made today.

Colleges are, of course, also the home of two of the most childish yet strangely symbolic terms in history; the terms “triggering” and “trigger warning.” Described loosely as something that may offend. This includes classic literature, “microaggressions” (an intentionally vague term, so everything can be offensive) and even the American flag.

2.) History. Let’s put aside the Confederate story for a moment. It is hardly worth re-treading this story as it has been wall-to-wall across all news networks for weeks now. Besides which, the best way to highlight the need to make history “less offensive” is to go well beyond the Civil War.

Let’s go back to Roman and Greek mythology. According to Reason Magazine, Columbia University’s student-run Multicultural Affairs Advisory Board called on professors to be careful teaching the material, because it “contains triggering and offensive material that marginalizes student identities in the classroom.”

Keeping in mind that Roman and Greek mythology are inherently violent and graphic, and that their depictions of violence were a major aspect of the era.

3.) War. Violence in classic literature needs to be censored, so it goes without saying that fighting war in the present day can only be more difficult with a culture in that sort of paralysis. The modern aversion to virtually all forms of violence (even legitimate violence in self-defense) has extended to how we perceive modern war. Even legitimate violence is cause for public outrage simply because it is violence.

Put bluntly, as author Patrick K. O’Donnell told Breitbart, “America is no longer able to win wars.” We don’t have the drive to do it, we don’t have the spine for it, and we’re willing to end a war without having once defined what a victory would look like. As Mr. O’Donnell also notes, we are more than willing to pin troops to the wall if we can. (There is perhaps no better example of our need to tar and feather our military than the plight of Task Force Violent, who saw their reputations destroyed by both the military and the public at large.)

Today, less than .5 percent of Americans are in the military. That .5 percent has to suffer through horrid rules of engagement, a lack of public support on any level, horrid prospects when they return both in terms of employment and medical care, and the possibility that the slightest mistake will see them plastered across the news networks as monsters.

A small percentage of people who do have the spine to fight; hunted, mocked, demonized, and generally betrayed by a sizeable (but not total) percentage that doesn’t. (We’ll get to those who can’t fight for whatever reason but support the military regardless later in Blowback.)

4.) Impact. The simple fact is this aversion to violence is not a good thing, and a case could very easily be made that it is harmful. As has been discussed way too often in the Midnight Run, the only legitimate violence is violence in self-defense. It is that very statement that requires one to understand that there is the chance of being attacked.

As we celebrate the 4th, we must also note that one of the major story threads leading into Independence Day is the possibility of a terror attack in a major city. Terrorism, at present, is something that is largely distant from the American mind. “It’s over there,” we assure ourselves, generally saying that events like the attacks at malls in Kenya and Mumbai could “never happen here.”

We say all this fully aware of the fact that we have quite a few malls around here, and none of them have any decent security. While at present the best we’ve had are constant threats, the reality of terrorism must be acknowledged, and its potential impact accepted.

In addition, an attack doesn’t necessarily have to be based in Islamic terrorism or on a grand, nation-breaking scale. We saw this with the church shootings analyzed back in Midnight Run: Newtonian. Violence that is not in self-defense can have any number of motivators.

It is, perhaps ironic that the church shootings that demonstrate this aversion to violence better than anything. Because after the attacks, the discussion was not on the concept of security (save for Newtonian and a handful of other sources), nor on mental illness, nor on what motivated him.

It was about a flag from the Civil War, the mere sight of which had to be erased even if it meant pulling classic TV shows off the air.

The best response we had was to hide a flag and to call laws to make cold-blooded murder more illegal than it was beforehand.

Violence happened in our own backyard, and we can’t be asked to study it correctly.

5.) Fitness: Baseline. Humans were never designed to be as stationary as we are. No mammal was designed to sit in one place day-in, day-out. Whether it was to hunt, to find a place to live, or to simply improve an organism’s ability to adapt and survive, mammals were designed to be in near-constant motion.

Put differently, the only organisms intended to stay in one place are the ones who grow roots so they can survive there.

And yet, the average American doesn’t move much, if at all. A study in 2009 found that Americans spend about 56 hours per week seated. A survey taken this year finds that Americans have never been more sedentary.

The health effects of this really don’t need to be stated. But just because a message is sent doesn’t mean that it was received. Obesity remains a problem of epidemic proportions, what little physical activity children got in schools is slowly being cut from the schedule to make room for more class time, and our eating habits have gotten considerably worse.

In our ongoing theme of being unable to tackle much of anything (which would require movement), we’ve been able to justify it through the creation of the term “dad bod.” Not obese, but not trim, as discussed briefly in the intro.

The irony is that, more than any of the above topics, this is perhaps the easiest to fix. Perhaps one of the best examples of this is the Designed to Move project focused on getting children to engage in more physical activity. Devices such as the FitBit have made fitness itself a game between friends. It isn’t that hard to at least maintain some level of physical fitness. It just takes a bit of energy.

6.) Mindset. It’s the other aspects that may be harder. We, as a culture, are addicted to outrage, as Jim Norton describes it. Even the smallest slight is enough to become so offended that you can’t be asked to think about the situation rationally.

But we are starting to see that break. While it may lead to something a lot more difficult, the outrage mob is in the process of eating its own to keep that outrage going. It is even starting to shake a few college professors seeing the damage the mob has been doing in the past.

In two op-eds this week, one for the Macon Telegraph and another on Townhall, Atlanta’s Erick Erickson said that he believes the current outrage/hysteria culture is like a wildfire. It may indeed get worse before it gets better, but eventually wildfires run out of fuel and have no choice but to die out.

7.) The Individual. It is also worth noting that self-reliance has come back into a majority of the culture. We have discussed numerous times in past Runs the incredible surge in popularity self-defense as a whole and guns in particular have seen. Millions have taken self-defense/firearm classes, applied for permits (where they have to, anyway), and of course bought firearms to take their safety into their own hands. Polls are starting to suggest more Americans see a gun as a tool of safety rather than an engine of death and destruction.

The rise of the self-defense culture has been picked up by NRANews anchor Cam Edwards and reporter Ginny Simone.

8.) Parenting. It is almost depressing that this paragraph is even able to be written, but let us continue this response to mediocrity with a look at the “free-range parenting” movement. Free-range parenting is described as allowing children a little freedom of movement. This was the norm up until the 90s, when neurotic parenting, the need to prevent any injuries at all, and the inability to take a loss with class took over. Of course, at that point it wasn’t called “free-range parenting,” just “parenting.”

There was a case in Maryland asking essentially whether or not letting kids play alone was neglect. The court ruled that it was not, of course, but it’s worth considering that children cannot be left alone without the police being called because “of what could happen.”

9.) Come what may. Which brings us to the whole point of the response to this neurotic approach to virtually everything. Americans at one point prided themselves on being able to handle themselves. We didn’t see leaving children to their own devices as neglect, we didn’t look for things to get angry about, and we didn’t fear every possible danger.

That is what needs to re-emerge in this country. We should not see outrage in every “viral” story, or be so easily distracted that a discussion about a mass shooting results in the full-scale elimination of a barely-related flag instead of the shooting itself. (The victims in the Charleston shooting have been almost completely forgotten.)

There are considerably more pressing issues than what this week’s outrage meme is about.

This year’s Blowback is surrounded by a major county defaulting, Puerto Rico possibly defaulting, tensions in the Middle East, and the possibility of terrorist attacks.
Let me close by focusing on the idea of terror attacks. Our response to terror has thus far been to call for tighter surveillance of virtually everything, seeing possible terror in everything and acting on that, and generally being afraid of the possibility of an attack.

As we discussed in Newtonian, it is impossible to prevent violence, only mitigate it. Unprecedented Mediocrity proposes a far better solution than being afraid of a terrorist threat:

So yes, they might succeed in that because America does have crazy people and your Facebook feed likely proves that. You simply cannot outsource every aspect of your personal security to government.So yes, ISIS might attack on the 4th.

But fight back America and remember what the 4th is about to begin with. When our forefathers signed the declaration of independence, they pretty much said it is liberty or bust and some crazy jihadist who thinks he is tough because he follows ISIS on twitter can’t destroy it. In conclusion America, if ISIS attacks on the 4th, I just want you to know this one thing. You’re All Americans, Act Like It.

Stay informed. Stay alert. Stay free.