Tuesday, September 25, 2012

History Repeats (Unedited Edition)

Andy Wolf

 In light of recent upheavals around the world, especially the anti-American fury that has swept the Middle East in response to the anti-Islamic film ("The Innocence of Muslims"), as well as a war in Afghanistan and US ally Israel showing their teeth in the middle east, it is easy to see that American influence is everywhere. The United States of the 21st century is very much along the lines of the old adage, “Love me, hate me- you're still thinking about me.” As the first world hyper-power, we have seen our country rise to unprecedented heights in some respects while falling dreadfully short in others.

These recent events in the east are nothing new. In the late 70’s/early 80’s, Jimmy Carter was president, the economy was suffering and an embassy was taken over in Iran by religious extremists. Israel participated in the Yom Kippur and Lebanon wars, The post-Glasnost Soviet Union was undergoing cultural changes, with public approval of the Afghanistan War at an all-time low. Gas prices were high, and the American people were generally oblivious or apathetic to the world around them.

Who knew paying attention to history would pay off?

I was originally going to write about how the United States simultaneously embraces and shuns it’s self-appointed role as “World Police” and how that indecisiveness makes the actions fairly ineffective, leading to a “damned if we do, damned if we don't” kind of situation we consistently find ourselves in when it comes to world affairs.

I’m not gonna do that. Here’s why.

Everything I mentioned above is part of a cycle. It happens over and over, and endless waltz if you will. Everything we do falls into the same rut and carves out the same pattern, each time on a bigger scale. Think of it like the little trickle of water that eventually created the Grand Canyon.

9/11, the outrage and quagmired wars that followed, the “world police” argument, economic downturn and fairly unreliable global trends are not far off from say, the late 1800s to early 1900s. The USS Maine exploded, spiraling the United States into the Spanish-American War, which - while ending fairly similarly to modern conflicts- showed the strength and weaknesses of American foreign policy. What about “gunboat diplomacy”, the idea of being an omnipresent force around the world in order to spread national influence? That is certainly nothing new. President Herbert Hoover was in office when the Great Depression began. He was upstaged by Franklin Roosevelt, an anti-imperialist who liked many elements of collectivism, who used upbeat music and campaign slogans, blamed Hoover for everything and took a lot of personal power (and more terms than any other president) and leeway to make his dreams realities, be it for the better or worse of society. (Luckily, World War II came his way). All of these things are eerily familiar and that occurred to me as I researched for this article.

I guess the point I am trying to make is, it doesn’t really matter how we feel about the United States being the world police. Super Powers rise and fall, and history repeats itself, pretty much every 30-40 years. To know what happens next in the story, you need only thumb back a few pages.

I don’t know, maybe this job has made me a little cynical. Maybe I’m just tired of watching re-runs make breaking news on CNN. But no matter how you look at it, one very big trend is brought to the forefront- as much as I disagree with some of the needless wars we fight and the humanitarian aid that often goes wasted on countries who neither deserve nor have any desire to improve (Somalia, Afghanistan, Iraq, etc), we are “damned if we do”- criticized for having the farthest reaching influence and “damned if we dont” - because if we don’t use that influence, another faction will, such as Russia, China or even something as scattered as radical idealism.
I guess in short, America is no longer a kid. America is an adult now, who has to face adult responsibilities that don’t always make sense or end up in her favor, regardless of what she does. Still, history will repeat itself and on a much larger scale. As the world gets smaller, so does the elbow room.

Sunday, September 16, 2012

Generation Clueless

Clueless: The Average College Student Is Oblivious To World Affairs and Politics Andy Wolf Of all the things people should be cognizant of, World Events and Politics should be at the top of the list, and for obvious reason. Tensions in one country raises the price of fuel in another. Economic success and strain on one hemisphere of the globe determine what is a priority on the other hemisphere. Even something so simple as a Youtube video or a cartoon can incite violent reaction, costing lives in the process. Everything around us is in a perpetual state of motion, yet the average American twenty-something is absolutely deaf, blind (and by that logic, dumb) to the ever-changing environment we live in. In a recent survey conducted at APSU*, approximately 100 students of various genders and ethnicities were interviewed and asked who their State Representative and Senators were. Less than 5% knew the answer. Upon further questioning, 25% could name the three branches of Government in the United States. Less than 5% could locate Afghanistan (down to the region) on a blank map. Finally, the students were asked what Selective Service was. Ten percent knew what it was. However, 40% knew who the current host line up was on The X-Factor, 74% could name the 3 main characters from the Twilight books/film and a whopping 93% could recognize a photo of Snooki from Jersey Shore. Folks, we are in the midst of troubled times. The economy is suffering, we’re still at war, and the global stage is becoming increasingly unstable. Yet our nation’s greatest asset- it’s youth- are frighteningly unaware of the happenings in a world that they will lead, sooner than later. We are so easily swayed by rhetoric without checking the facts for ourselves, we openly accept things at face value. This generation doesn’t really have to think for itself, it would much rather operate as a social hivemind. Unfortunately, as it is with computers the GIGO rule applies: Garbage In, Garbage Out. Not unlike computers, this generation unquestioningly processes the most nonsensical of input data ("garbage in") and produces nonsensical output ("garbage out") as a result. We are not computers. We are sentient, free-thinking human beings. There are no parameters, no directives and no hivemind. If you want to sit on the sidelines and blissfully ignore what is going on around you, then you have no grounds to complain when the fantasy world you have created for yourself comes crashing down. In the 21st century, ignorance and misinformation is control. Feelings reign supreme over facts, and the complex task of picking future world leaders has been reduced to catchy phrases and who can put the most propaganda on youtube or dazzle you with celebrity endorsements. People complain about the way their country is going, yet they won’t go out and vote. They know more about the inner workings of Reality TV than the inner workings of their own Government and society. They are poor, yet they opt to stay home instead of look for any sort of work. They shout “yolo”, yet spend their entire mediocre lives on a Twitter or Facebook account. They “follow”, but they do not lead.They complain about the problems that plague their society, yet they do nothing. They are the problem. The most dangerous weapon against society is a combination of ignorance and apathy. During my research, I was jokingly asked if I was collecting data for some sort of coming “Zombie Apocalypse”. I smiled, but then shook my head in dismay as I looked at my results. “No, but pretty damn close.”

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Keep Calm and Carry One (Unedited)

Posted Last Week in The All-State Here at The All-State, I have a love-hate relationship with reporting the news and voicing opinions. I try to keep facts above feelings because this is a news organization, not a political action group.

Of all the topics that divide this nation (let alone campuses and even my household), firearms and gun control is probably one of the most divisive and controversial. Being sort of a subject matter expert within the ranks of our agency (as not only a former combat soldier, but a small-arms instructor and the only person on staff who has used a weapon defensively), I was no stranger to this argument, but no eager participant, either.

Both sides of this debate range from the extreme and politically-biased (National Rifle Association and the Brady Campaign) to the average individual with an opinion. Both hold considerable power, some more than others.

Recently, there have been a rash of shootings reported in the news (Aurora, Colorado and Oak Creek, Wisconsin to name the most recent) and even our own campus has been hit with a few stray rounds from a shooting in mid-August (however, when you factor the geographical location of the campus to the lower-income and crime-infested neighborhoods adjacent, it is surprising this doesn’t happen more often).  

As far as media coverage goes: of all the (rare) mass shootings that occur, nearly 100% are reported. Conversely, in cases where firearms are used in self defense to stop crimes from occurring, the media rarely covers the incident on such a broad scale, such as the 14 year old Arizona boy who protected his three siblings from an armed home invasion by using his father’s pistol.

However, we don’t get that kind of information. The most exposure the average (unarmed) American has to firearms is from Hollywood or Video Games, which often paint them in a bad light. People are afraid of them. Fear is a politician’s favorite ammunition. With enough hysteria, a politician can walk a legislation into law with little resistance (and little effect. the “Assault Weapons Ban” had little effect on reducing gun crime, not to mention it mostly placed restrictions on weapon parts that “looked” intimidating, but had little or no hindrance to the operation of said weapon).

Gun laws are already fairly restrictive. From “purchase to permit” (meaning the purchase of a handgun to the ability to legally carry it concealed) in the State of Tennessee, a total of two thorough State and Federal background checks are conducted. In addition, the applicant must also have never had a Felony, no DUI within the past 10 years, fallen short of child support or been found mentally defective by a Judge. These are just a handful of the 17 requirements that must be met before Tennesseans can even consider applying for an eight-hour defensive carry class, in which they must not only learn how to safely handle their firearm, but understand the laws about using force as well as prove on a range that they are capable of accurately using that force. The process is long, expensive and your Carry Permit is subject to being revoked at any time if you do something that causes you to no longer meet the initial requirements.

The fact of the matter is, most legal gun owners are law-abiding citizens who understand that self-defense is a human right, and do what they can to even their odds against an attacker. Criminals do not care about getting permits, gun free zones or legally obtaining a firearm. If we take firearms from the law-abiding, only criminals and Government agencies would have them. I have lived in countries where firearms are banned. Crime still goes up, because citizens have no deterrent against criminals and criminals don’t care. The Colorado shooter, James Holmes, was not a disgruntled individual. He legally purchased those firearms, that much is true. As effective as the FBI's NICS background check system is at preventing the legal transfer of firearms into the hands of felons or other unsavory individuals, a few fish will always make their way through the nets (often due to poor reporting of the individual’s character by health officials and family members, not the firearms dealer or Background Check services). Banning firearms or ammunition wouldn't have stopped Holmes: he is a deranged psychopath who was determined to carry this plan out in advance and would have obtained those weapons and the ammunition for his rampage, no matter what. The guy even made homemade flash-bangs and wired his apartment with IEDs that would have killed anyone who went inside. There was no getting around this guy. People knew he was deranged: his own mother wasn't all that surprised he carried it out. Had an individual been armed in that theater, this might have been prevented. I can’t personally guarantee it, but there is no denying that it would have changed the odds.

This argument could go on and on; I simply do not have enough paper in this office to sufficiently post every fact or argument I have obtained in my month-long hard research on this topic.

Despite all this, I think we lose sight on what the Second Amendment is really for. Why can we purchase and keep guns?

Regardless of how my pro and anti-gun colleagues think out there, the Second Amendment is not there so you can own 20 AR-15s or carry a pistol on your person “just because you can”.
It isn't so criminals can run rampant with stolen/illegally purchased weapons and commit crimes. The second amendment is there because it protects the people from the worst criminal of all - the Government. So long as we live in an armed society - one armed as well (if not in quality at least in quantity) as the Government it is forced to remember that the second amendment is the explicit right of the people to rebel if the Government no longer represents the will of the majority.

In closing, gun culture is undeniably part of the fabric that makes up American life. Say what you want about them; they aren’t going anywhere. The problem lies not in the object, but in the operator. Improve society and you won’t need restrictive gun laws.