Saturday, April 21, 2007

Looking at other agents of death

In the aftermath of the Virginia shootings there have been some excellent comments regarding balance in responses. One in particular from romunov “More people die in car accidents every year, and no one is bitching about that.”

This issue has been bothering me, here in Australia, for some weeks now. The trigger was a week or so of sensational news reports, example Three dead, one missing after Sydney Harbour crash ABC Online, Australia - 28 Mar 2007.

I can have sympathy for the families involved, but the daily road carnage gets nowhere near the coverage, even international coverage, this story had. So water is swexy and roads aren’t.

Soon after we had the annual Easter death spree on Australian roads:

The New South Wales Easter road toll stands at six, while there have been three fatalities on Queensland roads, two in Western Australia and one in the ACT. Victoria's road toll for the holiday period was six. Tasmania, South Australia and the Northern Territory remain fatality-free.

The numbers were broadcast throughout the period like a sort of horse race. Can we beat last years record? The only incident sensationalized was:

Three special operations troops, who had survived combat in the world's major trouble spots, died when their car crashed as they headed back to their base at the Swan Island military exercise site, southwest of Melbourne.

The rental vehicle veered off a bridge between Queenscliff and the island, and plunged into the water at high tide

No great carnage, just fuzzy shots of divers and their boats. Again, water is cool, but showing the reality isn’t.

26 people dead, over the few days of Easter, isn’t nearly as compelling as a school massacre I guess. It is just something we accept.

The interesting part of the Easter road deaths is that those jurisdictions in this country with the toughest road laws still had the highest number of deaths. I have not done a per capita, but acknowledge the larger populations.

While on death

Another ‘value of life’ issue making waves here is euthanasia. We were recently treated to our new federal Minister for the aging championing palliative care as a valid alternative to a rational choice to a dignified death.

At the same time we are seeing evidence that patients live somewhere between three and six months in palliative care. Part of the problem is that nursing homes are profit motivated and vastly understaffed. Not much dignity in that system.

The link between these issues is the way our societies make their judgements. Few, it seems, have any great respect for the value of life. The gun deaths are regrettable, deplorable. But so are the many other travesties we seem to encourage by innapropriate community standards.

9 comments:

Praguetwin said...

Thanks for pointing out the hypocrisy in the reporting. Why we accept the highway deaths has always been a mystery to me.

In the United States, more high-school students (twice as many actually) die in car crashes every year than died in the 9/11 attacks.

Is this a priority? Of course not.

reality-based educator said...

A 55 MPH speed limit and a society that is friendly to bicycle/pedestrian/public transportation would go a long way toward decreasing traffic deaths.

Many of the same people who are opposed to any kind of gun laws are also the same people who would never live in areas that are friendly to bicycle/pedestrian/public transportation. They are also the same people who opposed a federal speed limit.

But the car comment is a dodge anyway. The issue is not about traffic fatalities, the issue is about a madman who was easily able to purchase guns, ammo and gun clips off of Ebay, no questions asked, and kill 32 innocent people plus himself.

Why was Cho able to buy his guns as easily as a cup of coffee at 7-11? That is the issue.

But for those who claim to be concerned about traffic fatalities, I suggest moving to a city where you can walk and take public transportation and limit your driving as much as possible. Traffic fatalities would not stop, of course, but the problem would surely be mitigated somewhat IF LESS PEOPLE DROVE.

For much of America, this is not an option, of course. Many people live in suburbs or exurbs without sidewalks, bike paths or public transportation and must drive many miles to work or shopping. But nobody forces them to live there or construct cars-only communities.

As a commie pinko liberal West Side New Yorker, I can proudly say that I neither own nor use a gun or a car. I only take a taxi if I have to bring something big (like a TV or computer) home with me. I think I've taken a taxi maybe six times in the last half-dozen years. If I am slated to die violently, it will probably be jay-walking across Broadway.

Cartledge said...

As a commie pinko liberal (in the US sense) Australian...
My real drift, probably badly expressed, is that community attitudes encourage all these evils.
When society recognizes behaviors as offensive, regardless of any laws, there is clear social pressure on transgressors.
Flashing guns is clearly socially unacceptable in Australia, But excessive speed or drink driving etc are somehow macho.
I think the issues are linked by way of social acceptance or repudiation.

reality-based educator said...

Your post was a good one, cartledge. I think I was just reacting to the traffic fatality point after hearing it on the cable news networks from the NRA types just one too many times. My sense is, they're using to deflect from the issue of a madman being able to buy guns and ammo as easily as coffee at 7/11.

Cartledge said...

RBE, no worries. I thought i missed my point :)

no_slappz said...

cartledge, you wrote:

"In the aftermath of the Virginia shootings there have been some excellent comments regarding balance in responses. One in particular from romunov “More people die in car accidents every year, and no one is bitching about that.”"

No one is bitching about car accidents? What nonsense.

There about 43,000 traffic fatalities in the US every year. The numbers are edging down while the number of drivers goes up. Meanwhile, insurance companies demand increases in car and traffic safety. Politicians never go wrong when they argue for seat-belts, laws requiring drivers to wear seatbelts, air bags and then urging drivers to drive sensibly.

John Corzine, idiot governor of New Jersey, has fashioned himself into the dopiest poster-child ever by sitting unbelted in the front seat of his government SUV while it was driven by a state trooper who was possibly fiddling with his Blackberry while speeding along at 91 mph till the vehicle smashed into the end of a guard-rail on the New Jersey turnpike. Corzine may well resign from the governorship due to his injuries.

Was his driver trying to murder him? No. How stupid was he to ride unbelted? Very!

Furthermore, Mothers Against Drunk Driving (MADD) have changed the thinking about drinking and driving here. Were once drunkeness was practically exculpatory in accidents where drunks hit people, it is now a criminal offense that can land people behind bars for life.

We also have a federal transportation safety department that tracks accidents, studies them and recommends life-saving changes, which might mean improvements in roadways, signage, or lighting, or improvements in vehicle design.

Most states in the US require small children to ride in child safety seats until they surpass certain size requirements. Parents have gained the habit of telling everyone in the car to buckle up before pulling into traffic.

Many car companies market their cars on the basis of safety. Consumer guides routinely rate crash-test results.

Anyway, it is total nonsense to compare motor vehicle deaths with gun-related deaths. The causes rarely intersect.

How many murders are committed with cars? In fact, there are some. One of the most dramatic in recent years was caught on video when an irate wife of a Houston, TX dentist repeatedly ran over her husband after discovering he was having an affair. Not only did she nail him with the Mercedes moving forward in drive, she threw the car into reverse and got him again. Then again into drive to finish him off. That's what convicted her. The remorseless back and forth.

Anyway, many acts of foolishness behind the wheel have been criminalized. However, nothing can eliminate accidents.

The gun issue is not an issue of accidents or safety. Guns have only one operating purpose -- to blow a hole in whatever is in front of the barrel.

Very few gun tragedies occur among people who are trained to handle weapons.

The gun issue is all about mis-use. Criminal mis-use or gross negligence.

Drunk drivers certainly consitute a class of criminal mis-users of cars. Drunk driving is the basis of gross negligence.

How can we reduce drunk driving even more? In New York City, the cops will seize your car and sell it at auction if you are drunk enough. Such a punishment can result from a routine traffic stop. No accident necessary.

You wrote:

Three special operations troops, who had survived combat in the world's major trouble spots, died when their car crashed as they headed back to their base at the Swan Island military exercise site, southwest of Melbourne...
...The rental vehicle veered off a bridge between Queenscliff and the island, and plunged into the water at high tide"

It was a drunk-driving accident, correct? What's to be said? Presumably the dead would not have conducted a combat mission under the influence.

You wrote:

"26 people dead, over the few days of Easter, isn’t nearly as compelling as a school massacre I guess. It is just something we accept."

I'll bet not one of the 26 who died in car accidents died because another driver was out to kill. You really need to analyze the difference between intentional murder of people pursuing life in an ostensibly safe college-campus environment versus those who die in situations that stem from manual misjudgments, or impaired operator capacity or mechanical failure.

You wrote:

"The interesting part of the Easter road deaths is that those jurisdictions in this country with the toughest road laws still had the highest number of deaths."

What point are you making? That driving laws are ineffective? That no matter what deterrents exist, people will drive dangerously?

With both guns and cars, our policial systems hit walls because government is limited in its ability to protect society from individual acts of stupidity and depravity.

With respect to driving fatalities in the US, about 17,000 of the 43,000 annual deaths involve alcohol. Most of those occur at night. If the US were less concerned with individual freedoms, we could limit night driving or force bars to close earlier, or perhaps drive bars out of business altogether.

But that's not going to happen. Nor should it. But we may see technology that will prevent people who've been drinking from starting their cars.

In sum, many people and organizations are working to reduce roadway deaths. Their efforts are ongoing and tireless.

Guns and gun deaths fall into a different category. It's that simple.

Cartledge said...

I would have to ask how many accidents deserve to be so classified. Dangerous and stupid driving is a bad as murder.

no_slappz said...

cartledge, you wrote:

"I would have to ask how many accidents deserve to be so classified. Dangerous and stupid driving is a bad as murder."

Dangerous and stupid driving may cross the line into criminality, or it might not.

Is falling asleep at the wheel the equivalent of shooting a shop-keeper who isn't quick enough handing over the money?

Cartledge said...

“Is falling asleep at the wheel the equivalent of shooting a shop-keeper who isn't quick enough handing over the money?” It is a criminal offense in Australia to drive in a drowsy state. From that I would have to say yes.
But I don’t see what you gain going off on all these sidetracks. You don’t score any points in this backwater of blogging.