Wednesday, December 30, 2015

Two Stories, and a Moral

I have a couple of stories to share with you.


Years ago (around 1992), before my twins were born, my sister called me at her wits' end. Her son was failing high school. He'd been kept back a grade, and she couldn't get him back on track. Not only was his classwork and homework lacking, he suffered from headaches which caused him to exceed his allowed sick days. He was also just generally truant.

"Send him to me," I said. So he came to live with me in the little city of Union, where there is one high school that serves the entire county. The school is located outside of town, miles from the nearest convenience store. I enrolled him there.

Shortly after the school year started, he called me from the school office. "Uncle Dave," he said, "I have a really bad headache. Can you come sign me out?"

"Go to the nurse and get some aspirin," I said.

"They won't hand out any medications," he replied (and that was true... I spoke with the nurse). He pleaded, "Can you please come sign me out?"

He had already been with me for some time, and I'm not an unobservant fellow. I noted with some interest that he didn't seem to suffer from these chronic headaches I'd been told about... not until he started school. "Meet me at the front of the school," I replied.

So I drove to the school, and there on the curb outside of the office stood my nephew, expectantly awaiting his ride home. He was still standing there after I rolled down the car window as I drove past slowly and wordlessly tossed a bottle of aspirin in his general direction.

He never asked for another ride home, and he completed that year and was promoted to the next grade.


I have three sons. I have never ridden herd over any of them regarding homework. It was their assignment, their responsibility, their job; just as at their age my homework was my job. I have always been available to help when asked, but otherwise I'm completely hands-off.

That doesn't mean I don't pay attention. One of my children failed... more than once. For several years he attended summer school so that he wasn't held back a grade. It's not that he couldn't do the work... he made straight As in summer school. It's that he didn't want to do the assignments, and it cost him.

One day he came to me and said, "Dad, I don't want to be stupid anymore."

"Well then you're in luck. You were never stupid to begin with," I replied.

He said, "You know what I mean. I want to get out of the slower classes. I might have messed this up. I need help."

"OK," I said, "Here's what you need to do. If you need help understanding something, ask me. But don't wait until it's a problem. Just ask me as soon as you realize you don't understand it. But start by making sure you do your homework and turn your assignments in on time."

He did his homework and turned his assignments in on time. He never asked me for help in high school. He never needed it. Today he's in his second year at the University of South Carolina, and is a model student. Occasionally he asks me to proofread a paper.


I didn't respond to either of these young men the way they wanted or expected. My nephew wanted to go home and be pampered. I made him stay and slog out the remainder of that day and every other day he claimed a headache. He eventually stopped claiming them and just passed his grade. He could have done that at any time. If I had been overly attentive to his discomfort, he would have failed again. Discomfort is a part of life. We all deal with it. That doesn't change our obligations. My nephew needed to know that he had no option but attendance. So I gave him no option. My son needed to know that failure to perform equals failure to achieve. So I let him fail. They both needed to rely on themselves.

And yes, when it comes to parenting I can be an ass. I love my kids more than anything else in the world, but I'm not here to give them what they want. I'm here to teach them what they need so that they can get what they want for themselves. I was still there, watching. ready to make sure that the consequences weren't too dire. But if my nephew had needed a sick day or two, or my son wound up attending community college, it wouldn't have been the end of the world for either of them.


God is a bit like that. I imagine I learned the technique from Him. When you pray to God give you something, you rarely get exactly what you ask for. If you pray to God for a hole in the ground, chances are He'll point you to a shovel. And he expects you to start digging. And you'd better dig, because next time He might answer with a spoon. When God provides, it may not be everything you ask for; it may not be your ideal; but it will get you by. You'll have to pitch in.

Sometimes when you pray He just lets you fail. When that happens, as near as I can tell, you pretty much needed to fail. And, as near as I can tell, that happens when you make the mistake of thinking that God is some kind of genie who's there to grant your wishes.


God is not a genie.

I've said this before, directing the message to Christians who inappropriately send the message that He is some kind of magical go-fer who will attend to their every whim. In that piece I said,
"If you tell someone that God will surely rescue them from whatever their affliction is if they only pray hard enough or sincerely enough, or long enough, you're lying to them. And you are cruelly making it their fault if their problems don't disappear. Prayer is for praise and supplication, but sometimes the answer is 'no'." 
If you're a Christian, don't make outrageous claims so that people will will not overlook their gifts and end up disillusioned. And more than that, stop others when they do it. And if you are relying on such claims, understand that God's prayers are most often answered by giving you the means to provide for yourself. If you are depending on more than that, then you're treating God as a genie. Stop, look at what you have to work with, and then work with it.

There are two other things. First, prayers of thanks are better than prayers of supplication. They encourage you to look at your gifts rather than overlook them. Second, almost always, the best way to help yourself is to help someone else. It sounds crazy, but it's true.

Here's how a pastor approaches the same subject. [link] He uses my graphic. ;)

Tuesday, December 29, 2015

For the Benefit of Bernie

Everyone's favorite member of Doc Emmett Brown's Hair Club for Men is back:

And he he's been tweeting:

You have families out there paying 6, 8, 10 percent on student debt but you can refinance your homes at 3 percent. What sense is that?

"What sense is that?" That's a fair question.

For the benefit of Bernie:

1. something pledged as security for repayment of a loan, to be forfeited in the event of a default.
synonyms: security, surety, guarantee, guaranty, insurance, indemnity, indemnification; backing
"she put up her house as collateral for the loan" 
2. something that you don't have with a student loan.

1. a possibility of harm or damage against which something is insured. the possibility of financial loss.
"project finance is essentially an exercise in risk management" 
2. a primary component of student loans.

And that's how it makes sense.


When I first posted that, I was chided for belittling the candidate. And (I was told) Bernie understands the economics of it perfectly well. The problem with the responses of Bernie's supporters is that they appear to be projecting. They assume he understands the economics and they fill in the copious blanks to explain what he really means. This is apparently defined as what they think he means, such as that he's approaching this from the perspective of the people and not the banks. But communication is the candidate's job, and I remain unconvinced that these eloquent expressions of 'real' meaning are contained in Bernie's message.

Perhaps the medium is the problem. After all, you're not going to say much that's profound on Twitter.

Then again... naaaah.... it's still his job to demonstrate his competence. And since I'm an equal-opportunity critic, I find that my guilt remains disengaged. As this is the worst selection of Presidential candidates ever presented, disregarding party entirely, I see no reason to hold back on Bernie's account.

Sanders' tweet borders on pandering in that it ignores the fact that the bankers' perspective is reasonable. "Where's the sense...?" he asks. The sense is obvious, not merely from a profit-making perspective, but from the perspective of keeping the lending institutions solvent so that loans can continue to be made. This is every bit as much in the interest of the public as the banks.

The Real Problem

One thing that would make the loans less risky, and therefore cheaper, is if fewer people defaulted. But often people take on loans to pay for an education that is either not completed (sometimes due to the fact that they're uninterested or unsuited for academics) or because the returns on that investment are non-existent. This last is in direct opposition to what they were promised by people who sell education for a living.

More higher education does not solve either of these problems, and neither does "free" education (in reality, spreading the costs to others). You're still paying for formal education of people who either do not really want it, or will not benefit from it. Taking them out of the system entirely, however, would reduce the economic strain on the system.

A Better Society

One commenter noted that the existing system is not good social policy. "In effect," he says, "you’re purposefully holding the population back from bettering society and themselves." And let's ignore for a moment the hubris required to set one's self up as the arbiter of what makes another human being "better".

If we were to stay on-topic -- Bernie's tweet about interest rates -- and we took "the existing system" to mean the banking system charging more interest for more risk, then this isn't true in the slightest. Increased risk means loss, and in order to be sustainable, this loss must be covered by redistribution among those who did not forfeit. This is exactly what higher interest rates do. You don't get to magically dispel the costs by pretending they don't exist or by hiding them in the bookkeeping. There is no "holding back" involved in making those real costs visible.

If instead we took "the existing system" to mean the concept of you paying for that which is valuable to you, then I don't think that's true, either. Even when we look at it through Socialist eyes and proclaim that "Society" will pay for that which is valuable to the collective, we find that "more higher education" is a terribly unsatisfactory goal. Yet it is the simplistic goal of those socialists who overwhelmingly populate academia.

It is the common trope of those who sell education for a living that you must have their product to be successful, regardless of how you define success. We should approach this claim with the same skepticism with which we approach the claims of anyone who sells anything. While Learning is a wondrous and powerful thing, Education salesmen reflexively conflate "learning" with "college". This is a dangerous fallacy. While there may always be a benefit to the former (and I see no need to argue against it), there is not always a benefit to the latter. There are many paths to learning that don't involve buying their specific product.

But the truth is, if "Society" were to truly operate in its best interests rather than according to the dictates of those who have placed themselves in positions of influence, we would find that less education would be more valuable to the collective. The academicians get it wrong in a big way, and that's why we see stories like this: Why a BA is Now a Ticket to A Job in a Coffee Shop. More and more, college degrees are "required" by lazy HR managers for jobs that actually require no college-level skills. Lower level workers are thereby frozen out of jobs that they are skilled enough to do. These are the people who have placed no stress on the system, have cost society nothing, and who would immediately be productive were they allowed to be. But they are forced out of jobs and onto welfare roles by those who made the self-fulfilling prophecy. College grads who were promised success if they only pursued a diploma are disgruntled to find that this now earns them minimum wage. The Socialists peddling education as a panacea have done little but inflate the cost of higher education while devaluing the diploma and costing society untold billions of dollars in wasted effort and lost opportunity costs.

For decades now, we have let the socialist elite dictate that what makes a person "better" in their eyes should be universally applied to all. Their mistake has raised the cost of education to unsustainable levels. Now these socialists hope to improve the mess they created by decreeing that it should continue at the cost of all. Would it not be better for the collective itself to act to set both the cost and the value of an education rather than depend on the flawed premises of those who peddle the product? There is a mechanism for this, and it's called the Free Market. When it is subverted, as it has been; ruin is the result, as we have experienced.

A Mo' Better Society

Arguably, a better society arises when people are not shamed into pursuing goals which are not their own and when the rest of us bother to appreciate people for more than their social status as measured in years of formal education. Personally, I would find this trend, which began when I was very small, to smack of snobbery were it not now so prevalent due to the result of decades of indoctrination. It is this institutionalized snobbery that prevents us from examining the premise more closely.

Success is personal, and covers a broad spectrum. We don't even have to go to high-profile examples of mega-successful high-school grads and college dropouts like Bill Gates & Paul Allen (Microsoft), Steve Jobs (Apple), Larry Ellison (Oracle), Oprah Winfrey (Oprah), Michael Dell (Dell Computers), Mark Zuckerberg (Facebook), Jack Taylor (Enterprise Rent-a-Car), Dustin Moskovitz (Facebook), Peter Thiel (PayPal), Matt Mullenweg (WordPress), Arash Ferdowsi (DropBox), Ty Warner (Beanie Babies), Aaron Levie (Box), Elizabeth Holmes (Theranos), Stacey Ferreira (, David Karp (Tumblr), Pete Cashmore (Mashable), Daniel Ek (Spotify), Danielle Morrill (Twilio), Jeffrey Kalmikoff (Threadless), Sahil Lavingia (Pinterest), Zach Sims (Codecademy), Ben Milne (Dwolla), David Neeleman (JetBlue Airways), Susan Lyne (AOL), Evan Williams (Blogger), Gabe Newell (Microsoft, Valve), John Mackey (Whole Foods), or Sophia Amoruso (Nasty Gal).

Consider instead the small business entrepreneur who lives just a quarter of a mile from me. He owns car washes, a convenience store, office complexes, strip malls, storage units, a recycling business... all on a high school education. And, he started with nothing but personal drive and a desire to try anything that might make a legitimate profit without regard to whether it was "beneath" him. Or the electrician, apprenticed to his dad, who earns more than a university professor. Or my plumber, who I'm very happy to report makes more than my doctor, since my plumber makes house calls. Or the guy who a couple of decades ago used to fill my furnace's kerosene tank on short notice on cold winter days, who now lives in a three-story mansion. He started out pumping gas. These are not random examples; they're friends and relatives who will recognize themselves here. These folks got the education that they needed to succeed. But "education" doesn't necessarily mean college or university, and it doesn't mean debt. They focused on their interests and put them to work.

The point here is not that you are going to have a wonderful life if you don't go to college; but that you can... just as you can be miserable and broke with a college degree, serving up candied coffee at Starbucks.

When we push people into the system when they are uninterested or unsuited, we run the very real risk of turning successes into failures. Paying for those failures does not prevent them. The comfortably well-off folks above could easily have been dejected college drop-outs if they had bought into the proposition that this expense defined their chances of success.

And the mega-rich who did drop out...? They did so because they were bright enough to reject the proposition outright.

Thursday, December 24, 2015

Merry Christmas!

Yes, it's actual dialogue, from the original series first-season episode Dagger of the Mind. The lady is the conveniently-named Dr. Helen Noel, played by the incomparable Marianna Hill.

One of the great things about Trek was that it recognized that despite all the tech they surround themselves with, people will be people. We'll still have Christmas, and office parties, and those little uncomfortable memories.

And that's something to smile about, wouldn't you say?

What happens on the Enterprise stays on the Enterprise.

And lest we forget the reason for the celebration, Trek's here to remind us:

Sunday, December 20, 2015

Meandering musings about color.

I had occasion to discuss race a couple of times today, and in a weird way it started with some tropical fish:

These are my wife's GloFish. Basically, they started out as ordinary tetras, but a laboratory in Singapore genetically modified them so as to be fluorescent. Originally, this was an attempt to use the fluorescent fish in the determination of water quality, but many varieties have now been created, the sale of which helps to fund the serious scientific endeavors which are the primary focus of the fish's designers.

Naturally, the fish are rather nondescript, but with the addition of some jellyfish DNA, they shine in natural light in vivid colors. And as I was stocking the tank last night, I was reminded of an earlier conversation in which someone remarked that it was "cruel" to make these fish.

As this was from one of my acquaintances possessed of a cargo cult understanding of science, I had expected some kind of comment about them being GMOs, but the bit about cruelty was an unexpected point of view. After all, these fish are otherwise perfectly normal tetras. They're born with bright colors, which could make them easy prey in the wild; but they're also born in tanks, and bread for aquarium life. Predators aren't an issue. These fish lead a pampered existence.

Nevertheless, my friend seemed to think that simply being a particular color is somehow "cruel" to an animal who not only knows no other existence, but doesn't have the cognitive ability to care. I tried -- and failed -- to wrap my head around the concept.

My immediate response was, "Simply being of any particular color is not a disadvantage to anyone. However, being surrounded by assholes who think that color is a disadvantage is a real, serious problem."

As I said it I realized I wasn't just talking about fish.


I had occasion to use that same phrase, verbatim, later in the day. Another friend was commenting on the changing demographics of America... In a few decades, given existing trends, "whites" will become a minority.  After noting that race is a "collectivist social construct", quoth he: "Quite a legacy, that 'white' thing. And OH how they loathe minorities, and whine like babies over becoming one themselves."

It's an interesting comment, which stimulated a nerve of mine. And not the one he intended, though that's not his fault. It makes me wonder... when we're talking about "White People" are we talking about Dagos, Wops, Krauts, Frogs, Crackers, Honkies, Arkies, Okies, Peckerwoods, Rednecks, Boches, Paddies, Goombahs, Ofay, Kikes, Greasers, Bog-Trotters, Guidos, Moose-herders, Yids, Gringos, Bubbas, Limeys or Polacks?

The plain fact of the matter is that well into the 20th century you could be as marginalized for being any of a couple of dozen ethnicities, ALL of which are now retroactively lumped together as "European" or "White People", often by people who would bristle at the phrase "they all look alike to me" if it were applied to themselves. Europeans are no strangers to minority status simply because they're European. In this light, there is exposed a vein of hypocrisy in the use of the phase "White People" as it is now commonly applied in discussions of race and culture.

As my friend notes, these distinctions are artificial. They're xenophobic, and as assimilation occurs, they disappear, which is quite probably why you may not be familiar with all of them. Much of the "sting" of these epithets disappeared over a space of no more than 50 years. If we were to do things right instead of waste breath on propagating more race and class envy, then the rest would disappear as quickly. And we would have a very bright and colorful society that looks a great deal like this one:

Note that I do not deny that racism and bigotry occurs. What I do state, and will vigorously repeat until it sinks in, is that the color of the individual is not the problem. The problem lies in the bigotry that surrounds them. In  other words,
"Simply being of any particular color is not a disadvantage to anyone. However, being surrounded by assholes who think that color is a disadvantage is a real, serious problem."
Frankly, it doesn't matter who makes the distinctions that fuel a bigotry, and who is the target. It doesn't matter if it comes from people of another group who push you down by means of force, or from members of your own group who hold you back by means of lowered expectations. Each of these is as wrong as the other.

There is no such thing as "good" bigotry, and I will not engage in schadenfreude when the tables are turned. If we perpetuate the stupidity of racism, bigotry, and class envy, by the time a population shifts, it is not the bigots who will receive comeuppance... it is their children, who will have done nothing to deserve it. And it will be administered by the children of today's minorities, who will not themselves have been slighted. Thus, an oppressive majority is always at fault, no matter the "reason" for their oppressive behavior, without any exception whatsoever for race, color, creed, or any other excuse.

It's a silly merry-go-round. Time to get off. We might as well argue over belly stars.

Once again, Doctor Seuss demonstrates his genius.

Friday, December 18, 2015

37 Years of OCD, Satisfied (Star Trek)

The first prints of Alan Dean Foster's adaptations of the Star Trek Animated Series, volumes one through eight, prominently featured cels from the television show on the covers. Unfortunately, before the end of the series, Ballantine changed the cover design to feature thoroughly uninspired and generic paintings of the Enterprise on bland colored backgrounds.

For those who collected the first prints, the last two covers stick out like Klingons on the Tribble Homeworld:

Call me obsessive/compulsive, but this has bothered me for a very, very long time. Since high school in the 1970s. So when I OCR'ed my books for inclusion in my Calibre library, I took the opportunity to fix it.

Behold my new covers for Star Trek Log Nine and Star Trek Log Ten:

Now you can look at the cover for Nine and know that the story BEM is contained therein. It's not a story about the Enterprise flying "that-a-way". And Ten contains Foster's extended version of Slaver Weapon. It's not a story about the Enterprise flying "this-a-way".

I feel so much better now.

Saturday, December 12, 2015

Keep it Free

There are a number of things worthy of public funding. Benjamin Franklin and his friends realized this when they started the Library Company of Philadelphia, founded in 1731 and still going strong. This library was conceived to be publicly-funded, not government-funded. Members of the library paid dues, the benefit of which was that they could borrow books without a deposit; and members of the general public could borrow books, provided they left a refundable deposit to cover the cost of the book. Or, you could read in the library for free.

This is how members of a free society work together... by making voluntary contributions toward the public good. It's worked for the Library Company of Philadelphia for 284 years. We encourage private funding for public benefit because, frankly, the government does not have your back. Copyright is not a natural right. If you want to keep information private, the only natural way to do so is to keep it secret. Otherwise, what's said is said, and you can't put the smoke back in the bottle. So copyright is an agreement to grant exclusivity for only a limited time, so as to encourage authors to share their work, so that it can in due time be placed into the Public Domain. That's the goal... to get it into the hands of the public to be built upon and expanded. But over the years, governments worldwide have become more and more averse to the intellectual commons. At the behest of vested interests, they have increased the length of copyrights to unreasonable lengths. Whereas once it was commonly understood that when you bought a book, that copy was yours to do do with as you like, including re-selling it; today it is commonplace to be restricted by "licensing terms" that never existed even a few short decades ago. Now you not only don't own your copy, you can't use it as you will. The people who have orchestrated these changes are not operating in the public interest.

But, like Life in Jurassic Park, altruism will find a way.

The public reaction to unreasonable copyrights is the Creative Commons.The Creative Commons is a way for content creators to remove power from those who would pervert the copyright system by using their legalisms against them. Sometimes called "copyleft", creative commons licenses grant broad usage rights while prohibiting others from imposing additional restrictions. This began with the Free Software Foundation's General Public License and moved into Free Music, and more generally the Creative Commons itself. Today, millions of works, including the one you're reading, are covered under Creative Commons licenses.

Today you don't even need to buy a single closed, restrictive resource to do your work. This article was written with Libre software (Firefox) on a Libre operating system (Linux) with graphics provided by a Creative Commons archive (Wikimedia Commons) modified with more Libre software (GIMP). Links and references are provided by a Creative Commons encyclopedia (Wikipedia).

That last part is perhaps the most astonishing, but also the closest to Ben Franklin's original vision for the Library Company of Philadelphia. It wasn't so long ago that encyclopaedias were expensive. I know: I have a full physical set of Encyclopaedia Britannica. It cost thousands of dollars, but parents were willing to pay that sort of cash for the benefit of their children's' education. Those who couldn't afford it could visit the public libraries, but this has always been an inconvenience that left some kids at a disadvantage. I was a frequent library visitor in my teens, but as the nearest branch was several miles away, and I traveled by bicycle, such visits were relegated to the Saturday afternoons. And even then, it being a branch, it didn't always have a book I needed. They'd get it from the main branch by request, and that required a week of planning.

Today we have the internet in our homes. We have the Internet Archive, which is perhaps the most under-rated library in the entire world. And we have Wikipedia and the Wikimedia Commons. Despite some derogatory press (mainly from non-free competitors), Wikipedia is an excellent starting point for academic research. Wikipedia articles are concise, complete, and well-referenced. It's up to you, the researcher, to follow those references. This is what the Internet is for. Information.

And cat videos. But mostly information.

It's Fundraising Season!

Please note that when we say "free", it doesn't mean without cost. "Free" refers to the liberty to decide for ourselves what is important to us, to direct our resources accordingly, and to be rewarded with not only successful, healthy enterprises that deliver value; but with the natural attrition of those enterprises that don't, so the resources are targeted at what the public needs. And it's the public who determines what it needs with their patronage... nobody else is required to do it for them. No expertise or authority is necessary. It just naturally happens.

That is how a free market do.

Free software always has a cost, even if it's paid only with the time and effort of its creator. And these creative individuals, as altruistic as they may be, do deserve to be paid. But fairness really demands that they should be paid in accordance with the utility and popularity of their work. No government can really determine that, and that's where we... the users... come in. And we've got some really creative, flexible ways of supporting creators in this new economy.

All of the sites referenced above are taking direct donations in December. You'll see banners on most of them this month when you visit. If you use the site, if you like it, if you have the means to contribute, please donate. All of the money collected goes to the operating cost of the respective sites. These sites all operate entirely on the money that people are moved to contribute. And that's pretty much all they need to get by... voluntary generosity.

If there were no taxes, who would pave the roads? Who would build the libraries? They'd be built by the people who need them, and want them. Ask Wikipedia, or the FSF, or, or the Internet Archive.

And while we're discussing the spirit of giving, remember those others who provide for you the year 'round:

Music and Video
If you like what a band is doing, just buy their work. You might not buy everything they create, and it might not be all the time. You might just buy the things you really like, but musicians no longer need to be strangled by record labels. Find an artist you like and buy their work directly on BandCamp or SoundCloud or iTunes. Kickstart an album. If there's an artist you really like, be it a band or YouTube performer, then support them on an ongoing basis with a Patreon account. And if you can't do that, then tell your adblocker to exempt their site. Let the advertisers pay them.

Buy Free and Open Source software (Libre software), or donate to the project. Most of these allow you to donate whatever it is that the app is worth to you. And if you can't afford much, you can always donate what you can and come back to give more later. If you can't do either, then use it with the compliments of the authors, and compliment them back... loudly, and publicly, so that others will use their work and donate.

Entertainment and Projects
Somebody's got an idea for a movie you'd really love to see? Then back it on Kickstarter. For the cost of an evening out and a little bit of patience, you get to be a financial backer on a production that would otherwise never make it through the bureaucracy of the Hollywood studios.

Friday, December 11, 2015

Oh, no he didn't. posted a video by Bill Nye, and titled the post "Bill Nye Uses Science To Debunk The Logic Of Anti-Abortion Legislature".

Except he didn't. What Bill Nye did is tilt with a few carefully chosen strawman caricatures of anti-abortion arguments. Here's the video that Uproxx references:

To be fair, when dealing with controversial issues, a lot of the "information" that's communicated is simply through slogans and signs. It's a problem that's magnified by a desire on the one side to try to get the most message into the fewest words; and a lack of desire on the other side to listen any more closely than that. So caricatured arguments are often self-constructing. But let's see where Nye goes wrong, shall we?

The first strawman is right there in the title, bold type: that anti-abortionists want to tell women what to do with their bodies. Their bodies are not the issue. It is the bodies of the beings dependent upon them that are. More on that later.

The second is Nye's observation that "many, many, many, many more hundreds of eggs are fertilized than become humans." That may be, but it's completely irrelevant. This is descriptive of a natural process, and none of those eggs are the subject of abortion. Not one. And as such, they're not the subject of anti-abortionists arguments, either. Nye is just engaging in some obfuscation, hoping that you won't notice that he's completely talking past the issue to focus attention on a non-sequitur. But hey, he gets to get all "sciencey" and "educational", as if you didn't know all about the birds and the bees already. Basically, he's also using the opportunity to be condescending to those who already not only know the facts of life, but assume that their opponents do, too, without the need for remedial instruction.

He then takes this into an attempt at reductio ad absurdum by questioning "who are you going to sue?" over the eggs that aren't implanted in the uterine wall. As if you had to sue over a natural process. As if natural processes are someone's fault. Of course, this is a starting assumption worthy of any liberal who is engaging in "low effort thinking" about a subject,  which is exactly what Nye encourages here. He most certainly is not using science. Rather, it's less-than-stellar barracks lawyering. And even there, it's a reflection of a deep legalistic lack of understanding. Natural processes... what a court calls "acts of god"... are nobody's fault. Not everyone who's born lives to old age either. They succumb to all sorts of calamities, from lightning strikes to heart attacks to cancer and liver disease. This natural rate of attrition doesn't keep us from making laws against deliberate murder. Nye is simply using an emotionally-charged legal fallacy to try to make you feel silly, and winds up making himself look ignorant in the process. It's safe to say that he "apparently literally" doesn't know what he's talking about.

He then uses the phrase "women's rights with respect to their reproduction", which completely dismisses any rights that may be held by men in respect to their reproduction. It's plainly sexist. It does take two to tango, and no amount of equity is achieved with placing all authority with one group, and all blame with the other. It's one of the things he should have paid a little more attention to in his remedial sex ed. Surely an enlightened individual would recognize that shared responsibility must be accompanied by shared rights.

Nye then goes beyond sexism and straight into racism. Hey, why not? The race card is a liberal staple. "A lot of men of European descent" is a dressing-up of our old standby, "old white men". And in Nye's world they're passing laws based on ignorance. But as we've seen Nye is already proving himself to be highly ignorant (or at least "ignoring") of the oppositions actual arguments. Maybe he's got something there... he's an old white guy. If people took his advice literally, they'd dismiss his arguments, too. The thing is, the "old white guy" canard is another irrelevancy. People elect representatives, and polls of women show them to be as divided about abortion themselves. But Nye ignores these facts to tilt with a racial strawman. This isn't science, either. It's poor rhetoric.

From here it's a sloppy segue into an argument against the Bible. This particular strawman is the assumption that anti-abortionist reasoning is rooted in the Bible alone. In fact, atheists and agnostics, as well as non-Christian theists are also divided as to the subject of abortion, and many theists hold secular reasoning for their pro-life views as strongly as their religious beliefs. Their opposition to abortion is held independently of their religion. But religion is a convenient scapegoat. If you can argue with "a" religious view, you can stretch it, insisting it is shared by all those who are religious, and you don't have to bother with pesky issues.

At this point in the video it's clear that Nye really isn't speaking to convince anyone to join his side. He may actually believe he is, but he's not arguing as if he were actually doing anything more than cheering on the home team. Certainly, if one is going to use the Bible to speak with Christians, one will want to have a passing familiarity with at least the parts pertinent to what one is saying. Nye, on the other hand, speaks as if he is totally ignorant. He states that the Bible teaches that sex always results in children (ignoring high-profile cases of barren women, including those who later have children, such as Sarah, the wife of Abraham). This is an attempt to make Christians feel silly and stupid. More accurately, his argument instructs atheistic liberals to believe that Christians hold such beliefs and are therefore silly and stupid. It actually makes Christians -- who know the Bible better than he -- believe that Nye himself is biblically illiterate. Nye says, "That’s wrong, and so to pass laws based upon that belief is inconsistent with nature." Laws that are consistent with nature would recognize this: pregnancy doesn't result every time you have sex, but you have to be impressively ignorant to miss the fact that pregnancy can happen any time you have sex, even if you don't like the guy. Or girl. Bill Nye is denying the science.

It is certainly ironic that Nye casts people as scientifically illiterate when discussing science, and then personally proceeds to screw up the science and display actual illiteracy when discussing a book.

His next statement, "It’s hard not to get frustrated with this, everybody. Nobody likes abortion, okay. But you can’t tell somebody what to do," rises to the level of hypocrisy. Nye has no problem whatsoever telling somebody what to do when it's for other causes that he feels are important, even when it's based on shaky science and revisionist data. These are the "more important things" referred to by Nye. These are the things that trump nascent human life.

Nye then proceeds to pretend that science is an exclusively anti-religious affair. "You wouldn’t know how big a human egg was if it weren’t for microscopes, if it weren’t for scientists, medical researchers looking diligently." But the father of microbiology, Antonie van Leeuwenhoek, was a Calvinist. From his Wikipedia article, "He often referred with reverence to the wonders God designed in making creatures great and small. He believed that his amazing discoveries were merely further proof of the great wonder of God's creation."  Look up the references yourself. Genetics was pioneered by a monk, Johann Gregor Mendel. The Calculus was devised by the devout though unorthodox Isaac Newton. Kepler determined the orbits of the planets through a dogged determination to find out the truth of God's creation. It was a Catholic priest named Georges Lemaitre, not Steven Hawking, who proposed the Big Bang. If it weren't for these and other religious gentlemen and their reverence what they referred to as "the Book of Nature", then you wouldn't have science at all, much less sanctimonious condescending atheists who erroneously claim science as their own exclusive domain. It is only in recent years that the idea has been incubated that science and religion are mutually exclusive. And though this nonsense has been swallowed by many atheists and theists alike, it is by no means true.

Nye closes with this: "Just really be objective about this. We have other problems to solve everybody. Come on. Come on. Let’s work together."  Duplicity abounds. If Nye were objective, then he wouldn't cling to the fiction that this nascent life, small and dependent as it may be, is "the mother's body". A genetic lab in a blind test will confirm that these are not the same individual. Objectively... scientifically... it is a life of its own, genetically distinct from the mother, and is by no means "her body". Obviously, to a "pro-life" adherent, life takes precedence. It's right there in the name. IF these other things are so much more important in Nye's estimation, and he himself claims they are, then it is he who should back off of the issue, and work on those other problems instead.

So, did Bill Nye use science to debunk the logic of anti-abortion legislation? No, he used strawmen, distraction, condescension, fear-mongering, false appeal to authority, mis-characterization, misrepresentation, belittling, and emotional cajoling. In short, everything but science.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

"Let me be brave..."

I had a conversation today in which I made a striking connection, so I'm going to share it.

My mother had three different cancers over a period of 30 years. She was finally done in by leukemia. When faced with imminent death, one can either feel helpless or resigned. Fear and rage have no use. So my mother took experimental chemotherapy not because she had any expectation of it working, but in the event that the doctors might learn something from her that would cure the next patient.

When I saw the recent Doctor Who episode, "Face the Raven", I saw my mother standing there looking for all the world like Clara Oswald.

"Let me be brave..."

"The Soup's Cold" (A review of Star Trek: Antyllus)

Once upon a time there was a little boy who never spoke. After taking him to many doctors, who performed many tests, his parents resigned themselves to the fact that he would remain silent for life. One day, while seated around the dinner table, the boy said "The soup's cold." 
His parents were stunned! His father exclaimed, "He can speak!" 
His mother burst into tears and cried out, "All these years and you've never said a word! Why?" 
The boy replied, "Up to now, everything's been OK."

I love fan film productions. Batman, Star Wars, you name it... but mostly, I love Star Trek fan films. If I know about it, I watch it, from the relatively high budget professional fan movies like Renegades and Of Gods and Men to low budget made-with-love series like Hidden Frontier, to the high quality amateur fan series like Star Trek Phase II and Star Trek Continues, to the genuine surprise gems like Aurora. I love them all.

I will overlook almost every wart and blemish you throw at me. Bad acting? Corny dialog? Visibly noticeable green-screen? Bad modeling and cheesy effects? Cardboard sets? Props made from taped-up flashlights? So what! The film-makers are amateurs, and are doing this because they love it, often at great expense to themselves, and without any hope of reward.

Mostly, I love them because these people "get" Trek, in a way that the professional television and movie producers often do not.


But finally, after hundreds of episodes from more than two-dozen producers, there's one I just can't deal with. I dislike it so much I'm compelled to state why, just so I know that my reasons are valid. So if you don't like negative reviews and blunt criticism, read no further. Also, if you don't like spoilers, read no further, because I'm going to necessarily spoil the entire thing, right down to the ending.

UPDATE: Before you read further I'd like you to know that George Kayaian has responded in the comments. My comments are very blunt, and he has taken it in a far more professional manner than many professionals would have. This is a credit to George as an artist. I have nothing but respect. So after reading my rant, please read the comments for the film maker's point of view.

I'm speaking of the eighth episode of Star Trek Antyllus, by George Kayaian. Here it is (running time 31:50):

There are plenty of production glitches here that I'd normally ignore, a great many of which could have been fixed in editing, but I want to focus on the story. And pardon me if I don't mention who plays which supporting character, as Kayaian neglected to include that information in the credits (with the exceptions of Gavin Scotti as Northon and Vincenza Montes as Admiral Hill). I'm not even sure of the spelling of the character names themselves, so I'll just refer to them by job title where there's doubt.

The Plot 
The U.S.S. Antyllus, under the command of Captain Holt Allen (Kayaian) dispatched to deal with a hostage situation on a StarFleet base orbiting some obscure planet. When they arrive, they discover that the attack was masterminded by an old friend of Allen's, Northon (Scotti). Northon presents himself as the stereotypical evil genius with all the cards, and promises the release of all but four of the thirty-four hostages (the entire base complement) in exchange for a private meeting with Allen (no uniforms, no weapons). With no further discussion, Allen agrees and Northon departs, leaving behind what is quickly revealed to be thirty dead people. Allen nevertheless sticks to the letter of the agreement and rather than chasing down Northon's ship, he meets Northon at the appointed place sans weapons to negotiate for the remaining four hostages, who are, predictably, dead. Of course, Northon brought a weapon, but tosses it aside so they can go mano a mano. Allen and Northon tussle, Northon makes reference to past wrongs and laments that Allen's fiance didn't choose him instead, and confesses to murdering her. Allen retrieves Northon's flashlight phaser, stuns him, monologues a bit about how he has been left with no choice, and injects Northon with an exotic drug that will leave him a vegetable for life, saying "I hope you live a very long time." Allen then returns to the ship to claim that this was a botched suicide attempt on Northon's part and goes on about his business despite some very mild skepticism on the part of his Vulcan first officer.

The prototype strike cruiser Antyllus
And thus we have the story of the absolute worst captain in StarFleet. Look, I understand that Kayaian thinks he's writing a story about a tough captain making tough choices, but this fails miserably. Rather than just saying it, let's look at why:

Holt Allen is a miserable negotiator. The first thing you do in a hostage crisis is determine whether there are hostages. Let's face it, if you're a villain, the purpose of taking hostages is to guarantee your own safety. So it's in your best interest to keep them safe; otherwise the authorities will rain Hell down upon you. Allen, as negotiator, needed to see whether he had to tread lightly or could simply march in and put the cuffs on a maniac. As it turns out, if he'd bothered to ask for proof he could have resolved this encounter in five minutes. Rather than holding all the cards, Northon didn't even have a pair of deuces. But Captain Allen never once even thought to ask. Nor did any of his crew suggest it.

Likewise, Northon is a miserable villain. He threw away his only advantage long before Captain Allen arrived, leaving him with only one very questionable asset: a smug expression. Any claims of Northon's vaunted intelligence fade away when you realize how incredibly stupid that was. The only thing that saved his skin was that Allen was even dumber. Of course, once away, Northon should have kept going. Nevertheless, we can excuse his irregularities because he's batshit crazy.

Allen brought a medical bag to their private encounter. Within that bag is a drug whose only purpose is to irrevocably leave a human being in a conscious state while shutting down all voluntary motor actions. This is a horrendous chemical weapon that has no purpose being in any standard medkit... the scientific equivalent of an unforgivable curseAnd Holt Allen brought it with him, premeditatively. He intended to use it. Get that? He brought it before he learned of his wife's murder... before he learned of the remaining hostages' deaths. Certainly, he knew of the deaths of the station's crew, but that's all he knew, and all of those people were killed by a single act. Starfleet protocol would have him capture the obviously insane perpetrator and deliver him to a facility such as Elba II where he could have been treated. There are absolutely no exceptions for this. Garth of Izar attempted genocide, and yet was treated and cured on Elba II. Here, Northon was stunned... captured... helpless. He could have been effortlessly bound and returned to the ship. Instead, Allen chose to be psychiatrist, judge, jury, and executioner.

This is THE worst captain in Starfleet. His monologue about having no choice falls as flat as Northon's petty excuses for his own insanity. Which leads to...

There's no way that Allen should get away with this. The fact that Northon was incapacitated by a horrendous chemical weapon could not have been missed by the doctor as soon as the patient was beamed to the ship. Allen's story that it was a botched suicide attempt holds no water, and no Vulcan would be as credulous as Allen's first officer. The drug Allen used has no place in a medkit; which means he had to have taken it from the ship's medical stores. A simple inventory of the supplies would reveal that the same drug that was stolen was that which was racing around in Northon's bloodstream. Once the suspicion was sown, a mind meld with Northon's conscious, trapped mind could have revealed the true account. This would likely be attempted by a Vulcan or other telepathic doctor even if Northon were delivered to a Starfleet medical facility. They know the effects of this drug. They know that Northon is conscious. Starfleet requires their officers to undergo regular psychological evaluations, and Allen's irregularities would be caught there as well. THERE IS NO WAY that Allen would get away with this on any Starfleet vessel with even a moderately competent crew.

Again, this is THE worst captain in Starfleet. Garth's mind was damaged in a horrible accident; Ronald Tracey was a good man gone bad; but Holt Allen is a bad man. He's a premeditated, cold criminal who should be stripped of rank and locked away. And yet, he's "OK" with his actions. And his crew are either incompetent, blind, or complicit.

This episode is a clean break with the principles of the Star Trek franchise. It is so un-Star Trek that the production faults that I'd have normally overlooked come crashing down upon it. Long pauses in conversation as the actors search for their lines; conversations consisting of two people talking in opposite directions; dead air without ambient music; even the lack of proper credits. And as reluctant as I am to say this, ill-fitting costumes are re-interpreted in-canon as sloppy officers in sloppy dress with sloppy discipline.

I've struggled to interpret this in some way that's less negative than I've just portrayed, and it just doesn't wash. If episode nine of Antyllus isn't a court-martial with conviction, then there's something rotten in Kayaian's alternate universe.

I'd say sorry, George, but you wrote it. Don't blame me.

On reflection, I'm going to add this footnote. There is, perhaps, some value to recognizing that not everyone in the future is perfect. But that value is rooted in the recognition of those imperfections. Whatever this show is depicting, it's far from Starfleet's finest hour.

Saturday, November 28, 2015

Squidlings of the World, UNITE!

It's that time of year when I shamelessly promote the best Christmas mascot since Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer and Frosty the Snowman... TWANGLES, the Christmas Squid!

Seven-tenths of the Earth's surface is ocean, and until recetnly it has been neglected on this most magical of holidays.


Jason Morris has put this gem on Bandcamp as a no-minimum pay-what-you-want download. So pay zero! OR, pay what it's worth! Your choice! Email this song to your local stations and give them something fresh and new to put on the air for this holiday season! Heck... beg them to put it on. Organize an email bombing campaign! It's the least you can do for TWANGLES, the Christmas Squid!

If the station doesn't believe that their allowed to play this, it's easy enough to clear it with Jason himself using the Contact Jason Morris link on the lower right of the Bandcamp page. And if that doesn't work, just remind them that with Global Warming on the rise, we may need to rely a lot more on Twangles in the future! They need to get on his "nice" list NOW.

Finally... spread the word!  Go tell it on Facebook and Twitter and G+! Let the world know that you believe in the magic of...

Twangles artwork by Kimberly Johnson, Union, SC

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Finally, Somebody Gets It.

In the waning hours of this Thanksgiving day I have found something new to be thankful for. Finally, somebody somewhere "gets it".  The article, from

College Students Call Police, Seek Counseling After Seeing Mouse

The quote that gives me hope:
"We have to give our children the freedom, which children have always enjoyed in the past, to get away from adults so they can practice being adults, that is, practice taking responsibility for themselves."
Well, YEAH. That's exactly what every sane parent has said for the entirety of human history, both written and forgotten.

Look folks. As a parent I've always been very open about this; and I'll take as an example that cute little rodent in the photo.  We've kept a variety of pets, including his kind. A lot of parents will tell you that a pet is a "family member". That may be so, but if they stop there, then they have next to no idea whatsoever what a pet is for. Likewise if they stop at saying, "It's to teach our kids responsibility". That's a partial answer. There are many more effective ways of doing that.

You know the overriding reason we gave pets to our children? 

It's because they die.

Of course, that's not why we as adults keep pets. We don't need to be taught responsibility, and we're well-acquainted with death, but we continue to have cats or dogs because we want them. We enjoy their emotional attachments (if any, depending on the pet), and we enjoy the responsibility of caring for others. Pets, to an adult, are often surrogate children.

But those reasons aren't why we give them to children. It's because children need practice being adults; and the most adult thing you will ever face in your entire life is the funeral of your parents. This is something for which you need practice. Unless you're adopting a young Galapagos tortoise, elephant, or parrot, the chances are almost certain that a pet acquired for a toddler will not survive the child's adolescence. It's going to die, and that child is going to have to suffer a loss. It is your job as a parent to make sure that they can weather that loss properly... because if they can't deal with the death of the family mutt, then they will be absolutely useless when you die.

That's your One Big Job as a parent. You can name anything you want, and it's all shit compared to this ONE parental task. Your children must be equipped to survive YOU.

Pets are practice.

That's not all they are, surely; but it is certain that unless your dog is Rin Tin Tin rescuing little Billy from the oncoming train, the most important thing that pet will do is establish a strong emotional connection to your child, then die.

Run that through your head a few times. Then realize that the rest of childhood is the same. Everything your kids do, every game they play, is practice for adulthood. And they're not going to get it from helicopter parents who hover and supervise and structure, and treat them like little Lego boys and girls in a little Lego city, being posed and moved at the parents' whims.

When children are told, they never decide. And if they never are allowed to make poor decisions, they never learn how to deal with them, or recover from them, or how to deal with a setback. Today we have sports with no winners. That's a sad, sad thing, because the people who love this idea don't seem to understand the most important thing about sports. Think about it: in a tournament, there's a winner... and then there's everybody else. If there are 20 participants, there will be 19 non-winners. Everybody who plays sports loses. Not everybody wins. So what do you think might be more important, hmmm? Learning to win? Or learning how to lose? And how do you expect your children to deal with anything that doesn't go their way if you've never put them in a situation where they must learn how to lose?  Grantland Rice once said, “It's not whether you win or lose, it's how you play the game.” He wasn't wrong, but his quote misses the bigger truth: It's about how you deal with the win or loss.

Back off. Seriously. We have colleges and universities that are now filled with the product of completely well-intentioned, but idiotic, brain-dead, and thoroughly incompetent parenting. I really don't think it can be described differently. Give your kids chores and responsibilities and consequences for failing to meet them; but otherwise, just back off. Let kids be kids, give them unstructured time for which they are responsible; and let them fight the little battles and endure the little hurts and suffer the little losses that they need to fight, endure, and suffer in order to grow into proper men and women. Don't let your kids grow up to be like this batch. Just don't.

Sunday, November 15, 2015

A Taste of Armageddon

On February 23, 1967, NBC aired an episode of Star Trek entitled "A Taste of Armageddon".

War, as waged on Eminiar VII

Today this episode is a reminder of something we used to know: War is not friendly; it is not civilized; it is not fair; it is not bloodless. The best deterrent to war is the horror of war itself; and for that the consequence of an act of war must be terrible and extreme. Those who move to start a war must know that it is not just they, but their people who will suffer most. They will suffer pain and loss and deprivation and death of their own making. The only way to avoid such calamity must be never to start a war. This is not popular, but popularity isn't a requirement for truth.

Aujourd'hui, nous sommes tous les Parisiens. Today we are all Parisians. I support President Hollande as he acts in accord with our own military to do what he must, swiftly and decisively, in the wake of the terrorist attack on Paris by ISIS.

Arc de Triomphe in Paris
Image by Sese Ingolstadt, cc-by-sa

Monday, November 09, 2015

On Gun Ownership

In a recent conversation on gun ownership, my correspondent made the laudable statement that he would rather not own a gun than be an irresponsible gun owner. He questioned whether increased gun ownership would necessarily lead to increased responsible gun ownership. And it's a good question.

I share his perspective when he says that he'd rather not own a gun than be an irresponsible owner. I think that's the most responsible thing you can say. I think it should be said about more things... pet ownership, for instance, and voting. I'd rather not vote than pick names at random from a list, or pick them because they have the "right" branding. I wish that more voters shared my sense of responsibility.

But responsible ownership is something that must be accomplished constitutionally. I'm afraid my answer here may blunt my Libertarian credentials ever-so-slightly, and it may simultaneously scare the pants off of you.


Chris Conover presents data and commentary in a Forbes opinion piece, and I invite you to read it in full... here's my "Reader's Digest" summary of the main arguments.

Anybody can buy a car. They don't even need a license. You can even drive it, without a license, legally, as much as you want... on your own property. This is despite the fact that Americans are far more likely to die in a vehicle accident than by the accidental discharge of a firearm.

But if I want to get in that car and take it out on the road and mingle with the public, then the law says I need a license. So I get a license. The police don't come to my house and check my license periodically. If my license expires, they don't care, so long as I'm not driving in public. If I'm caught doing so they can fine or jail me, but there's nothing whatsoever that says I must have a license to own a car. And that's a device that's far deadlier far more often than guns. And that's despite the fact that there's no explicit constitutional guarantee of car ownership.

Gun control advocates use this same comparison -- cars vs. guns -- to argue that you should need a license to own a gun, "just like a car". But in truth you do not need the license to own a car. You do not need one to drive it. You need a license only to operate it in public. So in practice, regulating guns like we regulate cars would be very close to what gun advocates are asking for. Naturally, it's not the message that the gun control lobby intends, but it is what they asked for.

But we do have an explicit guarantee of gun ownership. Many people quibble over the "militia" clause of the Second Amendment, but they also often forget that the militia is distinct from the Army or Navy (per section 2) and that its composition is left to the various states (per the 10th Amendment). Here in South Carolina, for instance, the subject is in the main body of our Constitution. In section 20, the reason given is "As, in times of peace, armies are dangerous to liberty..."  It has nothing to do with hunting or fishing (our constitution asserts those rights independently). Our Article XIII explicitly defines the composition of the militia. And even then, while the militia clause provides a reason, the Second Amendment asserts the right of "the people", not "the militia". Our trust in our government has strict limits, so much so that we put it in writing.

Now you may think that this interpretation is a bit paranoid of the government, to which the answer is, "well, DUH"... it's a paranoia that was discussed at length prior to being written into the Constitution of the United States and individual States, so any law we make has to deal with that. And I'm of the opinion that "clever circumvention" is never the proper course. The Constitution should be complied with, both the letter and the intent.

Now to really scare you.

Personally, I'm fond of revolvers.
Limited capacity, but highly reliable.
I'm not in favor of mandatory registration of guns. Truth be told, I want my government to be scared of its citizens. I don't want them to know whether you have a gun, an arsenal, or nothing at all. I want them not to know how many guns there are, and I want them not to know where those guns are, at least not without a warrant. I think the probability of actually using these guns against my government is vanishingly small... and I want to keep that probability low, so I do not want my government ever to be comfortable in believing that it has more power than its citizens. When I was in the military, I felt no different. And many of my compatriots felt the same way. In this country the government cannot rely on the military to subdue its own people.

Of course, this could make things difficult for the police, but nobody said law enforcement was an easy job. And those difficulties are only incremental, in that the vast majority of gun owners are not only law-abiding, but they support the police. Those that don't support the police also don't give a damn about restrictive gun control laws. And because of this, I want the law to be such that criminals don't know whether a law-abiding person is armed or not... in public or private. Criminals should be as wary of their would-be victims as they are of the police.

Furthermore, I don't want an invading army or any other group, should there ever be one, to be able to hack a database or pull records and find every weapon. I want this country to be unassailable by enemies "foreign or domestic". Even in a time when CNN's Jake Tapper opines, "I think the American people, honestly, want security over freedom," I prefer to side with Patrick Henry:
"Is life so dear or peace so sweet as to be purchased at the price of chains and slavery? Forbid it, Almighty God! I know not what course others may take; but as for me, give me liberty or give me death!"
I think it's a very good thing that I and other like-minded individuals are so inclined. It was people who shared our "paranoid" view that created this nation. It was these people like this who have defended it for 240 years. It is largely these people who man our all-volunteer armed forces today, just as I did in my day. We swore an oath to defend Liberty, not security... to defend the Constitution, not back-yard fences and "safe spaces".


Having said all that, I absolutely want gun owners to be both responsible and knowledgeable, as does anyone who has been affiliated with the NRA. To that end, if I were a gun merchant, then I would include a free gun owner's course with the purchase of any weapon. I wouldn't need government regulation to institute such a policy; just come take the course and then take your gun home. If you've already taken such a course, fine... show me your certificate of completion or permit. If not, then store policy says you take the course.

Could such a policy be codified as a law? Well, sure... anything at all can be made a law. I don't know that it should... and whether it would survive the courts is an interesting guess. But we don't need to pass a law in order to do it in practice. There is no Constitutional impediment preventing a vendor from bundling whatever conditions he wants into a sale. Me...? I'd give 'em a course. And if a private vendor did such a thing, I'd get behind him 100%. Might it make it more difficult to get a gun for someone who is illiterate or feeble-minded if I required him to take tests first? Yes, it would. But it would also be completely legal. He may have a right to bear arms, but as a private citizen I don't have the obligation to sell them to just anyone. That is, right up until the PC police violate my right of free association and force me to sell to idiots. But that's another topic.

Resources for online training:

Saturday, November 07, 2015

I Wish...

Think about it. 

Voting in our political system, if it were done ideally, would work like this:

  1. All voters would cast ballots for those candidates who best represented their interests.
  2. The votes would be tallied, and the winner would be the candidate who best represented the interests of the most voters.

But it doesn't really work like that, does it?  For many voters, elections are a form of team sporting event. Voters don't cast ballots for the candidate who best represents them. Rather, they get behind and cheer on the champion on their team who has the best chance of winning, whether their agenda aligns with the voters' or not. If it has ever puzzled you how it is that Congress can have an approval rating of 14% (fourteen percent!) even though each and every member was elected by a majority vote in his or her district, then here's your answer. The voters play the game instead of voting in their interests, and when to no one's surprise they are not represented, they are dissatisfied with the people they pretended to prefer for the sake of the "election game".

Doesn't that sound a little silly to you? So I want to talk to the "team players".

The only time the you seem to take a genuine interest in your own best interests is when you are discussing the candidates of your own party's opposition. It's a bit bizarre, but the next time you're watching the network pundits prattle on, pay attention and you'll see it in action. Militant Leftists wax philosophic about what "the Republicans" need to do. Right-wing mouthpieces do the same about "the Democrats". They are both supremely adept at finding the flaws in the other side's candidates, and they are both supremely inept at recognizing the same in their own.

If you were looking at it purely as election strategy, it is the worst one to take. After all, if you want your candidate to sail through the general election to victory, shouldn't you encourage the other party to offer up some halfwit as their nominee? It seems to be what they'd naturally do if you weren't around to "help" them with your sage advice as to who's best, doesn't it?

Of course, that's not exactly how your advice runs. Opposition commentary is almost entirely negative. You point out the flaws so they can pick the candidate with the fewest to offer up. But the end result is the same. By speaking up, the opposition party has exerted a lot of pressure on you to pick the candidate with the "fewest flaws". One who can win. As a result, the opposition has just picked your candidate's flaws. That's not going to affect your vote, of course... you're a team player.

Then comes the General Election, and you have nothing but the one nominee from your party, whose flaws you pretty much completely ignored during the primaries, having been fixated on what was going on in the other party for whom you would never vote as a pure matter of principle. And suddenly you recognize that your nominee isn't going to win with just your core party votes. There are swing voters out there, and they're paying attention to all the details you ignored. And you have to deal with that, so it's all back to team sports and your own nominee's weaknesses and strengths honestly don't matter. General Electioneering becomes an exercise in denying all the flaws the other team picked for your candidate, and denying any of the strengths in theirs. Anything you've ever said good about one of your candidates is bad when it's said about the other guy. And right now, I'm going to pick on the Democrats, because as the champions of identity politics they provide so much low-hanging fruit:

  • Pick on Obama? You're racist. 
  • Offer up a black candidate of your own? You're still racist because he's an Uncle Tom. And saying he's an Uncle Tom isn't racist, because you're the racist, not me. QED.

  • Pick on Hillary? You're superficial and a misogynist. 
  • Offer up a female candidate of your own? OMG, what is she wearing? And seriously, does she think she can win with that face and hair? 

  • Ask about Obama's birth certificate? RACIST! BIRTHER! 
  • Ask about Ted Cruz' birth certificate? No, really... this has serious problems! 

And it works the other way around. If a Democrat has an idea it can't be good because... well, because. And Republican ideas are good just because they're Republican. (Seriously, visit this link if you think I think it's all Democratic nonsense). Any candidate's qualifications and disqualifications are moot because you don't want "them" in charge. "Them" is, of course, the other team.

Neither one of you has a candidate... you're voting for the Donkey or the Elephant. Go, team!

Personally, I prefer it the way it's supposed to work. So I don't intend on voting Republican or Democrat or even necessarily Libertarian... and I proudly proclaim my lack of intent. I'll vote for a Presidential candidate who best represents my interests. And if they all suck, I'll abstain, knowing that my vote won't reduce the the amount of "suck" in the system.

But to be honest, most of that suck is from you guys.

Friday, November 06, 2015

Military Training vs. CWP

In a discussion I started about the Second Amendment, there was the following exchange. This is stripped down and the names changed for the privacy of the participants. So I used "Tom" and "Harry". [1]
Tom: College age "kids" fight our wars for us. 
Harry: You do realize that the college age "kids" who fight our wars have had a certain amount of training, both in handling their firearms and in keeping their cool in a stressful situation prior to going into combat, don't you? 
Tom: So do all of concealed carry permit holders. 
Harry: I do not have a background in the military. So correct me if I'm wrong in assuming that the training required for a Conceal Carry permit in just about ANY state does not even begin to equal the training one would receive in ANY branch of the Military. I know it varies from state to state, but in Illinois (the first state whose specifics showed up in my Google search) the training requirement is 8 hours of firearm safety/marksmanship and 8 hours of instruction of how the Conceal Carry law works (when it's acceptable to carry, etc.).

Actually, Harry's assumption isn't unreasonable. Anyone watching movies (or just the news) may have the impression that all military personnel are well-honed killing machines, trained in esoteric forms of armed and unarmed combat. This isn't really true, although those folks do exist. Most jobs in the military are just jobs.

I was in the US Air Force. I was a radio electronics tech, but having been stationed overseas, I was required to undergo weapons qualification above that which was provided within the continental US. Keep in mind that I was not in a combat role, and received the equivalent of about a 1 day concealed weapons permit (CWP) class, centered around specific weapons that we would encounter. It was of far more interest to the USAF that I get through Basic Training to tech school and learn as much about radio electronics as humanly possible during my stay there.

In Basic Training I spent one afternoon at the firing range, where I was taught basic gun safety, how to load the weapon, and which end to hold and which to point. I fired at a target and had to hit it. While the military trains in firearm use and safety, it did not provide me with any of the additional training regarding civilian law that comes with a CWP. To be perfectly honest, unless you're in a combat role, CWP training is more extensive and practical. A military trainee would not know where he can or can't carry a gun, how it is properly concealed, or how it is properly stored outside of a military armory.

He does learn about who is or isn't a valid military target and has a weapons officer who ensures that the weapons are secured for him. In a seven-year military career I touched weapons only a few times: that one day in Basic Training, a refresher course before being sent overseas, and qualification training at RAF Croughton.

Of course, my experience is dated. We've fought a couple of wars since then. I'm sure things are dramatically different for those who are deployed today.

Harry was unskeptically accepting of that information, and I'm glad, because it's the truth. Those who are in combat roles are unquestionably among the most highly trained in the world at their primary job. But there are many, many people in support and non-combat roles who are given cursory weapons training because they need to be focused on becoming the most highly trained in the world at their primary jobs, be they radio repair or anything else.

Harry had a follow up question that I'd like to share, because it's a good one:
Harry: Thank you both for educating me on that. As a civilian, I guess I find that surprising. Of course, if it's not crucial to your job, I don't suppose firearm training is all that important. I admit that most of my information on what basic training is like comes from movies and from conversations with a few friend of mine who went through the marines. (and those are almost 25 year old conversations). Is it also incorrect for me to assume that all our servicemen are trained to function in highly stressful situations?

Here's my perspective: Actually, Basic Training itself is a "highly stressful situation" if you're not mentally prepared for it. As to whether it matches what you see in movies... well, that depends on the movie. If it's "Stripes", then not so much. But we got our identities stripped away to a certain extent with the buzz-cuts, uniformity of clothing, and the universally-shared name of "Airman". We got yelled at and made to do menial and sometimes nonsensical tasks without explanation. We were physically pushed to the limit of our physical condition every day. In my flight, I saw one recruit attempt to take his own life. I saw another one collapse and die on the track. But I personally was not stressed at all. There is nothing in Basic training that is particularly stressful if you are mentally prepared for it.

And that's really the purpose of such training. Mental preparation. Your identity is stripped down, and then built back up with less emphasis on yourself and more on teamwork. Your body is stressed to improve it. Your mind is stressed for similar reasons. You're given nonsense tasks to accustom you to following orders that may not make sense from your viewpoint because they are given by someone who has a broader strategic view. When such orders are given in the real world there isn't the luxury of educating the rank and file and getting their "buy in". That could get you killed, and we were aware of that.

At my duty station overseas we did regular week-long NATO drills. We were issued gas masks and chemical gear. Just going outside was not a task you underwent lightly, as your return indoors involved a long and drawn-out decontamination process. If you did go outside, you'd better have visited the bathroom first. We were not issued guns, but were given cards denoting who would have had guns if this were an actual incident. Scenarios included chemical attacks, bomb strikes, and mock invasions. One of the favorites was something we referred to as the "officer-seeking missile" or "NCO-seeking missile", in which those with the least experience were the only ones left "alive" to carry on the mission. Again, I didn't find these particularly stressful (they were actually kind of fun). As with Basic, the idea here is mental preparation, and you quickly learn that if you are willing to accept that unexpected things WILL happen, you don't freak out when they do. It's 90% in your head. If you're paying attention to life, you don't actually need a military education to come to that conclusion.

Outside of training, there were certain realities of life as a military member overseas that became routine that you might find strange. Such as, we were encouraged to vary our route to work daily, as well as check our cars before starting them. The IRA was still a "thing", and this was around the time that a car bomb was exploded on a runway in Beirut. Shortly after I returned home, I was preparing to drive my mother somewhere and by force of habit I checked the wheel-wells for bombs and cut brake lines. My mother asked me what I was doing. I didn't tell her, but I did laugh a little at myself and thought, "Oh, yeah... this is America."

Does that prepare someone for live fire? I can't tell you, because I've never been in a firefight. All I can say is that most training involved thinking about such things in advance. If you think about scenarios in advance, then you spend less time thinking about them when time is something you don't have. Every individual I know with a CWP spends a considerable amount of time outside of formal training thinking about how that weapon would be used if necessary. I wouldn't minimize the importance of doing that, or put them down for it, as it's completely responsible and makes them and the people around them much safer.

Where the conversation went from there is something that I'll have to save for a later post. I may scare you.

[1] If you're wondering where "Dick" is; in most any political discussion, *I* am the Dick.