An Educational Trigger

A celebration gone wrong

One odd incident from the New Year celebrations:  A woman in Phoenix, AZ poses for a picture with a handgun against the head of her brother.  She pulls the trigger.  Of course, the gun was loaded, otherwise the incident would not be in the news. But there is a bigger story here, I think:

The Daily Mail in the UK has a bizarre headline for the incident: “Sister, 19, accidentally shoots dead brother in the head while posing with gun for Facebook picture

The brother was not, of course, already dead.  But it appears that the sister, Savannah Ramirez, has been in the news before … this is apparently the same woman, arrested in July.  And in August.  Shoplifting, resisting arrest, theft, failure to appear (all in the Phoenix area) … if it was indeed the same person, and she has been convicted of a felony, then she would not legally be able to own a gun.  But I suspect that this isn’t the only factor that have led police to “look into who owns the gun.”

The victim, her brother Manuel Ortiz, also seems to have an arrest record.  The name is common, but he has an unusual diagonally shaped earlobe that matches at least one arrest record in Maricopa County, Arizona.  These identifications are tentative at best, and for my purposes it does not even matter whether they are in the country legally.  In fact, while I was looking at pictures of Ortiz with his black and white cap, I received this email.  This “identification” is tentative as well:

New Species Discovered

Cultural humor

Cultural humor

They are referred to as “Homo Slackass-Erectus” created by natural genetic downward evolution through constant spineless posturing, and spasmatic upper limb gestures, which new research has shown to cause shorter legs and an inability to ambulate other than in an awkward shuffling gait. The “drag-crotch” shape also seems to affect brain function.  Expect no eye contact or intelligent verbal communication. History shows that this species receives food stamps and full government care. Unfortunately most are highly fertile.

The facts on the ground

I get all sorts of emails.  The above is … one of them.  But it made me think of cultural issues, and the person depicted would be one of those addressed by lyrical social commentator Larry Platt (from “Pants on the Ground“):

Hey! Get your pants off the ground!
Lookin’ like a fool
With your pants on the ground
With the gold in your mouth
Hat turned sideways
Call yourself a cool cat

I confess that I have some sympathy for the message, but not for the delivery style — as I will explain in a minute.

The stories on the sibling shooting mention the fact that the pair’s Facebook pages feature them making gang signs.  This is, sadly, fairly unremarkable these days.  It is part of a culture that has been eating away at American society for some decades, a celebration of killing and murder and crime in general, coupled with making fairly lucrative money from illegal enterprises.  It fosters disdain and hatred, and is fed by Hollywood glorifying violence and idolizing criminals.

And these effects are distinct.  While “gangs” are by their nature group activities, lone criminals hostile to society are also idolized.  And glorified, as we saw with the Aurora Batman killer, the Sandy Hook killer, the Virginia Tech killer and too many others.  (The Ft. Hood killer had completely different motivations … and still does.)

A thought experiment

Consider the mindset of an angry man who feels that society is against him, and has decided that he is going to take his own life to end what he considers unbearable torment.  He’s been rejected by the world, and sees no hope of acceptance … except that every day, the news is out there glorifying killers just as they do in fiction.  The more you kill, the more famous you would become.  Risky?  Yes, but if you’ve decided to kill yourself anyway, what difference would it make?

So you pick a spot where there will be no defense, and take whatever you can into the attack.  Simple handguns with regular magazines will suffice, of course, as anyone can swap out ammo clips in a second or so.  (The increasing prevalence of suich attacks during the previous “assault weapons ban” shows the futility of such bans.) You’ll l look for places that say “no guns allowed” and you’re free to make history, and they’ll talk about you for years, poring over details of your life.

But watch out!  If you pick a place that allows people to carry weapons, your plan may be foiled.  It is no fun at all when the “victims” shoot back, and you may find yourself just another footnote in some local paper, instantly forgotten if the incident is even reported.  Thus, if no place you can easily get to is likely to be undefended, then you might as well take yourself out alone.  At least, in that, you would be “successful” — and not a failed attempt at glory by choosing the wrong group of people to pick on.

There is a current push to create more of the killing zones people like you need for your “glorious” exit. But it doesn’t really matter, as too many of those defense-free zones already exist.

Culture and society and violence

This New England Journal of Medicine article notes that no diagnosis was ever made on Adam Lanza, the Sandy Hook shooter. But they describe an issue much larger than “gun control” as needing discussion:

What is missing from most related discussions is a focus on the seductive, powerful subculture that celebrates and advocates violent and antisocial behavior. Most people are not interested in and do not engage with this subculture, and most who do so are not seduced into action by antisocial themes and violence in films, video games, written materials, or interest groups. However, a very small minority of angry and alienated mentally ill persons may gain a sense of belonging and support from this subculture and may be particularly vulnerable to being seduced into action.

I don’t think that the underlying issues can be fixed by legislation. But these cultural failings can be addressed, gradually, by asserting a healthy culture beginning with family at home, and living a productive and meaningful life.  For many, this will include faith. I don’t see this as absolutely vital, but I do believe that it will help, and has helped, a great many people.

Work and welfare and education

I’ve written before about the damage to families done by the US welfare system.  There is nothing “genetic” about blacks or Hispanics that causes them to fail in society — and yet they do, in the US, in disproportionate numbers. But the key issue is not race or ethnicity, it is family structure.  Blacks who grew up in two-parent families do as well or better than whites — but too many blacks lack that family structure.

The US’s “compassionate” treatment of minorites is directly causing this failure, by reintroducing in the 20th century a dependent status that blacks had seen ended as a result of the Civil War.  Half a century ago, the ratio of black babies born out of wedlock was much less than one-in-five.  Welfare has pushed this beyond four-in-five, and has led to a culture that has made fatherless homes acceptable, and produced excruciating poverty- and crime-ridden neighborhoods full of them.

Of course, we are now extending this treatment to Hispanics and whites, and producing similar results in pockets across America, mostly in the inner cities.

Perhaps a proxy for this degradation of culture could be the rise of rap music.  I remember the first rap songs decades ago — one of the earliest, “White Lines (Don’t Don’t Do It),” was a warning against cocaine use.  [Edit: It's "White Lines," not "White Line Fever" — and was originally pro-cocaine but was changed so that they could get it on the air thirty years ago.] Celebration of drugs and advocation of criminal actions and lifestyle quickly out-massed socially redeeming messages, and rap rose in prominence. First in the black communities, then it spread to become acceptable across a greater swath of America, carrying “gangsta” culture and vocabulary with it.

Education’s Bad Rap

The rise of rap music, both gangster rap and hip-hop, has been correlated to the fall of education. The lecture below, by Dr. Ronald Ferguson (of Harvard/MIT/the Kennedy School), is quite fascinating if you’re interested in education and how to improve it.  But for my immediate purposes, the discussion of rap music and its relationship both to education and self-esteem is significant. That discussion starts at about 55 minutes in:

The idea that musical cultures would have a negative effect or even be outwardly opposed to becoming educated is not new, of course: I remember a British rock group called the Small Faces (who later featured an obscure singer named Rod Stewart) inviting you to go to Itchycoo Park:

Tell you what I’ll do (what will you do?)
I’d like to go there now with you
You can miss out school (won’t that be cool)
Why go to learn the words of fools?
What will we do there?
We’ll get high
What will we touch there?
We’ll touch the sky…

But somehow, the effect is not as significant, nor as permanent, as it is with rap music.  According to Dr. Ferguson’s research, this is closely tied to the black community’s level of immersion in that music, to the point that it directly links to students’ self esteem.  The chart at 58 minutes in shows the linkage, and elsewhere in his lecture he ties it into educational results approaching the problem from several angles.

The words of fools

The “words of fools” … the classical works that help provide a broad education, are now under a more direct attack by the Obama administration.  Such works are to be downplayed or eliminated, and replaced by “non-fiction” works famously including Obama’s Executive Order directives and other government proclamations and legislation, plus various social indoctrination texts.  (I remember right after the inauguration when Obama ordered thousands of copies of Alinsky’s Rules for Radicals to distribute to teachers, and there are many schools teaching from Howard Zinn’s communist view of America called A People’s History of the United States, and its elementary school version called A Young People’s History of the United States as part of the “Zinn Education Project.”  The “Young People’s” version uses simpler words to describe how terrible and shameful a country the US is.  As Zinn put it, “I am not worried about disillusioning young people by pointing to the flaws in the traditional heroes.”

The new educational standards are already signed onto by 46 states, though they are described as having no body of evidence to support their approach.  Teachers are already reporting that the students subjected to Obama’s new “Common Core” guidelines are “shutting down” rather than reading these dry tomes.  But students have been shutting down for years; this merely exacerbates a long-standing problem.

The real problem is multifaceted, I think: a lack of moral core, a lack of a nurturing family, and a lack of a work ethic — which will not be fixed by reading Obama’s “Strengthening Federal Environmental, Energy, and Transportation Management” as the new curriculum suggests.

===|==============/ Keith DeHavelle