The second-most jarring scene in "American Sniper" takes place not in the urban maze of wartime Iraq but in the domestic tranquility of Chris Kyle's home in Texas. Disoriented after his fourth tour in the cauldron of Iraq, the heralded Navy SEAL is shown stalking his wife from room to room with a pistol. For a moment, we worry that he has flipped out and is going to shoot her. Turns out this was his playful way of initiating sex.
Foreplay, with a handgun.
The genius of "American Sniper" is its portrayal of a culture obsessed with guns. One expects heavy weaponry in war, but here there are guns all over the placid homefront, too. Guns are not just owned but waved. Guns as personal statements.
It was with complete innocence that I saw "American Sniper" at its release. This was before a politicized war of expletives broke out, pitting the jingoism of self-styled patriots against the ignorance of anti-war celebrities.
Few of the keyboard combatants on either side of this conflict have ever gotten anywhere near real combat. That the war in Iraq was fought by a tiny percentage of military-age Americans is actually one of the movie's themes. That's why Kyle and others had to serve four grinding tours in Iraq.
The Iraq War was sold to the American people on the lie that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction — and on the truth that no one who didn't want to fight it would have to. Take your family to Disney World, President George W. Bush urged right after the Sept. 11 attacks. We're in a war on terrorism, but no one need be inconvenienced.
Set aside inconsistencies in Kyle's telling of his story in his autobiography. This is about a movie portrayal. Director Clint Eastwood digs to the core in showing guns as not just tools for hunting or for protection but also objects of worship and key to a man's identity.
There's the scene where Kyle tries to help a traumatized and gravely maimed veteran regain his emotional bearing. The place of healing is a shooting range, where Kyle coaches him on using a high-powered rifle. The "patient" starts hitting the target and tells Kyle that it's the first time he's felt like a man since returning from battle — as though someone who lost parts of three limbs in war would have something to prove.
And the reality is that a 12-year-old girl could have shot the weapon. Eastwood made a more complex movie than the typists throwing insults at one another could imagine.
My views on gun control have evolved. I used to think that the proliferation of weapons fueled the monstrous number of domestic shootings. Intellectual honesty forces me to note that murder rates in New York City and other places have plunged even as guns remain as available as ever. I still believe in a ban on killing machines — let the experts define them — and keeping all guns away from crazy people.
The bigger challenge is cultural. Buying a weapon of war does not turn one into a warrior. But the gun culture promotes that fantasy, leading twisted minds to open fire on crowds of strangers. You end up with a skinny young man in military costume and orange hair who kills a dozen people at a Batman movie in Aurora, Colorado.
Kyle was gunned down while administering shooting-range therapy to a troubled former Marine. Eddie Routh had been in and out of psychiatric hospitals. His friends and family had been trying to get the firearms out of his house. But Kyle believed in the curative powers of a gun. How tragic the outcome.
(A member of the Providence Journal editorial board, Froma Harrop writes a nationally syndicated column from that city. She has written for such diverse publications as The New York Times, Harper's Bazaar and Institutional Investor.)
Last Updated on Tuesday, 03 February 2015 10:26
Paraphrasing Sir Isaac Newton, for every action, there's a reaction. On a more day-to-day basis, we can observe that there is a consequence to every decision we make. In most cases, those consequences are favorable, in others, the consequence has a negative impact. For example . . .
Those who desire to make life better for those at the lower end of the income ladder, desire to raise the "minimum" wage to around $15.00 per hour. We are told that everyone should be able to make enough money to support their family without the need to have more than one job or to require some government assistance. Sounds good! But, let's look at the impact or the consequences of such a decision.
— Minimum wage jobs are "starter jobs" that generally go to young people who are just entering the workforce. The jobs often don't require any previously learned skills and the employer can give the individual on-the-job training to fulfill the basic job requirements. In many cases, the employer may hire more of the unskilled than they would people who already have the basic job skills needed to do the job. In a sense, the employer is paying a wage sufficient enough to have the newly hired begin to "learn to earn". So, consequence number one is that the higher minimum wage will, in all probability, diminish the number of entry level jobs that become available. Businesses will expect the new hire to bring established skills and abilities to the position.
— Elevating the current minimum wage jobs to the "living wage" level, will have the impact of dis-incentivizing people. Why study to get into college or to learn a useful trade skill if, right after you drop out of high school, you can begin to earn a "living wage"? The unintended consequence will be an increase in the low income earner base.
— Another consequence is that the consumers will be the ones paying the increased wages, the Social Security and Medicare premiums, the cost of the employee's health care premiums, and so on. The consumer will absorb those costs by paying more for the products or services they consume.
— If the starter wage is raised, one can expect all the labor rates above that position will expect and demand their wages also be increased . . . all requiring the employer and the employee to incur higher costs for all those Social Security, Medicare, and health insurance premiums. The unintended consequence will be that there will be a "tipping point", at which companies will consider moving their operations to a more business friendly country simply because you/we, the consumers, refuse to pay the higher costs that will be placed on all the goods and services we want and need.
Another item that may sound great is the president's call for everyone to be eligible for "free" tuition in community colleges. The consequences of such are enormous. For example . . .
— Why would anyone enroll in a four year college and pay full tuition, when they can enter a community college and not have to pay any tuition? Consider the negative consequences to state and to independent four year colleges when about half of their student population is no longer there. Or, the impact on the community college system that is expected to absorb that shift.
— History shows that approximately 20 percent of students entering a four year college need some form of remedial help. Upwards of 60percent of students entering community colleges require remedial courses. It would appear that providing free tuition at community colleges would essentially be extending the high school years from four to six. Wouldn't it be better to "fix" the problems at the elementary and high school levels?
Another issue is the President previously calling for children to enter a pre-K class at the age of four. He now wants to provide free child care to families so that both mothers and fathers can work.
— Consider the fact that his proposals would basically put someone other than a parent in control of the children from shortly after they are born, until they are in their early twenties.
— Russia employed such a system and in it, the government determined what job training the child would receive from the time they were in elementary grades. The parents had no say in the decision.
— As a partial by-product of government management of individual family decisions, Russian family birth rates dropped to levels that have caused that country's population to basically be cut in half each generation. Russia has a population crisis that is forcing it to try and reconstitute the Soviet Union just to get more population so it can defend its vast country.
— Will our citizens be amenable to the "government" becoming the "parent" of their children?
The President also wants to extend the full "earned income tax credit" to couples who don't have any children, approximately 13.5 million more people. This change is expected to cost over sixty billion dollars.
— Even of more concern than the increased financial aid, is the consequence of us dis-incentivizing the population; taking away the desire to learn the skills needed to earn a better living.
— Where is the motivation when there is no responsibility to provide for one's own needs?
— The more the government assumes the role of nanny, freedom is lost as the government becomes the one that determines the extent of your needs.
History has shown that government cannot effectively direct and manage a business enterprise. In fact, it has shown that it cannot effectively manage and control the bloated bureaucracy that now exists. All these so called "good things" only serve to put us on the new road to serfdom. We will no longer be a government of, by, and for the people. Maybe Huxley's "Brave New World" is the blueprint to our future.
(Bob Meade is a Laconia resident.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00
Another year has come to a close and it's time to review just what the heck happened last year in the residential home market in the Lakes Region of N.H. But let's get December out of the way.
In the twelve communities covered by this report there were 83 residential homes that traded hands in December 2014. That number is up from the 72 sales posted in December 2013. That's good. The average price was also up from $236,484 to $301,452. That's good, too, but try not to get too excited...it is a matter of what's selling in the market place rather than huge increases in home values.
For 2014, overall, there were 989 sales residential home sales at an average price of $312,413. The median price point came in at $205,500. That total sales number is off about 5 percent from the 1,041 transactions in 2013. Still not too bad, though. The average price was up from $300,392 to $312,413 and the median was up from $192,000 to $205,500. Just a note: the $312,413 average for 2014 is still 21 percent lower than the $398,717 average sales price posted way back at the peak in 2007. It will take real honest to goodness appreciation in the market place to get back to that level.
This all points to an improving market but also to the fact that there just are slightly more high priced homes selling compared the lower end. In 2013, 52.7 percent of the sales were under $200,000 compared to 47.8 percent in 2014. On the high end, 25.3 percent of the sales were over the $300,000 mark in 2013 while 29 percent exceeded that threshold in 2014. The number of homes that sold between $200,000 and $300,000 only increased 1 percent, from 22 percent in 2013 to 23 percent in 2014. So the detail is in the numbers.
The total residential sales volume for 2014 totaled $308.9 million compared to $312.7 million in 2013. So even though the average sales price was up a bit, it wasn't enough to compensate for the fewer number of sales. But that's OK, it was still a pretty good year!
The time on the market to sell a home increased slightly in all price ranges with the overall days on market increasing from 138 in 2013 to 157 in 2014. That gives you a couple more weeks to get ready to pack.
Laconia by far posted the most residential home sales with 198 transactions, followed by Moultonborough with 130, Meredith with 105, Gilford with 93, and Alton with 92. Center Harbor had the fewest sales with 23, but the highest average sales price at $588,626. The next highest averages were Moultonborough at $472,944 and Meredith at $456,271. Obviously, the high percentage of waterfronts that were sold in those towns bumped the average up some. Gilford's average sales price came in at $366,407, which is lower than I would have guessed. Guess they need to sell a few more Governors' Island properties?
Looking for more affordable homes? Barnstead had the lowest median price point at $154,750 and an average sales price of $177,238. Belmont also might be a good choice with a median price point of $158,000 and an average sales price of $162,673...
So, it was a great year overall! Let's hope 2015 brings continued increases in overall sales numbers and prices!
Last Updated on Friday, 30 January 2015 10:42
As we enter the biennial budget-writing season in the New Hampshire Legislature, many representatives and senators have intoned that we must "live within our means". This glib mantra glosses over the grim reality: over the past dozen or so years, New Hampshire's population and economy have grown, but our revenue has shrunk. Our "means" have increased, but our revenue has not.
Since 2001, New Hampshire's General Fund tax revenue, adjusted for inflation, has fallen 8 percent. During that same time period, our population has grown 5 percent. As a state, we are trying to do 5 percent more with 8 percent less tax revenue. It's not working very well.
Our university system is chronically underfunded. After adjusting for inflation, state funding for the university system has dropped 20 percent since 2001. In-state tuition and fees at UNH are the third highest in the nation. Our students graduate with the highest average college debt in the nation. Many of our talented high school students choose to go to college out of state because they find that it is cheaper to pay out-of-state rates in places like New York, than to pay in-state tuition at UNH. When our young people seek education in faraway places, we are robbing our future.
To attract business to New Hampshire, we need top quality infrastructure. New Hampshire roads and bridges do not make the grade, particularly when you get off the interstates. The problem is declining revenue. Since the gas tax was last raised in 1991, gas tax revenues have declined 20 percent, after inflation. The 4.2 cent per gallon increase in the gas tax that went into effect last year will make up for most of that decline, yet there are Republicans who are working to repeal it.
The number of full-time employees in our Department of Environmental Services has dropped 25 percent in the past 12 years. We can't protect our environment for future generations without people.
Twenty-five years ago, New Hampshire's community mental health system was held up as a model for the rest of the nation. Repeated cuts over the years have damaged the system to the point that the state was sued last year for underfunding. The state has settled that case, and the cost to comply with the settlement agreement will be significant.
Republicans say we can grow our way out of our revenue problem. The numbers don't back them up. Since 2001, real growth in our state GDP has been 15 percent, while inflation-adjusted general fund tax revenue has declined by 8 percent. Recent experience shows us that growing the economy does not result in higher revenues.
Republicans are proposing to cut business taxes by about $85 million. The have not explained what cuts they would make to our bare-bones state budget. Would the University System take another hit, as it did in 2011-2012, during the William O'Brien years? Will they cut community mental health and environmental protection — again?
The New Hampshire Constitution states that government is instituted for the "general good". It also states that each of us is obligated to "contribute his share" to the cost of government. Republicans are so focused on tax cuts that they have lost sight of the general good, and how we pay for it.
We count upon state government for law enforcement, care for the elderly, a system of justice, and many other services.
We also want a state government that invests in the future by building and maintaining infrastructure, protecting the environment, and educating the next generation.
In 2002, the Republican Party adopted a new "pledge" against any new taxes, any tax increases, any new revenue. The result has been a dozen years of cuts in higher education, reduced staff for environmental protection, and a decline in the condition of our roads. These cuts make New Hampshire less attractive to the businesses and young families that are the key to our future.
We cannot cut our way to prosperity. Every government, like every business, must invest for the future. Our legislature is now controlled by people who have no answer to the decline in State revenue other than to make more cuts. This bodes ill for our state and its future.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 January 2015 10:24
Public policymakers and political pundits tend to focus on problems — understandably, because if things are going right they aren't thought to need attention. Yet positive developments can teach us things as well, when, for reasons not necessarily clear, great masses of people start to behave more constructively.
One such trend is the better behavior of the young Americans of today compared to those 25 years ago. Almost no one anticipated it, the exception being William Strauss and Neil Howe in their 1991 book, "Generations," who named Americans born after 1981 the Millennial generation and predicted that "the tiny boys and girls now playing with Lego blocks" — and those then still unborn — would become "the nation's next great Civic generation."
The most obvious evidence of the Millennials' virtuous behavior is the vast decline in violent crime in the last 25 years. The most crime-prone age and gender cohort — 15-to-25-year-old males — are committing far fewer crimes than that cohort did in 1990.
Statistics tell the dramatic story. In two decades the murder rate fell 49 percent, the forcible rape rate 33 percent, the robbery rate 48 percent, the aggravated assault rate 39 percent. Government agencies report that sexual assaults against 12-to-17-year-olds declined by more than half, and violent victimization of teenagers at school declined 60 percent.
Binge drinking by high school seniors is lower than at any time since 1976, and sexual intercourse among ninth graders and the percentage of high school seniors with more than three partners has declined.
There has been much ado about rape on college campuses today, with President Obama among others stating that one in five women students will be raped or sexually assaulted. But that statistic is based on a bogus survey, covering just two colleges, with self-selected rather than randomly selected respondents and a laughably broad definition of "sexual assault." A recent Justice Department report showed that the rate rape on campus was not 20 percent but 0.6 percent.
And today's young are better behaved despite what blind statistical trends might seem to hint at. Compared to the young Americans of 1990, their ranks include a higher percentage of Hispanics and blacks, who statistically tend to have above-average crime rates. Today's young are also more likely to come from single-parent households — another high-risk factor. Demographics suggested there would be more bad behavior. Instead, there is much less.
What accounts for this virtuous cycle? I am inclined to give some credit to better police tactics and welfare reform, the great positive conservative policy successes of the 1990s. Others might credit the Clinton administration's increase in the Earned Income Tax Credit or bipartisan-supported education reforms. But partisan explanations, though plausible, seem inadequate.
I think what we are seeing is a mass changing of minds, something like the movement in Victorian England toward what historian Gertrude Himmelfarb described as "the morality that dignifies and civilizes human beings."
My theory is that young people do what is expected of them, in two senses of the word "expected". One is statistical expectation. Americans in 1990 expected young people, especially from disadvantaged backgrounds, to commit lots of crimes. They had been doing so, after all, for 25 years. But Rudy Giuliani and others adapting his methods reduced crime dramatically, and statistical expectations rapidly changed.
The other sense of the word "expected" is moral expectation. A parent tells a boy he is expected not to shoplift, bully, rob, rape or kill. She tells a girl she is expected not to sleep around or get pregnant. The parents of the last 25 years grew up in years of high crime, high divorce and high unmarried births. Evidently they wanted — expected — something better from their own children.
It's true that unmarried parenthood has risen. But teen births, like violent crime, have been in sharp decline. Now the latest statistics tell us that birth rates are, unusually, up among married women and down among unmarried women.
There remain stark differences between the experiences and behaviors of high-education and -income and low-education and -income Americans, as Charles Murray showed in his 2012 book, "Coming Apart." But perhaps they are starting to converge.
Liberals and conservatives often assume that moves away from traditional moral rules must inevitably continue. How can you keep them down on the farm once they've seen "Paree?"
But today's America, like Victorian England, shows that virtuous cycles are possible as well. People can learn from experience, and those who have seen the downside of bad behavior may choose to behave better.
(Syndicated columnist Michael Barone is senior political analyst for The Washington Examiner, is a resident fellow at the American Enterprise Institute, a Fox News Channel contributor and co-author of The Almanac of American Politics.)
Last Updated on Wednesday, 31 December 1969 07:00