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America loves violence.

America hates violence.Which will it be, America?

Until we reach a consensus, we'll have to stop feigning occasional shock at living in a culture regularly punctuated by random acts of bloodshed.

We love violence on the screen. Even so-called "quality" movies and TV shows drip with blood.

We hate violence on the screen. Congress howls about increasing and unnecessary use of violence on TV. Senators and representatives threaten to pass laws punishing the producers of violent programs. Network executives grovel before House members.

Attorney General Janet Reno tells network executives she's watching what they are doing and threatens prosecution if they fail to self-police.

Which will it be, America?

We love official violence.

Singapore threatens to cane an American boy charged with vandalism. Radio talk shows' phones lines are jammed with callers howling support. "Get Tim," they cry. "At least in Singapore," they scream in fury, "the streets are safe at night."

Frustration over an inability to deal with the wicked ways of our own urban youth whips middle America into a frenzy over Singapore's no-nonsense approach.

We hate official violence.

A jury in Los Angeles makes Rodney King a millionaire for being the target of a late-night beating by former Los Angeles policemen. Former Police Chief Darryl Gates is tossed out of his job for having run a department where violence by officers went routinely unpunished.

Which will it be, America?

We love violent entertainment. Sports fans cram into hockey games where the most popular teams are the ones which use their pucks to beat each other bloodiest. Boxing fans pay big bucks to see two grown men pummel each other. Rap groups sing venom-filled songs, and kids (especially white kids) push these recordings to the top of the charts, buying the CDs and tapes by the millions.

We hate violent entertainment.

Parents, unable to control their own children, bash recording companies that promote groups who glorify violence. They also force interactive video game producers to impose a self-rating system.

Which will it be, America?

Somewhere in this muddled mess of conflicting and counterproductive messages lies a solution. It must be possible to reduce violence. Other societies have. But it will never happen here until we reach a consensus.

Liberals say we should attack the "root causes." Improve public education, provide lower-class mothers with job training and safe day care for children.

Conservatives want to see gun criminals thrown in jail for life. They want drug traffickers locked up for good and a return to the good old days of getting tough on crime.

Most people (myself included) probably support an amalgam of programs from each platform. But here's a thought. Give each side a five-year try. Let 'em toss a coin to decide who goes first.