"Malaysia Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad and the Sultan of Johor are seen in a blue Proton Saga... "When asked whether there is any tension with the sultan, Dr Mahathir said: “No, I don’t see anything because I went to see him and he drove me to the airport. I don’t want to comment on the sultans because if I say anything that is not good then it’s not nice because he is the sultan”"

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Sunday, February 04, 2007

"One thing they all share is the problem of illicit distribution, a problem inherently greater than faced by those who ran booze during national prohibition in the 1920s.

Despite the well-publicized 400-plus gangland killings in Al Capone's Chicago, the dize of bulky beer trucks and the permanent location of saloons made territorial monopoly and cooperation the norm. The result in most American cities during Prohibition was that competition was usually eliminated quickly and permanently, and a relative peace then normally reigned. But drugs, in contrast, are marketed in expensive little packets that may be sold individually on any street corner, a simple fact that continually tempts small-scale enterprisers to break existing rules. So long as drugs remain illegal - and in this country no end to their prohibition is in sight - then lethal arguments about individual transactions and territory will tend to push up murder rates.

Observers have been complaining about the effect of the media on criminal violence for nearly two centuries... Puritan ministers loved public hangings as opportunities to warn bystanders about original sin and the seventeenth-century equivalents of sex, drugs, and rock 'n' roll.) But by the late eighteeneth century, free enterprise... [produced material] in which the exploits of criminals were romanticized or ''the system'' blamed for mistakenly condemning or even framing them... Moralists decried all of them and their effect on leading impressionable youth to commit violent crimes.

The problem with this outcry against the media is, however, that during most of the nineteenth century, while literacy and the mass market expanded, murder rates were declining. The same held early in the twentieth century, when the new ''movies'', featuring Tom Mix and shoot-'em'up westerns, were also subjects of pious disapproval...

Sociology... has tended to idealize life in small village communities and given us reasons for associating urban growth with crime... it must be recognised that this is historically a new development... cities for most of their history have usually helped in various ways literally to ''civilize'' their inhabitants. it has already been noted that medieval London was more peaceful than the English countryside... only old folks, and historians, remember that as late as the 1950s the Big Apple itself, New York City, had lower homicide rates than the national average...

[Despite the Second Amendment in 1791] White-on-white homicide rates remained quite low in the colonies and for several decades after independence. Not only were such killings relatively rare, but firearms did not figure very heavily in them. The simple fact is that neither the muzzle-loading muskets nor the cumbersome single-shot dragoon nor the dueling pistols of the era were well suited as murder weapons. However valuable as military or hunting weapons, they were expensive, hard to use, and rarely as close to hand as ax, knife, brick, or hoe when sudden anger flared. The revolution in civilian use of firearms began only with Samuel Colt's 1832 invention of the revolved: small, cheap, and easily hidden. By no coincidence, it was only when these deadly little weapons became widely available, beginning in the 1840s, that white-on-white homicide rates really rose and rates in places like New York began to soar above those for Liverbool and stayed there... The effect of revolvers on urban riots has already been noted; even more important was, and is, their effect on abrasive everyday human interactions; a man on a barstool or in a traffic jam with a hidden gun is a kind of booby trap, liable to explode without warning if bumped the wrong way...

Men and women who argue in bedrooms and kitchens, motorists in the grip of ''road rage,'' street kids dissed by peers and rivals would, in the absence of guns, perhaps indulge in drunken pushing matches, regretted or forgotten the next morning...

Yet there is some truth to the famous argument of the National Rifle Association... Even if all the gun killings were subtracted from our national totals... we would still have murder rates close to three times theirs. There is something in the American people that makes us more homicidal than the English or the French, even if we must resort to knives, fists, feet, teeth, and bricks...

For years, American historians tended to explain everything different about us in terms of this frontier experience, a thesis that remained popular for generations because we wanted to believe it... The only problem with this argument is that it simply does the fit the historical evidence...

A look at the map of American homicide shows little correspondence with the date when a given state or territory was founded, the nature of its experience with the Indians, or is later history of lethal violence. Minnesota was the site of the biggest Indian massacres in our history, South Dakota of the last encampments of Colonel George Armstrong Custer, and later of Sitting Bull; neither state has been much noted afterward for murderous behavior. New Orleans, in contrast, one of the oldest cities in the nation, and in some ways the most civilized, is now the most violent.

What the map does show is not the western but the southern wellsprings of American homicide... What applied most especially to dealings with slaves came to be applied to dealings with all others. And the value placed on reputation helped to foster what social anthropologists have called a ''culture of honor,'' in which a man's worth is measured by what others think of him, and how others behave toward him.

In a naturally violent society, the insistence on male ''honor'' comes easily to mean that what seems a trivial slight to outsiders must be answered immediately, physically if necessary... it may be contrasted, too, with the simple lesson that our others tried to teach us in order to keep us safe from schoolyard bullies: ''Sticks and stones may break my bones, but names can never hurt me.''

Most of us eventually listen to our mothers, grow up and get married, or otherwise learn to somehow avoid dangerous confrontations over trifles. What distinguished the South was that the ''code of honor'' was... endorsed and exemplified by community leaders, settled men, statesmen...

An admiration for ''toughness'' has long been institutionalized in American law. In Great Britain, before a man may claim he has killed in ''self-defense,'' he has a ''duty to retreat'' in the face of another's aggression until his back is literally to the wall. In many jurisdictions in the United States there is no such legal duty, and in the popular imagination such retreat is easily confused with cowardice."

--- Murder in America: A Historian's Perspective, Roger Lane (1999)
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