Thursday, April 6, 2023

Mass shootings: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans"

Update, April 2023: I wrote this in 2018 after 19-year-old Nikolas Cruz massacred 17 students and faculty at Parkland High School, Florida. With the recent murders of three children and three faculty at Nashville's The Covenant School on March 17 by 28-year-old Audrey Hale, I am reposting it. Nothing has changed, of course, because politicians on both the Left and the Right are far more interested in scoring points against the other side than protecting the lives of children. 

If things proceed according to pattern, there will be energetic debate after the latest school massacre about stopping such a horror from happening again, then the news media will move on to other topics. And the American people, who have generally been trained over the last 50-plus years not to think something is important unless it's on TV, will move on also.

And in a few months or next year, when it happens again, lather, rinse, repeat.

This inability to take meaningful action is due to several factors, one of which is the existing (and strengthening) political divide in the country. But the main reasons, I think, are pretty simple:
  • both sides firmly believe that the other side is solely responsible for the deadlock, 
  • both sides' most prominent voices insist that there is a "silver bullet" solution that by itself will completely resolve the issue, and
  • neither side will admit that its own broader political core beliefs are already part of the cause for these shootings. Both demand that all of the surrendering must be done by the other side.
So I proceed on the basis of this post's title: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." I learned this very well when I was assigned to the Army Operations Center in the early 1990s at the Pentagon. The Army's chief of staff was Gen. Carl Vuono. He sometimes found occasion during our briefings to him about current and planned operations to hammer home a point: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans." 

Don't tell me what you hope will happen, don't tell me what you wish you could do, he repeated. "Give me a plan that makes it happen."

Stop offering "Bell the cat" solutions

... concerns a group of mice who debate plans to nullify the threat of a marauding cat. One of them proposes placing a bell around its neck, so that they are warned of its approach. The plan is applauded by the others, until one mouse asks who will volunteer to place the bell on the cat. All of them make excuses. The story is used to teach the wisdom of evaluating a plan not only on how desirable the outcome would be, but also on how it can be executed. It provides a moral lesson about the fundamental difference between ideas and their feasibility, and how this affects the value of a given plan.
Anyone who thinks that there is one thing that, if done, will stop mass shootings (whether at schools or elsewhere) is actually not thinking at all. They are making political statements, not relevant statements, and are so convinced of the moral purity of their own side that they think that a wish is a plan and that their wish, if fulfilled, will automatically result in zeroing out mass shootings. 

Here are two examples, one from each side. On the Left: 
  • "We must ban AR-15s and similar weapons."
In fact, we cannot ban these weapons. I am not saying we should not ban them, or must not ban them. I am saying we cannot ban them. It is impossible. The same with "high-capacity" magazines. 

Yes, we could legislate that they may not be manufactured or imported into the country. So? There are still tens of millions already here (no one knows how many). Will you ban them also? If so, as The Beatles sang long ago, "We'd all love to see the plan." Besides, when testifying before Congress, the director of the ATF, Steve Dettelbach, told the House Appropriations Committee that he was not able to define what an "assault rifle" is. 

Don't even utter the word, "Australia." Their 1996 ban was mandatory, requiring residents to hand over their firearms to the government, but the government paid for them, which would be mandatory here (that pesky Constitution's "takings clause"). Where will the the US government get $30 billion (at minimum) to do that? Do not even dare to suggest cutting only spending beloved by the Right, such as defense. If you are not willing to pare Left-loved spending, then you are not serious about stopping school shootings at all. You're just trying to score political points. 

Are you willing to zero out payouts and tax-money support, for example, of Planned Parenthood, the NEA, NPR, etc. to diminish the number of AR weapons in America? No? Then you will understand why I am completely ignoring you. 

That said, in Australia's ban only 20 percent of Australian gun owners complied. One out of five. The ban, btw, had little effect on crime rates or suicides there, but it did create a thriving black market in firearms, including black-market importation. See here and here, for example. 

Ban AR-type weapons? Well, show me your plan. If in your plan no one's ox gets gored but your political opponents', you have not got a plan to save kids' lives, you have a platform for fund raising and campaigning. 

On the Right:
  • "The only thing that stops a bad guy with a gun is a good guy with a gun." 
If I hear that one more time I will not know whether to throw up or just laugh out loud. Okay, good guys with guns do stop bad guys with guns countless times per year (that's why we arm police, after all),  and good guys (cops) with guns definitely stopped Audrey Hale before she could murder anyone else.

And yes, schools by law are "gun free zones," and yes, "gun free zone" really is a euphemism for "defenseless people here."

Fine. But then your advocates post stupid stuff like this:

This meme has been around since at least 2012 and is simply false. False as in "untrue," as Israelis on social media have attempted to refute. Here is Israel Today:
There is a picture going around the Internet that I have seen about a dozen times today that claims that Israeli teachers are packing heat. Well, are they? The answer is “NO.” There may be some exceptions in dangerous areas like the West Bank (where five percent of Israelis live), but in general, Israeli teachers are not walking around like it’s the Wild Wild West, strapped with a six shooter. No, our teachers are not focused on shooting, but educating. That doesn’t mean, however, that we don’t protect young students.

In the picture, the students are on an outing. While it appears that the teacher is holding a rifle, I have never seen such a thing in ten years of living here. Rest assured however, they are under armed protection. In most cases it is an armed guard or a soldier that will accompany a class, not the teacher. And my guess is that the woman with the gun is a security guard, not a teacher.

Secondly, they are not armed in the classroom. Is that really the image you want to imprint on the minds of six-year-olds? (That would be Hamas.)
Even so, suppose that it was made legal for faculty and staff to volunteer to go armed in schools. What's your plan to implement? Just let them get a carry license and go for it? Will they be required also to take shoot-or-no-shoot training, repeated at intervals? Will they be paid extra for carrying? Will they wear distinctive identifying clothing so they don't shoot each other by mistake? Will their local governments accept the financial liability for using their weapons when the shooter, if he lives, or his family, if he doesn't, sue the teacher who shoots him and the rest of the district? (and they will sue.) All of these factors also apply to other categories of potential guards, such as veterans or retired police.

In the wake of the Aurora, Colo., mass murder in a movie theater, I wrote elsewhere about the ignore-reality advocates of the "good guy with a gun" argument as applying to crowded venues of panicked people, which is what Parkland's high school became when the shooting started.
But let's assume you do unmistakably locate the shooter and decide to engage him. You have a 9mm compact-sized, semi-auto pistol with the typical 7-10 round magazine (though the Beretta PX4 compact holds up to 15). The killer is firing madly, apparently about 25 feet away. You shoot at him.

You will miss. Your heart rate is through the roof. So is your respiration rate. You are sweating like a marathon runner. Your hands are shaking. These are involuntary physiological responses and you can do pretty much nothing about them. They badly affect shooting accuracy. Also, you are being jostled by panicked people trying to get away. And firearms trainers know that even on a range, firing under stress makes people fire high unless they are collected enough to correct for it intentionally. However, being a typical permit holder, the only actual pistol training you ever got was when you went to the class to certify the permit application. When you shoot again, you will miss then, too. And the next time.

But now you have identified yourself as a threat to the killer, assuming his state of mind lets him notice your fire (which he might not, to be fair). So he turns his semi-auto AR-15 on you and starts pulling the trigger. Now you are dead or badly wounded. The shooter is unharmed and still shooting.
In 2011, not even the very pro-gun site, The Truth About Guns could endorse the idea that more people going armed would do anything to stop public-venue mass shootings. Even so, as I have said, show me your comprehensive plan and I will listen. Not until then. See here, too. (However, it is probably appropriate here for me to explain why I am an armed pastor.) 

Stop proposing to bell the cat, all of you. There are zero steps to end school shootings or make them much more difficult that are not going to press hard on what all of us hold dear.

What can we do now?

Let's start with what can be done fairly quickly, which is make carrying out such a shooting more difficult, perhaps so difficult that that fact alone will deter an attempt. It is very worth noting that according to Nashville police, Covenant School murderer Audrey Hale rejected at least one other target venue because it had "too much security."

The Saturday after Parkland, Nashville's Tennessean newspaper published a video about such measures, featuring Sean Burke, president of the School Safety Advocacy Council, who said that "layers" of security at military installations can be model for all schools to remain safe. URL here, please watch the 91-second video.   

Not everything he says translates cleanly to civilian schools. For example, just getting onto a military installation is highly restricted and requires vetting at the entrance gate. But we can and should start with physical security measures for three reasons.
  1. First, they will be effective.
  2. Second, they don't tread on either sides' core values.
  3. Third, they are local-government initiatives, hence do not depend on the federal behemoth to rouse itself, and these initiatives would be poor federal ones anyway. 
The basic principal is simple: Make school shootings hard to do

Making school shootings difficult to carry out consists of two main things: First, it must become very difficult for a shooter to enter a school or its ground with weapons. Second, the schools' designs must inhibit successfully carrying out attempts.

The same Israeli site that refuted the notion that Israeli teachers go armed also says this:
On the other hand. I have never seen a school in Israel that was not fenced in. You must go through a locked gate that is guarded by an armed shomer, a security guard. He or she, on the other hand, is not concerned with educating, but protecting. He or she will ask you why you are there? “What is your child’s name?” “Show me your I.D. card.” And he or she would not let you bring a weapon inside.
Just yesterday (4/5/2023) Nashville's CBS affiliate carried a news story about "safety film" for school windows:
Safety film is a thin clear material that adheres to the glass. It's more affordable than bulletproof glass, making it a popular option for schools, homes and businesses.

"The bullet still goes through it so we always want to point that out that safety film is not bulletproof," said Dave Andrews, president of Solar Insulation. "So it's two levels of security, but this will keep people from coming in through the doors but it's not going to keep bullets from going through."
What safety film does is stop the glass from shattering when struck by one or more bullets. Killer Hale literally shot a door window to pieces at The Covenant School and then stepped through to enter the school. Had the door be layered in safety film, the bullets would have made only bullet holes, but the glass would have remained otherwise intact. 

"That's the idea is to keep them moving or they have too much trouble and then they go away," said [Dave] Andrews.

Entry security and simple access to school grounds must become more arduous than now, all the time. Every active doorway into a school must become guarded, and not by teachers or staff. Metal detectors and backpack inspections, all intrusive, yes, must become the routine. Arrival times for grades, not just for schools, must become staggered to avoid large clusters of students standing outside the school, presenting mass targets, and to avoid large numbers enduring bad weather awaiting entry. End-of-day exits must likewise be staggered.

Interior reinforcements must be made - bullet-resistant glass in all windows, for example, and strong locks with backups on doors. Classrooms in newly-built schools should have very quick and easy exits to the outside (I believe this has actually been designed in for a number of years).

Shooter drills need to be rehearsed by all, teachers and students alike. They can be age appropriate, but trust me, high-school students already know what's happening in America, and will not be traumatized by rehearsing what to do in case of gunfire.

We will have to "do school" differently to reduce the likelihood of shooters attempting the deed or succeeding if they do. It will not look like what we are doing now.

But how is Nashville's school system doing on implementing these are other security measures? Well, they don't
Despite all of the options, Metro Nashville Schools has no SROs in elementary schools. No Stop-The-Bleed kits, no security cameras, no ballistic film, no door barricades, and some very questionable training according to people with credibility.
A safety scorecard without a single check mark.
TANSTAAFL - There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch

None of this will happen overnight - nothing can - but they are all doable and can happen relatively quickly compared to the federal leviathan. And yes, they will cost money, but that can be raised far more quickly at local levels than federal. 

BTW, Tennessee's US senators introduced a bill on March 30 to provide $900 million for school safety. The bill provides funding for  
... both public and private schools to train and hire veterans and former law enforcement officers to serve as school safety officers, hire off duty law enforcement officers, and provide funding to harden schools and increase physical security. 
But the Biden White House almost immediately rejected it.

I would infinitely prefer that new initiatives stay local and not be gutted by the black hole of the US Treasury, however.

Besides, there is no reason that significant federal funds cannot be reallocated to states for this purpose without raising expenditures or the deficit. As I have said, anyone who is not willing to take unpalatable actions, or who in convinced that all the pain must be borne on only the other side, is not serious about this. Federal expenditures dear to both the Left and Right need to be identified for deletion and reassignment.

Once again: "Hope is not a method and wishes are not plans."
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Wednesday, April 5, 2023

Resurrection concept unclear, say scholars

Easter is the day when Christians celebrate the central tenet of their faith, that Jesus, having died on the cross on Friday, was raised from the dead by the power of God.

The concept of resurrection, though, was not original with Christians. It was a prominent, though not universal, belief among the Jews of Jesus' day. The Jewish Encyclopedia explains that one group of Jews, the Sadducees ("the party representing views and practises of the Law and interests of Temple and priesthood directly opposite to those of the Pharisees,"),did ...
... not accept the Pharisaic doctrine of the resurrection (Sanh. 90b; Mark xii. 12; Ber. ix. 5, "Minim"), which was a national rather than an individual hope. As to the immortality of the soul, they seem to have denied this as well (see Hippolytus, "Refutatio," ix. 29; "Ant." x. 11, § 7).
The older Hebrew conception of life regarded the nation so entirely as a unit that no individual mortality or immortality was considered. Jeremiah (xxxi. 29) and Ezekiel (xviii.) had contended that the individual was the moral unit, and Job's hopes are based on this idea.

A different view, which made a resurrection unnecessary, was held by the authors of Ps. xlix. and lxxiii., who believed that at death only the wicked went to Sheol and that the souls of the righteous went directly to God. This, too, seem based on views analogous to those of Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and probably was not widely held. In the long run the old national point of view asserted itself in the form of Messianic hopes. These gave rise to a belief in a resurrection in order that more might share in the glory of the Messianic kingdom. This hope first finds expression in Isa. xxvi. 19, a passage which Cheyne dates about 334 B.C. The hope was cherished for faithful Israelites. In Dan. xii. 1-4 (about 165 B.C.) a resurrection of "many . . . that sleep in the dust" is looked forward to. This resurrection included both righteous and wicked, for some will awake to everlasting life, others to "shame and everlasting contempt."
So by the time of Jesus, the idea of the resurrection of the dead, though not universally held among the Jewish people, was likely the majority view. To be fair, though, even among those who affirmed the resurrection, there was ongoing debate as to its extent - just whom would be resurrected and where, only in Israel or elsewhere also. As time went by, the concept of resurrection continued to evolve.

The Pharisees, a lay movement of Jews who devoted themselves to adhering to the covenantal law of ancient Judaism, affirmed the concept of the resurrection. The Christian apostle Paul was the son of a Pharisee and began his religious vocation as a Pharisee. (Pharisees generally get a bad rap in Sunday Schools but shouldn't. Jesus shared the religious devotion of Pharisees. Pharisaism was a lay movement, just as Jesus found his broadest support among the laity.)

Now, all this is to point out that modern-day Christian understanding of the resurrection is "deeply misunderstood, say scholars from varied faith traditions who have been trying to clear up the confusion in several recent books."
"We are troubled by the gap between the views on these things of the general public and the findings of contemporary scholarship," said Kevin Madigan and Jon Levenson, authors of the upcoming book, "Resurrection, The Power of God for Christians and Jews."

The book traces the overlooked Jewish roots of the Christian belief in resurrection, and builds on that history to challenge the idea that resurrection simply means life after death. To the authors, being raised up has a physical element, not just a spiritual one.

Levenson last year wrote a related book, "Resurrection and the Restoration of Israel: The Ultimate Victory of the God of Life." Meanwhile, N.T. Wright, a prominent New Testament scholar and author of the 2003 book "The Resurrection of the Son of God," has just published, "Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church."

Debate about Christ's Resurrection has focused on whether Jesus rose bodily from the dead after the Romans crucified him on Good Friday, or whether Resurrection was something abstract.

Wright's 2003 book was considered one of the most important recent arguments that Jesus was physically resurrected.

The three scholars also have been challenging the idea, part of Greek philosophy and popular now, that resurrection for Jews and the followers of Jesus is simply the survival of an individual's soul in the hereafter. The scholars say resurrection occurs for the whole person — body and soul. For early Christians and some Jews, resurrection meant being given back one's body or possibly God creating a new similar body after death, Wright has said.
It's my experience that the vast majority of Christians readily agree that upon death, the souls of the saved enter immediately into heaven, but when asked about the resurrection of the dead, mumbling ensues. After all, if heaven is your reward instantly upon breathing your last, what purpose could being resurrected have?

Now, this whole debate won't interest many people but theologians, but it actually cuts to the core of the Christian proclamation, as Paul realized:
Now if Christ is proclaimed as raised from the dead, how can some of you say there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised; and if Christ has not been raised, then our proclamation has been in vain and your faith has been in vain.
Paul is explaining that the resurrection of Christ is a subset of the larger category of resurrection. The Corinthian church apparently accepted Paul's teaching that Jesus had been raised, but rejected the idea that they (or other also) would be raised as well. That made no sense to Paul. It was like someone today saying, "I drive a Chevrolet but I don't think there is any such thing as General Motors."

The resurrection of Jesus, Paul insists, is of little utility unless it is to show that the promises of God are true, that the promise of the general resurrection is true. In fact, Paul understood the resurrection of Christ and the general resurrection yet to come as belonging to the one and same event, separated by a "time out," as it were. Hence, for Paul, Jesus was the "first fruit" of the general resurrection yet to come.
Yet Wright and others say the church should teach what the first Christians believed. Wright also has argued that the physical reality of a future world after death shows "the created order matters to God, and Jesus' Resurrection is the pilot project for that renewal."

Madigan and Levenson have an additional motivation. They said they wrote the book to help Jews and Christians understand more about their theological bonds.

Amy-Jill Levine, a New Testament scholar at Vanderbilt University's Divinity School, said interest in resurrection — along with reincarnation, ghosts and contacting the dead — has grown in recent years.

"The more chaotic our world, with war and disease, hurricanes and famine," she said, "the more many seek a divine response to the problem of evil."
The problem of evil is, I think, the central problem of Christianity and is most often cited by people as the reason for their rejection of it.

Jesus is served

John 6.5-14 When he looked up and saw a large crowd coming toward him, Jesus said to Philip, “Where are we to buy bread for these people t...