Saturday, November 27, 2021

Climate Change, Existentialism and Moby Dick


“…Climate change touches on time scales and planetary systems that humans aren’t wired to fathom. But at the same time, it can be seen as just another challenge we’ve brought upon ourselves through societal failings.

“Perhaps it’s more helpful, then, to think about climate change not as a brand-new “existential threat,” but as the kind of age-old crisis that is tailor-made for existentialism – a philosophy, as the scholar Walter Kaufmann put it, that is all about ‘dread, despair, death, and dauntlessness.’ The basic idea is to recognize how treacherous and unknowable your path is, and then to continue on anyway.

“Moby Dick is clearly an existentialist text, though it was published almost a century before the term was coined. One of the founders of modern existentialism, Nobel Prize winner Albert Camus, explicitly acknowledged Melville as an intellectual forebear. And two of the main characters in ‘Moby-Dick’ are near-perfect existentialists: the narrator, Ishmael, and his friend, Queequeg, a harpooner from the fictional isle of Kokovoko.

“From the beginning of his tale, Ishmael makes clear his obsession with the horror of the human condition. He’s bitterly depressed, angry, even suicidal: ‘it is a damp, drizzly November in my soul,’ he says on page one, and he finds himself ‘pausing before coffin warehouses.’ He hates the way modern New Yorkers seem to spend their days ‘tied to counters, nailed to benches, clinched to desks.’ All he can think to do is go to sea.

“Of course, it’s not long before he has a near-death experience on the open water. He and a few crewmates get chucked out of their small boat in the midst of a squall after failing to nab the whale they were after. Queequeg signals with their one faint lantern, ‘hopelessly holding up hope in the midst of despair.’

“Immediately after they’re saved, Ishmael interviews the most experienced of the crew and, confirming that this sort of thing happens all the time, goes below decks to ‘make a rough draft of my will,’ with Queequeg as his witness. The ‘whole universe’ seems like ‘a vast practical joke’ at his expense, but he finds himself able to smile at the absurdity: ‘Now then, thought I, unconsciously rolling up the sleeves of my frock, here goes for a cool, collected dive at death and destruction.’

No man is an island

“Again and again, Moby Dick forces readers to confront despair. But that doesn’t make it a grim read, or a paralyzing one – in part because Melville himself is such an engaging companion, and much of the book imparts a powerful sense of fellowship.

“Literary critic Geoffrey Sanborn writes that Melville meant for Moby Dick ‘to make your mind a more interesting and enjoyable place.’

“‘It’s about the effort,’ Sanborn he writes, ‘… to feel, in the deepest recesses of your consciousness, at least temporarily un-alone.’ When Ishmael stops by the Whaleman’s Chapel before his fateful journey, ‘each silent worshipper seemed purposely sitting apart from the other, as if each silent grief were insular and incommunicable.’

“But once aboard his ship, he finds all the crew members suddenly ‘welded into oneness,’ thanks to their shared sense of purpose and their awareness of the dangers ahead. And he sees the same kind of unity in ‘extensive herds’ of sperm whales, as though ‘numerous nations of them had sworn solemn league and covenant for mutual assistance and protection.’

“That’s the sense of interconnectedness human nations need today. When I picked up Moby Dick earlier this month, I almost immediately thought of the climate change negotiations in Glasgow – and Queequeg’s small island home. I could easily imagine the harpooner as an eloquent representative of a nation in danger of being swallowed up by rising waters. ‘It’s a mutual, joint-stock world, in all meridians,’ Ishmael imagines Queequeg saying at one point in the novel. ‘We cannibals must help these Christians.’ That’s a startling line, emphasizing Melville’s suggestion that Queequeg, whom many characters dismiss as a ‘heathen,’ is actually the most ethical character in the book.

“But in Glasgow, it seems, wealthy nations’ recognition of the need for mutual aid fell short. Though their disproportionate greenhouse gas emissions are largely to blame for poorer countries’ disproportionate suffering, their funding for developing nations to weather the storm is far below what’s needed – and eventually, that may come back to bite everyone.

“Queequeg’s interdependent relationship with Ishmael is at the very center of Moby Dick. Their fates are interwoven; Queequeg is Ishmael’s inseparable twin brother.’ In one scene, the harpooner dangles over the water, attached by a cord to Ishmael, so that ‘should poor Queequeg sink to rise no more,’ our narrator would go tumbling into the sea as well.

“At the end of the novel, all the whalemen except Ishmael sink to rise no more. The narrator is saved by a coffin Queequeg had carved for himself, then given to the First Mate to replace a lost lifebuoy. Much about ‘Moby-Dick’ will always remain murky, but this symbolism is clear: To ponder death and prepare for the worst are age-old survival strategies.

“Queequeg’s culture led him to confront the hardest realities of life. As Ishmael notes admiringly, the harpooner had ‘no civilized hypocrisies and bland deceits,’ no tendency toward denial. He had thoroughly enjoyed carving his coffin, and when he lay down in it to check the fit, while suffering from a life-threatening fever, he had shown a perfectly ‘composed countenance.’ ‘It will do,’ he murmured; it is easy.’

“Queequeg’s existentialist determination in the face of dread, his willingness to sacrifice, his caring forethought, made all the difference. And maybe that could be an inspiration. The key to addressing climate change won’t be some abstract injunction to save the planet; it will be about acknowledging interdependence and commonality and accepting responsibility. It will be about returning Queequeg’s favor.” -Aaron Sachs, Professor of History and American Studies at Cornell University

The Conversation


Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Jesse Owens and Lux Long


                       Owens with Long at Olympic Games, Berlin, 1936

"It took a lot of courage for him to befriend me in front of Hitler.… You can melt down all the medals and cups I have and they wouldn’t be a plating on the 24-karat friendship I felt for Luz Long at that moment. Hitler must have gone crazy watching us embrace. The sad part of the story is I never saw Long again." - J.C. Owens

"Back home, ticker tape parades feted Owens in New York City and Cleveland. Hundreds of thousands of Americans came out to cheer him. Letters, phone calls, and telegrams streamed in from around the world to congratulate him. From one important man, however, no word of recognition ever came. As Owens later put it, 'Hitler didn’t snub me; it was our president who snubbed me. The president didn’t even send a telegram.' Franklin Delano Roosevelt...couldn’t bring himself to utter a word of support...FDR invited all the white US Olympians to the White House, but not Jesse.

"'It all goes so fast, and character makes the difference when it’s close,' Owens once said about athletic competition. He could have taught FDR a few lessons in character, but the president never gave him the chance. Owens wouldn’t be invited to the White House for almost 20 years — not until Dwight Eisenhower named him 'Ambassador of Sports' in 1955.' -Lawrence Reed

"Luz Long died in 1943 while fighting for Germany in World War II. A final letter he wrote to Jesse Owens reads, in part, 'I am here, Jesse, where it seems there is only the dry sand and wet blood. I do not fear so much for myself, my friend Jesse, I fear for my woman who is home, and my young son Karl who has never really known his father. My heart tells me, if I be honest with you, that this is the last letter I shall ever write. If it is so, I ask you [for] something. It is a something so very important to me. It is [for] you [to] go to Germany when this war [is] done; someday find my Karl, and tell him about his father. Tell him, Jesse, what times were like when we [were] not separated by war. I am saying—tell him how things can be between men on this earth.'" -Your brother, Luz

Jesse Owens years later with Long's son

Monday, November 22, 2021

The Law of Self-Defense and Stand Your Ground


“In a two-week trial that reignited debate over self-defense laws across the nation, a Wisconsin jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse for shooting three people, two fatally, during a racial justice protest in Kenosha.

“The Wisconsin jury believed Rittenhouse’s claims that he feared for his life and acted in self-defense after he drove about 20 miles from his home in Antioch, Illinois – picking up an AR-15-style semi-automatic rifle in Kenosha – in what he claimed was an effort to protect property during violent protests. 

The lakeside city of 100,000 was the scene of chaotic demonstrations after a white police officer shot Jacob Blake, an unarmed, 29-year-old black man, leaving him paralyzed from the waist down.

“In delivering its verdict, a Wisconsin jury decided that Rittenhouse’s conduct was justified, even though the prosecution argued that he provoked the violent encounter and, therefore, should not be able to find refuge in the self-defense doctrine. As prosecutor Thomas Binger said in his closing argument: ‘When the defendant provokes this incident, he loses the right to self-defense.’

“The Wisconsin jury disagreed, and its decision may portend a similar outcome in another high-profile case in Georgia, where three white men are on trial for the shooting death of Ahmaud Arbery after they claimed the Black man was a suspect in a rash of robberies. Like Rittenhouse, the three men claimed they were acting in self-defense.

Self-defense arguments are often raised during trials involving loss of life. Juries are then asked to determine whether a defendant’s conduct is justified by principles of self-defense or whether the offender is criminally liable for homicide.

“Complicating matters is that each state has its own distinct homicide and self-defense laws. Some states observe the controversial ‘stand your ground’ doctrine, as in Georgia – or not, as in Wisconsin – further clouding the public’s understanding on what constitutes an appropriate use of deadly force.

Five elements of self-defense

“As a professor of criminal law, I teach my students that the law of self-defense in America proceeds from an important concept: Human life is sacred, and the law will justify the taking of human life only in narrowly defined circumstances. The law of self-defense holds that a person who is not the aggressor is justified in using deadly force against an adversary when he reasonably believes that he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury. This is the standard that every state uses to define self-defense.

“To determine whether this standard is met, the law looks at five central concepts: First, the use of force must be proportionate to the force employed by the aggressor. If the aggressor lightly punches the victim in the arm, for example, the victim cannot use deadly force in response. It’s not proportional.

“Second, the use of self-defense is limited to imminent harm. The threat by the aggressor must be immediate. For instance, a person who is assaulted cannot leave the scene, plan revenge later and conduct vigilante justice by killing the initial aggressor.

“Third, the person’s assessment of whether he is in imminent danger of death or serious bodily injury must be reasonable, meaning that a supposed ‘reasonable person’ would consider the threat to be sufficiently dangerous to put him in fear of death or serious bodily injury. A person’s own subjective view of this fear is not enough to satisfy the standard for self-defense.

“Fourth, the law does not permit a first aggressor to benefit from a self-defense justification. Only those with ‘clean hands’ can benefit from this justification and avoid criminal liability.

“Finally, a person has a duty to retreat before using deadly force, as long as it can be done safely. This reaffirms the law’s belief in the sanctity of human life and ensures that deadly force is an option of last resort.

‘Stand your ground’

“The proliferation of states that have adopted ‘stand your ground’ laws in recent years has complicated the analysis of self-defense involving the duty to retreat. Dating back to early Anglo-American law, the duty to retreat has been subject to an important exception historically called the ‘castle doctrine’: A person has no duty to retreat in his home. This principle emerged from the 17th-century maxim that a ‘man’s home is his castle.’

“The ‘castle doctrine’ permits the use of lethal force in self-defense without imposing a duty to retreat in the home. Over time, states began to expand the non-retreat rule to spaces outside of the home. ‘Stand your ground’ laws came under national scrutiny during the trial of George Zimmerman, who was acquitted in the 2012 shooting death of Trayvon Martin.

“In that case, Martin, 17, was walking home after buying Skittles from a nearby convenience store. At the time, Zimmerman was a neighborhood watch volunteer who called police after spotting Martin. Despite being told by the 911 operator to remain in his car until officers arrived, Zimmerman instead confronted Martin.

“It remains unclear whether a fight ensued, who was the aggressor and whether Zimmerman had injuries consistent with his claims of being beaten up by Martin. Zimmerman was the sole survivor; Martin, who was unarmed, died from a gunshot wound.

In the Zimmerman case, for example, under traditional self-defense law, the combination of first-aggressor limitation and duty to retreat would not have allowed Zimmerman to follow Martin around and kill him without being liable for murder. But, in a stand-your-ground state such as Florida, Zimmerman had a lawful right to patrol the neighborhood near Martin’s home. As a result, during his trial, all Zimmerman had to prove was that he was in reasonable fear of death or serious bodily injury.

“In Wisconsin, Rittenhouse was also able to put in evidence that he was in reasonable fear of death. ‘I didn’t do anything wrong,’ Rittenhouse testified. ‘I defended myself.’ The prosecution was unable to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Rittenhouse was not reasonably in fear for his safety. This represents a high bar for the prosecution. They were unable to surmount it.”

The Conversation: Ronald Sullivan, Professor of Law Harvard Law School

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Why You Should Beware of Ransomware-as-a-Service? by Justin Stoltzfus and Sarita Harbour


Have you heard about ransomware? When you fall victim to this kind of cyber attack, there aren’t any notes made of cut-out magazine letters, duffel bags full of cash or any of those quaint things we typically associate with a traditional ransom situation. Instead, your computer could crash and your files could be lost forever – or even put into the hands of criminals.

Ransomware Basics

Ransomware is a type of malware, malicious software that targets and encrypts files on a computer system so they become unusable. According to a recent Forbes article, ransomware often removes or “exports” your files, holding them “hostage” until you pay a ransom to decrypt and return the files.

The idea is that a hacker gets access to files full of data. Then they reach in and encrypt the files so that only the hacker holds the key. No one sees the data until a “decryption key” gets activated.

This can severely damage a business or organization, such as a medical practice or law office, or any business with critical real-time operations. And it can also have a negative impact on individual users as well, when everything from treasured pictures of grandchildren to pension statements or bank statements disappear from devices.

The news is full of stories about ransomware attacks on businesses and organizations. Certain industries, such as healthcare, education, government and finance are particularly at risk.

For example, the HIPAA Journal reported 9.7 million medical records were stolen in September 2020. On top of this, American Banker reported a security banking firm saw a 520% increase in phishing and ransomware attacks between March and June of 2020.

However, ransomware attacks can also hit your home computer or smartphone and as more workers switched to remote work during 2020, ransomware attacks continued to increase, up 93% in 2021 Q1.

What Is Ransomware-as-a-Service?

Over the years, individual hackers and criminal outfits have found a variety of tricky ways to steal files and hold them for ransom. But now, part of why ransomware is so scary involves a new “product” called Ransomware as a Service (RaaS).

What is RaaS? This idea relies on the basic concept of offering software over the Internet.

You may have heard of “cloud services” – vendors that store data remotely, and move it to and from client systems through the web. Web-delivered software allows individuals and businesses to access all sorts of digital help right through the Internet without installing software from CDs. This software can help them with:

  • Financial transaction handling
  • Analytics
  • Backing up large amounts of data

At the same time, hackers have also been able to use software-as-a-service models to create and deliver ransomware to cybercriminals. So essentially, with RaaS, cyber-attackers are selling each other the software to perform ransomware attacks.

Why Hackers Like Ransomware-as-a-Service

Hackers like ransomware-as-a-service because it’s efficient. Instead of learning how to create and insert ransomware, they can simply purchase a “done-for-you” ransomware product from another cybercriminal who specializes in it. As with legitimate businesses, outsourcing to an “as a service” cloud-based provider saves time and money.

What Ransomware Does

Once it’s on your smartphone, laptop or desktop computer, ransomware effectively “locks” your devices. Your files, photos, and information become inaccessible. Instead, you’ll receive a notification that you’ll get access to a decryption key along with access to your files once a specified “ransom” payment is received by the hackers.

Ransomware cybercriminals may also threaten to make your files and data public or to sell the information to “the dark web” if you don’t pay the ransom. The dark web is where your personal information like your name, address or social security number could be used by cybercriminals to perpetrate crimes like identity theft. This can help them obtain:

  • Credit in your name
  • False passport
  • Drivers’ licenses

How to Spot Ransomware

There are some ways to know if your devices get targeted by a ransomware program. In fact, if you notify your local authorities immediately, you could possibly stop the attack.

Some of the early signs of ransomeware on your device may include:

  • An increasing number of popup ads.
  • Your browser being redirected multiple times.
  • Unusual security warnings in messages or popups.
  • Your system slows down.

If the attack is successful, of course, you’ll probably get some kind of ransom note – likely in the form of an email, or some kind of “red alert” screen banner ad, according to this recent AARP article.

So, if the hackers don’t want cash in a briefcase, what are they asking for? Ransomware operators often ask for a type of digital currency called Bitcoin, because it’s difficult to trace. How do you get Bitcoin? Hopefully, you never have to find out.

As for who to call for help in a ransomware emergency, you have a couple of options.

First, notify your local law enforcement. Their cybercrime experts may have experience with the ransomware operators who have targeted you.

Next, talk to your internet service provider. If you have a cloud backup data service, ask for their assistance. A cloud backup can often easily replace your files after a hacker encrypts the hard copies on your drive.

Another option is to visit the No More Ransom site. This site contains information and decryption keys for known ransomware. If your devices get targeted by well-known ransomware, such as one spread via ransomware-as-a-service, you could install the decryption key and retrieve your data.

How to Safeguard Your Computer and Smartphone Against Ransomware

To a large extent, protecting yourself is all about knowing the risks and what’s out there in terms of malware and cyber attacks. Some of the best advice for defending against ransomware is the same kind of advice you always hear about being safe online:

  1. Try to avoid accessing public Wi-Fi for anything other than general searches.
  2. Use two-factor authentication whenever possible. This often involves receiving a “token” or special number via a different device. Enter the number before accessing your account. For example, if you’re trying to access your bank account on your laptop, you may receive a verification code or token via your smartphone.
  3. Learn how to recognize phishing scams. Don’t click on strange links, direct messages on social media or emails from friends that look suspicious.
  4. Stay away from websites that generate warnings on your browser screen, such as sites that have outdated SSL security certificates. Read up on how to cyber proof your smartphone as well as your home computer.
  5. Install security updates on your laptop, desktop and smartphones when they come out.

Other tips revolve specifically around ransomware, including:

  1. Talking to your internet service provider about a backup service to protect yourself. Having a separate backup takes the teeth out of what ransomware hackers can do to your system. If you already have the valuable data backed up, you’ll be less panicked if someone gets their hands on what’s on your hard drive.
  2. Never using passwords that include names, birthdays or addresses. Don’t reuse passwords. Instead, use a service such as LastPassAvira Password Manager or Dashlane. They generate and store random passwords for all your digital accounts.
  3. Avoiding casual friending on social media. When hackers can get a better look at your profile and personal information they’re more able to trick you with a false profile.

Hopefully, by knowing how ransomware works and thinking about protection, you’ll be able to stay out of the way of this kind of dangerous cyber attack. Loss of personal data can lead to all sorts of other bad situations – including identity theft. Staying aware and protected can help.  

-The Hartford Customer Care Center


Friday, November 19, 2021

A Travesty of Justice


A jury acquitted Kyle Rittenhouse today for the murders of Anthony Huber and Joseph Rosenbaum and the attempted murder of Gaige Grosskreutz.

Rittenhouse was one of many armed civilians who came out to the protests in Kenosha, Wisconsin, on Aug. 25, 2020; however, he was the only one who pulled the trigger and took lives on that tragic day.

Our hearts are with the victims in this case – the individuals killed and wounded by Rittenhouse as well as the families and community torn apart by the consequences of this deadly violence.

The acquittal of Rittenhouse will add fuel to the fire of armed radicalization in the United States. That a white male youth can travel across state lines, armed with an assault rifle, and engage in armed confrontation resulting in multiple deaths without facing criminal accountability is the all-too-familiar outcome in a country where systemic racism continues to rot the system.

Far-right extremists have already published a deluge of propaganda lionizing Kyle Rittenhouse, and his acquittal is likely to further embolden them to pretend that his violent actions were somehow heroic.

We will continue to see this sort of violence repeat itself in towns across the country unless we, as a nation, move toward greater prevention of radicalization, countering the antidemocratic hate that enabled the Kenosha violence, and ending the systemic racism that supports it.


Margaret Huang 

Southern Poverty Law Center, President and CEO


Thursday, November 18, 2021

“Just a few companies are making millions of dollars in profit every single hour, while just two percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus” -Jake Johnson, Common Dreams


Moderna, Pfizer, and BioNTech—the makers of the two most successful coronavirus vaccines—are raking in a combined $65,000 in profits every minute as they refuse to share their manufacturing recipes with developing countries, where billions of people still lack access to lifesaving shots.

According to a new People's Vaccine Alliance analysis of recent earnings reports, the three pharmaceutical giants have made a total of $34 billion in profits this year, which amounts to roughly $1,083 per second, $64,961 per minute, or $3.9 million per hour.

"It is obscene that just a few companies are making millions of dollars in profit every single hour while just two percent of people in low-income countries have been fully vaccinated against coronavirus," said Maaza Seyoum of the People's Vaccine Alliance Africa. "Pfizer, BioNTech, and Moderna have used their monopolies to prioritize the most profitable contracts with the richest governments, leaving low-income countries out in the cold."

Moderna—a Massachusetts-based company that developed its vaccine with the help of government research and around $10 billion in taxpayer funding—has delivered just 0.2% of its total vaccine supply to low-income countries, the People's Vaccine Alliance estimates. The coronavirus vaccine is Moderna's only product on the market.

Pfizer and its Germany-based partner BioNTech—whose vaccine was also helped along by taxpayer money—haven't done much better than their competitor, sending less than 1% of their supply to poor nations while profiting hugely from sales to rich countries.

"Predominantly, right now, we have already signed orders, and those are with high-income countries," Pfizer CEO Albert Bourla recently said of coronavirus vaccine sales for next year, blaming poor countries for not ordering shots quickly enough. "We are negotiating right now with few middle-income countries, and with even fewer low-income countries," Bourla said.

But public health campaigners argue that bilateral deals and vaccine donations are not sufficient to bring production and distribution into line with global needs. Instead, they say, pharmaceutical giants must relinquish their vaccine recipes and allow qualified manufacturers around the world to produce low-cost generic versions for their populations.

Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech have thus far refused to do so—and lobbied aggressively against a World Trade Organization proposal to temporarily suspend vaccine patents. Bourla, for his part, has dismissed technology-transfer proposals as "dangerous nonsense."

"Contrary to what Pfizer's CEO says, the real nonsense is claiming the experience and expertise to develop and manufacture lifesaving medicines and vaccines does not exist in developing countries," Anna Marriott, health policy manager at Oxfam International, said in a statement Tuesday. "This is just a false excuse that pharmaceutical companies are hiding behind to protect their astronomical profits."

"It is also a complete failure of government to allow these companies to maintain monopoly control and artificially constrain supply in the midst of a pandemic while so many people in the world are yet to be vaccinated," she added.

Facing backlash for fueling massive inequities in vaccine distribution, Moderna on Tuesday announced a deal that will allow the European Union and European Economic Area countries to donate coronavirus vaccine doses that they purchased from the company to COVAX, the World Health Organization-backed vaccination initiative.

The agreement was met with derision from vaccine equity campaigners. "Goodness, how generous," responded Nick Dearden, director of the U.K.-based advocacy group Global Justice Now. "Most people will simply be astounded that you were stopping them from doing this in the first place. Why don't you, instead, share your publicly funded vaccine recipe with the WHO?" he added. "That might actually help."

In a letter to Moderna's billionaire CEO Stéphane Bancel on Tuesday, a coalition of nearly 90 civil society organizations wrote that "we are in no doubt that most Covid-19 deaths in low-income countries are now avoidable deaths: lives that could be saved were effective vaccines, none more than [Moderna's], widely available to their populations."

The groups called on Moderna to transfer its vaccine technology to qualified manufacturers through the WHO to ramp up global vaccine production and to commit to selling its shot to low-income countries at a not-for-profit price.

"So far, only about one million doses of mRNA-1273 have gone to low-income countries and Moderna has shipped a greater share of doses to wealthy countries than any other Covid-19 vaccine manufacturer," the groups noted. "Our analysis suggests that at scale, a not-for-profit price for mRNA-1273 would be no greater than $3 per dose."

"Moderna, with the [National Institutes of Health], has developed the world's most effective vaccine technology, that is also the world's most exclusive vaccine, out of reach to billions of people," they added. "This can and must change."

Peter Maybarduk, director of the Access to Medicines program at Public Citizen—one of the groups behind the letter—said Tuesday that Moderna "lags behind even its recalcitrant Big Pharma counterparts when it comes to offering a dose of compassion to the world in this time of need."

"The Biden administration and WHO have asked for Moderna's help, and so far Moderna largely has spurned them, despite the U.S. government's essential role developing the NIH-Moderna vaccine and significant contributions to making Moderna executives billionaires," said Maybarduk. "It is past time to share the NIH-Moderna vaccine with the world."   

-Jake Johnson, Common Dreams

Tuesday, November 16, 2021

Gun Sales and Gun Violence Surged During Pandemic


“In a new study, we found that the overall U.S. gun violence rate rose by 30% during the first year of the COVID-19 pandemic compared to the year before. In 28 states, the rates were substantially higher between March 1, 2020, and March 31, 2021, compared to the pre-pandemic period from Feb. 1, 2019, through Feb. 29, 2020. There were 51,063 incidents of gun violence events resulting in injury or death in the United States in the first 13 months of the pandemic compared to 38,919 incidents in the same time span pre-pandemic.

“Early in the pandemic, gun sales in the United States surged, with more than 20% of these purchases by first-time buyers. And access to firearms is a well-established risk factor for gun-related suicide and homicide. This sharp increase in firearm purchases raises serious concerns, since the combination of increased stress, social disruption and isolation during the pandemic created a perfect storm of conditions that could contribute to increased gun violence.

“These trends were also concerning since the increased rates of gun violence could strain the health care infrastructure that was overtaxed due to an unprecedented influx of COVID-19 patients. We are a team of scientists and physicians with expertise in preventive health care and modeling diseases of public health concern.

How pandemic conditions played a role

“The pandemic has been associated with psychological distress due to increased isolation, increased rates of domestic violence, a disruption of social networks and unemployment. But much more research is needed to get a clear picture of how all of these variables may have contributed to overall gun violence.

“We used a publicly available database of gun violence events and divided those events by the number of people living in each state. We also added other factors such as age, race and ethnicity, and we recorded the status of each state’s stay-at-home orders and the number of COVID-19 cases. We found that gun violence rates increased substantially in 28 states, or 56% of all states, scattered throughout the U.S., without any clear pattern. The increase in gun violence was highest in Minnesota, with a 120% increase.

“Due to ongoing police investigations, we were advised to not separate out counts of suicides and homicides before investigations are completed. To get a fuller picture, it will be important for future studies to assess comparisons of suicide and homicide rates during this same period. The spike in gun violence in the era of COVID-19 comes as a stark reminder that greater public health resources are needed to address and prevent gun violence, even as we continue to work to mitigate the pandemic” (The Conversation).

by Paddy Ssentongo and Jennifer McCall-Hosenfeld

Saturday, November 13, 2021

Chicago: 77-year-old Retired Man Kills His Attacker


U.S.A. –-( We start with this local news story from Chicago, Illinois as covered by the Chicago Sun-Times newspaper.

It is just after lunch when you walk to your car. Your car is parked in a covered garage behind your house. You’re standing in your garage when a car rolls up the alley and stops behind your car so you can’t get out. A stranger gets out of the car and asks you a question. The stranger also has a gun in his hand and the gun is pointed at you. Now the stranger tells you to give him everything you have.

One of the things you have is an Illinois Firearms Owners Identification card in your wallet. You also have a concealed firearm on your hip. You stall for time and then present your handgun. You shoot your attacker in the chest and the head. Your attacker drops his gun so you stop shooting.

You stay at the scene and call 911. You holster your firearm before the police arrive.

You tell the police what happened. Police take your attacker’s gun as evidence. Emergency Medical Services declare your attacker dead at the scene. You’re a 77-year-old retired fire captain. You are not charged.

Rob Morse:

This defender had a plan for his safety. He watched patterns of crime in his area. He knew that he was not safe even when he was on his own property in the middle of the day. He went through the trouble and cost of getting his Illinois Firearms Owners Identification card. He found a firearm that fit him and went through the cumbersome process of buying it in Illinois. He took the required concealed carry classes, though he had to leave Chicago to find a shooting range where he could do the live fire portion of the class. He applied for his carry permit. He learned armed defense. That legacy let him carry a concealed firearm at home, though he might have been going somewhere in his car. The story isn’t clear on that point.

This man’s defense started well before someone pulled a gun on him that day.

Our defender is extraordinary, yet this is another “everyman” story. Half of all violent assaults are on or near our home. That may seem odd but think of the situation from the criminal’s perspective. We spend more than half of our time in and near our home. Criminals hunt for victims, and near our home is where they find us half the time. Criminals look for us, and that is why I want you to put your gun on when you get dressed in the morning.

We are all glad that the defender protected himself with his firearm. He had every right to do so. The victim faced an immediate threat when the robber presented his gun and pointed it at him. The threat was unavoidable since the victim could not outrun a bullet. Any firearm is a lethal threat, though some might take longer to kill us than others. Our defender had both a legal and a moral right to use lethal force in that moment.

This story sounds like a perfect defense. It may have been, but the news article leaves out some important points. We want to do more than end the threat; we want to not get shot. That is why we want to move and move towards cover as we present our gun. We want to cheat and have an unfair advantage.

This story might have looked something like this when the attacker already had his gun out and pointed at the defender. It is winter in Chicago, so we have to open our jacket to empty our pockets. We want to put our keys and change on the car next to us. Then we back up. As the robber steps forward and takes our keys, we put our phone on the car roof. Then we step back again and reach for our back pocket. This time, as the robber looks over at our phone, we move behind the front of the car. In the same motion we present our firearm from concealment. Now we shoot the robber until he drops his gun or we until run out of ammunition.

Coordinated actions like that are impossible to consider, to evaluate, and to choose in the moment. We simply don’t have the time or mental focus. Having a plan keeps us from freezing in place when we can’t think. We don’t invent our defense so much as we select from a set of actions we’ve already examined and rehearsed. We’ve already answered and practiced what we should do if we have a gun pointed at us. We usually cover those aspects of armed defense in the classes that come after the concealed carry class. There is always more to learn.

Sooner or later, we will be in the defender’s shoes. This defender was an older retired gentleman. The robber chose him in particular because the robber thought this man would make an easy victim. There are lots of things that make us more vulnerable to attacks.

Criminals make simple choices when they search for victims. Are we carrying bags in our hands as we walk across the parking lot? We might be pushing a stroller or have our head down in our phone. Are you or your friends wearing nice clothes and unsteady on your feet as you leave a bar at closing time?

I was more vulnerable when I hurt my ankle and walked with a limp. We will all look like easy victims if we live long enough.

One of my readers saw this story and made an insightful comment. Since this attack happened in the early afternoon, the robber was probably cruising neighborhoods looking for easy victims. Who knows how many other crimes he would have committed that day if the defender had not stopped him.

I’ll say thank you to that reader, and to the 77-year-old retiree who protected himself that day. You have my thanks if you plan ahead and carry concealed even on days you don’t feel like it.

Rob Morse highlights the latest self-defense and other shootings of the week. See what went wrong, what went right, and what we can learn from real-life self-defense with a gun. Even the most justified self-defense shooting can go wrong, especially after the shot. Get the education, the training, and the liability coverage you and your family deserve, join USCCA.

Rob Morse writes about gun rights at Ammoland, at Clash Daily, at Second Call Defense, and on his SlowFacts blog. He hosts the Self Defense Gun Stories Podcast and co-hosts the Polite Society Podcast. Rob was an NRA pistol instructor and combat handgun competitor.

77-year-old Retired Man Attacked in His Home -