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- Our Violent World
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He's an ordinary banker, but in Mexico City these are not ordinary times. So he has a driver trained in counterkidnapping maneuvers and they take a different route to work every day. The windows of his two private cars have been treated with a special film to resist smashing. In addition to a new alarm system, his home has a new television camera to monitor the front door and there are plans to build a vaultlike "safe room" on the second floor that can be sealed with the family inside should someone break into the house.
In a city where crime is a major growth industry--for criminals and companies that sell security systems to thwart them--such extreme measures are increasingly common.
The extra security is warranted by an explosion in crime that has forced residents to dramatically change their lifestyles and even has prompted some rich Mexicans to move their families out of the country. The surge in kidnappings--up to six a day in Mexico City--and violent crime has been a boon to companies that provide bodyguards, alarm systems, specially trained ransom negotiators and other security services.
Daniel Bell, general manager of Kroll-O'Gara of Mexico, a leading international security firm, said that the business of bulletproofing cars in Mexico has grown more than 400 percent in the last four years. "Mexico changed forever with the economic crisis, the opening of borders [with the United States under the North American Free Trade Agreement] and the globalization of the economy," he said. "Before '94, this was a very peaceful place, but the economic crisis had such a severe impact that it changed the moral fiber of the country."
There is a sense that crime pays. According to the federal government, 95 percent of all reported crimes go unpunished. Crime victims' reluctance to go to the police is fueled by suspicion that police themselves are behind much of the crime.
"Everybody wants to get into it because it's easy money," said Max Morales, a Mexico City attorney who has been involved in numerous kidnap negotiations. "They do financial research and choose their targets," he said. "Sometimes they pick the best time for a kidnapping by studying vacation time, travel habits and [they study] cash flow through the victim's companies to make the ransom collections easier."
Kidnappers have also devised a technique called "express kidnapping"--a short-term abduction in which the aim is to drain the victim's liquid assets quickly, often by forcing him or her to make multiple withdrawals from different automatic teller machines.
Another popular crime is "virtual kidnapping," in which a family is falsely led to believe that a loved one has been kidnapped. In a typical scenario, a stranger meets a woman at a bar and engages in personal banter. Then the woman goes to a movie while the stranger calls her family, saying she has been kidnapped and demanding an instant ransom, to be paid before the movie's over.
What's to blame for the shootings in Colorado? Several members of the Senate lashed out at Hollywood and its supposed glorification of violence. But kids these days don't have to go to the movies to see maiming and killing. They can see the real thing by turning on the nightly news.
U.S. bombs do to Belgrade what tornadoes did to Oklahoma and Kansas, and the senators think they can send a non-violent message to young people? Worse, Clinton and Gore think pious speeches can blunt the reality that the U.S. military is killing civilians in foreign countries every day. If offing [murdering] people you hate is OK in Pristina, why not Littleton? The primary sponsor of violence chic is not the movies, which portray fantasy, but the government, which engages in real-life war.
The seventy premature babies in a Belgrade hospital, whose incubators went dead after the U.S. bombed an electrical plant, are the real-life casualties of Clinton's war. To hype up the Gulf War, the Bush administration told stories about Iraqi troops dumping preemies on the floor, stories which turned out to be false. This time, however, it is for real, but it is the U.S. doing it.
If violence in the Balkans is getting to be old hat, turn your attention to Iraq, where the bombings and bloodshed, not to speak of the murderous sanctions, have been relentless. With everyone's attention riveted on Yugoslavia, the U.S. has stepped up its war on Iraq, with almost daily skirmishes against radar and other sites, and the deaths of dozens of civilians.
U.S. jets launched missiles near Mosul, killing two civilians and mutilating another 12. Twenty-five miles north of Mosul, a family of seven was snuffed out by U.S. bombs. The official excuse: the U.S. was targeting air-defense sites. Gee, but isn't that a funny place for a family to live?
Enough of this nonsense. The credibility of administration spokesmen has begun to run very thin. For instance: a court recently cleared the owner of the Sudanese pharmaceutical plant of having had any connection to chemical weapons. But this was a year after the U.S. reduced the entire place to rubble, and insisted, vehemently and for many months, that it was making chemical weapons to be used against Americans. Moreover, these same administration spokesmen denounced all skeptics as wackos with an agenda, or people in the pay of terrorists.
It is the Clinton administration, not the movies, that is the source of the new violence chic. If politicians want to send a moral message to American kids, let them start by stopping their own acts of violence. Then they could give us the gun control we need: background checks and waiting periods for politicians trying to buy bombers, and safety locks on Tomahawk missiles. Parents, freed from the influence that officially sanctioned violence has on their children, can take it from there.
The real story [of the tragedy at Columbine High School] has to do with the breakdown of morality in America and the consequences of that breakdown.
All the elements of that story are present in the words of President John Adams, who delivered one of the most powerful and insightful statements ever made about America: "We have no government armed with power capable of contending with human passions unbridled by morality and religion. Our Constitution was made only for a moral and religious people. It is wholly inadequate to the government of any other."
Adams makes the point that the only effective form of control in a nation of free people is self-control. There are no mechanical fixes to moral problems.
The only force capable of defeating this evil, aborting it at the very moment of conception, is a deeply ingrained moral sense of right and wrong.
But the culture within which we are all immersed breeds immorality and nourishes the worst that is within us. Its pervasive voices and faces have become increasingly brutish, vulgar, vile and violent. Our music, books, movies, sitcoms, soap operas and video games pound out messages of mayhem and depravity, the audience ever younger.
This decadent culture has invaded and overwhelmed the church, the family and the school--the conscience-forming institutions of our society. The Supreme Court has upheld laws that are openly hostile to religious speech and expression, particularly in government schools, where prayer is prohibited, and God, by mandate, is treated as a pariah.
What chance do parents have of prevailing with a view of right and wrong when the entire culture works against them? What chance do parents have when the government itself has systematically seized control of children by asserting the right to feed them, baby-sit them, give them condoms, arrange abortions for them, and decide where they go to school and what they are taught--including attitudes and values that undermine parental rights and religious convictions?
Government schools are a microcosm of our society. We have erected a wall of separation of God from His children and cleared the way for an unimpeded assault on the traditional standards of decency that stand between degenerates and what they want to do and be.
Unbridled excesses have filled our lives, not with joy, but with crime, disease and carnage. Eventually, this may require heavy-handed government repression to restore order and quell anarchy.
Will and Ariel Durant, in their classic book, The Lessons of History, asked themselves this question: "Does history warrant the conclusion that religion is necessary to morality?" Their answer: "There is no significant example in history, before our time, of a society successfully maintaining moral life without the aid of religion." We have declared God persona non grata at our peril.
Was it real life or an acted-out video game? Marching through a large building using various bombs and guns to pick off victims is a conventional video-game scenario. In the Colorado massacre, Dylan Klebold and Eric Harris used pistol-grip shotguns, as in some video-arcade games. The pools of blood, screams of agony, and pleas for mercy must have been familiar--they are featured in some of the newer and more realistic kill-for-kicks games. "With each kill," the Los Angeles Times reported, "the teens cackled and shouted as though playing one of the morbid video games they loved." And they ended their spree by shooting themselves in the head, the final act in the game Postal, and, in fact, the only way to end it.
We are now a society in which the chief form of play for millions of youngsters is making large numbers of people die. Hurting and maiming others is the central fun activity in video games played so addictively by the young. A widely cited survey of 900 fourth-through-eighth-grade students found that almost half of the children said their favorite electronic games involve violence. Can it be that all this constant training in make-believe killing has no social effects?
The conventional argument is that this is a harmless activity among children who know the difference between fantasy and reality. But the games are often played by unstable youngsters unsure about the difference. Many of these have been maltreated or rejected and left alone most of the time (a precondition for playing the games obsessively). Adolescent feelings of resentment, powerlessness, and revenge pour into the killing games. In these children, the games can become a dress rehearsal for the real thing.
Psychologist David Grossman of Arkansas State University, a retired Army officer, thinks "point and shoot" video games have the same effect as military strategies used to break down a soldier's aversion to killing. During World War II only 15 to 20 percent of all American soldiers fired their weapon in battle. Shooting games in which the target is a man-shaped outline, the Army found, made recruits more willing to "make killing a reflex action."
Video games are much more powerful versions of the military's primitive discovery about overcoming the reluctance to shoot. The Marine Corps is adapting a version of Doom, the hyperviolent game played by one of the Littleton killers, for its own training purposes.
Some newer games seem intent on erasing children's empathy and concern for others. Once the intended victims of video slaughter were mostly gangsters or aliens. Now some games invite players to blow away ordinary people who have done nothing wrong--pedestrians, marching bands, an elderly woman with a walker. One ad for a Sony game says: "Get in touch with your gun-toting, testosterone-pumping, cold-blooded murdering side."
These killings are supposed to be taken as harmless jokes. But the bottom line is that the young are being invited to enjoy the killing of vulnerable people picked at random. This looks like the final lesson in a course to eliminate any lingering resistance to killing.
"We have to start worrying about what we are putting into the minds of our young," says Grossman. "Pilots train on flight simulators, drivers on driving simulators, and now we have our children on murder simulators."
TV plays a part as well. "We have introduced forms and amounts of media violence beyond anything achieved in other countries," says Harvard scholar Sissela Bok in her 1998 book Mayhem. According to the American Psychological Association, the average child will witness at least 8,000 murders on TV by the time he or she leaves elementary school, along with more than 100,000 assorted other acts of violence.
The Journal of the American Medical Association published the definitive study on the impact of TV violence. The research demonstrated what happened in numerous nations after television made its appearance. In every nation, region, or city with television, there is an immediate explosion of violence on the playground, and within 15 years there is a doubling of the murder rate. Why 15 years? That is how long it takes for the brutalization of a three- to five-year-old to reach the "prime crime age." That is how long it takes for you to reap what you have sown when you brutalize and desensitize a three-year-old.
Today the data linking violence in the media to violence in society are superior to those linking cancer and tobacco. Hundreds of sound scientific studies demonstrate the social impact of brutalization by the media. The Journal of the American Medical Association concluded that "the introduction of television in the 1950's caused a subsequent doubling of the homicide rate; i.e., long-term childhood exposure to television is a causal factor behind approximately one half of the homicides committed in the U.S., or approximately 10,000 homicides annually." The article went on to say that " if, hypothetically, television technology had never been developed, there would today be 10,000 fewer homicides each year in the United States, 70,000 fewer rapes, and 700,000 fewer injurious assaults" (June 10, 1992).
TAIPEI For almost a week, four teen-age boys took turns raping a 15-year-old captive, beating her and torturing her with electric shocks. Their girlfriends watched, or sat in front of the TV in the next room. When she finally died and the teens were arrested, the junior high-school dropout who led the gang said the victim deserved what she got for stealing a pager and being "a pain."
Taiwanese youth long were viewed as deferential bookworms, model strivers who worked hard in school and grew up to help build the island into an increasingly vibrant and affluent society. However, vicious juvenile crimes like the killing of the girl has Taiwan increasingly afraid of its own children. A new stereotype is emergingthat of the sneering, remorseless young tough.
Police say 409 juveniles were arrested for murder in 1997. In Japan, with more than five times the population and its own worrying problem of increasing juvenile crime, the figure was only 97.
Hsieh Fen-fen, commander of the Taipei police departments juvenile branch, said teens inability to communicate frustration plus constant exposure to sex and violence in comics, video games and TV can lead to random, vicious crime. "Kids slowly get used to gore and sex in the media," she said. "Then, they feel an escalating need for thrills. They want the real thing."
Waiting for a brief probation interview at Taipei district court, a 20-year-old woman said kids choose their own path at school. "So if youre not motivated, you just do what you want," she said. On probation for assaulting another girl when she was 16, the woman said things might have been different if someone had "been there" for her.
Three young men in fatigues and black trench coats opened fire at a suburban Denver high school Tuesday in what police called a suicide mission, and the sheriff said 25 people may have been killed. Two of the suspects were found dead in the library. Several students said the killers were gunning for minorities and athletes. The dead suspects, believed to be former students at Columbine High School, had devices on them that could be bombs. A third young man was led away from the school in handcuffs more than four hours after the attack, which began at 11:30 a.m. By early evening, FBI agents and police SWAT teams were still moving through the school, searching for victims and explosives.
At least 20 people were wounded at Columbine, which has 1,800 students. Shots ricocheted off lockers as the gunmen opened fire with what students said were automatic weapons and set off explosives. One girl was shot nine times in the chest. Many students dived to the floors and sprinted for the exits. Dozens of students hid in classrooms before escaping with the help of police in an armored car. Others were trapped for hours while SWAT teams searched for the gunmen.
Outside, hundreds of officers from throughout the Denver area surrounded the school. Frantic parents were sent to a nearby elementary school, where they searched for word of their children. Some students had called their parents on cellular phones from inside the building. Three youths wearing black - but not trench coats - were stopped by police in a field near the school. The Colorado Bureau of Investigation said the three were friends of the gunmen who were being taken in for questioning.
Columbine High is in the middle-class suburb of Littleton, population 35,000, southwest of Denver. Nearby schools were locked down, with students prohibited from entering or leaving for hours.
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Dread of crime haunts Mexico
Violence is chic
When life imitates video
Taiwan's angry children
25 May be dead in school shooting
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