Wednesday, June 30, 2010

What Costs More, One Airplane Or a Country?

By Tom Kando

The B-2 stealth bomber is America’s fanciest, most advanced and most expensive weapon. Like The Starship Enterprise, it possesses a cloaking device which makes it practically invulnerable to attack by Klingons or by anyone else. Trouble is, there isn’t much use for it.

It cost the Air Force $2.1 billion to build one B-2, plus half a billion or so to maintain, upgrade and repaint each, including a periodic $60 million paint job and an $800 million dollar upgrade job (Sacramento Bee, June 14). Let’s say that the B-2 program cost about $50 billion. The Air Force built 21 B-2s, but one crashed in Guam in 2008. Oops! A $2.5 billion mishap.Here are some stunning comparisons:

1. Universities: The California State University system educates over 400,000 students for $5 billion a year, i.e. the cost of two B-2s. The University of California, including some of the best public research Universities in the world (Berkeley, UCLA): 19 billion, for 200,000 students, the greatest medical schools in the world, research by dozens of Nobel laureates, the Lawrence Livermore lab, the Los Alamos nuclear research facility and much more.

2. Aircraft Carrier: The Ronald Reagan, perhaps our most state-of-the-art aircraft carrier, cost $6.2 billion to build. The price of three B-2 bombers.

3. Gross National Products: Of the world’s roughly 200 countries, 110 have GDPs (Gross Domestic Products) smaller than the B-2 program. Think of countries like Bulgaria, the Dominican Republic, Tunisia and Guatemala, countries with populations between of 10 to 14 million.

30 countries have GDPs smaller than the price of one B-2. For example Guyana, Belize, Sierra Leone, countries with populations of 1 to 5 million.

4. Cities: Chicago’s budget this year is $6 billion, i.e. the price of three B-2 bombers. Houston’s is $4 billion - two such airplanes.


Each civilization has its own way of squandering its wealth. The Egyptians and the Mayans built pyramids, the Romans built the Colosseum and Saint Peter, the Chinese built a wall, the French built Notre Dame and the Eiffel Tower.

Maybe we should look at the B-2 bomber as America’s great historical work of art...

...Because as a weapon, it is utterly useless. We are told that it evades radar, slips behind enemy lines and knocks out their defenses. It is said to have been useful in Kosovo, in Iraq and in Afghanistan, where it flew in to clear out enemy radar before other fighters and bombers went in. But in Kosovo the enemy was practically defenseless, and in the Middle East, most of the bombing is done by conventional bombers. Most of the time, the B-2s are parked in hangars. They require 55 hours of ground maintenance for each one hour of flight!

True, the bomber is an excellent money maker and job creator for Northrop, (Palmdale, CA), which built it between 1988 and 1997, employing 40,000 people. But the technology is already obsolete. The enemy already has ways to expose the B-2 on radar screen. In today’s “asymmetrical” warfare against low-tech enemies, this $50 billion boondoggle is already practically useless. leave comment here
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Monday, June 28, 2010

New Words, Yes, But New Meaning?


by Thomas Kando

This piece is not another complaint about PC newspeak. We all know what’s happened to language over the past few decades, due to the inane requirements of political correctness:

It began with ethnic labels - “Negro” became out, “Black” became in, then “African-American” became even more in. “Oriental” also became taboo, as did “Mohammedan” and countless other labels. Later, other categories had to be re-labeled, including the genders, and all sorts of physical conditions. This soon became the topic of jokes by people like George Carlin.

If we must rename the “physically handicapped” “differently able,” then why not refer to “balding” as “follicle regression,” refer to a bad dancer as “overly Caucasian,” call a woman “verbally repetitive” instead of a nag, or refer to women as “breasted Americans” instead of, God forbid, babes or chicks.

But there is also faddish newspeak in less politically charged areas of the lexicon. Suddenly, a word becomes very popular. And even though it has become a new craze, there is little or no gain in meaning. This is what I want to illustrate today. Here are some examples:

1. The word “algorithm,” as in: “Professor Smith has an algorithm to figure out which is the best soccer team in the world.”This has become a popular word, especially with anyone fascinated by computer technology, i.e. 80% of the population.Meaning? A method or procedure to solve a problem. This is exactly the definition of the old word “formula.” That word has worked well for me for the past 50 years, so I’ll stick with it.

2. To “deconstruct,” as in: “The author deconstructs the motives of his story’s hero.”This is one of the post-modernists’ favorite words (post-modernists are people who feel that they are the intellectual vanguard).Meaning? To examine the detailed workings of something. Well, in my day, we called this “to analyze.” Once again, there is little difference between the old word and the new word. At best a difference in nuance.

3. “Icon,” as in: “Singer so-and-so is a true icon in the firmament of modern rock stars.”Nowadays, “icon” and “idol” are used practically interchangeably. That’s understandable, since they both mean: A highly admired person. Again, while “icon” has recently almost totally replaced “idol,” there is no added meaning.

4. “Amazing,” as in: “We took a trip to India. It was amazing!”Today, everything is “amazing.” Someone is interviewed on TV about a recent experience or a meeting with a celebrity, and everything is always “amazing.” Meaning: Wonderful; Great. Etc.

5. “Inappropriate,” as in: “His comments were inappropriate.” This word is used for anything you don’t agree with, but cannot call an outright lie or obscenity. It simply means: “Wrong,” or: “I don’t agree,” or: “I don’t like what you are saying.”

6. “Journey,” as in: “My college graduation was the end of an exciting journey...”Everything has become a “journey.” Another very popular word nowadays, another word which doesn’t add meaning to earlier synonyms such as “experience.”

My point, then, is simple: just because a word is suddenly en vogue does not mean that it adds meaning to our language. To be sure, there is nothing wrong with verbal fads. Language evolves. What is amusing, though, is the widespread belief that the sudden popularity of a word makes it more meaningful. That those who use such words are on to some new meaning. This is often not the case. The “new” words often just reinvent the wheel or, to use another metaphor, they are old wine in a new bottle. leave comment here
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Invisible Lines

by Madeleine Kando

Living in the suburbs of America can be a blessing and a curse. There is such a wide range that it is hard to say anything sensible about them, other than my subjective feeling that suburban communities, like much else in America, are intersected by ‘invisible lines’.

Take my own town for example. It is a paradox. Here, you find a ‘Whole Foods’ supermarket next to a row of fast-food franchises, a liquor store abutting a church and a Starbucks facing a MacDonald.

This must be typical of ‘drive-through’ towns. Towns that are on the way to more affluent suburban communities.

The fast-food franchises, the Whole Foods Supermarket, they are all places where you can pick up dinner on your way home to those other fancy towns. Those are the nanny towns of America, where ambitious housewives with money and time to spare sit on local committees and become selectmen who sensibly vote against franchises in their own community.

I pass these fast food places every morning, on my way to work. I know every detail of their façade, how many times they have been given a facelift. As I sit in my car, waiting for a Macdonald junky to make his turn into the drive-through, I realize that I am passing an entire block of stores where I have never been. You will think of me as a snob, but I am not really. I am just a creature of habit. McDonald, Papa Gino, Dunkin Donut.. they are not part of my routine.

There must be a person in the car behind me, cursing at ME while I turn into the Whole Foods parking lot. They wouldn’t be caught dead entering one of those uppity, overpriced stores.

It is as if there were invisible lines, right there on the pavement, which some people never cross. Like one of those invisible electric fences to keep dogs away from the road.

Even inside my local supermarket I find those invisible lines. As a creature of habit I haven’t stepped into the soft drinks isle for years. (Now I am really starting to sound like a snob).

Come to think of it, there are invisible lines right in my own house. I haven’t visited the laundry room for a long time, not because I always wear dirty clothes, but because my husband insists on doing the laundry.

We could make use of those invisible lines. My town could create a bylaw that requires all franchises to build an invisible fence. Then, have everyone wear an electric collar that gets activated as soon as you exceed a certain body weight. You try to get into the MacDonald parking lot and you are overweight? You get zapped! leave comment here
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Thursday, June 17, 2010

Pequeño

by Madeleine Kando

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there were three little children whose names were: Jane, Eva and Peter. They all lived together in a big house with their mother and father. They were very busy getting bigger, because that’s what they wanted most of all: to get BIG.

One day, Jane fell out of bed and broke her tooth. Poor Jane. She wasn’t too upset though, she could still chew her food quite well with all her other teeth. But just to make sure, her dad called the tooth fairy and said: ‘Tooth fairy, could you come over tonight and grant Jane a wish, so Jane won’t be sad about her lost tooth?’ So, the tooth fairy asked what Jane wished for the most and he told her: she wished she were BIG.

The next day, when the children woke up, they were a little surprised. Everything was so BIG! The chairs were big, their beds were really big and even their slippers were so big that they looked like boats instead of slippers.

Peter (who was smaller but very smart) said to his sisters: ‘Don’t worry. This means that we are still asleep, and we are just dreaming. Let’s wait until we really wake up.’ So they all laid down, closed their eyes again and waited until they REALLY would wake up. Eva, who became a bit impatient, peeked through her half closed eyes. But nothing had changed. So she said: ‘I don’t think we are dreaming, guys. We better find out what’s happened.’

Eva managed to climb out of her enormous bed. And right there, on the enormous floor was an enormous piece of paper with enormous letters on it: ‘Yoor weesh as bin granted. And it was signed: ‘Sinceramente, la hada’ (which means ‘fairy’ in Spanish).

Oh, no! The tooth fairy, who had just arrived on a boat, only spoke Spanish! She had feverishly looked up all the words in the Webster English/Spanish dictionary, and had misunderstood.

Instead of making Jane, Eva and Peter BIG, she had made everything else big! Jane said: ‘We will write on the note, ask her to make things ‘smaller’ (they knew the word from their Spanish class in school).

Luckily there was a bucket of fresh paint on the enormous floor. Peter, Jane and Eva dipped their little feet in the enormous paint bucket and started to walk the letters like this:


They managed to climb back into their huge beds by grabbing onto the sheets and closed their little eyes and waited. Sure enough, they heard a swooshing sound and when they opened their eyes everything was normal sized again.

Jane, who was actually the smartest of the three, told her dad that they wanted to send the tooth fairy a gift certificate which would entitle her to take some English as a Second Language classes. That is how the tooth fairy learnt English and never made mistakes like that ever again. leave comment here
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Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The Tea Party: Deja Vu All Over Again

By Tom Kando

For now, the Tea Party remains as popular as ever. This amorphous “social movement” includes birthers, armed militias, survivalists who sometimes wish to secede from the US, and assorted others. Not all Tea Party sympathizers are extremists, but they are all on the political right. Although they wish to dissociate themselves from both parties, they overlap with Republicans. The Tea Partyers share a hostility to the institution of government in general, a particular hatred for this government, i.e. the Obama administration, and generalized anger.

The Tea Party is (1) overwhelmingly white (although it welcomes token people of color), and (2) protestant (although other Christian religions will do). It is not dominated by males. Its leaders include Stepford-wife-like women as well as other conservative women. It is inspired by some fat, pompous, filthy- rich demagogues, but most followers are not rich. Indeed, such movements are often a reflection of the frustration felt by a downwardly mobile lower middle class. Atheists, agnostics, public employees, academicians, socialists and foreigners should not apply for Tea Party membership.

All of this is well known. Here is the more interesting question: Is this new, and is it dangerous?

Dangerous, yes. Revolutionary, ignorant paranoid extremism is always dangerous. But it is not new, and therefore it may not be as dangerous as it sometimes seems to be. I like to be optimistic, and I believe that we’ll survive this nonsense just as we have survived similar waves in the past.

Why do I say this?

Because even a superficial knowledge of American history shows that movements and demagoguery like this have been a regularly recurring phenomenon in our country’s past. And yet, we have not turned fascist.

Right-wing radicalism in American history has been documented by such scholars as the great historian Richard Hofstadter (see The Paranoid Style in American Politics) and my friend, sociologist Scott McNall, among many others.

Throughout the 19th century, the country underwent periodic nativist, anti-immigrant swings. During the 1850s, anti-Irish sentiment was feverish, captured in such slogans as Rhum, Romanism and Rebellion.

By the 1930s, picking on Catholics had been replaced by anti-Semitism. Now it was Father Coughlin’s turn to blame Jews for everything, and to sympathize with Hitler and Mussolini - something in which he was joined by Charles Lindbergh and millions of devout radio listeners.

There have been many others, from the John Birchers to various militias, from the KKK to many apocalyptic, conspiratorial, populist movements.

Perhaps the clearest predecessor of today’s political mood is the McCarthy era and the Communist witch hunts of the 1950s. That’s when demagogue Joe McCarthy launched a crusade to purge the country of its communists. The toll was particularly heavy in Hollywood, where some of the most talented people were fired and then blackballed . McCarthy went hog-wild, calling even President Eisenhower a communist! At the height of his popularity, 50% of the American people sympathized with him! Today, one third of all Republicans believe that President Obama is not American-born. Same widespread kookiness.

There was never the remotest chance that communists would take over America. There was paranoia. And there is paranoia today. Terrorism, Al Qaeda, illegal immigrants, Islam, Socialists, the Federal Government. take your pick. As the man said, Deja Vu all over again.leave comment here
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Friday, June 11, 2010

Who is Wealthy and What does it Mean?



By Tom Kando

My wife just passed on to me an article: “Where the World's Millionaires Live: The Top 10 Countries,” Written by Nikhil Hutheesing (June 10, 2010). You can Google it or use this link: www.dailyfinance.com/story/where-the-worlds-millionaires-live-the-top-10-countries/19510242/

The article is interesting, even though sloppy:

1. It starts out saying that “Global wealth increased in 2009 back to a total of $111.5 trillion.” But this amount only represents all the “assets under management” (AUM) in the world. I suppose this consists primarily of stocks, bonds, other investments, and bank accounts. It doesn't even include real estate and other tangible assets. So this is a poor definition of total global wealth, one myopically used by the Wall Street financial community.

2. The article contains blatant errors: It says that of the $111.5 trillion total amount of “wealth,” Europe still owns the largest chunk in 2009 - $37 trillion. Fine. But in another paragraph, we are told that in 2009, North America’s share of the world’s wealth “totaled $4.6 trillion.” This is obviously only the amount by which North American wealth grew. In fact, North America’s total (AUM) wealth is close to Europe’s - namely $31 trillion.

3. Although “millionaire” is hardly a sign of extreme wealth any more (why, I know several of them myself - haha), it is nevertheless interesting to compare the amount , the distribution and the trend of wealth (as measured by this inadequate yardstick) of different parts of the world:

The Amount of Wealth: As stated, the total is now $111.5 trillion. Of this, Europe owns $37 trillion, North America $31 trillion and the rest of the world $44 trillion.

The Distribution of Wealth: Bad: It used to be roughly correct to say that Europe, America, and the rest of the world each owned about one third of the world’s wealth. Now, Asia is slowly increasing its share.
The US has by far the largest absolute number of millionaires of any country, but on a percentage basis we are only number seven. 4% of us are millionaires. (11.2 million households).
Most of the very rich countries are tiny: The six countries ranked above the US are: #1, Singapore, #2, Hong Kong, #3 Switzerland, #4, Kuwait, #5, Qatar, #6, United Arab Emirates. Their percentages of millionaires range from 11.4% to 6.2%.

Millionaires make up much less than 1% of the world’s population, but they own 38% of the world’s wealth. On the other hand, the 83% of the world’s households who are the poorest, own only 13% of the wealth. The top 0.5% of households (those with $5 million or more) own 21%, or $23 trillion, of the world’s wealth.

Trend: Bad: The growth in the number of millionaires in 2009 was greatest in North America in absolute terms, and greatest in Asia in relative terms. Millionaires’ share of the world’s total wealth increased from 36% in 2008 to 38% a year later. The share of the top 0.5% of households (those with $5 million or more) grew from 19% in 2008 to 23% in 2009. The share of the world’s 83% poorest people declined from 14% to 13%.

Conclusion: Bad: So what else is new? The rich are getting richer and the poor are getting poorer.
The news is especially bad for the US: Inequality and its acceleration are greater here than in Europe and in Asia. While millionaires “only” own 38% of the world’s wealth, in the US they own over half of it. This puts us in the company of the Middle East, Latin America and Africa.

I find our country’s rightward drift puzzling, at a time of growing inequality. The electorate has become convinced that the solution to our economic problems lies in (1) electing millionaire businessmen (and businesswomen), in (2) dismantling the government and in (3) eliminating labor unions. Pogo said it long ago: We have met the enemy, and it is us. leave comment here
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The Egoas and the Plebs

by Madeleine Kando

Once upon a time, a long long time ago, there was a group of individuals who went by the name of ‘the Egoas’. Lady Luck had been very generous with this group. She had given them a special place to live, a place called ‘Egoasville’. She had also endowed them with the ability to never doubt their own superiority with regard to the rest of the world.

They went about their business feeling very pleased with themselves because in Egoasville all the signs on the walls read: ‘Egoas are special, beware of imitations.’ Another poster read: ‘Please come to our special meeting on Wednesday night to discuss an impartial view of world affairs. Non-Egoas are not really welcome’. Unfortunately, as time passed, the Egoas got older and lazier. The Egoas needed fresh blood. Egoasville was situated in a country called Plebsland. That’s where the Plebs lived. The Plebs were not very privileged and many of them really wanted to live in Egoasville where they would become as special as the Egoas.

One day a Plebs just marched right into Egoasville, rented a room in a nice street and went about his business. The Egoas demanded that he fill out a questionnaire, to see who he knew that lived in Egoasville. The form clearly showed that he did not know one single Egoa personally, so out te went, along with his suitcase and already unpacked toothbrush.

Word spread of his appalling treatment and before you could count one two three, friends, family members and sympathizers rushed over to Egoasville and staged a protest march. Egoas aren’t comfortable with conflict so they allowed the Plebs to stay in Egoasville but dedicated a special section of town to them, which became known as the ‘Dontgothere’ quarters. They gave them money for schools, hospitals, libraries, anything to keep them out of the rest of Egoasville.

The Plebs initially were pleased. Life was easy. They spent their ample spare time trying to impose their religious views on the Egoas who didn’t go for any type of religious nonsense. But soon the Plebs began to feel like second class citizens. After all, they were ready to pull their load, but filling out forms, being pressured to stick to your own kind and having your friends pre-chewed for you was not something they enjoyed. They started a movement called ‘Letusin’. There was no opposition to their aggressive slogans, their unreasonable demand for equality, their obsession with religion. But all of this was to no avail. The Plebs couldn’t budge the Egoas’s obstinate attitude.

No one remembers exactly when it started, but Egoasville became a place where noone dared walk around after dark. The Plebs in the meantime, were wondering if admiring the Egoas was still a good thing. I mean, they really had made a mess of things, hadn’t they? Their treatment of the Plebs became known as the ‘Great Gaffe’ and the Plebs’ admiration for the Egoas started to wane.

As time went by more and more Egoas died out or left for greener pastures. More and more Plebs came to Egoasville. They didn’t put up with any Egoas nonsense any more. Gone were the days of admiration and servitude. In fact they decided to rename ‘Egoasville’ and called it ‘Plebsville’. The Plebs were in control. They became the new Egoas.

One day, without any warning whatsoever, a stranger appeared in Plebsville. He didn’t understand the rules of Plebsville very well. He was used to go as he pleased. So he just marched right into Plebsville, rented a room in a nice street and went about his business… leave comment here
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Saturday, June 5, 2010

Deep Water Horizon

By Tom Kando

Is the Gulf Oil spill the beginning of the Apocalypse? Armageddon? Is there anything left to say about the disaster? I believe that there is.

1) For one thing, the magnitude of the catastrophe bears repeating - over and over again: the oil is escaping at a rate of up to a million gallons a day. This is not just the worst environmental disaster in US history. It may become the worst one in world history.

2) We read a lot about the poor pelicans, ducks and dolphins dying. Terrible, indeed.

3) We also hear about the terrible economic losses - in jobs, to the shrimp industry, to the people in the region, to the US taxpayers, to BP, to the consumer, etc. Crass partisans such as Bobby Jindal, the conservative Republican governor of Louisiana, suddenly finds that the federal government should do more, after clamoring for years that the government should butt out and give business a free reign... Our culture does what it is accustomed to do: Reducing all problems to, and measuring their severity by, their $$$$ cost.

4) But the Gulf Oil spill is much more than that: What is going on there is the destruction of the earth, of Gaia. Gaia is a living organism. We humans are killing it. Gaia is the host and we are the virus, the parasite. Host and virus often live in symbiosis. We have done this for millions of years. American Indians are always depicted as having mastered this art. But sometimes, the virus (e.g. the Ebola) is dumb and it kills its host. We have become a dumb virus.

5) In the Gulf, we are not just killing pelicans and dolphins. We are now killing all life. We are causing havoc below the Ocean surface. We are killing everything, in a swath of the Atlantic thousands of feet deep, thousands of square miles, and expanding.

6) Places, lakes, islands, lands, oceans, even planets can die. Just like people. A few years ago I was on a train traveling along the shore of Lake Champlain. I looked at the large, pretty green/blue lake. But you know what? It was dead, gone, finished. There was nothing left but algae. Some years earlier, Lake Erie had also been declared dead. And now we are taking on the Atlantic Ocean. Our quest to eradicate life on Earth becomes bolder.

7) I would have hoped that the Gulf oil spill would be a wake-up call, like TMI and Chernobyl. Just as those accidents contributed heavily to the (near-)demise of the nuclear industry, the Gulf oil spill could be a major nail in Big Oil’s coffin, forcing us to wean ourselves from oil. It doesn’t look like it

8) We are the dwellers of the Easter Islands in Jared Diamond’s "Collapse." Who will be the last man alive, cutting down the last tree, and then crawling away to die? leave comment here
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Friday, June 4, 2010

Some More Thoughts on Immigration...

by Madeleine Kando

If you live in the United States and the word ‘immigrant’ is mentioned, you immediately think ‘Mexican immigrant’ (illegal or otherwise). If you live in Northern Europe, the word ‘immigrant’ is usually associated with Muslim immigrants and Islam.

One excellent source of information that compares Muslim immigrants in America and Europe is an article by Marcia Pally, a Professor at New York University. She argues that in America, Muslim immigrants are part of civil society, while in Europe they tend to be more excluded from it. She goes on to explain why:

She talks of two concept/pairs to compare the two: the secular/pluralist concept and the assimilation/participation concept.

By secular/pluralist she means that a secular society (a society that is not based on religion) can, actually have many religions within in. Americans are more religious than Europeans, but the government and the laws of the land are not religious laws. They are secular laws. Believing in another God (or not believing in any God) doesn’t stop you from getting a good job here.

By Assimilation/Participation she means that immigrants don’t necessarily have to assimilate to the American culture in order for them to participate in it. Case in point: I participate in the economy of the United States (I set up my own business), but I have not totally assimilated to it (I still have very strong European roots and values).

In the United States, you don’t have to assimilate, but once you participate as an immigrant, there is no need to rebel. What would you rebel against? America is used to foreigners. In Europe, because there is less opportunity to participate, there is more violence and immigrants turn towards radical alternatives.

In Europe, there is also more pressure to assimilate (the French government bans the wearing of headscarves in school), but there is less opportunity to participate. If you never meet a person from another culture at work, there is less tolerance for differences. It is ironic that European countries expect more assimilation from their immigrants, but with stronger barriers against participation, they get less of it. Europe prides itself on being a ‘multicultural society’, but immigrants from other cultures have a hard time surviving.

One of the more ridiculous explanations for why immigrants in Europe do not assimilate to Western values is that Europe is not religious any more. So Islam fills the void. The argument goes that Europe is dying, and, supposedly because of a lack of religion, it doesn’t produce enough babies, it lacks moral values, it has become hedonistic etc. Well, I am half European, I am not religious but I do not lack moral values and I have children.

Tell me, which is more important: to be able to participate in the economy of a society or pray to a God every day? To quote Bertold Brecht: ‘Erst kommt das fressen, dan kommt die moral’ (first food, then morals). leave comment here
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Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Why are Americans so Obsessed with Crime, when Crime is at an all-time Low?

By Tom Kando

For the past 20 years, America’s crime rate has been declining. What I have been telling my students for years was confirmed again recently when the FBI published its annual Uniform Crime Report.
The US crime rate peaked in the late 1980s. Since then, it has declined almost non-stop, with some minor fluctuations.

A familiar argument used to be that annual crime statistics reflect record-keeping and law enforcement practices, rather than true changes in the real numbers of crimes committed. By now, this no longer washes at all.

The decline is too enormous for that. Furthermore, the drop is also found in easily tallied crimes such as murder, not subject to "record-keeping" whims. Criminal homicide peaked at over 10 per 100,000 in the late 1980s. Today, it is in the 4 to 5 range - i.e. less than half of what it was. America’s crime rate is now as low as it was during the 1950s - the "good old days."

Yet the public’s perception is that crime remains out of control. Paranoia is up. Worry about crime is as deep as ever.

This misconception about the extent of crime is just one error. Equally widespread are beliefs about the causes of crime. In a short post, I can only address the single most prevalent error - the belief that crime is primarily caused by poverty. Facts do not support this belief whatsoever, yet it is perhaps the single most widely quoted cliche, one voiced by politicians, peace officers, any lay person briefly interviewed on TV in some American city, even some criminologists, who should know better.

For the past 3 years, crime has plummeted, even as the economy tanked. The same thing happened ruing the Great Depression of the 1930s. Conversely, crime reached all-time highs during the Roaring Twenties and the turbulent sixties, both eras of great economic wealth and expansion. It sometimes almost seems that the correlation between crime and economic progress is negative!

Does punishment matter? We are now locking up astronomical numbers of people. 10 to 20 times as many as during the 1960s. By far the largest number of any country on earth. This trend began during the late 1960s. Does this factor have anything to do with the decline in crime?

Sorry, progressive readers, but yes, it does. The enormous increase in incarceration has made a contribution to the reduction of crime.

However (sorry conservative readers): we are now locking up far too many people. The optimal level of imprisonment was reached a long time ago. The law of diminishing returns has been in effect. It is now time to lock up fewer people, not more.

So why do most people still worry, erroneously, more about crime than about almost anything else?

There are many reasons of course, but two things seem very apparent: (1) The country is in a nasty mood right now, because things are hard. So it makes sense for people to feel that "life sucks all around, so crime must also be rampant, right?" and (2) the fear of crime is aided and abetted by the sleazy opinion-forming media and popular culture: Chanel surf your TV on any given day, and ten of the twenty shows being broadcast at any time of the day are likely to be crime and cop shows... Same with Hollywood and the printed press. That’s our culture, alas. leave comment here
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