Thursday, April 30, 2009

Class Distinction: Shadowy Lines that Still Divide

The notion that the class distinction has ceased to exist in the modern American society must be dispelled in the face of reality on the ground. Those who feel that the American society is heading towards classlessness are indeed laboring under huge misimpression. According to Janny Scott and David Leonhardt the American society still remains class oriented and divided into three main classes.

The rich continue to enjoy the best in health care and education whereas the others remain far under privileged. This gives the rich a clear cut edge over others in the society. Although, globalization and modernization have improved the living standard of the present generation, it has certainly not finished the class distinction.


In fact the chasm between the rich, the middle class and the working class has increased manifold in the present time. The social and cultural gap between the classes has also become wider than ever before. The comparative prosperity of the middle and the working class has led to the blurring of the boundaries that clearly divided the American society in the past; but it doesn’t mean that these boundaries don’t exist.

According to Marx and Engels the class struggle is ancient in character. History is a testimony to the fact that man has always oppressed his fellow men in one way or another. They interpret that the society can be chiefly divided into two distinct classes: the bourgeois and the proletarian. The bourgeois represent the rich and the powerful industrialist class in the league of past feudal lords. The proletarian class consists of the modern working or the labor class.

The advent of modern industry made the bourgeois more powerful and exploitative than ever before. Marx considers the executive government nothing else but a handmaiden of the bourgeois and an instrument of oppression. Modernization, free trade and world market are nothing else but symbols of unending bourgeois’ greed and avarice.

Marx believes that the bourgeoisie has no morals, scruples or ethics. The bourgeois class is selfish, utilitarian and capitalistic. The bourgeoisie promoted urbanization as a ploy to make the peasants subservient to and dependent upon the cities. The bourgeoisie frames laws and rules to perpetuate its class domination and to protect its class interest. The working class is deliberately kept at the receiving end. They are given subsistence wages and commandeered by the bourgeoisie like slaves.

Scott and Leonhardt feel that it is erroneous to think that the chances of class mobility have increased in the present. According to them, it has been proved that the opportunities to climb the ladder of success for the middle and the working classes have considerably dwindled in the recent times. The American dream is a myth and on its way out. The mobility from rags to riches has become quite unthinkable and improbable.


One must wake up to the fact that in spite of apparent contradictions, the rich continue to grow richer at much faster pace than ever before. The class situation in modern America is extremely complex and quite misleading. It cannot be gauged or judged on the basis of traditional concepts of class division.

Marx and Engels blame the bourgeoisie for keeping the labor class on tenterhooks. Machinery and automation have made the working class vulnerable and constantly exposed to the threat of unemployment. The bourgeoisie treats the labor class as a mere commodity or as an article of sale and purchase.

Marx feels that the bourgeois class is destructive towards its own lower rung also. The small tradesmen and shopkeepers sink into the proletariat class because of their economic weakness and inability to keep pace with modern industry. The hostility between classes is natural and perennial. The proletariat class must reclaim its rightful place through a concerted effort.

Marx treats the proletariat as a revolutionary class with a lot of grit and courage to stand up against the injustice done by the bourgeoisie. He strongly feels that the proletariat must organize itself into a union and then into a political party to end the bourgeoisie dominance. He is positive that the proletariat class can never find justice under the unjust yoke of the bourgeoisie where the rich keeps getting richer and the poor keep getting poorer or pauper.

It is abundantly clear that the lines that divide society may be hazy or shadowy today but their grip on the society is as strong as ever; only it has become a bit hard to decipher.

Works Cited
Scott, Janny and David Leonhardt. Class Matters. New York: The New York Times, 2005
Marx, Karl and Friedrich Engels. The Communist Manifesto. New York: Penguin Classics, 2002

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Saturday, April 25, 2009

Columbus Log and Native Societies

Columbus’ log of journey throws ample light on the lives and lifestyle of several native Indian societies whom Columbus met and closely observed on his way to India through the Western sea route.

It happens to be an authentic record of the facts pertaining to these native societies that inhabited the New World prior to the massive onslaught of the west European countries that trailed Columbus’ footsteps.

The natives whom Columbus met on the island of Lucayos were very friendly, sociable and warm-hearted people. They were simple folks with cheerful disposition. They were peaceful and had no weapons to speak of. They were docile, pliable and kind-hearted.

Columbus reckoned that he could easily convert them to Christian religion without any use of force, “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force.” They were expert swimmers and well-versed in the art of building canoes; carved out of single tree trunks.

They natives gladly traded their parrots and cotton balls for anything Columbus and his crew had to offer, “readily bartered for any article we saw fit to give them in return, even such as broken platters and fragments of glass”. The Indians from islands around San Salvador were equally simple.

They were so gullible that they called out, “"Come and see the men who have come from heavens. Bring them victuals and drink." These natives were also least offensive and exceedingly well-behaved.

Although there were signs that these native tribes fought with one another, they were surprisingly friendly towards the crew. These people were completely guileless and did not have the faintest idea about the intentions of Columbus and his men.

The natives of an island near Samoet were comparatively smarter and were a tad alert while dealing with Columbus. They appeared, “somewhat more civilized, showing themselves more subtle in their dealings with us, bartering their cotton and other articles with more profit than the others.”

They were conversant in the art of weaving. They weren’t naked and wore cotton clothes. They were decent people and showed finesse in their behavior. They were also familiar with farming techniques and grew grain and other crops around the year on their highly fertile land.

Most of these Indian societies had similar language and customs. These natives lived in clusters of homes not bigger than fifteen in a bunch. Their homes were neat and clean with beds woven out of cotton net.

There homes were technically good enough, “Their houses are all built in the shape of tents, with very high chimneys.” Some of these natives wore certain pieces of golden jewelery that aroused Columbus’ curiosity very much.

On the contrary the natives of Samoet island were quite unsure of the credentials of Columbus and his crew, “the people had fled in terror at our approach.” Their homes were well furnished and spoke of their civilized lifestyle. Soon, these innocent natives could be won over by Columbus through reconciliatory gestures.

The natives of Samoet too happened to be clear hearted and well meaning. They could also be easily won over by Columbus through smallest possible insignificant gifts. These natives readily helped Columbus’ crew and provided them with enough drinking water.

Our encounter with these natives in Columbus’ log is indeed pleasant. One wonders that how such peaceful and friendly native societies could be subjected to so much of violence and bloodshed by the west European countries who massacred them in large numbers in order to build colonies over their rightful land!

After knowing them and learning about their culture from none else but Columbus’ himself, one wonders why it happened in the first place?

Works Cited

Columbus, Christopher. “Christopher Columbus: Extracts from Journal”. Medieval Sourcebook.3 may 2007.

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Mark of a Good Manager

In this era of globalization and keen competition, an ideal manager must size up to the challenge and must fit the bill. The role of the managers has been completely rewritten in the present. An ideal boss must shed his/her ego and come down from the high pedestal he/she spoke from in the past.

The modern day manager just can’t afford to sit in an ivory tower and issue orders from above as may have been the case in the past. Today, the managers have to be experts in the fine art of administration and personnel management.

A good manager has to be an ideal combination of tact, talent, character and foresight. He must have qualities of head and heart to be a successful. He must lead his flock from the front and as a head of the family. He should have a transformational leadership style and must encourage his team to do well even in trying circumstances. He should act in a friendly manner in order to develop a positive work culture.
Democratic and transformational approach brings out the need of an open, sincere and candid communication and a deep sense of understanding between the employees and the manager, based upon mutual respect and rationality.

An ideal manager displays solid moral fiber. It is his honesty of purpose and clean dealings that fire and inspire the imagination of his employees. It requires role-modeling and responsiveness. He is a person to whom others can look up to for guidance, support and help.

A good boss has to be an honorable man. One who is above-board in his dealings. He must manage the company’s accounts well and should never take an undue advantage of his position. A manager who misuses the company’s transport, phone and funds falls in the eyes of his team and can never command respect.

By indulging in inappropriate behavior, he loses the moral right to question an employee’s misconduct. An unscrupulous manager can never ask a corrupt employee, “Why did you do it in the first place?”

No wonder, an honest manager will always stand by honest employees whereas a dishonest manager will try to promote the corrupt for obvious reasons. By doing so, he endangers the future of the company and can cause irreparable loss to the company’s goodwill.

A good boss knows that respect is to be commanded and not demanded. An ideal manager is both respectable and respectful towards others. He is polite, patient and soft spoken. He doesn’t shout at people and his words carry weight He is supposed to be a man of vision, intellect and imagination. His creativity and will to succeed give the company necessary lead whereas a short-sighted boss can spell disaster for the company.

An ideal boss believes in interpersonal style of management and diligently cultivates a healthy relationship with his staff. This results in creating an excellent working atmosphere conducive to progress and development.

On the contrary, a manager who addresses his employees rudely and insults them can never be an ideal manager. A capable manager appreciates his employees publically and tells them of their mistakes in private.

If somebody has done well in sales, an ideal manager would pat his back in the full view of his team, “Simon, I am proud of you and I abundantly recognize your hard work in generating good business for the company.”

Similarly, if Dave has been doing badly, he would call him in his cabin and politely enquire, “Dave, you aren’t meeting your targets. Let me know what difficulties are you facing? I shall do what I can to help you solve them.”

A good manager has the virtue of fairness and compassion in big measures. He is compassionate towards his subordinates and has milk of human kindness in abundance. His decisions are governed by right reason and rationality rather than partiality. He is broad-minded and has the good sense to rise above narrow considerations like race, religion and gender; talent is what he tends to seek and promote generously.

He possesses a complete sense of understanding and sensitivity towards the problems of his employees. He has an inexhaustible reservoir of patience and perseverance. He knows that patience is a virtue that can stand in good stead even in the most difficult and challenging situations in life.

A good manager readily grants his employees leave or permission to leave early in case of an emergency or a special need. Suppose, an employee has an emergency at home or an urgent school examination to prepare for, a good boss would say, “Don’t worry, please do what you need to do at this hour and I wish you all the best.”

A bone rigid attitude in such emergent and sensitive matters can annoy employees and make them rebellious.

Thus, there is a need for an open, sincere and honest approach on part of an ideal manager. In order to achieve signal success, he must have sharp vision, ambition and integrity.

While a self-serving manager can spell disaster for an organization, a well-meaning manager without competence can also lead the company to a dead end. Surely, it is no small job to be an ideal manager yet it is worth trying indeed, that too sincerely. READ MORE!

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Caution: Praise Can Be Dangerous Too

Praise is perceived to be a highly motivating, powerful and effective tool in getting things done in life. Appreciation and praise are often considered to be very effective while guiding students too but the fact remains that not every kind of praise is praiseworthy. A leading Professor of Psychology from Stanford University has cautioned against misdirected, meaningless praise. Carol S. Dweck's warning does ring a bell!


Her caution does come as a surprise because before this no one ever thought that praise could ever be dangerous in any way at all. It was widely believed that the students must be praised for their intelligence to boost their morale.

Carol's research unequivocally proves that praising students mindlessly is fraught with many pitfalls! She took 400 students from different cross sections of society and divided them into three different groups. They were passed through a simple puzzle test to begin with. Naturally, most of the students did well due to the simplicity of the work assigned. She deliberately praised the first group for their intelligence, the second for their effort and the third group's performance alone was acknowledged.

The group that was praised for their intelligence was scared to take up a more challenging assignment for fear of loss of face. The group that got applause for their superb effort looked forward to meeting a bigger challenge. The set of students who were neither praised for their intelligence nor effort stood somewhere in the middle; and Carol decided in favor of dropping them from her immediate focus.

In the second stage, the students were given comparatively tougher assignment and those who were praised for intelligence didn't do well at all and evinced no interest in further testing. The second test had obviously bruised their intellectual self-esteem which they had acquired during the first stage.

Those who were praised for their effort did remarkably well. Obviously, now they were armed with the knowledge that deliberate practice is one good strategy to attain peak performance. Moreover, they had no hang ups about their intellectual self esteem.

The final test sprang up startling results. The students were administered a very simple test at par with the first one. The first group's performance saw a continued downslide. They failed to recover from the psychological set back due to poor performance at the second stage. Carol S. Dweck said in one of her interviews, "And when they hit difficult problems, their enjoyment crashed, they thought they weren't smart anymore, and their performance on the IQ test plummeted. All from praising their intelligence!

"In contrast, praise or criticism that focused on children strategies or the efforts they made to succeed left them hardy, confident and in control when they confronted setbacks" (Dweck). The second group continued its forward march with renewed confidence in their effort related success.

Although, Carol S. Dweck has convincingly underlined the importance of learning process and conscious effort to succeed in life, one cannot forget that the ultimate guarantee of success lies in the combination of the two i.e. talent and hard work. It is a fact that mere reliance on talent is fruitless without strong effort.

Gloria Park in her article 'Praise and Performance' suggests, "In athletics, and in just about every other realm of life, talent alone is usually not enough to produce optimal performance and bring bounties of success. This is no secret. Hard work, dedication, and discipline usually hold more weight in the development of skills and ability, although having the talent to start never hurts".

The knowledge that one can improve one's talent through conscious effort can really help students gain a lot of self-confidence. Adele Faber writes, "We want to give our children the message that the process is as important as the product. We want them to value their ability to hang in there, to practice, to persist. We want them to view a mistake -- not as proof of failure -- but as an opportunity to learn something they never knew before." This will surely enhance their morale and will improve their performance considerably. Mere praise won't help rather it can be counter-productive.

References

Dweck, Carol S. Interview with Carol Dweck. Human Intelligence. Retrieved April 20, 2009.from http://www.iub.edu/%7Eintell/dweck_interview.shtml

Dweck, Carol S., Caution- Praise Can Be dangerous . American Educator. 1999

Faber, Adele. Re-Appraising Praise Faber/Mazlish Forum. retrieved April 20,2009, from

http://fabermazlish.com/newslett.htm

Park, Gloria. (March 8, 2007). Praise and Performance. Positive Psychology News daily.

Retrieved April 20, 2009, from http://pos-psych.com/news/gloria-park/20070308151

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Saturday, April 18, 2009

Ever-increasing Aggression and Violence in the United States

The shootings at Virginia Tech University in April 2007 brought home the tragic consequences of violence in a most poignant manner. As yet another instance of senseless aggression unfolded, the nation watched as details emerged about the perpetrator and the deaths of 32 students and professors. The shooter, Seung-Hui Cho, lived a troubled life characterized by social isolation, alienation, and depression. Furthermore, professors at Virginia Tech had recognized erratic behavior in Mr. Cho and had referred him for counseling and mental health treatment on several different occasions.
On the other hand, Mr. Cho's victims were, by all accounts, normal students going about their daily routines. Sadly, we could easily substitute the name of any U.S. university for Virginia Tech. Images of what happened on April 16 in Blacksburg have filled the thoughts and minds of university students, faculty, and staff across the nation.

Reports of frantic parents trying to reach their loved ones and of cell phones ringing in the pockets of dead students affected the psyche of an entire country. The Virginia Tech shootings were preceded and followed by several other instances of deadly violence on at least various other educational campuses.

The shootings at Virginia Tech remind us that violent behavior often occurs in unexpected places under hard-to-predict circumstances. It is interesting that recent shootings on U.S. campuses have occurred when rates for most types of aggression and violence have achieved their lowest levels in years.

Trends in Aggression and Violence
Trends in aggression and violence generally mirror a host of individual, social, and economic patterns. For example, the well-documented increase in youth violence between the late 1980s and mid-1990s was linked to increases in gang involvement and crack cocaine use. Conversely, reductions in youth violence in the past decade have been associated with the implementation of innovative law enforcement strategies, improvements in economic opportunities, and efficacious prevention approaches in communities and schools. Disentangling and interpreting trends in violent conduct, however, is a daunting task for policy officials and practitioners.

Offender and victimization data compiled by the U.S. Department of Justice reveal a decrease in violence between the mid-1990s and 2004. For example, the rate of violent crime for the offenses of murder, forcible rape, robbery, and aggravated assault decreased 26% between 1996 and 2004.

Similarly, data from the National Crime Victimization Survey, an annual household survey of crime victimization in the United States, indicate that the victimization rate for violent crime fell to an all-time low of 21 incidents per 1,000 residents in 2005 (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007). Finally, a decline in juvenile violence has also been reported widely in recent years; for example, the arrest rate for violent crimes by youths under the age of 18 decreased by 49% between 1994 and 2004.

However, an increase in violent crime rates among adults in the past few years may signal an end to the downward turn in violent crime in the United States. Notably, overall violent crime increased by a little more than 2% between 2004 and 2005, and data released in 2007 by the Federal Bureau of Investigation indicate that violent crime increased 1% between 2005 and 2006.

In sum, trends of violent conduct in the United States reveal both optimism and concern. On the one hand, a decade-long decline in violence has led to a greater sense of security among many citizens and to more opportunities for people at greatest risk of criminal involvement. However, recent increases in gun violence may signal that a new trend of escalating violence is emerging among adults and young people in the United States.

Regardless of the validity of these apparent trends, U.S. citizens appear to be concerned about the sheer volume of media reports detailing violent conduct among adults and young people in the past several years. Aggressive and violent behavior remains unacceptably high in the United States, particularly in comparison to other nations in the international community.

Directions for Practice, Policy, and Research
Although helpful in understanding the epidemiology of violent conduct, offender and victimization trends neither offer specific solutions to preventing aggression and violence nor portend exactly the type of violent acts committed at Virginia Tech. However, trends in violence and advances in detecting, preventing, and treating violent offenders suggest at least two key areas of social intervention.

Connecting Violence and Mental Illness
Profiles of the perpetrators of school shootings in the past decade reveal that many shooters experienced mental health problems before their decisions to engage in violence. In many cases, including the Columbine High School shootings in Litdeton.CO, the perpetrators had been isolated socially from their peers and had been the recipients of bullying and teasing from other students.

Other shooters had been diagnosed with mental health problems such as depression and anxiety that went untreated. Mr. Cho was referred for counseling several times at Virginia Tech following his submission of violence laced poetry and short stories in English classes. Images in his writings included frequent references to hate and death. Unfortunately, his participation in counseling and therapy was sporadic, and no requirements were available to force Mr. Cho to continue his therapy.

In the wake of the Virginia Tech shootings, President Bush formed a study group to examine a variety of issues, including the relationship between mental health and violence. Released June 13, 2007, the Report to the President on Issues Raised by the Virginia Tech Tragedy describes the need for universities, law enforcement, and human services agencies to more effectively share information about troubled students such as Mr. Cho. The report also emphasizes the need for people with mental illness to receive treatment.

We know that the link between mental health problems and violence should be given more attention in education, research, and policy circles. School social workers and mental health professionals should receive ongoing training in recognizing the possibility that students with mental health problems may be at elevated risk of aggression and violence. Researchers need to improve the ability to detect the likelihood of violence among young people who suffer from mental health problems or disorders.

Finally, institutional policies must be more effective in ensuring that students who are.......referred for treatment actually receive the help they need. Of course, the line between experiencing mental health problems and committing violent acts is a complex and fuzzy one. Most young people and adults with mental health problems never engage in violence. Yet, finding markers that elevate the risk of violence and ensuring appropriate treatments for mental health disorders must be key public policy, research, and practice goals.
Enhanced Gun Control Policies


Gun control legislation has had a long and inconsistent history in the United States. Congress first passed laws controlling firearms in the early 20th century. Throughout the past century, the issue has been debated frequently by opponents and proponents. Each side has used a different interpretation of the Second Amendment of the Constitution, a provision giving citizens the right to bear arms, to boost its arguments for or against gun control. Background checks and purchasing limitations, trigger locks, and the use of assault weapons have been among the hotly debated issues.

Historically, the majority of gun control acts have been generated and either passed or not approved at the state level. State dominance of gun control legislation has resulted in a rather piecemeal approach to the regulation of guns. The House of Representatives recently approved legislation to close the loophole that allowed Mr. Cho to buy firearms despite a documented history of mental health problems.

Symbolically, the bill was approved on the same day the national report detailing what occurred at Virginia Tech was released. The new legislation, pending approval from the Senate, should help ensure that information about people restricted from purchasing or possessing firearms is contained in the National Instant Criminal Background Check System.

Although gun control legislation occurs in the context of cultural and social tradition and is fueled greatly by conflicting special interest and political beliefs about the role of government regulation, history tells us that countries using strict laws to regulate firearms consistently have lower homicide and violence rates than the United States. Strict gun control might have averted the recent Virginia Tech shootings. However, rational gun control legislation remains one of the nation's best ways to curb aggression and violence.

Aggression and violence in the United States remain vexing problems that require several key responses. First, universal prevention programs and targeted treatment strategies for people at risk of aggressive behavior are needed to address the established link between mental illness and the potential for violence. Sadly, many perpetrators of gun violence are themselves victims of mental illness who find it all too easy to obtain and use firearms. Efficacious interventions that break the potentially dangerous relationship between violence and mental illness should be a public policy priority.

Finally, in an effort to find legislative solutions to regulate firearms effectively, lobbying efforts aimed at sane gun control policies must be a public policy priority. Social work's presence in these efforts should be continued and enhanced.

Child- parent bonding and parenting skills are crucial to stop the ever escalating violence among the youth in this country. The findings reinforce the importance of parental supervision as a protective factor against involvement with antisocial peers.

Credits: Jeffrey M Jenson. Social Work Research. Washington: Sep 2007. Vol. 31, Iss. 3; pg. 131, 4 pgs

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Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Obama Gets Gun-Shy; Despite a Recent Spate of Killings

On the morning of April 4, Richard Poplawski had a quarrel with his mother. It was over a dog urinating on a carpet. Mom called the police to have her 22-year-old son evicted from her house, a brick ranch with a dirty aluminum awning in the Stanton Heights neighborhood of Pittsburgh.

Two officers responded to the call, figuring it was a typical domestic dispute. Margaret Poplawski greeted them by saying, "Come and take his ass." But the younger Poplawski, who had been laid off from his job in a glass factory recently, had other plans. He went to a private arms cache in the house, retrieved his guns and strapped on a Kevlar bulletproof vest.


Poplawski shot officer Paul J. Sciullo II, 37, inside the house and hit 29-year-old Stephen Mayhle on the stoop. Both men fell dead. Poplawski calmly stood in the doorway and fired two or three more bullets into Mayhle's body, according to a police affidavit from a witness. Then he retreated into the house and fired hundreds of rounds, using an AK-47 assault rifle and other weapons to fend off a police SWAT team for four hours. He killed one other cop, 41-year-old Eric Kelly, and wounded yet another.

It was the deadliest day in the history of the Steel City's police department. When police finally apprehended and questioned Poplawski, he was without remorse. "He said he wishes he could have killed more Pittsburgh police officers," says a cop who was on the scene but asked not to be identified talking about an ongoing case. (Poplawski's lawyer did not respond to multiple requests for comment last week.)

There was a time when a creep like Poplawski would have become a potent symbol in the debate over gun control. He wasn't your run-of-the-mill malcontent. A white supremacist, he frequented the chat rooms of racist Web sites, where he posted screeds about a "Zionist occupation" bringing the country to economic ruin. But Keith Savage, manager of the Braverman Arms Co., where Poplawski got many of his guns (but not the AK-47, Savage claims), says nothing seemed amiss when he filled out Form 4473-the standard questionnaire for federally required background checks.

The gun-shop staff had no way of knowing, for instance, about Poplawski's January 2005 discharge from the Marines for what Lt. Josh Diddams, a U.S. Marine Corps spokesman, tells NEWSWEEK was a "psychological disorder" (he had assaulted his drill sergeant during basic training, says Poplawski's mother). They probably also didn't know that Poplawski's former girlfriend had gotten a restraining order against him, later in 2005, after he grabbed her by the hair and threatened to kill her.

In the past, national political leaders might have raised troubling questions about how such an unstable character could obtain easy access to high-powered weapons. They might have been even more motivated given that Poplawski's cop-killing spree was part of a near epidemic of mass homicides that have left 58 people dead over the past month. Or given that Mexico's insanely violent drug cartels are arming themselves with high-powered assault weapons purchased at U.S. gun stores and later smuggled south of the border. Yet many past champions of stricter gun-control measures are silent.

These include top Obama White House officials who have squelched any talk within the administration about pushing further gun-control measures. "It's weird," says Peter Hamm, the communications director for the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence. "When you see people like [Attorney General] Eric Holder or Hillary Clinton or [White House chief of staff] Rahm Emanuel become muted on this issue, you feel like you want to call up a friend and say, 'What's up?' "

Running for president in last year's Democratic primaries, Barack Obama promised to restore a federal ban on certain semiautomatic assault guns-a position that's still on the White House Web site. The ban was originally passed by the Democratic-controlled Congress in 1994 and lapsed five years ago. In recent years the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives has also lifted virtually all restrictions on imports of foreign-made assault weapons, permitting a flood of cheap Romanian, Bulgarian and other Eastern European AK-47s to enter the country, according to gun-control groups. "There's been an absolute deluge of these weapons," says Kristen Rand of the Violence Policy Center.

But Obama and top White House aides have all but abandoned the issue. Emanuel helped orchestrate passage of the original assault-weapons ban when he worked in the Clinton White House. Now he and other White House strategists have decided they can't afford to tangle with the National Rifle Association at a time when they're pushing other priorities, like economic renewal and health-care reform, say congressional officials who have raised the matter. (According to his office, Emanuel couldn't be reached for comment because he was observing the Passover holiday.)

A White House official, who asked not to be identified discussing internal strategy, says, "There isn't support in Congress for such a ban at this time." Ben LaBolt, a White House spokesman, says, "The president supports the Second Amendment, respects the tradition of gun ownership in this country, and he believes we can take common-sense steps to keep our streets safe," pointing to $2 billion in new funding for state and local law enforcement in the stimulus package.

Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, a New York Democrat, is one of those who are impatient with their party's silence. She has reason to be: a gunman firing randomly on a Long Island commuter train on Dec. 7, 1993, killed her husband, Dennis, and severely injured her son, Kevin. But when she pressed Obama transition officials to take up the issue, they were clear about their priorities: "They told me that's not for now, that's for later."

The word didn't get........through to everyone in the administration, resulting in mixed messages-and blowback from the NRA. In February, Holder called for restoring the federal ban on assault guns to help curb the flow of weapons to the Mexican cartels. As soon as he made the call, however, the NRA launched a fierce lobbying campaign-and 65 House Democrats signed a letter vowing to resist any gun-control measures. In the Senate, Montana Democrats Max Baucus and Jon Tester sent their own warning. "Senators to Attorney General Holder: Stay Away From Our Guns," read the press release.

Within days, White House aides instructed Justice officials to stop talking about the assault-weapons issue, according to congressional and administration officials who asked not to be identified because of political sensitivities. (A Justice Department spokesman declined to comment.) Last week, in an interview with Katie Couric, Holder skirted questions about reinstating the assault-weapons ban and also about a gaping loophole that permits people to purchase arms at gun shows without background checks. "I understand the Second Amendment. I respect the Second Amendment," said Holder, after denying that he had been instructed to "back off" the gun-control measures.

The new Democratic squishiness on guns is all about politics. Democratic leaders like House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and House Majority Leader Steny Hoyer are determined to protect the seats of "blue dogs" from rural districts who are essential to preserving the party's majority in the House. "The Democratic Party understands this is a losing issue ... It's a dead loser," says Democratic Rep. Dan Boren, of Muskogee, Okla. "Its one of the reasons they lost the Congress in 1994 and Al Gore was not elected president in 2000."

Boren is a good example of the kind of young blue dog who now holds sway on this issue. A lifelong hunter who bagged his first deer at the age of 9-and has a stockpile of 15 guns at home-Boren is an NRA member who was elected last year to the lobby's board of directors. "I can tell you, that assault-weapons ban is just an excuse to take away a sportsman's shotguns," he says. Boren also understands the political dynamics of his district, in which Obama got only 36 percent of the vote (while Boren cruised to reelection with 70 percent). "For a Democrat to run in eastern Oklahoma, we can't support gun control. We shouldn't go back and refight old battles. This is an old debate."

The NRA loves blue dogs like Boren. The organization feels that it's stronger in Congress than it has been in at least two decades. Emboldened by a Supreme Court decision last year that affirmed Second Amendment rights, the lobby has pushed a series of congressional measures that are diluting gun restrictions.

With virtually no public notice, the Senate recently passed an amendment to the budget bill that would reverse a post-9/11 policy and allow passengers to bring guns in their checked bags on Amtrak trains. (In passing the amendment by an overwhelming margin, the Senate ignored pleas by Amtrak officials that the measure could endanger safety.) More troublesome for Democratic leaders, an amendment eliminating most D.C. gun laws has been added to a historic bill giving the city's residents voting representation in Congress.

Gun-rights advocates argue that nuts like Richard Poplawski will always be able to kill people. He apparently bought his guns legally. His military discharge didn't count against him for gun purchases, because only a dishonorable discharge "adjudged" in a court-martial is a disqualifier for gun buyers. The restraining order against him had expired in 2006, so that didn't hurt him either.

But gun enthusiasts argue that even if Poplawski had been banned from getting assault weapons, he would have found a way. One of the reasons he was stocking up on guns, says his mother, is because he feared Obama would take them away. "If you make guns illegal, only the people who don't follow the law will have them," says the Pittsburgh police officer who was at the scene of Poplawski's standoff.

Joanne Dubaniewicz, who watched much of Poplawski's massacre from her house across the street, thinks that's crazy. She is struggling with her memories of a wounded officer who was lying in the road. "The thing that is most upsetting is Officer Kelly started moving around," she says. "We watched him dying." Dubaniewicz is a trained nurse; she had a tourniquet and some bandages to help try to save Kelly, but she and her boyfriend-a combat war vet-were too scared to go outside. "Something is very, very wrong with the system," she says. That might sound like a sensible refrain. But you'll struggle to hear a leading Democrat repeat it these days.


Credits: Michael Isikoff, Suzanne Smalley. Newsweek. New York: Apr 20, 2009. Vol. 153, Iss. 16


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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Gun Violence and Public Health

The blood had not yet dried in the lecture rooms of Virginia Tech, Blacksburg, Virginia, before polarized camps claimed that the slaughter of 32 students and teachers vindicated their particular stance on gun control. So shrill was the debate about whether the tragedy would have been better prevented by reducing firearms through stronger gun laws or by increasing availability through liberalizing right-to-carry legislation, that the more important issue of gun violence as a public-health menace has been neglected.

Until the debate widens to address violence as a preventable social problem, rather than solely a legal concern, mass shootings will continue. To pretend that the Blacksburg tragedy is unique ignores the legacy of school shootings in Dunblane, Columbine, and elsewhere, and deprives people of an opportunity to reduce future risks.

Violence is a broad problem that involves communities, not just criminals, and populations around the world, not just the USA. In 2003, 1.6 million people were killed by violence worldwide, more than by road traffic crashes or malaria. One-third died as a result of homicide. The incidence is rising, fuelled by inequalities, victimization, and lack of social trust, so that gunshot wounds are a major cause of death for young men.

Because the USA has the highest homicide and gun-homicide rates of any industrialized democracy, the country is a natural focus for attempts to learn more about violence. But despite many federally funded programs, objective research on interventions to reduce violence is lacking. Nor has the Campbell Collaboration, established to synthesize evidence for the social sciences, provided guidance. In 2004, the US National Research Council critically reviewed gun violence and concluded that there was little quality science to inform decision making. The reason is that most studies are based on associations or on before-and-after series.

A 2004 survey from Harvard estimated that 38% of households and 26% of individuals had at least one of the 283 million private firearms in the USA. Even teenagers report ready access to guns. Several studies in the USA and elsewhere cite protection as the main reason for having a gun, despite the fact that guns are far more likely to be used offensively, including suicide, than for self-defense. The association of firearms and their use in homicide between populations (four shooting deaths per 100 000 in the USA vs 0.15 per 100000 in Cameroon where private guns are banned) is complex and obviously involves cultural factors as well.

Yet, interventions within populations that remove guns do seem to reduce gun crime in a reproducible manner. In 2003, more than half the guns retrieved from crimes were traced to 1% of dealers. When such a dealer in Milwaukee stopped selling inexpensive handguns, local gun crime was reduced by 96% and the transfer of new weapons to criminals decreased by 44%. In Indianapolis, Pittsburgh, and Kansas City, policing to remove illegal firearms from the street reduced gun crime as well. Multiple interventions combining social networks with stronger enforcement can also be successful, such as the 63% drop in homicides after Operation Ceasefire in Boston. Tougher gun laws in Brazil in 2003, allied with a buy-back program of 450000 guns, reduced the gun-homicide rate by 8% and hospitalization for gunshots by 4.6%.

How can such findings inform sensible policy decisions? The National Research Council concludes that individual-level data are needed. Characteristics of victims can be enhanced with WHO's International Classification of External Causes of Injuries, which by introducing standard reporting criteria, enables comparisons between studies. But there are few details about perpetrators, since criminal background checks for sales by gun dealers are destroyed within 24 h and private second-hand sales, which constitute 40% of gun transfers in the USA, are not recorded. To understand assailants' risk factors requires records of gun ownership or ballistic fingerprinting, to which the powerful US National Rifle Association is opposed.

The events in Blacksburg on April 16 demand a more mature evaluation of gun violence, based on the right to health instead of the right to bear arms, and which places public welfare above self-interest. The National Research Council's call for accurate, individual-level data from rigorous studies is essential, in order to provide robust information on which sound interventions can be based. But until such data are available, the best current evidence clearly supports an immediate reduction in the availability of firearms as a public-health priority.


Credits: The Lancet, London

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Monday, April 13, 2009

Guns, Fear, the Constitution, and the Public Health

It is 1992, and schoolmates Yoshihiro Hattori and Webb Haymaker have been invited to a Halloween party. Yoshi, a 16-year-old exchange student and avid dancer, wears a white tuxedo like John Travolta's in Saturday Night Fever. By mistake, they stop at a house up the block from their destination. No one answers the doorbell.

Inside are Rodney and Bonnie Peairs. She opens a side door momentarily, sees the boys, and yells to her husband, "Get the gun." He does (it is a .44 magnum Smith & Wesson revolver) and reopens the door. Yoshi and Webb, by now back at the sidewalk, start to return. Yoshi exclaims, "We're here for the party!"

"Freeze!" responds Peairs. Yoshi does not understand the idiom. He approaches the house, repeating his statement about the party. Peairs shoots him once in the chest. Thirty minutes later, Yoshi dies in an ambulance. Bonnie Peairs would later testify, "There was no thinking involved."

Many health care professionals read of such cases without surprise, grimly recognizing in them the familiar picture of gun violence in the United States. That picture also includes the dozens killed and wounded this past year in a terrible series of mass-casualty shootings at educational institutions, shopping malls, places of business, and places of worship, beginning last April 16 at Virginia Tech (33 dead) and ending, for the moment, at a Wendy's restaurant in West Palm Beach, Florida. Many of these innocent people were shot with guns that had been purchased recently and legally.

In 2005, in this country, 30,694 people died from gunshot wounds; 17,002 cases were suicides, 12,352 were homicides, and 1340 were accidental, police-related, or of undetermined intent. Nearly 70,000 more people received treatment for nonfatal wounds in U.S. emergency departments. The disheartening 30% case fatality rate is 18 times that for injuries to motorcyclists.

More than 80% of gun-related deaths are pronounced at the scene or in the emergency department; the wounds are simply not survivable. This reality is reflected in the fact that the $2 billion annual costs of medical care for the victims of gun violence are dwarfed by an estimated overall economic burden, including both material and intangible costs, of $100 billion. 1 It's unlikely that health care professionals will soon prevent a greater proportion of shooting victims from dying; rather, we as a society must prevent shootings from occurring in the first place.

Gun violence is often an unintended consequence of gun ownership. Americans have purchased millions of guns, predominantly handguns, believing that having a gun at home makes them safer. In fact, handgun purchasers substantially increase their risk of a violent death. This increase begins the moment the gun is acquired -- suicide is the leading cause of death among handgun owners in the first year after purchase -- and lasts for years.

The risks associated with household exposure to guns apply not only to the people who buy them; epidemiologically, there can be said to be "passive" gun owners who are analogous to passive smokers. Living in a home where there are guns increases the risk of homicide by 40 to 170% and the risk of suicide by 90 to 460%. Young people who commit suicide with a gun usually use a weapon kept at home, and among women in shelters for victims of domestic violence, two thirds of those who come from homes with guns have had those guns used against them.

Legislatures have misguidedly enacted a radical deregulation of gun use in the community (See map).


State-Specific Firearm-Related Mortality per 100,000 Persons (2005) and Current Policies Regarding Expanded Use of Lethal Force and Permissibility of Carrying Concealed Weapons

Thirty-five states issue a concealed-weapon permit to anyone who requests one and can legally own guns; two states have dispensed with permits altogether. Since 2005, a total of 14 states have adopted statutes that expand the range of places where people may use guns against others, eliminate any duty to retreat if possible before shooting, and grant shooters immunity from prosecution, sometimes even for injuries to bystanders.

Such policies are founded on myths. One is that increasing gun ownership decreases crime rates -- a position that has been discredited. Gun ownership and gun violence rise and fall together. Another myth is....... that defensive gun use is very common. The most widely quoted estimate, 2.5 million occurrences a year, is too high by a factor of 10.


Policies limiting gun ownership and use have positive effects, whether those limits affect high-risk guns such as assault weapons or Saturday night specials, high-risk persons such as those who have been convicted of violent misdemeanors, or high-risk venues such as gun shows. New York and Chicago, which have long restricted handgun ownership and use, had fewer homicides in 2007 than at any other time since the early 1960s. Conversely, policies that encourage the use of guns have been ineffective in deterring violence. Permissive policies regarding carrying guns have not reduced crime rates, and permissive states generally have higher rates of gun-related deaths than others do.

In 1976, Washington, D.C., took action that was consistent with such evidence. Having previously required that guns be registered, the District prohibited further registration of handguns, outlawed the carrying of concealed guns, and required that guns kept at home be unloaded and either disassembled or locked.


These laws worked. Careful analysis linked them to reductions of 25% in gun homicide and 23% in gun suicide, with no parallel decrease (or compensatory increase) in homicide and suicide by other methods and no similar changes in nearby Maryland or Virginia. Homicides rebounded in the late 1980s with the advent of "crack" cocaine, but today the District's gun-suicide rate is lower than that of any state.

In 2003, six District residents filed a federal lawsuit alleging that the statutes violated the Second Amendment of the Constitution, which reads, "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." The case was dismissed, but in March 2007, a divided panel of the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals reversed the dismissal, finding "that the Second Amendment protects an individual right to keep and bear arms," subject to "permissible form[s] of regulatory limitation," as are the freedoms of speech and of the press.

The District appealed, and on March 18, 2008, the Supreme Court heard oral arguments in the case of District of Columbia v. Heller.The Court is considering whether the statutes "violate the Second Amendment rights of individuals who are not affiliated with any state-regulated militia, but who wish to keep handguns and other guns for private use in their homes."

It will first need to decide whether such rights exist. The District argues, on the basis of the history of the Bill of Rights and judicial precedent, that the Amendment guarantees a right to bear arms only in the service of a well-regulated state militia (which was once considered a vital counterweight to a standing federal army). It argues secondarily that should the Court extend Second Amendment rights to include the possession of guns for private purposes, the statutes remain valid as reasonable limitations of those rights.

No one predicts that a constitutionally protected right to use guns for private purposes, once it's been determined to exist, will remain confined to guns kept at home. Pro-gun organizations have worked effectively at the state level to expand the right to use guns in public, and all but three states generally prohibit local regulation. If people have broadly applicable gun rights under the Constitution, all laws limiting those rights -- and criminal convictions based on those laws -- will be subject to judicial review. Policymakers will avoid setting other limitations, knowing that court challenges will follow.

Consider Yoshi Hattori's death in light of District of Columbia v. Heller. Rodney Peairs was tried for manslaughter. His lawyer summarized Peairs's defense as follows: "You have the legal right to answer everybody that comes to your door with a gun." A Louisiana jury acquitted him after 3 hours' deliberation. That state's laws now justify homicide under many circumstances, including compelling an intruder to leave a dwelling or place of business, and provide immunity from civil lawsuits in such cases. Thirteen other states have followed suit.

A Supreme Court decision broadening gun rights and overturning the D.C. statutes would be widely viewed as upholding such policies. By promoting our sense of entitlement to gun use against one another, it could weaken the framework of ordered liberty that makes civil society possible.

(Data are from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the National Rifle Association, and the Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence.)

Credits: Garen J Wintemute. The New England Journal of Medicine. Boston: Apr 3, 2008. Vol. 358, Iss. 14; pg. 1421
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Sunday, April 12, 2009

Violent Death in American Schools in the 21st Century: Reflections

On October 2, 2006, shootings at the West Nickel Mines Amish School resulted in the homicides of 5 female students and the suicide of the adult male perpetrator. This was the 19th violent death incident in Pennsylvania schools since 1992 and the 9th such incident of the 21st century in the state, based on data collected by the National School Safety Center.

Since 1992, both the NSSC and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have tracked school-associated violent deaths occurring each school year throughout the country. NSSC identifies cases through a newspaper clipping service and voluntary reports from state and local education agencies and maintains a report based on this data collection process. The CDC bases its case finding on both the NSSC report plus the additional data sources. The 2 registries are not expected to be the same because the CDC and NSSC use slightly different criteria for case finding and case definition.

School-associated violent deaths represent less than 1% of all homicides and suicides that occur among school-aged children. Nevertheless, these types of events pose special problems for students, parents, schools, and communities. This commentary reviews the continuing pattern of this public health problem into the 21st century, known risk factors, and actions that can be taken by medical and public health professionals to address this issue.

Descriptive Epidemiology of the Problem:

In 1996, the CDC and its partners published the first comprehensive review of school-associated violent deaths during 1992-1993 and 1993-1994, confirming 105 deaths (76 student deaths) in 25 states. In 2001, the CDC and its partners updated this review by focusing on the subsequent 5-year period, confirming 253 deaths (172 student deaths). The US Departments of Education and Justice recently reported the total number of student deaths, by year, through 2004-2005, using CDC data on school-associated violent deaths. The total number of school-associated homicides occurring each school year during the 1990s varied between 28 and 34. The number dropped to 13 and 11 during 1999-2000 and 2000-2001, respectively, and has steadily increased to 21 deaths during 2004-2005. No consistent pattern was observed, however, for school-associated suicides. The total number of suicides occurring each year over this 13-year period varied between 1 and 9. The current NSSC report identified more than 400 deaths in 43 states since 1992.

The two CDC papers, the current NSSC report, and other investigations provide valuable information on patterns and potential risk factors. Most cases happened in high schools and in suburban or urban settings and involved non-white youths, males, and firearms. A primary motive for these events was an interpersonal dispute. Evaluations of homicide and suicide events in American schools in the 1990s by the CDC and other partners revealed significant temporal variations in these events over the school year. Student homicide rates were highest near the start of each semester, while suicide rates showed no special variation, although the trend was generally higher in the spring semester.

Most events involved only 1 death, although the trend for multiple victim events has increased since the early 1990s. In Colorado, the Columbine High School multiple victim event in April 1999, that resulted in 13 homicides and 2 suicides, has been the largest multiple victim event over the 15-year period. Although "mega" events such as this (events resulting in 5 or more deaths) are very rare, they have happened on several occasions. According to the NSSC report, these events began in March of 1998 with an event in an Arizona middle school, and continued in 1999 with the Columbine incident, in March of 2005 with an event at Minnesota's Red Lake High School, and in 2006 with the Amish school incident.

The current NSSC report of deaths and events that occurred since 1992 in 43 states reveals pertinent state trends. The 5 states with the highest number of events were California (58 events), Texas (31 events), Florida (24 events). New York (21 events), and Pennsylvania (19 events). The ranking generally corresponds to the ranking of these states by size of the state population. For these states, the occurrence of 1 or more events during every school year was a fairly regular pattern. California showed the greatest regularity, having only 1 school year (2001-2002) with no events or cases. The only mega event among these 5 states happened in Pennsylvania with the Amish school incident. Since 1992, Arizona, Colorado, and Minnesota experienced mega events during 4 or fewer school years.

Violence Involving American Youth: A Continuing Medical and Public Health Problem:
In a recent report on violence-related behaviors among American high school students, the CDC noted that declines have occurred in weapon carrying and physical fighting that is consistent with a decline in the national youth homicide rate. The CDC also noted, however, that other types of violent youth behavior have not declined.

The rate of firearm-related deaths among young males in the United States has been shown to be 4.5 times to greater than 50 times higher than rates reported in other selected developed countries. The greatest difference in rates appeared between the United States and England and Wales. Among the leading causes of death for people aged 10-24 in 2003, unintentional injury was ranked first, followed by homicide and suicide.

This trend remained the same for males but not for females (homicide was ranked third and suicide was fourth). Among black males, homicide was the leading cause of death, followed by unintentional injury and then suicide.

School-associated violent death has been described as a sentinel health event, underscoring its status as a unique public health problem. Two objectives related to this topic in the Healthy People 2010 initiative are reducing the prevalence of physical fighting among adolescents and reducing the prevalence of carrying a weapon by adolescents on school property.

Although efforts by the CDC and NSSC to monitor violent deaths in American schools have provided useful information, routine surveillance of school associated violent deaths at the state level is required in the future to better address public concerns and improve prevention initiatives.3 Progress in this area has already been made by the CDC's National Center for Injury Prevention and Control. NCIPC is involved with the study of injury and its causes, such as violence in American society. Recently, NCIPC developed the National Violent Death Reporting System, a nationwide, state-based monitoring system designed to provide comprehensive information about patterns and trends in fatal violence. This system will be helpful to answer questions about violence, such as are violent deaths in schools changing. As of January 2007, the CDC was funding 17 states to implement the NVDRS.

The NCIPC also provides useful information on its Web site regarding school-associated violent deaths. This information includes a list of resources that provide additional guidance. An example is the CDC's School Health Guidelines to Prevent Unintentional Injuries and Violence. This report describes efforts to provide social and physical environments that promote safety and prevent violence in schools and outlines 8 recommendations for school health initiatives to reduce violence in schools. Recommendation 3 addresses the health education curricula and instruction. Recommendation 5 addresses the health, counseling, psychological, and social services that can help students who may be at risk of committing violent acts. School health nurses, counselors, and psychologists are critical healthcare providers on the front lines in schools and should be involved with all pertinent school health initiatives.

Physicians, as well as other healthcare providers in the community, should also partner with schools on school-based initiatives to prevent violence. A special issue of the American Journal of Preventive Medicine recently provided valuable information on training healthcare professionals in youth violence prevention. One article describes the positive experience at 3 of the 10 CDC funded Academic Centers of Excellence on Youth Violence Prevention. These centers are designed to benefit the special populations supported by these medical centers.

The 2006 Amish School Shootings: Thinking Outside the Box:

Based on a review of violent deaths that have occurred in American schools since 1992, an important lesson is that these events can happen anywhere and interventions should not only be targeted at those subgroups that have higher prevalence rates. For example, the perpetrator in Amish school shootings, a mega event, was an adult male, while perpetrators of all previous mega events were male students. Except for Pennsylvania, mega events occurred in states that experienced these events during 4 or fewer school years since 1992.

Although most violent deaths occurred in ..... urban settings and in high schools, the 4 mega events occurred in suburban or rural areas. Two of these events occurred in a middle or elementary school. Other violent death incidents have also occurred in middle and elementary school settings. Also, although incidents involving both homicide and suicide happen only about 20% of the time, 3 of the 4 mega events involved both homicide and suicide.

In a recent article, Dr Peter Lewis, a physician serving as a member of the Steering Committee of Physicians for Social Responsibility, compared actions by industry and federal and state government to the recent tainted spinach episode in the United States to lack of action by these same groups in the wake of the Amish school shootings. In this article, Dr Lewis highlights that the use of firearms in this country is responsible for more injury and death than food outbreaks such as the spinach episode and, therefore, should deserve much greater attention, particularly by government, to protect the public health.

Conclusions:

Although study of the descriptive epidemiology of violent deaths in American schools yields useful information on risk factors and high-risk groups, there is a need for caution since these events continue to occur in unpredictable ways. The 2006 Amish School shootings in a rural area by an adult perpetrator clearly did not fit the mold. The lesson is that intervention strategies are needed in all communities. Additionally, healthcare professionals need to focus on 3 key risk factors in their continuing efforts at health-risk reduction to this problem: 1) most violent deaths are firearms related, 2) most perpetrators are male, and 3) the usual motive is an interpersonal dispute.

As noted by the NSSC,1 32 governors (including Governor Rendell from Pennsylvania) joined NSSC in proclaiming October 15-21 as Safe Schools Week. This initiative is one approach to help educate citizens on the importance of this issue. Excellent guidance is also available from the CDC to healthcare professionals, schools, communities, and the general public on various intervention strategies that can be applied within the school setting or at the community level to help reduce violent deaths in American schools.

A major conclusion of this commentary is that firearms continue to be the leading cause of violent deaths in American schools since 1992. All 4 mega events involved the use of firearms. Firearms laws are one of a number of approaches that can be used to reduce firearm-related violence. Reviews of selected US firearms laws using systematic epidemiologic evaluations, however, found insufficient evidence to determine the effectiveness of any of the laws or combination of the laws.1718 US law enforcement officials have also recently criticized efforts by the gun lobby to weaken gun laws. In the article, Police Commissioner Johnson of Philadelphia indicated that after years of decreases in gun violence, that city is experiencing a large increase in gun-related homicides. One of the 2 objectives on school violence included in the Healthy People 2010 initiative relates to reducing the prevalence of carrying a weapon by students. Follow-up on this federal health initiative hopefully will lead to a reduction in homicides and suicides in American schools.

The CDC and its partners highlighted the predominant role of firearms in US school-associated violent deaths during 1992-1994 and recommended that strategies be developed to reduce the availability of firearms in the school environment.2 Ten years later, that recommendation remains as important as ever. Clearly, better national, state, and local efforts are required to prevent such deaths and to better address the causes, including the use of firearms. The medical/ public health community also needs to be challenged to action and to better respond to school-associated violent deaths as well as other forms of youth violence.

Acknowledgement: James N Logue. The Journal of School Health. Kent: Jan 2008. Vol. 78, Iss. 1; pg. 58, 4 pgs
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Saturday, April 11, 2009

Rising Gun Violence: Why are We Shocked?

About two years ago, the Virginia Tech shootings shocked many across our nation. But if you felt shocked, then you weren't paying attention. To be shocked means what happened was unexpected, an accident - as if you had no way to see it coming. But is there no way to draw relationship between vast consumerism, violence, and the sale of guns? Buying a gun is as easy to some people as acquiring a doll or a pack of cigarettes.

Guns have become just another one of our gadgets. We keep them under the pillow; hold them like a screwdriver. Many U.S. citizens are conditioned to believe guns are needed to protect their "investments," to keep the plethora of accumulated materials safe from harm. Gun manufacturers don't even need to advertise their wares to the public. They've got all the free publicity they'll ever need through movies, television shows, video games, and monthly school shootings.
I'm trying to avoid pessimism, but change is not something that happens overnight. Change begins slowly, one dialogue at a time. I initiate some of these small conversations in the Alternatives to Violence workshops. The day after Virginia Tech, a student in one of my classes said, "If it can happen at VA Tech, it can happen anywhere." The fear is contagious and, perhaps now, no longer irrational. Thirty-three die and my students are saying, "VA Tech was one of my top choices, but there's no way in hell that you'll get me to go there now."

Blacksburg, Virginia: it's just the semblance of another day in Iraq, where in July of 2006 the United Nations recorded an average of 100 civilian deaths per day. So I ask my students: why are we more concerned when Americans die than when those of other nations die? One student says passionately, "The majority of Americans are so boxed in by borders that seldom do we extend our hearts and compassion to anyone who doesn't have a U.S. passport." Another student fires back, "Often we don't even express compassion for our fellow Americans."

The average U.S. adult today may feel an urge to have a gun, not unlike a child's desire for the next version of Madden Football for his X-Box video game console. We're addicted to buying things; guns are no exception. Why do we buy things? Because we think we need them. We think we need the newest pair of Nikes to run faster, the newest Audi Sports Coupe to impress the red-haired girl, the newest cell phone to communicate with our friends, and of course, how could we forget, a gun to keep us from getting shot and killed?




Without these things the average American may feel something is missing. Perhaps even that they're not living completely? Well, April 16, 2007, at Virginia Tech University, was quite disastrous for the living. It was a reminder of....... the dangerous materialistic path down which we're headed. Contrary to what many experts claimed afterward, it wasn't the largest massacre in U.S. history.

Remember the Tulsa massacre in 1921? Experts suggest over 300 African Americans were slaughtered that day. Or how about the Gnadenhutten massacre (also known as the Moravian massacre) of March 8, 1782? On that day, 96 Christian American Indians, including 68 women and children, were grossly slain by American militia from Pennsylvania.

And so it's just another day, isn't it? I didn't have to write this article the day after the killing spree, because there is a massacre happening today as well. Each day in the United States, according to The Centers for Disease Control, 41 people are murdered. Forty years after Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was murdered by an assassin's bullet, our streets - and our schools - are filled with more guns than ever.

I ask, "How many of you feel compassion for Cho SeungHui, the senior at Virginia Tech, who was majoring in English and shot everyone in sight - clearly not discriminating between race, nationality, or religion?" A scarce few raised their hands. "Does compassion discriminate? What would our society look like if one of our first instincts was to hold him in our thoughts and prayers as well as the victims of his terrible shootings?" A student says later, "What happened was necessary to wake up America."

So, what needs to happen?

First, we need to press corporations to stop producing weapons - and we need to stop buying so many of these "things," seeking a "quick fix." A gun makes it easy to act on emotions. Such violence may respond to one's immediate anger, but can lead to life-long regrets. For it is one thing if your girlfriend dumps you and a fistfight begins; but when was the last time you heard of a drive-by punch killing someone? Without guns, your chances of living to fight another day are exponentially increased.

It takes significantly more rage to beat someone over the head with a baseball bat to the point of death than it does to pull the trigger and introduce their brains to the sidewalk. With every blow of the fist, you are forced to experience and feel the pain of the other. Each blow allows more time for the rage to dissipate; with every hit you become a little more fatigued and have a chance to realize the severity of your actions. But give me a gun and I can do a lot more damage a lot more quickly, to a much larger number of people - can this be disputed?

'An attack committed with bare hands or a blunt instrument requires sustained effort against a victim who is actively trying to fight back or flee. These attacks often result in hospitalization followed by recovery. Using a knife decreases the victim's chances of survival, but still he/she may be able to fight or flee. A gun, however, allows the assailant to kill or wound in an instant, and to attack from a distance. Gunshot wounds are much more likely to be lethal - the reason that armies are equipped with firearms (For an overview of the lethality of firearms see Cukier and Sidel. Several studies have highlighted this lethality.

A comparison of hospital admissions of wound victims in South Africa found that 6% of knife wounds were fatal, while 28% of those with firearm wounds died. In Zambia, patients with firearm wounds required longer stays in hospital, and were admitted more frequently into intensive care units (ICU), and required more X-rays than contusions. When firearms have replaced traditional weapons in societies with pre-existing patterns of violence, observers found a marked increase in the lethality and destructiveness of conflict.

Crucially, firearms also increase lethality of "situational" violence, including fights fuelled by alcohol or other intoxicants; and gang violence. This killing may not be premeditated (and murderers may be very remorseful later). Use of firearms can turn a violent incident into one in which people are killed or suffer lasting disability.'

As the discussion continues, one of my students says we need guns to protect ourselves. The idea that one will be safer if they have a gun in their home - or on their person - is one of the most common misconceptions. The CDC says it is 22 times more likely that you will kill a member of your family than an intruder if you have a gun in your home. The CDC also states that U.S. kids are 16 times more likely to be murdered with a gun, 11 times more likely to commit suicide with a gun, and nine times more likely to die from a firearm accident than children in 25 other industrialized countries combined. U.S. children are more at risk from firearms than children of any other industrialized nation. In one year, firearms killed 19 in Great Britain, 57 in Germany, 109 in France, 153 in Canada, and 5,285 in the United States.

This is a problem in dire need of a solution. Putting down the guns, by stopping their production and sale, may not be the whole answer; but it surely would be a healthy start. We need to decrease consumerism in general, ill will towards our neighbor, violence, and yes, even guns.
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Wednesday, April 8, 2009

As the Foreclosed Move Out, First-Time Buyers Are Moving In

While her friends ran up credit card debt and bought show homes beyond their means, Taina Goldman saved for a down payment. She moved back in with her parents, sharing a room with her young daughter, ate in and worked two jobs.

"I don't live dangerously," said Ms. Goldman, 42, a nurse. "You can't live on 'what if.' "
Now, she is reaping the rewards. She and her daughter recently moved into a three-bedroom, two-bathroom ranch-style house, with a pool, after putting 20 percent down and persuading the seller to cover most of her closing costs. She paid $187,000 for a house that sold in July 2006 for $370,000.



And there are many more like her. Across Florida and other states with high numbers of foreclosures, severe declines in real estate values are reinvigorating a group of buyers previously priced out: middle-class families with steady jobs, who are often buying a home for the first time.
Figures released last week by the National Association of Realtors show that sales of existing homes across the country rose 5.1 percent in February, with much of the increase concentrated in foreclosed homes bought for less than $300,000. Even with tighter borrowing restrictions, many families used to renting are discovering that they can afford to own.

"They are the most active participants right now because they don't have the burden of having to sell their old homes," said James Diffley, a managing director at IHS Global Insight, a research firm. "You have a bunch of young people who were forced to sit on the sidelines because houses were so darn expensive, and now they're starting to come in."
Real estate agents in Arizona, Florida, Nevada and other states hit hard by the bust say they began to notice rising interest among first-time buyers a few months ago, as prices dropped by more than a third.

The addition of a tax credit of up to $8,000, part of the federal housing rescue plan passed in February, appears to be sweetening the pot for some of those buyers, while banks eager to unload foreclosed properties have also begun to offer incentives, like money for closing costs.

"A lot of the banks have adjusted their thinking," said John Ahlbrand, a real estate agent who with his wife, Ruth, owns ReMax Central in Las Vegas. "If they show they have the ability to repay -- imagine that -- then the bank helps."

In some areas, several families have pooled enough money to pay cash for homes. There are others, like Ms. Goldman, who saved enough to afford a traditional down payment and mortgage.
But in many cases, agents and loan officers say, first-time buyers are receiving loans insured by the Federal Housing Administration, which allow for lower credit scores and a down payment of only 3.5 percent.

Unlike the subprime mortgages doled out a few years ago to nearly anyone who asked, F.H.A. loans include strict income requirements. Buyers must document two years of employment history with pay stubs and W-2 forms that are verified by the underwriter, and they can typically borrow only around 31 percent of their income, or 43 percent when other debt is included.

Andrea Heuson, a finance professor at the University of Miami, said the tighter restrictions should help ensure that people who buy can afford to pay what they owe -- as long as they keep their jobs.

A second risk is that these new buyers will walk away if property values continue to drop.

Jennifer Vaughn's development in Homestead is one of many where prices seem to fall by the day.

A 26-year-old first-time buyer, Ms. Vaughn closed on a three-bedroom, three-bathroom townhouse in November, paying $87,000 for the foreclosed property with an F.H.A. loan. The price was ..... far below the $261,000 the house sold for in October 2006, but a few weeks ago, a townhouse with the same layout and fancier features sold for $75,000. And a third is about to close for $65,000, said Andy Lopez, a real estate agent at Keyes Company Realtors who found Ms. Vaughn her townhouse. So already, she appears to owe more than her home is worth. Not that she minds.

"I'm going to stay for five or six years at least," Ms. Vaughn said, "and I'm sure prices will go up somewhat by then."

She also has one of the recession's safest job: she works for a collection agency. Ms. Vaughn said she could afford her $1,100 monthly payment, which includes taxes and insurance, and had already settled in.

"It's like the best feeling," she said, admiring the arches in her doorways. "I never thought I could own."

Many other buyers are equally giddy.

Julio Cesar Memeses, 45, a construction worker who is about to close on a three-bedroom home in West Phoenix for $50,000, said he and his family were thrilled to own "a piece of the American dream." He said they were not worried about making their mortgage payments because the price was so low.

Ms. Goldman, too, said she felt pleased. "It's like, wow, I accomplished something," she said.

She said she had visited 200 properties before finding her current home late one night and deciding she had to have it. Sliding open the glass door to the pool on a sunny afternoon, she said: "I love the light. That's what captured me."

Her daughter, Tiffany Munro, 14, stood beside her. "I'm, like, this is my house," Tiffany said, looking skyward, and smiling. "I get to live here."

The house, a foreclosure in the Kendall neighborhood, needed a little work. Some lights had been removed, and the fence had been painted the colors of a rainbow. Tiffany insisted that the fence be repainted white ("like white picket fences in the old movies," she said).

Tiffany also asked permission to paint her bedroom wall with a mural of her own design -- a drawing with dozens of small hearts.

In all, Ms. Goldman said she spent about $6,000 fixing up the house. Like Ms. Vaughn, Ms. Goldman said she did not worry about declining prices because she had no plans to leave.

Asked if she felt vindicated -- rewarded for saving when so many others spent -- she said no. "It's sad that for me to buy a house, the economy had to be like it is," she said.

Sitting on her couch, overlooking the pool, Ms. Goldman said she feared that the drop in prices would draw back the same investors who created the housing bubble in the first place. Real estate agents said this was already happening, even as the wave of foreclosures and evicted families would most likely continue.

"It's not worth it in the end," Ms. Goldman said, adding, "It's unfortunate that I have to build my happiness on top of tears."

Credits: Damien Cave. New York Times. (Late Edition (East Coast)). New York, N.Y.: Apr 3, 2009. pg. A.1


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Monday, April 6, 2009

Father and Son Relationship in ‘Death of a Salesman’ and ‘Fences’

Once, talking about his relationship with his father, Arthur Miller said that it was, "like two searchlights on different islands." searching for each other. Nothing can describe better the theme of strained father-son relationship, Miller so passionately explores in his plays like 'Death of a Salesman' and 'All My Sons".

When asked about the reason for this recurring theme, Miller said, "The two greatest plays ever written were Hamlet and Oedipus Rex, and they're both about father-son relationships, you know. So this goes back." He further said that although "This is an old story. I didn't invent it and I'm sure it will happen again and again."

August Wilson's relationship with his father was far from normal. His father was a white German immigrant who never lived with the family and rarely made an appearance. So much so that August Wilson officially erased the memory of his father by adopting his mother's name in 1970s. Later on, David Bedford, an ex-convict whose race prevented him from getting a football scholarship became Wilson's stepfather.

August was a teenager then and the relationship between the father and son was rocky and turbulent. Bedford would later on become the source for his play 'Fences'. Troy Maxson, the protagonist of 'Fences' is a former baseball player who is blocked from the major leagues by segregation. He has a teenaged son, named Cory with whom he has a fractured father-son relationship. Troy's ouster from the game he loves, leaves him gravely embittered.

He is consumed with bitterness and is convinced that if you are a black man, "you born with two strikes on you before you come to the plate." Powerless to change his situation in society, Troy practically becomes a bully at home. This is one place where he can assert and find comfort in the fact that he is in control.

His family, especially his son Cory pays a price to keep him happy thus. Willy wants to make it big in the world of sales and fails miserably. Unable to accept the reality of his position, he turns into a shell of a man; totally incapable to play out his responsibilities as a wise energetic father. Hence, both the plays deal with abnormal psychology of the protagonists, leading to disastrous consequences.

Rev. C. Irving Cummings, of Old Cambridge Baptist Church, during one of his sermons commented: "Father/son relationship is a theme in our culture which is often surrounded with difficulty. How many times, in my office, or among my friends, have I heard a son's anguish and despair at feeling distant and unable to relate with his father."

It is chiefly the result of the generation gap. This chasm between the father and son can be clearly seen in "Fences." While in "Death of A Salesman" it is subtle till Biff openly announces, "Pop! I'm a dime a dozen, and so are you!"

Although, Happy is not Willy's favorite son, he does everything possible to keep Willy in good disposition. Actually, Willy never paid much attention to Happy as he had few expectations from him. As a result of this, Happy, in reality, fails to achieve much in life and keeps lying to Willy about his supposed success.

While, Biff ultimately realizes the futility of Willy loman's dreams, Happy stupidly continues to subscribe to them. He speaks out about Willy after his death, "He had a good dream, the only dream a man can have - to come out number one man. He fought it out here, and this where I'm gonna win it for him." This sure rings a bell. This is an indication that Happy has failed to take a leaf out of the tragic life of his father.

Troy's failure to play baseball in the Major League due to the color of his skin makes him grossly unjust towards his family, especially towards his sons. He denies them everything they like or feel good about. Cory is disallowed to play football because it is Cory's choice and not his father's. Troy is also least appreciative of Lyon's love for jazz music and dubs it as inconsequential 'Chinese music'.

He strongly disagrees with Rose who likes to play numbers. Cory's complaint to his father is significant, "You ain't never done nothing but hold me back. Afraid I was gonna be better than you. All you ever did was try and make me scared of you." This brings into mind the words of Rev. C. Irving Cummings about father-son relationship, "If Freud was right, there's a lot of "built-in" stuff around that relationship (father-son), perhaps in every culture—certainly in ours.

Freud, of course, said, famously, that fathers are inherently jealous of sons because of the attention they claim from the sons' mothers, their wives. Fathers are a fait accompli; sons are open, ready and yearning to become all the things their fathers are not".

Although Willy is a Whiteman and Troy is an Afro-American, they both represent the Post-Depression trauma in equal measure. The Depression years, particularly saw fragility of American families as a rising social problem. Miller and Wilson were very well aware of this fact. Miller had long realized, "a simple shift of relationships" could change ordinary plays into great ones.

He once said, "In the writing of father-son relationship and of the son's search for his relatedness there was a fullness of feeling I had never known before; a crescendo was struck with a force I could almost touch". The struggle between the father and son over conflicting visions, aspirations and values is the fulcrum and the axis around which the two plays revolve.

Instead of commanding respect, Troy literally demands respect from his son Cory and feels great about it. He is completely unmindful of the hurt, he causes in the process. He also fails to recognize the fact that times have changed and Cory stands a reasonable chance to represent the football team in the Major League.

According to Rev. C. Irving Cummings, "Freud, of course, received enormous criticism for his suggestion that there are such primitive forces at work between mothers and sons and fathers who, so predictably, and so often, react to their sons with such jealousy, rage and withdrawal."

Miller proves beyond any iota of doubt the........ negative influence of American dream on the American families. While Willy's chases American dream in the field of salesmanship, Troy Maxson tries to realize it in the arena of sports.

Biff is Willy's favorite son. He loves him so much that he forgets that Willy has grown up and has a personality of his own. His failure compounds Willy's grief. Willy Loman is squarely responsible for Biff's fiasco. He fills Biff with a lot of hot air, "I'll get him a job selling. He could be big in no time" He runs down Charley's son Bernard for not being "well-liked." He predicts, "Bernard can get the best marks in school . . . but when he gets out into the business world . . . you are going to be five times ahead of him. . . . Be liked and you will never want." He was totally wrong. Bernard grows up to become a successful Supreme Court lawyer.


Willy also makes Biff completely complacent about himself, "You got greatness in you, Biff. . . You got all kinds of greatness." He is also responsible for Biff's kleptomania. Had Willy not dismissed Biff's act of stealing football from the school as 'initiative,' Biff would not have become a compulsive thief. Biff largely suffers due to the blatantly wrong training his father imparted to him. This alone was sufficient to distance Biff from his father; top it with the Boston episode and you have a recipe for disaster.


Troy Maxson's name and the way he relates to his sons remind us of the famous Mason-Dixon Line that, starting in 1820, was the term used to describe the imaginary line separating the slave states from the free states. With that kind of a mindset, nothing much can be expected from Troy as a father.


Cory's words about his father surely reflect his inner pain, "The whole time I was growing up….living in the house…Papa was like a shadow that followed you everywhere. It weighed on you and sunk into your flesh….Trying to live through you. Everywhere I looked, Troy Maxson was looking at me…." Cory's revolt against his father is an assertion of his freedom. Troy cannot digest his son's courage to stand up against him.


All these years, Troy had been a big banyan tree denying any light or space to the plants below. Infuriated, he gives Cory marching orders, "If you don't get on the other side of that yard…I 'm gonna show you how crazy I am! Go on….get the hell out of my yard". Cory's reminder to his father, "You ain't never gave me nothing!" says it all. The father-son relationship hinges on love, caring and spirit of accommodation. This is something that Cory never got from his father. Lyon was lucky to escape Troy's wrath as he lived elsewhere. His interaction with his father was limited to the time when he visited him for money.


August Wilson portrays Troy as a person who himself had a tumultuous relationship with his father. In both the plays, the sons suffer substantially because of the weak moral character of their fathers. Biff is devastated when he catches his father red-handed with a prostitute. He loses interest in studies and his career gets derailed. Similarly, Troy betrays his wife Rose and has sexual relationship with another woman named Alberta. Both Willy and Troy fall from a high pedestal.


They never rise in the eyes of their sons again. Cory physically grapples with his father, the moment he learns about his father's infidelity towards his mother. This also paves way for Cory to find his manhood away from the dark shadow of his father. Once far from the overbearing and detrimental influence of his father, Cory finds his self-respect by becoming a Marine.


Miller also highlights the fact that Willy and his sons enjoyed a healthy and vibrant relationship in the past. The world then wasn't so commercial and claustrophobic. The father and the sons thoroughly enjoyed doing manual work and polishing their car in the open.


A part of Willy duly realized the importance of the days gone by and of having a safe haven away from the maddening crowd, "Before it's all over we're gonna get a little place out in the country, and I'll raise some vegetables, a couple of chickens..." The delicious memories of the family's idyllic past send out a clear signal to the readers; commercialization and urbanization is injurious to the well-being of American families. August Wilson's message in "Fences" is no different.


Willy may have failed miserably as a father but one cannot lose sight of the fact that he loved his sons very much. He wanted the best for his sons; only he couldn't deliver. He attains martyrdom by sacrificing his life for his sons. He leaves this world in peace, with the knowledge that his sons would be able to start their lives afresh with the 20000 dollars, they would get as his insurance money.


In reality Troy is also good at heart. He isn't that crazy either. The fact that he cries when Cory leaves him, shows that he loves him basically. His reminder to Lyon to take charge of his life and act responsibly is an important warning that Lyon ignored. As a result, Lyon lands in jail for encashing other people's checks. Similarly, when Cory wants his father to get him a television, Troy advises him to come up with half of its cost and he would gladly match it.

This shows that Troy did want his son Cory to stand up on his feet. Only, if he could get over his rage and illusions, he might have made a nice father. Cory's act of singing his father's song about dog named Blue with Raynell, at the time of Troy's funeral, certainly points in that direction. READ MORE!