Sunday, August 14, 2011

My Condolences for Dependence Day

I wanted to greet you today with "Happy Dependence Day!" but that didn't seem right. How do you greet someone on a Day of Infamy? You don't say "Happy Pearl Harbor Day", do you? So, today, I condolences instead.

Now, on July 4th, we celebrate Independence Day as the day we declared ourselves independent of the government of Great Britain. While we celebrate the independence from government that was made official on July 4th, 1776, the truth is that Independence is at the core of what makes us Americans. Our first colony--Jamestown--was founded by the younger sons of noblemen who, because they weren't the first-born of their families, were unlikely to inherit their family's wealth. Our second colony--Plymouth Rock--was founded by pilgrims in search of a place where they could live their religion independent from government authorities.

In both places, individuals and communities had to learn to survive on their own, to value individual initiative, and to appreciate the individual's desire to seek prosperity for himself and his family--for, if your family doesn't prosper, you cannot provide for your community's needs. The pilgrims at Plymouth Rock in particular discovered that putting the needs of the community over the needs of families dampens the spirit of those who work, and thus, dampens the prosperity of the entire community.

Both places had to learn to survive first, above all else, the hard way: in their first winters, about half of each colony died of starvation.

This ethic of hard work, individual initiative, and lending a helping hand to those in the community who are struggling, was further molded into the hearts of Americans as we repeated these steps on the Great Plains, in the Rocky Mountains, and on the Pacific Coast. And these steps are repeated by many immigrants, both legal and illegal, as they come here from poisonous political environments around the world, seeking prosperity and even peace for themselves and their families.

It is this ethic that has made the United States of America the most prosperous nation the world has ever seen; it is this spirit that has made the world more prosperous than it has ever been before.

It is an unfortunate maxim of life that people who seek power seek also to destroy the Spirit of Independence--for an independent people will seek to do things as they see fit, which makes governing them difficult. Sadly, it is also a maxim of life that uncertainty and independence go hand-in-hand because we cannot control, cannot guarantee, that others will always make decisions that will benefit us. Thus, those who seek power over others will promise "security" and "safety" as an alternative to Independence. As we listen and succumb to this siren call, we become more Dependent on those who seek power over our lives.

This is why today, the 14th of August, 2011, is American Dependence Day. While it is true that Kings, Emperors, Presidents, Governors and other rulers throughout history have produced schemes to destroy independence, it is this day, more than any other, that stands out as the Day Independence Died. It is this day, Three Score and Sixteen Years Ago, that Franklin Roosevelt signed into law the first major Entitlement Program directed towards the Middle Class: Social Security.

And it is no coincidence that it was signed into law during a decade of catastrophic insecurity, caused in large part by policies put into place by Franklin Roosevelt himself, as well as his predecessor Herbert Hoover. This act single-handedly, albeit gradually, pushed us to be dependent on Government for our retirement and for unemployment compensation. Social Security further opened the doors for other programs--particularly Medicare and Medicaid--and thus our acceptance of help from Government is all but secured.

Ironically, the "insecurity" that Governors seek to protect us from is caused by the very people who wish to protect us from such insecurity--and, as we can see today, in an era where our Federal Government is spending more and more money it simply does not have--the very proposals offered only provide an illusion of security, rather than the real security provided by individual savings, a support network of family and friends, and charity from communities, churches and other private organizations.

But that doesn't matter to Governors. Now that Social Security is in place, if the Governors want Govern how they please, they just have to threaten Social Security, and they can count on millions of Dependents to flock to their aid.

I suppose that today we could mope and accept our Dependencies. If you were suckered into this Ponzi Scheme by promises of high returns and guaranteed security, I would not hold it against you if you plan on just living the rest of your life on the meager "benefits" the Government offers for you. Indeed, if you are among the injured or aged who live off of Social Security, you might not have the energy it takes to divorce yourself from this Ponzi Scheme, or the many other such schemes of slavery offered by Government as "services". It is my hope that we will be able to support you in the day that these programs offer sufficient support. Whether it be because of inflation, or governmental collapse, or even just the cancelling of these programs, such a day may come, and it may come upon us more quickly than we can expect. My deep admiration, however, goes to anyone who is old or otherwise infirm, and originally dependent on Government, but manages to pull themselves off of this Dependence.

But I, for one, I have many steps to take before I'm completely Independent.

And above all else: If any politician offers you, or someone you know, money taken from tax payers, vote them out of office! For too long, we have accepted bribes from our public officials--bribes paid for by money taken from us! To end the Dependence, this needs to stop.

Finally, to those of you who are convinced that we need to depend on Government for our security, I echo the words of Samuel Adams:
If ye love wealth better than liberty,
the tranquility of servitude
better than the animating contest of freedom,
go home from us in peace.
We ask not your counsels or your arms.
Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you.
May your chains set lightly upon you,
and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen.

Update: I decided to look up "Dependence Day" and see how others were using it. I found Mark Steyn's essay lamenting the fall of the Anglophone Empire. One paragraph stood out:

After the London Tube bombings, Gordon Brown began mulling over the creation of what he called a “British equivalent of the U.S. Fourth of July,” a new national holiday to bolster British identity. The Labour Party think-tank, the Fabian Society, proposed that the new “British Day” should be July 5th, the day the National Health Service was created. Because the essence of contemporary British identity is waiting two years for a hip operation. A national holiday every July 5th: They can call it Dependence Day.

Yikes! Someone who approves of government dependency came up with the idea for the day as well--at least, in all but name--but for similar reasons--except that he's happy for it!

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Glimmer of Hope

As my wife and I were listening to the radio the other day, my wife had an interesting observation about the riots in London, compared to the antics of the Tea Party.  She pointed out that in Europe, when they have uprisings, it is to preserve spending and dependence on Government, while in the United States, the major protesting is done to curb spending, and to cut things back.

While not perfectly true--a large number of Tea Partiers don't want to cut back on Medicare or Medicaid, for example--it's a very interesting observation.

And this observation gives me hope, that things will turn out all right for America after all....

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Happy (very belated) Tau Day!

Happy Tau Day!

I am an unabashed Tauist, and have been since the day, several years ago, when a professor named Bob Palais gave a presentation on pi day that the value of pi is wrong.  I won't go into detail, because it's given nicely in the Tau Manifesto, but the argument rests on the fact that, mathematically, we always define a circle as the collection of points a given radius from a given point--but pi, as we know it, is defined using the diameter.  As a result, the value "2 pi" is strewn about all mathematics, and we have counter-intuitive ideas like "half of pi is a quarter of a circle".  The manifesto also gives good reasons why we should name the correct constant "tau".

Well, a few weeks ago, my wife sent me a link from Yahoo! news about a touch of rebellion in the mathematical community.  Apparently, the use of tau is beginning to gain traction!  I look forward to the day when we could be free of the tyranny of the false constant.

In any case, I apologize for delaying this post:  It took me a few days to get to my wife's link, and it took a few days after that to realize that the reason why the story came up was because of Tau Day--June 28.  I'm also not used to celebrating special days for numbers; ironically, too, the first Pi Day I attended challenged the very legitimacy of Pi itself!

(And for the record, on my first Pi Day, I didn't technically become a Tauist:  at the time, Bob Palais suggested a "three-legged" pi symbol that had no clear name to represent the One True Constant.)

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

A Fun Independence Day Weekend

I found it amusing to learn that of a study that claimed that Democrats don't benefit from Independence Day celebrations.  I didn't give politics much thought this weekend, but I can understand why this is.

On both Saturday and Monday, my family and I visited "Colonial Days" in two different cities.  Tents were set up so that individuals could demonstrate all sorts of aspects of Colonial life.  We saw candles being made, discussed the fine (and gruesome) arts of surgery, played Nine Man's Morris, saw wool spun into yarn and weaved into cloth.  In a booth full of muskets, I talked to my daughter about how to load a flintlock, and what a bayonet was for.  One presentation discussed how well-aimed cannon fire literally reduced entire regiments of Confederate soldiers to pink mist.  We saw displays about the Mayflower and the local Indians.  My children even attended a Colonial school.

 A local museum had copies of the Declaration of Independence, artifacts of the dual between Arron Burr and Alexander Hamilton, and other artifacts related to American culture; another museum showed the history of the printing press, starting with a replica of Gutenberg's original press.

My children had the opportunity to be frightened by musket fire and cannon fire, as minutemen performed their ceremonies; and in the end, my oldest daughter wanted to be a "Colonial".  I have no idea how to do that, but I'd like to be involved, too!

Amusingly, a person demonstrating how to cast bullets over an open fire had a discussion with an observer about how awful our current regulations are--unintentionally echoing the types of conversations likely happening in 1775.

And while we missed the parade, we saw plenty of fireworks, both on Saturday (we watched "Stadium of Fire" fireworks from the grass at a local park) and Monday (our neighbors had a fantastic fireworks display, complimented by newly-legalized "shooting" fireworks lit around the neighborhood).

I couldn't imagine a better celebration of freedom and independence!

And that's the problem that Democrats face:  while I wouldn't consider the Republican Party to be a bastion of freedom, it certainly pays more lip service to freedom than the Democrat Party does.  Thus, any holiday that celebrates freedom is bound to favor the Republican Party--to the extent that anyone is thinking about politics as well.

I would confess that this holiday didn't reinforce my love for my country.  It reinforced my love of freedom, and a greater appreciation for the time period that this love became entrenched into our country.  Thus, it reaffirmed my desire to help us be more free.

And it's a reminder that I'm happy to be alive, and to be free!

Friday, July 1, 2011

A Brief Summary of Austrian Bubble Theory

Several months ago--perhaps even a couple of years, now--I came across a simple, but incredibly insightful, explanation for the business cycle--the booms and busts that we've come to accept as a way of life.  I cannot remember precisely where I read it first, but it was likely in the book Human Action, by Ludwig von Mises.  I would like to take a moment to summarize this theory, because I'll be using it in future posts.

To understand why we have "booms" and "busts", we first need to understand that societies advance technologically by saving for the future.  If I were on a desert island, for example, I might have to spend most of my time fishing, just to get enough to eat--but if I dried a little bit of fish each day, I can save enough up to take a week off from fishing to make a net, which I could use to more quickly catch fish, and then have more free time to pursue other activities.  Step by step, then, my standard of living increases.

Now, I don't live on an island, so I don't necessarily have to save up money in order to take this step.  I could find someone willing to loan me their savings.  Of course, I take a bit of risk in doing so, because if things fall through, I have to pay things back despite losing everything, and I won't be able to save as much money for the next major project; on the other hand, I might also succeed, and be ready to fund the next project!  And, if debt can be used to push the boundaries of our standard of living, then it's obvious that, if we could make debt easier to obtain, we'll push those boundaries even faster, right?

It is this last step--making debt easier to acquire--that we start pumping up economic bubbles.  If I'm interested in building a factory, for example, and I don't have enough savings, I'll look at the loans and say, "hey, at this interest rate, I'll be able to afford it!"  Unfortunately, everyone else looking to expand their operations are making to same conclusions, and so they are taking out loans as well.  This leads to inflation, and so the loans don't cover the costs--in which case, I'll have to ask myself "Should I get another loan, or should I cut my losses and give up on my factory?" and, at some point, I'm going to realize it's time to cut my losses, and I'll have to leave my factory half-built.  The economic bubble bursts when a large number of people reach this conclusion.

Sadly, when this happens, we don't go back to the level we started before the bubble burst:  we're actually worse off.  Savings have been expended, and we have to pay off loans.  Workers have to be re-trained.  Factories are empty; they may even need to be converted, or perhaps torn down.  Unemployment is going to be higher while we shuffle everything around.

Admittedly, I am not an economist.  If you pointed me to a given bubble pop, I would not be able to identify all the factors that lead to it--at least, not without some research first.  It should be kept in mind, though, that throughout the history of America, politicians almost always thought we "need" artificially low interest rates; thus, this potential cause for disaster is always humming away in the background.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Hitting a Fermata

When I first started my glob--er, blog--I had a goal of posting every day.  As I found it difficult to find the time to do that, I planned on posting once a week.  Now, it's been over a month and a half since I last blogged.  I suppose, in trying to find my "rhythm", I hit a fermata.  I'm going to try to start up the beat again...

A lot has happened in that time:  my van was in the shop twice--once for gasket work, and once for being rear-ended; I suffered through a migraine; I slogged to and from work on a bike; my two proposals for "Book of the Quarter" at work floundered and died.  With all this going on, I certainly obtained a lot of material to blog on, but I didn't have the impetus to blog.  Migraines can do that to you--but then, so can riding twelve miles a day on a bike, when you aren't used to it.

What pushed me to start up the music again?  A need to discuss the market for those with college (especially doctorate) degrees.

Friday, April 15, 2011

A Penny For My Debts?

A couple of years ago, I read a brief article about a penny that sold for over $100,000.  It was a steel penny, minted during WWII, when copper was needed for other things.  As I read the article, I remembered a penny I found, a couple of decades before, on a Scout camping trip.  Since I still have boxes of personal things at my parents' house, I tried to find it, to no avail.

These last couple of months, though, my Mom has been remodeling the house, using some of the money she received from life insurance; in the process of remodeling, some of my things were uncovered.  Thus, at my last visit, I was finally able to find that brown card file box where I kept that penny!  At last:  if my penny was worth anything, it can be used to pay down debt!

Alas, a little bit of research showed that my penny only worth about three cents to collectors.  The most expensive pennies have a special copper sheen, being the first pennies minted after the decision to use steel; to be really valuable, of course, it would have to be in mint condition.  My penny certainly doesn't have that sheen, and it unfortunately isn't in mint condition, either.

On the plus side, I get to keep my penny--which is good, because I like it.  It's made of steel, and is attracted to magnets.  How cool is that?!?

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

What's this "Daylight Saving"?

Something odd happened about two weeks ago. Everyone around me put their clocks an hour behind the actual time--and because of this silly action, everyone is waking up an hour earlier, and scheduling meetings an hour earlier, and opening and closing businesses an hour earlier as well. And, as they do so, they are claiming that they are "saving daylight".

The kicker is this: the sun still rises at about the same time each morning, and the sun still sets at about the same time each night.

How do I know this? Because I haven't changed my clock. I still wake up at around the time the sun gets up (after acknowledging it, I'll typically go back to sleep), and I still go to sleep sometime after the sun goes down. Thus, I have had plenty of opportunity to check whether or not we get more daylight. Yes, it is unfortunate: all those people who have changed their clocks in an attempt to save daylight, have done nothing of the sort!

I have always hated Daylight "Saving" Time. Even when in high school and college, when I didn't exactly have the best of sleeping patterns, I could tell how changing the time I sleep really messes up the way I feel. At one point, when I was still in high school, I even tried to ignore it--but I gave up, when I was almost late to Church, based on some confusion as to what so-called "Daylight Saving" did to time. Since then, I resigned myself to my fate, and have since put a bit of hope that my State Legislature would finally get around to repealing Daylight Saving. Perhaps it wouldn't have mattered at the time, anyway. As a student in high school, I would have been stuck with the same rigid timeframe anyway.

As I pondered my dislike last year, though, I thought: "Why wait for the Legislature to do something that I have the power to do myself?" So I decided I would not recognize Daylight Saving that year, to see what it would be like. And this is what I noticed:
  • It's nice to make the "transition" from "Standard" to "Daylight Saving" without changing my sleep pattern at all. This was possible because I have flexibility in determining my work hours.
  • It's not too difficult to mentally adjust times that other people use. You just have to remember that everyone is doing everything an hour earlier than they say they are!
  • It's more difficult to catch up on hours missed in work. Because external meetings (say, my Linux User's Group, or my wife's Book Club) meet an hour earlier during this time, I have less time to squeeze in an extra hour of work before I go home.
  • It's a little weird when something on the radio says it's five o'clock, when it's really four. Partially for this reason, but also because my wife still recognizes Daylight "Saving", I changed the time on the clock radio in the kitchen.
  • There have only been a couple of times where I missed something because of mixed-up times. It turns out that both these times, though, it wasn't because I was on "Standard" time that I was confused, but because I was completely confused as to the proper time of the event itself.
So far, I have been alone in refusing to acknowledging Daylight "Saving" Time: my wife, both last year and this year, has insisted on changing her clocks. I would like to see what this little experiment would be like, if my entire household would just keep the proper time! Since we're likely to home-school my oldest, starting this year, I may have more success next year in convincing my wife to go along with this experiment :-).

Unfortunately, this year, I haven't had the benefit of undisrupted sleeping patterns. Due to headaches, migraines, and random sickness, I have been sleeping in longer than I would like. Thus, for the past two or three weeks, I've been meaning on waking up an hour or so earlier. Since Daylight "Saving" Time reared it's ugly head, I decided that now would be a good time to do that! So far, I've been getting up an hour earlier, but have been trying to get up an hour-and-a-half instead.

Friday, March 18, 2011

More Thoughts on Statistics and Guns

The day after I posted these observations on statistics, I started to reflect on another point I found amusing:  Kelly complained that I accept those criminologist that I agree with, but reject all those criminologists that I disagree with.  This reflection started as a comment, but it grew to the point where I decided it desereved a post of its own.  Here it is.

There are a handful of reasons for why I trust "pro-gun" studies over "anti-gun".  A major one that I cannot ignore is this:  I have my own biases, and they are likely coloring what I trust or distrust.  Having said that, when I first read "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott, I didn't feel all that strongly one way or another about guns at all.  Indeed, after reading it, my thought was "Perhaps I should get a concealed carry permit and a gun."  A year later, I was in New York State, where it would have been much more difficult to get either.

It wasn't until I read the essay A Nation of Cowards; by Jeff Snyder that I realized that carrying a gun is a duty, and the political issue of guns became so important to me.

But beyond that, I simply find the "pro-gun" studies more thorough than "anti-gun" studies.  They tend to be more up-front about their methods, go into greater detail about how they acheive their results, are more likely to provide their data, use common methodologies that avoid obvious flaws, and so forth.  The last chapter of "More Guns, Less Crime" is an eye-opener, too:  Lott details all the efforts, and even lies, that were put into debunking his study, by people who never saw it.

Meanwhile, "anti-gun" studies, time and time again, have glaring flaws.  Studies that find a high correlation between gun ownership and crime, for example, leave off glaring counter-examples known around the world.  Studies between groups (say, for example, a recent comparison between Arizona and Scotland) bend over backwards to explain why the comparison is valid, but ignores the reasons why the comparison is invalid.  "Deltas"--that is, changes over time--are ignored.  Gun violence is emphasized, but violent death by other means is ignored.  Different countries use different methods for gathering (and sometimes covering up) data.  Overall, data that would hurt their position is often ignored, sometimes even dismissed outright.

And finally, there's the reason why none of these studies matter in the first place--why I would accept gun violence, even if the studies really implied that guns increase the murder rate.  Every individual has the right to self-defense.  That is, each individual has the right to judge when their life, and/or the lives of their loved ones, are in danger, and to act to defend innocent life.  Even if it means using lethal force to neutralize the threat.  Every individual has the duty to overthrow tyrannical government, even if such a duty cannot in practice be fulfilled.  Banning guns says, in effect, that individuals are not capable of using correct judgement to defend lives--that only the Government can do that.

This philosophy--that only Government agents can make life-and-death decisions--means that only Government can decide what health care you get.  Or what you can eat.  Or what light bulbs and washing machines you can use.  Or where you can go to school.  Or what ideas you can learn.  Or what you can publish and broadcast.

This very philosophy runs completely counter to the idea of Representative Republics, where the People are entrusted with selecting their leaders.  In this system, at least in theory, the People are the ultimate holders of power.  If we can't trust these people with guns, then how can we trust them with the vote?  After all, the people will have the power to vote for people who will give them the right to keep and bear arms.  Just because they haven't yet, doesn't mean that they won't do it in the future!

This very philosophy assumes that people elected to office, and the bureaucrats those people appoint, and the agents those bureaucrats hire, are somehow superior at making these types of decisions, and are somehow so special, that they are either allowed to carry a gun, or can have bodyguards that carry guns.

Politics is ugly.  Elections are usually popularity contests.  By the very nature of bureaucracy--whether in government or in business--bureaucrats become slow and sluggish.  You will have a very difficult time convincing me that people selected in such political processes will be on par--let alone superior--than those people who elect them.

No matter what government we put together, people on the street will always be better at making decisions--whether it be choosing a light bulb, or deciding to shoot a mugger--because they will always have far more information than any bureaucrat sitting at his desk, or any police officer arriving to the scene five minutes after the crime starts.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Some Thoughts on Statistics and Guns

In the last little while, I have continued a debate with James Kelly.  This is Kelly's third post on a debate that was supposed to die with the first post.  I have committed myself to not rebutting his post, but doing so has annoyed me:  the points really deserve rebutting!  But both of us have already put too much energy in the debate, and it's becoming quite circular.  Even so, I wanted to get a few things off my chest, and to half-rebut several things.  Hence, this post.

As a word of caution:  I'm not in the mood to look up these statistics, so feel free to correct me, or even to provide collaborating links.

First, I found it amusing that Kelly continue to give me statistical reasons to fear guns, when I've stated time and time again that I don't trust statistics--not even my own!  He gave examples of the United States, or Finland, and of Brazil as positive correlations between guns in society and violence, and Great Britain as an example where they had less guns and less violence--then said that my conclusion that there is no correlation between guns and violence is false.  It's interesting that he left off Switzerland (high-gun but low-crime) and former Eastern Bloc countries (low-gun but high crime) from the list of examples.

Second, Kelly never understood my desire to know the "guns per gun death" statistic.  I wanted to test this basic idea:  which society handles guns more safely?  It is my suspicion that the Arizona would a lower rate of deaths per gun than Scotland--which would run counter to the idea that "more guns would be more dangerous in society".  Alas, such data is difficult to find.  Since I'm a big believer in looking at how things change over time, I'm hopelessly lost, because it seems rather difficult to find data like that kept over time, for Scotland.

But I would admit:  I'm not sure if I'd trust such a number, even if it came out in my "favor".  This is because it would rely on the number of illegal guns, which would be, at best, an educated guess.  Heck, the number of legal guns in Arizona would be, at best, an educated guess, because Americans aren't required to register their guns to be legal!

Even so, now that I've been thinking about this, I'm curious:  what is this statistic, and how will it change over time?  I may distrust statistics, but I've learned enough in the course of becoming a mathematician that I have a tiny statistician in my soul that just itches to grab hold of data and run with it.

Third, in the process of trying to find these numbers, I stumbled onto two curious headlines.  One was, in effect, "Scotland's murder is lowest in 31 years!" and the other was, in effect, "The Number of Guns in Scotland Have Increased!"  As I thought about this, I found it amusing:  a correlation that I could have exploited!  I'm not sure anything would have come of it, though.  It's just an amusing coincidence, after all.

Or is it?  That's one of the funny things about trying to use statistics to understand society.  As much as I admire John Lott's work, or Gary Kleck's, or other criminoligists and statisticians, we're trying to measure effects in a very chaotic system--a society of individuals, each with their own free will, making countless decisions over time on how best to act.  It is very difficult, perhaps even meaningless, to point to a single thing and say "This caused that!".

I like to see what, in Calculus, are called "deltas"--changes over time.  It would be impossible to see all the deltas--for example, why did Scots suddenly feel the need to buy more guns?--but if you're going to claim something like "banning handguns will reduce crime", then, to convince me of this, you'd better show me a reduction in crime after you ban handguns.  Unfortunately, in Great Britain, violence has increased since the handgun ban.  Kelly dismissed this line of reasoning, saying "handguns were practically banned before the formal ban, yet crime was rising before!"  Well, his exact words were,
The whole concept of householders routinely owning or using guns for 'defensive' purposes was already an alien one prior to 1996. A practice has to have meaningfully existed before its 'removal' can be claimed to have made a difference.
which is odd, because if the idea of having legal access to guns increases violence, rather than decrease it, then one would think that crime should have been decreasing well before 1996.  Yet here's an essay (the only one I'll link to) that discusses how murder rates decreased steadily over six centuries as technological advances allowed more people in Great Britain to own guns, only to increase, beginning in 1920, when Great Britain began to ban guns.

Admittedly, it's based on a study--which means it's contestable--but if I'm to be convinced that gun control works, I'll first need to see studies that show the reverse, and have even more solid footing than the one to be contested.

So, there you go:  some thoughts on statistics, based on a long and convoluted argument.

Friday, March 4, 2011

An Empty Victory

Several months ago, natural gas and oil companies were bidding on parcels of land they wanted to drill on.  One Tim DeChristopher made bids on several such parcels, because he didn't want these companies to get to these natural resources, in an attempt to "save the planet".  He had no intention to pay for the land though, and thus, such activity is illegal.

I, for one, have a strong desire to obtain our own resources, from our own land.  Indeed, the claim that we shouldn't is the height of arrogance and hypocrisy:  we need these resources, and if we seek international sources for them, but prevent obtained these resources on our own land, we're essentially telling the world "We're going to exploit your land, and preserve our land, because our land is better than yours!"  If you add the fact that importing oil and natural gas from around the world increases the carbon footprint for these resources, we're only adding insult to injury.

Thus, when DeChristopher was found guilty yesterday, I took glee that justice was served.  At least, I did, until I learned of this:
"We were limited by the defense we wanted to put on," Yengich [DeChristopher's lawyer] said. "That was an impediment."
DeChristopher had sought to center his case on the so-called necessity defense, which hinges on the legal premise that he chose the lesser of two evils and had to act illegally to right a wrong.
If that defense had been allowed, DeChristopher could have summoned the breadth of his motivations for acting regarding climate change and environmental impacts caused by oil and gas drilling.
[Judge] Benson rejected that, however, saying there were other lawful avenues available for DeChristopher to choose, rather than resort to breaking the law.
DeChristopher wanted to make silly pleas to the jury.  He wanted to say "I did it for the environment!  Think of the children!  The world is going to fry because of global warming, and I did my small part to stop it!" but the Judge forbade it.

How the heck did we come to the point that a judge can tell what defense a defendant can use?

If DeChristopher really wanted to bring up environmental concerns, let him.  Then the prosecution could bring in their witnesses to explain how drilling has minimum impact on the environment, and that importing oil has its own tolls on the environment that can be avoided by buying locally.  If, in the end, the jury decides to acquit, then so what?  DeChristopher made his case as best he could, and the jury accepted it.

If DeChristopher really wanted to do an "aliens suggested it" defense, let him!  If DeChristopher got on the stand, and said "Aliens visited me while I was fishing, and they told me how fun it is to make bids on objects in an auction when you can afford them--of course, on their planet, they go to jail for such things, but hey, you only live once, so I thought 'Why not?'", let the jury decide if this is sufficient reason to find him "Not guilty".

By forbidding what DeChristopher and perhaps his lawyer defense, I cannot accept the conclusions of the trial without having lingering doubts about the verdict.  Such power, given to a judge, provides too much potential for abuse.  Hence,  at a minimum, we should declare this a mistrial.  If DeChristopher was pardoned today, or acquitted, I would have no objections, although I would be annoyed by the injustice done, because of the judge's interference.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

A Visit to the Library

This last Saturday, I wanted to visit one of the local university libraries.  Ever since graduate school, typical public libraries have lost their charm (Where are those book in French about quaternions?  And why doesn't the "new books" section have anything on Relativity, or Commutative Ring theory?) so I thought I'd take a visit, look up a few books, and investigate checkout policies.

I wanted to make this a family outing, but circumstances prevented that.  Saturdays are naturally busy, and time was eaten up by chores and grocery shopping; and seeing that there was some sort of event (likely basketball) that overwhelmed the roads, pushed me to go in the evening, after putting the children to bed.

Nonetheless, I made it!  I stood at a catalog computer, and looked up whatever topics came to mind (Yes!  They have Arithmétique des Algèbras Quaternions!)...and then I went down to the Science Collection (QA), where I breathed the air that that contained distilled mathematics.  I occasionally pulled out a book or two to thumb through it, but I didn't have time to do any reading.  I don't yet have the ability to check out books, either.

As much as I enjoyed this, I paid a heavy price:  my church meetings started early, and so I didn't get much sleep.  This, in turn, made the entire day a bit miserable.  On balance, though, I think the price was worth the trip!

This trip was sort-of "reconnaisance" for something I've been thinking about doing:  I've been toying with the idea of taking a half-week off, to pursue some sort of project.  I don't yet know what that project will be, but I want to have access to a book or two (likely on quaternions, or on Lisp, or on differential equations) before I begin it.

Monday, February 7, 2011

The Freedom to Do Laundry

Joe Huffman quoted an editorial that compared gun owners to rabid dogs, and advocated for removal of freedoms, in the interest of public safety.  The subject made me think of the circumstances of my Dad's death--it seems that so many things do right now--so I made the following comment:

I lost my father about two and a half weeks ago, and I've been through a lot of grief since then. He fell down the stairs and hit his head, and then died from hemorrhaging of the brain. He had a stroke four years earlier, which probably contributed to his loss of balance, and he had blood thinners, which made it difficult to control the bleeding.

It is natural to rhetorically say "we should ban stairs!", to mock gun-control activists. Obviously, we shouldn't, because stairs give us far more convenience than the danger presents.

But, in my grief, I found myself asking "What was my family thinking? Why were they allowing my Dad to carry his laundry up the stairs?!? With his stroke, it's practically inevitable that he'd fall down like he did!!!" It can reasonably be argued that, because of his stroke, he shouldn't have been allowed to take risks like going up and down stairs, or exploring the Salt Lake valley via walking, bus, light rail, and train.

Then again, after his stroke, my Dad lost the ability to work--to design, build, and repair electronics circuits, in particular--but even to write computer programs, or to tinker in general. In many ways, simple things like doing his own laundry, or wandering the Valley, were the last few dignities that my Dad still had. And I'm inclined to think that, had we taken even those away, he may have simply just lost the will to live...and whether or not he would have lived longer, it would have been even worse for him.

It seems that too many people are eager to take away our freedoms, so that we could all be "safe"...but these people never seem to consider what the removal of these freedoms will do to our dignity, or our will to live--or even whether or not they actually make us safer.

And I, for one, am tired of sacrificing liberty for the illusion of security.
In the debate on gun control, it seems that gun-totin' folk are so ready to say things like "Should we ban stairs, to keep people from falling down them?"; the question is usually rhetorical--and it's easy to forget, in its rhetorical nature, that sometimes banning stairs isn't always rhetorical!  We have to ask ourselves:  is the risk that we may get hurt, worth the freedom to take that risk?

If I remember correctly, something like this is written in my little notebook--the one that contains "stream of consciousness" thoughts about my father's death--so this may be the first such thought shared from those little bits.  Ironically, I expected my first such posting to be cynical thoughts about health care!

As a side note:  in my observations, I noted how my Dad went up and down those stairs even before the house had a first story.  The house was built over twenty-five years ago, and while we were waiting for it to be finished, my Dad would take us to see it, and took pictures of it in its various stages.  I was about 8 or 9 at the time, and I enjoyed these visits.  Oh, how life has changed since then!

Saturday, February 5, 2011

My Dad Passed Away

Two weeks ago today, my father passed away.  He fell down a stairway while trying to bring his laundry up the stairs, and hit his head on the landing below.  About four years ago, my dad had a stroke, and so he was on blood thinners, to prevent other strokes.  Because of those blood thinners, surgeons were unable to control the bleeding in his brain, and he was declared brain dead the next day.

It's been a rough two weeks.  My dad had a great influence on me--indeed, he was a tinkerer, and an innovator, and much of that has rubbed off on me.  I sometimes wonder if I should have pursued an Associates in Electronics, or a degree in Electrical Engineering, to follow in his footsteps!  But perhaps, by deciding to become a mathematician, I have followed in his footsteps in a way that neither of us yet understand.

Having said that, despite pursuing pure mathematics, I still have an interest in experimenting with all sorts of things.  Tinkering is in my blood.  I don't think I can help it!

I have written a lot of thoughts about my dad's death.  Those thoughts started with a cynical observation about the health care debate, but had grown to cover all sorts of memories.  I haven't yet decided how much I will put on this blog.

Even before my father passed away, I was contemplating what directions I wanted to go--both with regards to this blog, and with regards to my own life and career.  My father's death postponed somewhat what I planned to write; it has also increased my personal introspection.

Sadly, I won't be able to ask for my dad's advice--I probably wouldn't have anyway, because I'm lousy at asking for advice!--but even if I didn't, I'm sure my dad would have appreciated knowing my thoughts, and I would certainly have liked to talk to my dad about them.

Dad, I'll miss you.  May we meet together again someday!

Thursday, January 20, 2011

I will not stand idly by

Sebastian put together a post confirming that an NPR show deliberately presented opinions biased in favor of Representative McCarthy's gun magazine ban.  In response to this, I followed Sebastian's recommendation to e-mail our Congrescritters, and to forward a copy to Matthew Baskin, the person who sent the e-mail.

This is what I wrote:

Dear Matthew Baskin,

I have recently learned about the deliberately unbalanced reporting that you presented on the issue of Representative McCarthy's gun magazine ban.  I am disgusted by the deliberate attempts to skew the debate to your favor, and I will not stand by as you attack freedoms dear to me.  I have thus sent the following letter to my congressmen:

Dear Representative,

I recently learned of a deliberate attempt of NPR to deliberately stack a debate in an effort to undermine our right to keep and bear arms, by searching for pro-gun bloggers that supported McCarthy's anti-gun bill that would limit magazine capacity.

Indeed, here is the text of that e-mail sent to various bloggers:

From: Matthew Baskin <>
Sent: Fri, January 14, 2011 1:32:22 PM
Subject: NPR show On Point needing progressive gun guest

Hi Mr. Blogger,

My name is Matthew Baskin and I work for the NPR program On Point with Tom Ashbrook. I’m writing to ask if you’d be able to speak as a guest on Monday, January 17. We’re looking for a gun owner and 2nd Amendment supporter who is not opposed to the forthcoming McCarthy bill re: limiting magazine capacity. I’d be very grateful if you could put me in touch with any gun owner who is not opposed to regulation. Let me know if anyone comes to mind. Thanks very much.

Matthew Baskin

It is disgusting that a news organization that purports to be neutral would take efforts to be so biased; it is doubly disgusting that such an organization receives the tax dollars of those who oppose such a ban, like myself, to deliberately skew a debate against my position.  I would therefore ask that you end funding to NPR, and let them find their own funding from private purposes, if they wish to continue to pursue such dishonest tactics.

[Epsilon Given].

Firearms are an important part of American culture and history.  By owning certain firearms, such as the Henry Repeating Rifle used in the Civil War, we can own a little piece of that era, and show it to friends and family.  By choosing to arm ourselves daily, we take upon ourselves a responsibility to protect ourselves and our families--a responsibility that cannot be filled alone by police, because police will seldom be available when danger is imminent.  And by becoming familiar with the types of arms used in war, we prepare ourselves for the possibility that we may be called upon to defend our freedoms against enemies both foreign and domestic.

Representative McCarthy's ban is an attack on all these purposes of owning firearms, and your blatant attempt to disregard those who would oppose such an attack, particularly when you position yourself to be neutral on such an issue, cannot stand unopposed.

[Epsilon Given].

Monday, January 17, 2011

Civil Discourse?

Last week I was reading a lot of comments from people who were calling for "civil discourse".  At one point, I was even reading a Democrat's attempt to say "it wasn't the discourse:  this kid was insane!" only to have the post flooded with comments about how Sarah Palin had crosshairs--crosshairs--to target Congresspeople vunerable for defeat.  As though such language has never been used in a campain before, and never will be again (except by those gun nuts--you can't trust them, I guess).

And, as someone who has been well aware of the political climate this past decade, I couldn't help but wonder:  these people are only getting upset at crosshairs?  This is worse than hoping for the assassination of a sitting President?  Am I really supposed to take such calls for civility seriously?

So, when I saw "I do not want civil discourse" (Hat tip to Kevin Baker), I couldn't help but think:  "Amen, and A-MEN!".

An Afterthought on Political Feasibility

I just made a call for data, because I wanted to test some claims made by Ron Garret about tax levels.  I had a thought about the conversation, that didn't quite fit in with the call for data.

Ron also claimed that raising taxes was politically feasible, while cutting spending wasn't.  He also claimed that, if we were to raise our taxes, we'd be showing the world that we're determined to fund our government spending, and that will help the economy.

I'm not sure that Ron is right about this, though:  first of all, I don't think it's as "politically viable" to raise taxes as he thinks it is; indeed Barak Obama seems to think it's not politically viable (although some have questioned his motives for continuing Bush's tax levels).  It also doesn't matter whether cutting spending will be viable or not:  if we don't cut spending, and if we don't do it deeply, we're in for a world of hurt!  Raising taxes isn't going to fix our spending problem.  Heck, lowering taxes isn't going to fix things--even if, as we have historically seen, lowering taxes temporarily raises tax revenue.

To me, it's a little disingenuous to call for raising taxes because it's politically viable, but not call for cuts to spending, because it would be "political suicide":  if the first won't even put a dent in solving our problems, why bother calling for it?  Why not call for a reduction in spending, even you have to add the cynical parenthetical of "but everyone is too dependent on their pet subsidiaries, so this is practically impossible"?

A Call For Data

About a month and a half ago, I got into an online spate about taxes.  Ron Garrat posted a "Why-I-want-the-government-to-raise-my-taxes FAQ"--and I took issue to the idea that government "deserved" revenue.  In this spate, Ron made a couple of claims, that I would like to test with data:
  • Does lowering income taxes always temporarily boost unemployment, only to have things crash down a few years later?
  • Do high income taxes really ensure a low unemployment rate?
As I have tried to search for data so that I could examine these claims, I've only found, so far:

Ron claimed that we had somewhere between 25 and 30 years of 5% unemployment with the maximum tax rate at around 88% to 91%.  In looking at the Top Bracket Rates, I cannot see a period like this, unless we go back to 1938 (during which time, we had high unemployment), or look forward to beyond the Kennedy years (when we had a tax cut to about 77%).  Either way, I'm not satisfied that Ron is correct in his claims; nor am I satisfied, however, that I have enough data to see what's really going on.

Indeed, Ron never answered my question:  If the economy was doing so well, why did President John F. Kennedy see a need to justify a tax cut to increase revenue?  I don't have a satisfactory answer, one way or the other, either--the JFK era stock market link above was one effort to find an answer.
  • Ludwig von Mises claimed that interest rates, when forced too low, creates bubbles in the economy.
  • John Maynard Keynes claimed that bubbles were caused by "animal spirits", and that government taxing and spending can correct for problems caused by fear and greed.
  • One recent claim I've heard on the radio is that taxes--all taxes, put together-- have always represented 20% of the GDP.
  • The strengthening of unions often results in unemployment.
  • Minimum wages cause unemployment.
  • Businessmen can be cowed by the actions of government--especially by "frivolous" criminal charges and civil lawsuits.
I'm sure there are other claims that ought to be tested, and that I'll uncover them (or remember them) as time progresses.  In any case, I'd like to collect data to test these claims.  Among the data to collect, I'd like to see, for the last 100 to 200 years:
  • Unemployment rates, and how they are calculated or estimated.
  • Interest rates, and ways to estimate what the "market rate" would have been without government intervention.
  • Events, major and minor, that may have affected the economy--such as war, the prosecution of prominent businessmen, or Supreme Court decisions.
  • The values of the individual components that are used to calculate the GDP.
  • Stock market prices.
  • Taxes, taxes, taxes!  Income taxes--and not just the top rates!, tariffs, sales taxes, corporate taxes, State and local taxes, fees, even fines.
  • The number of laws in effect, and the number of regulations put into effect by regulatory agencies.
  • Anything else that might be relevant in looking at an Economy.
If you know of a data source, please put links (or at least references) in my comments--if the comment period has expired when you read this, please e-mail me.  Admittedly, I might not be able to find the time to examine this data, but I'd like everyone else to know where to find it, too, so that anyone else interested in addressing questions like these can sit down with these resources and attempt to do so.

Perhaps this call for data is stupid:  we are, after all, talking about a chaotic system (the United States economy), much of the data I'm requesting has to be estimated, and we have so little time to look back on (the income tax, for example, is only 100 years old!).  Even so, it wouldn't hurt to take a stab at looking at these claims, even if, in the end, we can't come to any solid conclusions.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Quote of the Day

A few days ago, I sang the Hymn "God Speed the Right" to my children...and stumbled onto one of my most favorite lines:
Like the great and good in story, If we fail we fail in glory.  God speed the right!  God speed the right.
Our world is frought with dangers and challenges.  Too many people don't want us to raise up and face those dangers and challenges.  Gun-grabbers try to emphasize that, if we are armed, we can still get shot in a mugging, never minding that our innocent lives are worth fighting for, even if we fail.  Friends and family will sometimes think me insane for wanting to pursue certain dreams--and they may be right, I may end up poor when I die.  Even my own mind has little "voices" of doubt, trying to convince me that my dreams aren't worthwhile, and that I should stick with safety instead of liberty.

And yes, while some of these voices are sometimes right--I shouldn't become a freelance mathematician, for example, without having at least some inkling of how I'll make a living--overall, we need to have glorious, righteous goals to reach--and overall, if we fail to reach those goals, we do so in glory!  And it is up to us to pick ourselves up, and start again.

It's also important to remember that we only get glory--whether we succeed or fail--if our cause is truly right.  History is littered with people who had ambitious goals, but will be remembered in infamy rather than in glory.

On Gun Nuttery and Responsibility

Several weeks ago, I engaged in a messy debate with James Kelly, at "SCOT goes POP".  He insists that Freedom from Fear is the One Goal that we must all achieve, and that banning guns is the way to achieve it.

In the debate, I tried to say that I didn't want to be "free from fear", but that I wanted to be responsible, and when members of society choose to be responsible, "freedom from fear" was a mere side effect.

I don't think I explained myself very well; indeed, what I needed to say probably hadn't congealed properly.  I now understand what I need to say, and how to say it.  I will do so, by explaining how I became a so-called "Gun Nut".

For the first part of my life, I was completely unaware of guns--sure, I'd know of a person or two who owned them, including my grandpa; and I enjoyed rifle shooting and archery at Scout Camp--but beyond these experiences, I didn't think about guns all that much.  I didn't even think about it when I got mugged while walking the streets of Birmingham, England, or when an Englishman made the comment to the effect that it's ridiculous to think that Great Britain was gun free.  (These experiences occurred in the years of 1997 to 1999, some time after pistols were completely banned.)

What got me to think about guns was "More Guns, Less Crime" by John Lott.  I first heard about this book on the radio, and when I read it, I found John Lott to be very thorough in his statistical analysis; indeed, the was book boring and interesting at the same time because of this.  Being a mathematician with a couple of Statistics classes under my belt, I found the book rather convincing.  And I found it amusing how enemies of gun rights dismissed--and not just dismissed, but outright fought--Lott's conclusions, without even looking at them!

In the book, John Lott concluded that certain crime rates go down when it is legal for honest citizens to carry guns.  As a result, I decided it would be a good idea for me to get a concealed carry permit, and carry a gun.  I didn't act on that idea, though, in part because of lack of funds, but also in part because I was planning on going to New York soon, and I was aware that gun laws in that State were overbearing.

It was while in New York State, however, that my conversion to gun nuttery became complete:  I read an essay called A Nation of Cowards, by Jeff Snyder, and I discovered that carrying weapons isn't just a right, it's a responsibility:
One who values his life and takes seriously his responsibilities to his family and community will possess and cultivate the means of fighting back, and will retaliate when threatened with death or grievous injury to himself or a loved one. He will never be content to rely solely on others for his safety, or to think he has done all that is possible by being aware of his surroundings and taking measures of avoidance. Let's not mince words: He will be armed, will be trained in the use of his weapon, and will defend himself when faced with lethal violence.
Thus, I learned that it was my duty to carry a gun, and be prepared to use it when life and limb are unjustly threatened.  To the extent that I don't carry a gun, I fail at my responsibility.

This overwhelming desire to carry a gun, then, is not at all based on fear.  Indeed, in some exchanges with James Kelly, I decided to look up statistics for Vermont, and compare them to England--and I learned that Vermont, with lax gun laws, had seven murders in 2009, out of a population of 490,000.  Are we really expected to believe that banning guns will eliminate those seven deaths?

Similarly, Great Britain had something like 1,700 murders--I won't try again look up the exact number, and I don't know what year it was for--out of a population of about 57 million.  Even if getting rid of gun laws will increase murders by a factor of ten--to 17,000--is it really all that reasonable to fear death by gun?  For that matter, is it all that reasonable to expect the murder rate to jump like that, when guns are legalized?

Ultimately, in one sense, it doesn't matter if guns are legal or not:  the criminal element will still remain a tiny fraction of the entirety of society, and we will always be relatively safe.  In another sense, however, it's a matter of grave importance.  Society needs responsible citizens in order to be mature and peaceful, and by banning guns, we prevent citizens from being responsible, by forbidding the very tools they need to protect themselves, and their loved ones, from immediate danger to life and limb posed by criminal elements.

I value freedom and responsibility--and I value it far more than being vaguely "free from fear".

On Fear, Kinder Eggs, and Freedom

The other day Sebastian posted some links about the horrors of chocolate.  To summarize:  A woman tried to bring a Kinder Egg into the United States from Canada.  For those of us uncultured Americans who don't know what a Kinder Egg is, it's a hollow chocolate egg with a tiny toy (in a little plastic "egg" of its own) inside.  This woman had her car searched...and the border agents found a Kinder Egg.  If she had succeeded in bringing it into the United States, she would have faced a $300 fine.  If she wanted to contest the seizure, she'd have to pay $250 for storage fees.

All this, for a $2 treat.

Now, why is this egg banned?  Because the "tiny" toy inside can be a choking hazard.

Never mind that it's been popular in Europe and Canada for decades--and that, to the best of my knowledge, no one has choked on these things.  We have to ban them, because someone might choke on them!

And that, my dear readers, is what "Freedom from Fear" gives us:  a petty tyranny, that attempts to control the smallest details of our lives, to protect us from each other and from ourselves.

As for myself, there's only one Freedom I understand:  the freedom to observe the world, and then choose actions based on those observations.  Indeed, this is the only freedom--because it's the definition of freedom.  We are all born free, and are free to pursue any course of action, ranging from helping others, to sleeping in this morning, to murder.  No law passed will change that.

What laws can do is make it difficult to act on our desires.  Thus, for example, it is difficult to bring in a Kinder Egg from Canada to the United States.  Once across the border, such an egg will be almost completely innocuous--there's always a danger that it will kill people, but for crying out loud, a person can choke on the chocolate of the egg itself!--yet it's an object that must be Feared, and those who do not fear it must be Punished!

If you truly want Freedom from Fear, the key is to look at the world around you:  you will see countless dangers around us, in virtually every object, and every person.  You will also see that the chances of any one object or person causing you harm are very, very small--and the chances are even smaller if you learn how to handle the most dangerous of these objects correctly!

But the Freedom from Fear mindset doesn't do this:  instead, it sees the danger in every object, and in every human interaction, and tries to ban everything that has the slightest bit of danger--and what can't be banned, must have a warning label, and must be registered with the government, and the user must be licensed to use it.  And we absolutely must do these things, because if it will save one life, it will be worth it!

Never mind all those dead people who suffocated in their cocoons of red tape.

Another Fishy Study

Joe Huffman discovered another anti-gun blog...and the first thing I noticed about it was a a fishy study that was designed to make gun ownership look bad.  Like Joe, I put a comment on their site.  Unlike Joe, I have some hope that it will show up--I tried to avoid being clearly "pro-gun".  Nonetheless, I only have a little bit of hope, and I don't know if I'll get much of a response.  Thus, I decided to put that comment here, too.
I would have to confess that I'm very confused.  First of all, you just include gun deaths.  I may be wrong about this, but shouldn't you be using murder statistics instead?  If a policeman were to shoot someone robbing a store, that would be a gun death, but not a murder.  For that matter, if a robber stabbed and killed a gun store owner, then that would count as a murder, but not a gun death.

This is important, because the NRA and their ilk claim that legal guns push down the overall murder rate.

Second, I find your graphs confusing--especially the first one, which seems to cloud issues by cramming in as much data as possible.  The first graph is especially confusing, for several reasons:

-- By leaving off the names of the States, I can't see what's going on.  Yes, I know that's Excel's fault, but it's still a problem.  (Are you sure that Excel can't do this?  I seem to recall that Excel is <i>very good</i> at graph generation.)

-- Is it "volume of the spheres" or "area of the circles"?  If it's the first, then a lot of data will be obscured, because we're only getting an area representation of a sphere, which wouldn't be good.

-- What year of statistics are you using, and how do graphs compare to other years?  I'd like to know, because low-population states are more susceptible to fluctuations in murder rates.  To take as an extreme example, a small town of 1.500 people could have 0 deaths per 100,000 for decades, but two murders could cause that to jump to 115 per 100,000 for just one year, and then the sleepy town could go for another two or three decades with a death rate of 0 per 100,000.

Ah, heck!  I'm sure that my questions could be answered if I could look at the data myself.  Do you have a link to it, or have it available for download?  Thanks!
We'll have to see if I get any sort of response, or if it will become a victim of Reasoned DiscourseTM.

UPDATE:  the blog did post my comment, as well as a comment linking to an article that claims that the UK is surprisingly violent.  They haven't yet linked to any data, though.

Friday, January 7, 2011

Quote of the Day

I've been sitting on this quote for several days now, not knowing what to do with it.  I was debating calling this "Correction of the Day", and try to fix it, but in the end, I decided it would be better to comment on it instead.  It's from "The Rifle" by Gary Paulsen, and it's one of tha jabs he makes at America:
...and while he worked on the rifle, England--riddled in fear that the colonies in America would grow to dominate and outproduce and take over the world, which is exactly what happened--began to add taxes to Colonial produce and products to try to hold them down.
Now that I've written down the quote, it's not as bad as I first read it--I remember my anger focusing on the word "overproduce", which, upon closer reading is actually "outproduce"--but, even so, with phrases "dominate" and "take over the world", I still almost get a sense that  Mr. Paulsen kindof wishes England succeeded.

To give him credit, Mr. Paulsen also explains, in the same paragraph, that England forced monopolies on America, and forced their products to be priced "viciously low".

I, for one, am not sad that America outproduced England, and "took over the world"--although I wish we took George Washington's advice, and kept our noses out of other countries' business.  Even so, by outproducing England, and even the rest of the world, we've been able to avoid famine in our country, and help with famines around the world as well.  Indeed, most famines today are caused by governments!

It's sad that our government currently does a better job of holding us down than England ever did.

Mr. Paulsen also gives England a little too much credit:  they were, after all, a Colonial Empire, and they wanted to profit from their Colonies.  This is as much a motivating force of creating the monopolies they did, forcing viciously low prices on American goods, and taxing them however they could!

Yet Another Example of Fearmongering

Yesterday, Sebastian gave another example of a fearmonger; since I recently discussed fearmongering among anti-gun folk, I thought I'd bring it up here, too.

The Palm Beach Post editorial that Sebastian comments on, however, is a bit different from the modes of fearmongering I described in the above post, but it's one I mentioned before:  the Can't Trust My Neighbor Syndrome.

Only, this is a Fearmongering Editorial--that is, this person doesn't just fear his neighbors!  He's trying to convince you that you'd be stupid if you dared to trust your neighbors, which is why we need to ban guns.

The more I think about these things, the more I have to ask:  Why do these people think they are trying to preserve "Freedom from Fear"?

Monday, January 3, 2011

Why All the Fearmongering?

During this last Christmas vacation, I've been arguing with one James Kelly.  The post I've been commenting to seems to be the latest in a debate with Kevin Baker of The Smallest Minority.

James Kelly's position is derived from the only "freedom" he understands:  freedom from fear.  He fears that anyone he meets might be the owner--might even be carrying, at this moment--a gun, and so he wants to ban guns, to elliminate this fear.

Ironically, in order to get support for his position, James needs to get others to fear guns as well--and so he encourages fear in others.  In order to remove our fear of government, James then goes on and tries to convince us that fighting a government with weapons of mass destruction is impossible--so we might as well not revolt, and turn in all our guns right now.  In other words, he tries to cancel the gun-toter's fear of tyranny with the fear of government holocaust.

For someone who so detests fear, James seems to be so ready to reach for it when he thinks it will convince others to ban guns, and even knives.  Why is this?

But James Kelly isn't the only one:  as I discovered this last week, young adult author Gary Paulsen resorts to both fear and loathing, in an attempt to convince others that guns are evil.  Yet, if you try to put things in perspective, you would quickly discover that gun deaths are almost statistical noise.

Yes, every person who dies by gun is a tragedy.  But then, so is every car accident.  So is every swimming pool drowning.  All of these are risks we need to learn to deal with--and these are all risks we have been dealing with, for decades, without regulation.  This is because life itself is risky, and we naturally learn to balance these risks with our actions--and this is consistent with choosing to live in liberty.

There is a certain mindset among people, however, that says "We must get rid of all risk!" and to do this, it is necessary to restrict the actions of individuals.  Individuals, however, have come to accept that certain risks come with certain actions--thus, to justify limits to these actions, anti-risk types have to make the risk seem larger than it is.  Hence, they become fearmongers.  And they become tyrants--petty tyrants, if they want to ban only one or two types of actions (say, ownership of guns, or swimming pools without alarms, both of which are practically banned in New York State), and all-out dictators, if they want to control every aspect of an individual's life (Communists, Nazis, Progressives, and some Monarchists are all examples of the latter).

Unfortunately, as anti-risk folk gain traction, the society begins to suffer from enough petty tyrannies to become one grand tyranny. 

So, do you want a life without fear?  Well, I'm sorry:  no matter how hard you try to remove sources of fear, there will always be new sources that need to be treated.  The more you try to remove fear, the more you trample on freedom, and trample on individual responsibility...and, eventually, society gets overwhelmed and collapses anyway.

I, for one, want a life of freedom--and with freedom, comes responsibility.  Do I fear someone with a gun?  No, I do not.  Yet, it's my responsibility--one I should be free to choose to accept, or not--to carry a gun, in case someone threatens me or my family with danger to life or limb.  Should I fear swimming pools?  No, I should not--but I should learn to be careful around water, and learn to swim as well.  Should I fear car accidents?  No--even though they are common enough, I have seen several in my lifetime, and see or hear of the remains of one almost daily.  But I should wear a seat belt--yet, even car accidents are rare enough, that if I don't wear a seatbelt, I'm not likely to die any time soon!

An exercise for the reader:  how does attempting to remove fear through welfare agencies destroy freedom and responsibility?

UPDATE:  Here's another example of how fearmongering is used by anti-gun folk; this article dismantles a piece by Paul Helmke of Brady Campaign fame.

The Fearmonger

During this last Christmas season, I took a few moments to try out a local library's touch-screen table.  Next to that table was a book called "The Rifle", by Gary Paulsen--and at the end of the book's blurb was a claim that cried out to be challenged:
With deadly accuracy, Gary Paulsen takes aim at the notion that "Guns don't kill people, people kill people".
So, what does Paulsen do to to take aim at this notion?  He first describes the creation of a "sweet" flintlock that is used in the Revolutionary War; he then creates an improbable series of events, and describes those events to the tiniest detail--up to, and including, how a charge of gunpowder could be sealed in a gun so that moisture won't cause it to cake while sitting in an attic for 227 years; how a candle can melt the grease that sealed the hole that leads to the charge; and how a tiny spark from the fireplace makes its way into that hole, sets of the charge, and kills Richard, a nice young man who lives next door.

After the gun goes off, and is thrown in a river, it's fished out by a person who--gasp!--is interested in black powder gun competition.  It's now only a matter of time before that gun kills another person!  Never mind that the need to keep a black-powder rifle ready at all times is long past, and modern black powder safety rules take that into account.

Along the way, he takes a couple of pot-shots at America, and he does his darnedest to illustrate how pretty much anyone interested in guns is a liar, a thief, and a cheat, and is distrustful of government to boot.  It isn't enough that we fear the rifle--we need to loath anyone who has any interest in guns.

Even this isn't enough:  almost everyone associated with this rifle seems to die grisly deaths.  After its service in the Revolutionary War, he then locks it up in the attic--and thereby refuses to show how such a device could feed a family during hard times, or to celebrate in times of happy competition.  Every step of the way, Paulsen is determined to show that this rifle only kills.

Several years ago, I read from a book that catalogued things we shoud be afraid of.  Among them--a ball point pen!  Why a pen?  Because someone who was riding a motorcycle got into a crash, and he would have walked away without a scratch...except that he had a ball point pen in the front pocket of his shirt, and that pen pierced him to the heart, and he died.  Of course, the chances of anyone dying from a ball point pen--even one in an upper front pocket of a coat, or a shirt, or a jacket--are very small.  When discussing such a death, it's more proper to say it's a "freak accident", than it is to say we should only keep pens in our pants pockets--and even then, be careful to keep it from our major arteries.

By producing a series of improbable events to make his point--events described with a God-like knowledge of the rifle, for given the history of the rifle described, only God could have known those events--he expects us to believe that guns are just waiting to kill us, even though the event he ultimately describes is just as likely to kill an individual as a ball point pen.

Thus, while it's true that Gary Paulsen takes deadly aim, his "gun" backfires.   All he does is try to gin up fear and loathing--Paulsen is nothing more than a fearmonger.  Perhaps the most sickening aspect of this book is that it's especially targeted to convince young people that they need to fear guns, and to loath anyone who has an interest in such devices.

As such, I would encourage everyone to read this book.  It's a short read, and it's a good illustration of how gun-grabbers view those of us who value our rights.  Paulsen also has an interesting narration of how a gun was made during Revolutionary times--which makes it a good read, even despite the anti-gun drivel.

Quote of the Day

From "The Rifle" by Gary Paulsen:
[Tim] viewed the government in some obscure way as an enemy of the people--especially Big Government, as he thought of it, somehow ignoring that it was made of people--and spent a lot of time trying to avoid being controlled or watched or even known by the government.
If we replaced "Big Government" with "Nazi Government", or "Soviet Government", or "Mao's Government", would Paulsen be so ready to ridicule the notion?  Probably, because he would likely agree with the notions of those governments.  Even so, his statement is ridiculous:  all governments are made up of people, even so-called "anarcho-capitalist" ones.  Is the notion that a government that takes as much from you as it can, to feed ever-expanding utopian welfare programs that grow even faster than can be supported by what the government takes from you, all that far-fetched?

"The Rifle" is copyrighted in 1995; the narrative takes place in 1993.  I wonder if Gary Paulsen feels different, now that Medicare, Medicaid and Social Security are on the brink of destroying our financial well-being.  My guess:  probably not!

A Bit Of Perspective

Anti-gun folk like to point out that guns kill people--indeed, about 30,000 people die every year, in America, from guns.  Because of this, anti-gun folk conclude, we need to limit access to guns, if not ban them altogether.

Let's put this 30,000 figure in some perspective, shall we?

Currently, the United States population as around 300 million people.  Let's suppose that those 300,000,000 people will be made childless but immortal at this instant, excepting a weakness of guns--and that gun deaths remain at the current rate of 30,000 a year.  Then how long will it take for the American population to die off?  A.  About 10,000 years.

But immortality is such a ridiculous supposition.  Let's suppose, instead, that all those 30,000 deaths were caused by handguns, and that each death was caused by a single handgun, which is then promptly collected by police and destroyed.  Let's again assume that handguns will have no children--that is, we'll assume that from this moment, no handgun will be made--and we'll also assume that, except for police destruction, handguns will also be immortal.  It is estimated that there are about 80 million (80,000,000) handguns in America.  How many deaths will happen before all handguns will have killed a single person?  A.  About 2667 years.

Of course, it's rather silly of us to assume that all gun deaths are caused by handguns, VPC's belief that "Every Handgun is Pointed at You" notwithstanding.  Some of them are rifle deaths.  So, properly, we should include rifles in the above exercise.  It's estimated that Americans own 200 million (200,000,000) guns, total.  If each of these guns killed a single person, how long will it take for all of them to kill exactly one person?  A.  About 6667 years.

Now, one final bit of perspective.  Gun-toting folk like to point out that 40,000 people a year die from road accidents, while only 30,000 die per year from gun accidents.  Anti-gun folk will then respond, "But cars are designed for transportation.  Guns are designed to kill!"

Let that sink in for a moment.  A class of tools designed to transport people and goods from point A to point B kill more people than devices designed to kill people.  And this is true, despite the fact that devices to kill people are the prefered method for murder and suicide.

Ever wonder why we have silly studies saying things like "A gun in the home is 43 times more likely to kill a loved one than an intruder" and "A gun, used defensively, prevents between 1 million and 2 million crimes per year"?  All these studies are refuted--some are more easy to refute than others--but all these studies suffer from a single flaw:  the number events they are trying to measure are tiny compared to the population at large.

Yet it's through studies like these that anti-gun folk use to gin up fear against gun-toting folk--and to try to get rid of guns altogether.  Ironically, they do it in the name of "getting rid of fear".  Just what are these people afraid of?