Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Peculiar Patriots Unite!

Celebrate the Old in the New

When our great nation was founded, it was not just about revolution, not just about what was new in the New World, it was about reverence for older values and timeless truths. When the traditional rights of the American Colonists could not be protected any other way, these united states declared their independence from Britain. They fought a costly and bloody war to secure that independence.

After the war was over, the former revolutionaries attempted to establish 'a more perfect union', by way of constitutions (state and federal), including methods to protect our liberties short of another savage war or even the smaller conflicts that plagued post-Revolutionary New England. Those methods included a democratic 'reliance on the people' through voting, but also Madison's 'auxiliary precautions', the checks and balances of a constitutional federated republic. In times since, we have fought so frequently over which of these is the most important that we have often neglected both: the democratic methods and the republican principles which once fertilized our soil.

Forget Not Our Primary Duties

But what the Framers achieved was not magic: the system they created requires continual care and parts of it were left unfinished in their time, for future generations to complete according to the general pattern of the whole. As John Adams and others pointed out, it also required a generally moral people, a people responsible enough to govern themselves. We have often failed in living up to our responsibilities under the two great charters: the Declaration of Independence that we commemorate today, and the United States Constitution. The state constitutions are weedy and neglected.

If we do not avail ourselves of the means the Framers gave us for protection and responsible use of our liberties, then we, like them, will eventually be forced to resort to savagery. I know that some people express a longing for such a solution, for rebirth in conflict, but I am not one of them. I know that such revolutions are more often failures than successes, even if military victory is achieved. We need look no further than the waves of violence following the 'successful' French Revolution for affirmation.

In The Winter of Our Discontent

And yet, our system is profoundly unhealthy--- many people are justly concerned that the window of opportunity to return it to health is rapidly closing. If we are, therefore, to preserve the precious gift we celebrate today, then we had best be about it. It is the time and past time for the early-risers, the radish-radicals, to step forth, wage the we-still-hope-metaphorical battle, and restore us to our roots. We cannot turn back the clock--- no one can--- but we can grow a new plant from hallowed stock.

We have yet another election approaching, another opportunity to take action. The general election in November, however, seldom determines anything beyond which of the barely adequate and hardly distinguishable candidates will 'represent' us. The real opportunity for change (as far as elections in any case) is not in the election itself but in the August primaries ahead of them and not just in national elections but in all of the offices, local, state, and national which provide the checks and balances of our government as a whole. Frequently, however, few people participate in primaries (let alone the internal process of the parties) and many of the candidates are effectively thrust upon us by a relative handful of party elites. Then we are told that if we do not vote for this bought-and-paid-for spineless nincompoop, we will get that one, a member of the other, more evil party instead. If we do not make good choices in the primaries, then there can be none on the final election ballot.

This fight, the primary process, is one which does not end. It takes both audacity and commitment, energy and organization. A victory won today must be fought again the next election cycle. A temporary loss pursued with vigor becomes an opportunity to learn and improve; while such opportunities are still afforded to us, a winter of discontent can lead to spring growth. It is not a campaign for the timid, faint-hearted, or inconstant. The radish, our mascot, is after all a reliable yet... poignant... crop.

Cry "Radish"! 

And yet, even if you are one of those 'summer soldiers' or 'sunshine patriots' of whom Thomas Pain despaired, it is, after all, July, in the Ozarks no less. What better time is there to start?

Cry "Radish!" and make slips the roots of yore.

(The Drawing)

For anyone who is a Revolutionary War buff and particularly observant, the 'Continental' officer the buck-skinned musketeer is hiding behind (with the yellow lapels and gorget) has a uniform actually more similar to a German naval officer of the period. In fact, a similar uniform is illustrated in Copeland's "Uniforms of the American Revolution". I chose that uniform for aesthetic reasons, the blue and yellow showing up nicely against the smoky background. I left the German insignia off of the gorget. I figured a) most people would not notice, and b) if a giant war-like walking vegetable strode onto a field of battle, people might cower in strange company.

The illustration was done in ink and oil-pencils, with a small amount of pastel to give the smoke a powdery texture.

Saturday, March 3, 2018

OK, what exactly is a 'conservative'?

Republican candidates continually bill themselves as the most 'conservative'. Republican voters respond to these appeals, voting for 'strong conservatives', 'conservative outsiders', 'Christian conservatives', 'Constitutional conservatives', etc., though their behavior when they actually get into office is all over the map. This has lead to the term 'conservative' seeming almost meaningless, but it was not always so. Part of the reason is that people have forgotten what being conservative actually means. Conservatism in general and our special tradition of American conservatism has deep roots and that is so because conservatism is precisely about being connected to our roots (one of the reasons I use a radish— a root— in the logo for this blog.

So, what in the world is a 'conservative'? Where are our roots? Let's dig.

[Draft 0.3]

In which we start with the plain meaning and break the surface...

conservative (adjective)

1 Averse to change or innovation and holding traditional values.

2(in a political context) favouring free enterprise, private ownership, and socially conservative ideas.

In politics, progressives often stop with 'averse to change' and assume that to be conservative is simply to afraid of 'progress'. But we also have 'traditional values' and in definition #2, a hint of what those values might include. Conservatives are not merely averse to change, they are trying to protect something of value. This should not be surprising, because of the relationship to the verb, to conserve:

1: to keep in a safe or sound state - He conserved his inheritance.; especially : to avoid wasteful or destructive use of conserve natural resources conserve our wildlife

There is gold here: "He conserved his inheritance." This is exactly what we are looking for. What, as conservatives, is our lost inheritance?

... to uncover a lost inheritance.

Lord Coke, in the 16th century, talks about the treasure of the common law, its accumulation representing:

...the wisdom of the most excellent men, in many successions of ages, by long and continual experience (the trial of light and truth) in his head the wisdom of all the men in the world...

[As quoted in: David A.J. Richards. Foundations of American Constitutionalism. Oxford University Press. New York. 1989. pp 69-71 or see The Reports of Sir Edward Coke, Knt. [1572-1617]: In Thirteen Parts, Volume 4]

Coke, almost two hundred years before our Revolution, points to the fact that none of us is born into this world alone, but that we inherit the written wisdom of those that came before us, something which none of us, even the wisest (wo)man alive can alone match. In law, this wisdom is accumulated in centuries of common law histories, cases, controversies, and court decisions passed down to us which our constitutional framers in turn used as the foundation for our system of government.

The idea of a kind of trust was created, something we inherit from those long dead, maintain, improve incrementally, and hand on to children not yet born. We conserve then something which we recognize does not belong to us. The Parable of the Three Servants [Mathew 25:14-30], teaches us we cannot merely bury this trust in the ground and ignore it, we must nurture and invest that with which we were entrusted, but nor do we mindlessly tinker. As Edmund Burke, a British Whig often seen as the father of modern conservatism, reflected on the French Revolution:

An ignorant man, who is not fool enough to meddle with his clock, is however sufficiently confident to think he can safely take to pieces, and put together at his pleasure, a moral machine of another guise, importance and complexity, composed of far other wheels, and springs, and balances, and counteracting and co-operating powers. Men little think how immorally they act in rashly meddling with what they do not understand. Their delusive good intention is no sort of excuse for their presumption. They who truly mean well must be fearful of acting ill.

[Edmund Burke, Reflections on the Revolution in France, emphasis mine]

This is no less true given that our Framers fought a violent revolution and established a new system of government. Our founders were not the victors of one revolution but of two. They were raised on the history and literature of the English Civil War and the British Bill of Rights. As Winston Churchill wrote of that conflict in his four-volume history of Britain:

Here is the salient fact which distinguishes the English Revolution from all others: that those who wielded irresistible physical force were throughout convinced that it could give them no security. Nothing is more characteristic of the English people than their instinctive reverence even in rebellion for law and tradition. Deep in the nature of the men who had broken the King’s power was the conviction that law in his name was the sole foundation on which they could build.

The early Americans followed the same pattern. The Declaration of Independence was a revolutionary document, but also a profoundly conservative one. The American Revolution was not an assertion of radical of ideology over law but a protest against the usurpation of traditional rights by the British Crown and Parliament, rights won by the sacrifices of generations of Englishmen. The Declaration painstakingly sets out a checklist of the reasons for this break and establishes it in the traditional principles and duties of a moral people. The principles of the Declaration established a strong root of conservatism to flourish in American soil, established a new —but not radical— inheritance, cut from still older stock.

Progressivism in the United States attempts to follow the same disastrous path as the French Revolution, cutting us off from our inherited traditions in favor of a modern and 'scientific' approach, but one, which, strangely, ignores the evidence of millennia of human experience, tinkering with the clock while skipping the cardinal rule of the competent tinkerer: save the parts. What results, as Calvin Coolidge stated in his Independence Day speech in 1926, is no improvement:

...About the Declaration there is a finality that is exceedingly restful. It is often asserted that the world has made a great deal of progress since 1776, that we have had new thoughts and new experiences which have given us a great advance over the people of that day, and that we may therefore very well discard their conclusions for something more modern. But that reasoning can not be applied to this great charter. If all men are created equal, that is final. If they are endowed with inalienable rights, that is final. If governments derive their just powers from the consent of the governed, that is final. No advance, no progress can be made beyond these propositions.

Jefferson's declaration of the primacy of liberty, however did not stand alone. It was based on an assertion of a higher law, that of "Nature and Nature's God" and it came with a deep skepticism of unrestrained democracy and of human nature. After all, it was as much the British Parliament and native Englanders as the British Crown which failed the American Colonists. John Adams asserted that liberty could not exist outside the checks and balances of law, but it is perhaps most famously and compactly stated by Madison in the Federalist Papers (#51):

It may be a reflection on human nature, that such devices should be necessary to control the abuses of government. But what is government itself, but the greatest of all reflections on human nature? If men were angels, no government would be necessary. If angels were to govern men, neither external nor internal controls on government would be necessary. In framing a government which is to be administered by men over men, the great difficulty lies in this: you must first enable the government to control the governed; and in the next place oblige it to control itself. A dependence on the people is, no doubt, the primary control on the government; but experience has taught mankind the necessity of auxiliary precautions.

So again, we fall back on experience to guide us. Certainly the Constitution was built on a such a foundation, perhaps the most literate of such exercises ever attempted, relying on detailed research of many governments over several thousand years (much of it compiled by Madison himself).

This then is our inheritence...

It is a complex and rich inheritance, one which we could spend a lifetime exploring and still have more to discover. Various people along the way have summarized its core principles, however. One such is Russel Kirk with his "Six Canons of Conservative Thought", itself a condensed summary of Burke which I excerpt further (follow link for full text):

  1. "Belief in a transcendent order, or body of natural law, which rules society as well as conscience. Political problems, at bottom, are religious and moral problems...
  2. "Affection for the proliferating variety and mystery of human existence, as opposed to the narrowing uniformity, egalitarianism, and utilitarian aims of most radical systems;...
  3. "Conviction that civilized society requires orders and classes, as against the notion of a 'classless society.' With reason, conservatives have been called 'the party of order.' If natural distinctions are effaced among men, oligarchs fill the vacuum. Ultimate equality in the judgment of God, and equality before courts of law, are recognized by conservatives; but equality of condition, they think, means equality in servitude and boredom.
  4. "Persuasion that freedom and property are closely linked... Economic levelling, they maintain, is not economic progress.
  5. "Faith in prescription and distrust of 'sophisters, calculators, and economists' who would reconstruct society upon abstract designs. Custom, convention, and old prescription are checks both upon man's anarchic impulse and upon the innovator's lust for power.
  6. Recognition that change may not be salutary reform: hasty innovation may be a devouring conflagration, rather than a torch of progress. Society must alter, for prudent change is the means of social preservation; but a statesman must take Providence into his calculations...

[Russell Kirk, "The Conservative Mind, From Burke to Elliot" 7th Ed., revised. Gateway Editions. Washington, DC. 2016. pp 45-46]

Someone who does not demonstrate this faith in both a natural order, something greater than ourselves, and of natural law, a non-negotiable higher law, defining rights and duties above mere human law, is not a conservative. As a Christian, I profess to know what this 'something greater' is, though we may not always precisely agree. What we should agree on, as conservatives, is that our faith drives us to both trust that the natural order exists for a purpose (one which we may not understand) and that we are to struggle against it to find justice, not burn it down, but struggle.

...which it is our duty to conserve.

Our duty, then is to strive for justice within a reverence for natural law, inherited wisdom, and social structures which we believe to have a value in and of themselves. The Constitution is not an outdated document, nor is it an immutable shrine, but it is a treasure, something of surpassing beauty with which we have been entrusted. A conservative neither hides from change nor rushes to embrace it. This is the sense of duty which would lead an inveterate conservative like John Adams to fight a war for freedom against his King and yet act as defense counsel for the soldiers responsible for the Boston Massacre, courting personal danger both times. As conservatives, we have a tremendous legacy to attempt to live up to, but our roots are strong, and deep, watered in generations of sacrifice.

Friday, March 2, 2018

Trump, Florida, and Gun-Control: Dues and Don'ts

On the issue of gun control, due process, Florida, and Trump: even if Trump's statements regarding due process are taken very generously they are still wrong, dangerously so, and inapplicable to the Florida shooting in any case. There was no need in Florida to short-circuit due process and violate rights. There was plenty of warning and plenty of time for the law to act well within its authority and regarding the limits of the Constitution. They simply didn't.

Pre-deprivation vs. Post-Deprivation Process

Due process is ALWAYS required. That is simply what the word 'due' means: it is what is required to satisfy rights. The process which is 'due' is usually pre-deprivation process. In pre-deprivation process, an adversarial proceeding such as a hearing occurs in front of a neutral-arbiter (judge) before rights are offended by the government. An adversarial process means both sides are represented and the person(s) being deprived get to make their case, examine the evidence, etc. A criminal trial is one way to satisfy due process but not the only one and never has been. It is not even the only way to satisfy pre-deprivation process.

Post-deprivation process is usually invoked when there is an immediate danger to life or property. An eviction of a tenant, for instance, often requires a hearing first and the eviction happens only if the court finds in favor of the landlord. If the landlord's property is in danger of being damaged by the tenant before that can happen, the order can be reversed: the tenant is immediately removed, then the court argues about it. Post-deprivation process means that the adversarial part happens after the defendant has already been deprived of something.

Another example is an 72-hour psychiatric hold on an individual who is (arguably) an immediate danger to themselves or others. An emergency hearing is then held to decide whether to release the individual or if involuntary commitment or some other action actually is necessary. Not surprisingly, there are rules for how this has to happen and— if these rules are satisfied— due process is satisfied as well. Process is not short-circuited, merely follows a different path.

Attorneys among my readers may be cringing that this explanation simplifies things a bit. Although this is quite true, I am not writing for attorneys but for people (like Trump?) who have no understanding of the law. This is also why I am uncharacteristically not peppering this piece with citations: just understand that there are already provisions for emergency circumstances and there have been for centuries. Lack of such options is not really the problem (here).

Not Relevant Anyway

In the case of the Florida shooter, Cruz, this really does not matter anyway. There were opportunities and plenty of time for authorities to do things the long and slow way. It is not disputed that the would-be shooter, Cruz, interacted with law enforcement many times (the exact number, either 23 or 36, apparently depends on how you count) over a period of several years. This was not a last-minute development, not in any sense, any more than it was in the case of Virginia Tech. What is more, at least three incidents rose to potential felonies. Arguably a number of them did, but that hardly matters: Cruz, at the least, was the subject of a 9-1-1 call where he is alleged to have threatened his adoptive brother with a firearm, a potential felony. Further, he was alleged to have texted threats to his ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend. Making specific threats of violence or death to specific individuals in a specific context and putting his name on it is a potential felony. It is indisputably reasonable cause for a criminal investigation which is in turn likely to furnish probable cause for arrest. It can be argued that imminent danger and probable cause for arrest was already present with no need for an investigation before-hand (post-deprivation process), but the slow way would likely have worked as well.

If Nikolas Cruz had been convicted of or plead guilty to, say, felony assault, particularly as an adult, this would have started a criminal record. Given a criminal record, it would have been much more likely his other activities would have been put together. The FBI, for instance, might have immediately seen that the subject of the called-in tip already had a history of potential violence. Certainly, it would have made it harder for Cruz to pass a background check to purchase firearms!

[Note, I am not excusing the FBI here for dropping the ball by not referring the tip, merely saying that local authorities might have made the FBI's error less likely.]

Who Should Bear the Blame

Random law-abiding citizens should not be punished for this incident by having their constitutional rights to due process nor their natural, common law, and constitutional rights to keep and bear arms violated. Period. Giving more power to the very authorities who dropped the ball has two results:

  1. the power will be abused in the wrong situations
  2. there will still be nothing to guarantee it will be used to prevent tragedy

The same authority which failed to act in this case can still refuse to act in the future, but they will have even more tools to abuse authority when they feel so inclined. There may be ways in which the existing process can be tweaked (I am cautiously in favor of GVROs myself, I have written elsewhere about potential loopholes in juvenile criminal records and background checks), but none of that really matters here. The background check did not succeed because a juvenile record was prematurely expunged, but because no record was ever created in the first place because the local authorities failed to do their jobs.

The people who should be punished (under whatever process is due) for this horrific act of violence are, in order:

  1. the shooter himself
  2. the local sheriff's office, including potentially the sheriff and individual deputies
  3. whoever at the FBI failed to pass the phoned-in tip to the regional office as procedure required

It is possible that other legitimate targets for ire may come to light. The first one, the shooter, is ongoing. It is actually unusual for the perpetrator to be available for justice. I had to endure the long process of a trial for the shooter at my school, but many of the perpetrators suicide or are killed by police. There is a potential for closure available here in that process and that is not a small thing. The second one is best conducted by Floridians and particularly those in the affected county through whatever process is available under their state constitution. At the very least, the locals can and should respond at the ballot box, but that is not something any of us can do for them; they have to want to take action. Finally, we are told that an investigation of the missteps within the FBI is ongoing. Perhaps this will yield results and perhaps it will not. We, as citizens, need to keep on top of this process, but it is too early to expect results.

None of these things particularly involve making new laws, short-circuiting due process, or even gun-control at any level. The criminal justice system failed in what it is already authorized and charged with doing. The failure cost lives. The details of the precise magnitude of the failure and why are still forthcoming, but the fact that it occurred is not really in question.

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Emergency Response and Personal Safety

This blog grew out of a thread regarding police and personal safety on approaching suspects. It is part of a bigger issue in emergency response generally and one which keeps coming up in different forms. This is also not an official Sheriff's Auxiliary post because I want to be free to represent my own opinion here and not any specific organization's policy.

The assertion is--- and I have seen this made a number of ways--- that the #1 priority is personal safety and the Licensed Peace Officer (LPO) should do whatever they need to do (regardless of law or procedure) to go home to their families. I have even caught myself using close variants of it in training (though I do usually catch myself). I am going to look at this in the light of emergency response generally to show that it is subtly and dangerously wrong.

Is Personal Safety the #1 Priority?

If we did take this assertion to be true with LPOs specifically and with emergency response generally, what would be the logical result? If personal safety is the top priority, then the solution is simple: don't send emergency personnel into the field. Problem solved. In fact, there is no other way to satisfy such a priority.

Clearly, we do send emergency personnel into the field. Clearly as well, personal (personnel - either works) safety is important. So something else must be going on here. What is it? First, the assertion of priority needs to be corrected. Second, there is a misapprehension about the role of procedures and training.

Life Safety is the Mission:

Life safety of everyone (not just you) is paramount. This is, in fact, the mission. Being an emergency responder (in any capacity) does require a certain level of risk. Whether volunteer or professional, this risk is known when you sign up. It is not a secret. Whether paid or not, if one is not comfortable with some risk in order to accomplish the mission, then the proper response is to go home.

Most of us, when we decide to do emergency response, do it at least partly because we are motivated by a personal need to help others even at a personal cost. This almost has to be true of volunteers because very little else could explain our behavior. And, let's face it, emergency professionals, including LPOs, are seldom paid what they are actually worth: one could flip burgers and make what many paramedics make, without the stress, without the liability, and without the crazy hours. I have no idea what it would take to pay me to do a domestic call at 02:30 hrs as an LPO, but  it is much more than the officers I know make.

Personal safety is important. We train on safety all the time. For one thing, if we do not practice personal safety, we become victims and someone else has to go risk their lives to save our sorry behinds. And, we do want to go home to our families. There are times where we do not go into a situation (and the rules say we don't) because the risk is not warranted. But... and here is the important part... personal safety does not justify taking actions which actively endanger others. We call that 'cowardice'.

The Real Priority:

It is also not true that our first priority is ever our own safety. For one thing, when I am on the field with an LPO I serve alongside, my first priority is that they go home to their families. I expect, with many of those I work with, they are thinking the same thing in reverse (that is: they don't want to fill out the paperwork if they lose the useless volunteer). That's what a team is: we watch each others' backs. As a class, responders watch the public's backs--- or we should--- and that goes whether or not we are paid enough or appreciated enough. Which brings me to:

The Role of Rules:

We have rules and train to them because they protect lives. Sometimes bad rules (or rules which did not anticipate the circumstances) do get in the way of the mission and of life safety, but that means that the rules need to change, not that we should ignore them. When we do have to violate rules--- and sometimes we do--- the issue needs to be explained and examined so that we can adjust future rules and training. A process with no feedback loop is dangerous and worse than useless.

What if you work in a system where this is not true, where the rules are systematically bad and dysfunctional? Quit. Yes, really: if it really is that bad, it isn't worth your life and others to stick with it. Not for anything. A good supervisor, one who protects their personnel from bad calls upstairs, is priceless and if you have such a one, great, fight for them, but otherwise ¡Quit! and go somewhere else.

In emergency response, if you simply decide to not follow the rules, Bad Things(TM) happen, maybe to you, maybe to your fellow responders, maybe to the public.

And Here We Get To the Real Problem:

There is a corollary here, though, and it applies to everyone, not just the emergency responders: if we hold emergency personnel (including LPOs) to the rules, if we hold them accountable for breaking them, then we citizens need to be responsible for the rules that we control, the laws and policy that we set. When we set bad rules, or stick our heads in the sand and let it be someone else's problem, people die.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Addicted to Bad Statistics - a Growing Epidemic

OK, references keep popping up to this CDC study on the dangers of patients receiving prescriptions for opiate pain-relievers becoming chronic opiate users. Specifically, they make reference to a finding that patients receiving a 1-day prescription for opiates only have a 2.6% chance of still being on opiates 1 year later while those given an initial 30-day prescription have a 45% chance of being on opiates 1 year later... So, I look up the study to see the data and conclusions for myself. Apparently not enough people sit through classes on research traps and simple mistakes.

This is the most telling point which should jump out at anyone interested in citing the research to make recommendations on opioid prescriptions or policy:

The findings in this report are subject to at least five limitations... Second, the extent to which chronic opioid use was intentional ... is not known. ... Third, information on pain intensity or duration were not available, and the etiology of pain, which might influence the duration of opioid use, was not considered in the analysis. [ (emphasis mine)]

They also note that longer-term prescriptions were much less common than short-term prescriptions. So... the obvious conclusion would be that doctors tend to write prescriptions for longer-terms for patients expected to need the pain relief for a longer period of time and... not surprisingly, they do. The study also notes that those receiving longer-term prescriptions tend to (among other things) be older and have a previous pain diagnosis. (duh!)

In other words, doctors are already likely exercising judgement by providing short term prescriptions to most people and only giving 30-day prescriptions to a much smaller number of people with longer-term conditions. But the researchers did not have data available to exclude this possibility ---and to their credit, say so. The warning in the study, however, is completely ignored by everyone citing it even though the data is useless for the purposes they are trying to make of it.

Garbage in; Garbage out

The capital-P Problem is that the purpose they are generally trying to make of it is this: recommending that doctors stop providing 30-day prescriptions to people with chronic conditions because of the higher danger of long-term use! This is usually linked to a claim that 80% of heroin users get their start with prescription opioids (another bad statistic I'll save for another day) and that reducing opioid prescriptions will therefore reduce future heroin use.

Question: what will long-term pain sufferers likely turn to when they cannot get legal prescriptions from their doctor to treat their valid medical conditions? In all likelihood, they will turn to black market sources, with no quality control, which has a higher chance of leading to addiction and overdose as well as feeding our larger issues with drug smuggling.

Is there a very large recent increase in drug overdoses? Yes. Is this a problem? Yes. Does stupid misuse of incomplete data help point to a solution? No.

And the solutions we persistently fail to consider...

You cannot willy nilly stop prescribing opiates to people with long-term pain unless and until you can offer other solutions. To do so is inhuman. Unfortunately, for many people who suffer long-term pain (including myself until recently), other solutions are few and non-existent. Opiates are more effective for short-term pain and lousy for long-term pain--- this is well-known. Using opiates to control long-term pain simply sucks less than being in pain for months on end with no other alternative.

Ironically, better alternatives for long-term pain are either difficult to get FDA-approval in the US or are flat illegal. Marijuana, for instance, shows long-term efficacy for chronic pain for some classes of patients and is much less dangerous than opium-based medications, but it is currently defined in law as having no valid medical use. Nor am I making a pro-marijuana case here, but rather the case that it is disingenuous to say people should stop using opiates while we are actively foreclosing alternatives.

Thursday, October 5, 2017

Las Vegas Shooter Scoped Other Events, Reflections On Living With Violence

Yes, another update on Las Vegas, but this is rather interesting: the Clarke County Sheriff there has stated to the press that Paddock probably did have help (they are looking for a particular woman seen in the hotel, not his girlfriend) and information has been released that he has booked other hotels overlooking other major events: this was a *long* time in planning. He started buying weapons in 1982, so it is hard to tell when the purpose of his purchases may have changed.

[Las Vegas shooter booked hotel overlooking Lollapalooza, seen with mystery woman]

If this guy fits profiles of other mass murderers (and note that so far he does not), then he will have reached out to other people (small number) over that time to pull them into his plan. Normally, they will make suggestions that they can pass off as a joke if rebuffed, and therefore the subject does not necessarily connect the comment until after (I, myself, experienced this with a shooter). As people come forward, they may provide more insight into the situation, especially if authorities locate actual co-conspirators. This process may, however, take years to gather information and to actually piece it together.

Another part of the picture that is starting to emerge: given the time and resources ($100s of thousands, aircraft, etc.) available to this plot, very little had a chance of preventing it. The only realistic chance of stopping it would have been if his preparation had been discovered more or less by accident, if a co-conspirator chickened and came forward, or if someone he approached a) understood what he was asking, b) went to authorities, and c) was believed. Nothing short of that would have likely prevented the incident or necessarily reduced the scope of the damage he was able to cause.

Believe me, that is not a comfortable thing to realize--- it is not something we like to admit--- but it is likely the truth. I had a discussion with my wife this morning and with the father of a victim at my school a few years back that I am doing better at handling this kind of thing than I used to be because I no longer feel helpless: I am doing things that make a difference. As Mr. Gibson put it, I have found “a way to make lemonade”. The people that find a way to do that--- or found a way to do that during the attack--- the heroes of that night--- will have a much better time coping and moving forward. We have to find a practical way to do that as a country, and that is actually one of the reasons for the misguided push for gun control and other measures which likely would not make a difference. I know from experience that they are wrong, but I understand the impulse.

The things which *would* make a difference are not quick fixes, they take time, thought, and facing uncomfortable reality. Maybe we will eventually get to that point. The other thing that helps is simply *faith*: I believe we live in a fallen world, that evil exists, it always has, and though we continue to strive against it, it will to the End. At some point, we have to realize that life is deadly, that it is unfair, and move on with what we have. I truly believe there IS an ultimate purpose, and that helps me deal with the horror of where I have been.

Sunday, August 13, 2017

Monuments To Lasting Peace

There is a deep irony in the efforts to remove monuments like those to Robert E. Lee in the name of "healing from the Civil War". To a great extent, the efforts of people like Lee after the Civil War are why we have a country to heal in the first place. Lee, Confederate General Longstreet, Union General Sherman (among others) worked tirelessly to end the Civil War and knit the country back together.

Lee took efforts at Appomattox to endure that he was not surrendering merely the forces under his command but signing an overall armistice. He made particular efforts to stop groups of Confederates who wished to wage a guerrilla campaign after the stacking of arms. The entire process was conducted with such dignity and honor that Union General Chamberlain ordered his soldiers to salute their defeated foe--- a salute which was returned by the Confederates in the first step of becoming a single nation again. Rarely in history does any civil war end in that kind of mutual respect.

After the surrender, Lincoln, Lee, Longstreet, and Sherman, along with Grant and Breckenridge (the last Confederate Secretary of War), worked to get people to come together to build a new peace without endless reprisals. They managed to hold the fragile peace together through and after Lincoln's assassination. Lee himself died five years after the surrender. Longstreet and Sherman--- perhaps one of history's unlikeliest combinations--- became good friends, working to keep Lee and Lincoln's vision of a new nation going through the upheavals of reconstruction and economic collapse. Longstreet and Sherman, with Lee's support, lead efforts to get land, education, and economic self-sufficiency to freedmen (much of which was later undone by others).

This is all, of course, a simplification, just one piece of a very complex period, of complex people, but the point is, there is more to war than who won and who gets blamed in the victor's history books. Victory is imposed on the battlefield, but establishing lasting peace takes something more. By attacking the memory of people like Lee, Longstreet, etc., we are attacking the precarious peace that they gave us. The "we won, now shut up and go away" attitude is exactly what people--- better people than us, apparently--- fought to prevent. We were shown the right way to end a war: all we have to do is keep walking in that direction.

Further Reading

There are many books and many primary sources on the fighting of the Civil War. Finding good accounts on the establishment of peace afterwards is surprisingly hard and woven into many other sources. As Union General J. L. Chamberlain noted, once the fighting ended, so did the official record of the Civil War. Here are a few sources which may be a good start:

  • William C. Davis, "An Honorable Defeat: the Last Days of the Confederate Government" Harcourt. New York. 1946
  • Joshua L. Chamberlain, "The Passing of the Armies; An Account of the Final Campaign of the Army of the Potomac, Based Upon Personal Reminiscences of the Fifth Army Corps" J.P. Putnam and Sons. New York. 1915. (Chamberlain was responsible for organizing the surrender ceremony and receiving the stacking of arms on behalf of the V Corps, U.S. Volunteers. He also notes his fears for the loss of the peace after Lincoln's assassination. A more compact record of just the surrender is here:
  • Eric Foyner, "A Brief History of Reconstruction" Harper and Row. New York. 1990 (Woven in and out of this larger work are accounts of people who tried to keep Reconstruction on track and meet their obligations to former slaves, including, at various points,  Lee, Longstreet, and Sherman. If you have not read about the tortured history of Reconstruction and its dramatic failures, this is not a bad place to start.
  • The personal memoirs of Ulysses S. Grant, now in the public domain, also contain personal recollections bearing on these issues, including his fears of a collapse of the peace--- or of large-scale retribution against the South--- after Lincoln's assassination.
  • Information on the Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church monument to Stonewall Jackson commissioned by Rev L. L. Downing, the son of a slave Jackson taught to read. The stained-glass window behind the pulpit is beautiful, and worth seeing. If you do not understand the inscription, they are the last words Thomas J. Jackson spoke in the presence of his wife and surgeon on his death bed after the Battle of 2nd Chancellorsville.

Other commentary