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Smart Bombs: Our quick-draw culture

The Connecticut mass shooting has sprouted a robust discussion on root causes. We have a lot of guns in this country, an estimated 280 million. But as the slogan goes, they don’t kill, people do.

So why is it that Americans are more apt to reach for a gun?

“Baby sister, I was born game and I intend to go out that way.” – “True Grit”

Well, violent video games are under suspicion, but the research isn’t conclusive. In addition, U.S. homicide rates have dropped as the sale of violent games has gone up. Furthermore, virtual carnage occurs in many countries more peaceful than the United States. Brazil has outlawed many video games, but it’s still a pretty violent country. What seems undeniable is that violence is ingrained in American culture. It’s probably a mixture of history, mythology and romantic notions of the Wild West.

“I won’t be wronged. I won’t be insulted. I won’t be laid a hand on. I don’t do these things to other people and I require the same from them.” – “The Shootist”

Europeans are fascinated with the Old West and swarm tourist traps like Tombstone, Old Tucson and Dodge City. But they don’t return home to impose a code of the West. Americans, by and large, are not the rugged individualists they presume to be. But it remains an aspiration for many.

“Anything goes wrong, anything at all … your fault, my fault, nobody’s fault … it won’t matter – I’m gonna blow your head off.” – “Big Jake”

The fantasy cowboys in Western movies were cool, calm and courageous. That’s a lot to live up to. Steeped in this culture, it shouldn’t be surprising that we’re a more violent nation with a ready supply of guns and ammunition with which to “solve” problems.

In kindergarten, we’re taught to use our words, but that’s not how laconic American heroes of yesteryear handled conflict.

“We deal in lead, friend.” – “The Magnificent Seven”

The heat is on. The report on global temperatures for November is in. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration notes that for land and sea combined, it was 1.21 degrees Fahrenheit above the 20th-century average for Novembers. It was the fifth-warmest November on record (since 1880), with the 10 warmest Novembers occurring in the past 12 years. Only 2005 had a warmer September-November period.

Here’s the exclamation point: “November 2012 also marks the 36th consecutive November and 333rd consecutive month with global temperatures higher than the long-term average. The last month with a below average temperature was February 1985.”

Let’s see, 1985 … half a lifetime for me. David Letterman debuted his Top Ten list, “Out of Africa” nabbed the Oscar, and Bartles & Jaymes thanked us for our support. You’d think this would be considered a trend by now, but scientists are stuck singing “Don’t You Forget About Me.”

Simple minds refuse to grasp the threat. We call them “leaders.”

Between the lines. Statistician Nate Silver crunched some numbers and found that during the 1992 national election there were 103 members of Congress elected in districts where the presidential race was within 5 percentage points. Last fall, the number of swing districts dwindled to 35.

It’s no wonder compromise is rare when so few representatives are threatened by the opposition party. Nowadays, the concern has shifted to the primaries. Liberals have to watch their left flank; conservatives have to watch the right. If an incumbent is caught working with “the enemy,” it becomes a campaign ad.

You can thank redistricting for this. It might seem like a boring exercise conducted every 10 years, but it has reshaped politics while the public looked the other way.

Associate Editor Gary Crooks can be reached at or (509) 459-5026. Follow him on Twitter @GaryCrooks.


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