Thursday, April 18, 2013

This will upset some of my friends ...

With the Congress having just rejected the notion of universal background checks before gun sales, I just have to write this.  I know I have friends who are very adamant about opposing any enhancements to gun control in the USA.  Some may be offended.  So be it.

I'm a gun owner.  If someone wants to confiscate my gun, however, they won't have to kill me.  Frankly, I find rather scarey those who claim to be willing to die before having their gun(s) confiscated.  One wonders if that might qualify as grounds for denying them the right to own a gun!  Anyway, a law enforcement officer can confiscate my gun if there is reasonable cause to do so.  At the moment, there is no such reasonable cause, so I would protest such a confiscation through the courts, should it happen.  This is how a society under the rule of law is supposed to operate.  Sane people don't barricade themselves in their homes and shoot it out with law enforcement officers just to keep their guns.  Does it make sense to resist law officers to the point of shooting at them?  Is this something we want to embrace?  I think we know where that leads, and it's not good for anyone.

The "logic" used by many gun owners (evidently, a majority of them) is that any enhancement to gun control legislation is another step down a slippery slope to an inevitable confiscation of all privately-owed firearms.  Yes, this is a wildly speculative, even absurdly exaggerated argument.  Background checks already are required for many retail gun purchases.  The new law would've extended that to gun shows and online sales.  The basic idea is that we don't want to allow legal gun sales to the criminally insane, convicted felons, terrorists, etc.  I don't know of anyone who would admit to favoring such sales, but nevertheless, many gun owners oppose universal background checks!  The phrase "cognitive dissonance" comes to mind.  How can anyone be opposed to universal background checks for any reason other than the "creeping confiscation" argument - which is such a paranoid delusion, it amazes me that anyone thinking this through could arrive at such a position.

Some gun owners see their guns as protection against a government gone wild - this has come into vogue among some conservatives who are apoplectic over the election (and re-election) of a Democrat President.  Good luck with that war against the government (i.e., treason), folks.  If the government goes insane and starts confiscating legally-owned guns for no good reason, you might be able to find enough public support to sustain a guerilla war against the government, but with the weapons at their disposal, the government will seriously outgun you!  You're living in a Red Dawn movie fantasy - it would be a slaughter and your piddly AK-47 or AR-15 with your favorite 30-round banana magazines won't be worth much against government firepower.

Yes, I know guns don't kill people - people kill people.  I get that.  Many gun owners advocate the solution to the gun violence problem is more guns in the hands of more people!  Tell you what - people with guns are much more likely to kill than people without guns.  To say nothing of suicides and accidental shootings - guns are primarily tools for killing and they're effective.  It's what guns enable humans to do.  Some people use guns responsibly and without any intent to kill other humans whatsoever.  But the more people that have guns, the more likely those guns will wind up in the hands of someone quite willing to kill someone else.  And the gun in those hands will do what it always does so efficiently - enable that killing.

I'm not in favor of outlawing guns, and no reasonable person wants that.  So why is it that the 'logic' against any enhancements to gun control is that any new restrictions will inevitably lead to gun confiscation?  That line of 'reasoning' just paralyzes a rational discussion of what to do about gun crimes in this country.  If any enhancement of gun control is going to be opposed on the "slippery slope" argument, then there can be no meaningful discourse on the subject.  Ever hear of the word "compromise"?  Isn't that how our republic is supposed to operate?

At one time in USA history, we had no gun control whatsoever.  The romantic image of the "Wild West" where everyone carried guns is pretty much a sanitized fantasy.  Lots of people were killed by guns, including those who weren't even being targeted by the shooter(s) - that was a violent society.  Does anyone really want to go back to a society with no gun control whatsoever?  Is that the power of that fantasy - that it deludes people into being nostalgic about those times? 

Most of the civilized people in the Old West didn't want that sort of killing in their towns, and law enforcement often implemented a gun ban in towns to cut down on the gun violence.  Laws against uncontrolled ownership of automatic weapons were instituted in part because of Mafia violence using fully automatic guns, even though most of that violence stayed within the Mafia.  Who wants gunfights raging in their town, especially at that level of firepower, even if they're only targeting other gangsters?  Does anyone really want to go back to that sort of society?  In urban ghettos, that "Old West" or "Gangland" society is being played out today.  Is that really what we want?

Perhaps extremists opposed to any gun control should consider moving to the "freedom" of Afghanistan.  There, you'll find a society completely unencumbered with the onerous burden of gun control.  Pretty much anything goes.  Enjoy!  Don't let the door hit you on the ass on your way out.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

More Thoughts on Education

As we approach the end of the spring semester, graduations loom on the horizon for some.  Thus, I'm reminded of our obligation as educators to prepare our students for their lives and careers.  Many business leaders are dissatisfied with the education system, as many new graduates don't have have a functional grasp of critical skills that they should be obtaining from their educational experience.  And it's evident that the US public, on the average, is embarrassingly ignorant about many things:  history, math, science, etc. 

It also appears that K-12 teachers and university faculty are feeling various sorts of negativity from certain circles (notably, the teabaggers).  K-12 teachers are terribly underpaid for what they do, and the poisonous two-headed monster of politics/bureaucracy has definitely muddied the waters for K-12 educators and for university faculty.  I have always been puzzled by the poor salaries paid to our public school K-12 teachers who, after all, are charged with educating our children, who in turn represent our future.  Does it make sense to pinch pennies when it comes to our future?  School is not always what it should be - see here and here for a somewhat more extended discussion - but the failings in our education are not solely the fault of teachers and professors.

Nearly everyone knows one or more "educated idiots"- people with post-baccalaureate diplomas who manage to be incompetent in their profession and/or seem to have little or no common sense.  A diploma is mostly about being persistent, and doesn't depend much on intellectual horsepower.  There is no basis for the widespread academic elitism - not in science and not in any other aspect of life.  Just because you have a diploma (or even more than one) doesn't guarantee a thing about how smart you are compared with someone lacking such a diploma.

As I was nearing the end of my undergraduate studies, I discovered something wonderful about education:  if you accept responsibility for the success of your education, rather than depending on anyone else, then you can take control of your educational outcome!  I call it "taking ownership of your education" - and you can "cheat" the system by getting precisely what you want from the process, no matter what obstacles they might throw up in front of you, like bad teachers.  Of course, this presumes you have some reason to be in school that makes sense to you, rather than being there because someone expects you to be there, or whatever.  If you have what you believe to be good reasons for obtaining a diploma - in some career paths, a diploma is mandatory, for example - then you have an unending motivation to get something from the experience.  And when you take possession of your education, you almost certainly will be successful along the way.

A while back, I wrote two 'books' about how to be a successful college student in science or engineering - one for undergraduate students and one for graduate students.  Although I necessarily had to write about science/engineering education, I believe many of the things mentioned in those 'books' can be applied by anyone participating in college education, regardless of their career path.

I've also written about the broken promises of the American educational lie - sadly, an education is no guarantee of anything, despite its heavy cost in both time and money.  Done successfully, it may prepare you for success in life and career, but that success is not automatic.  In bad economic times, the promise of a rewarding job in your chosen profession can be elusive.  Having said that, if you don't get your educational outcome, then the chances of your being allowed to pursue what you've dreamed of doing are even smaller, and may be nearly impossible.

Education is not so much about memorizing facts, although some poor teachers seem to behave as if they think so.  It's mostly about learning :

  (1) how to answer your own questions,  
  (2) how to think logically and solve real-world problems (big and small), and
  (3) how to recognize bullshit when someone is attempting to feed it to you. 

You should also take the opportunity to make a serious effort to learn communication skills (via both the written and the spoken word) because everyone needs those! 

For all the graduates-to-be, congratulations!  Whether you are done with school or have the prospect of more in front of you, ask yourselves if you've accomplished these educational goals.  If not, you probably need to take responsibility for learning these things on your own.  You will need them!