Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Monday, April 30, 2007


    In Rotation

    Here's what I'm listening to these days, in no particular order. Somebody psychoanalyze it and tell me how disturbed I am.

    SongArtist
    Hanging By a MomentLifehouse
    Santa MonicaEverclear
    Born to RunBruce Springsteen
    Little Wonders (Soundtrack Version)Rob Thomas
    Hey JealousyGin Blossoms
    Inside OutEve 6
    Shadows of the NightPat Benatar
    Hold My HandHootie & The Blowfish
    The MiddleJimmy Eat World
    Mr. JonesCounting Crows
    Counting Blue CarsDishwalla
    Carry On Wayward SonKansas
    Runaway TrainSoul Asylum
    I'll Be There for YouBon Jovi
    Something to Believe InPoison
    Runnin' Down a DreamTom Petty & The Heartbreakers
    The WayFastball
    A Boy Named SueJohnny Cash
    Manic MondayThe Bangles
    Hazy Shade of WinterThe Bangles
    Heart and SoulT'Pau
    Sweetly BrokenJeremy Riddle
    IrisGoo Goo Dolls
    Run-AroundBlues Traveler
    My Savior My GodAaron Shust
    It's My LifeBon Jovi
    AngelAerosmith
    The Rhythm Method (Drum Solo) [Live]Rush
    Mr. BrownstoneGuns N' Roses
    SpiderwebsNo Doubt
    Breakfast at Tiffany'sDeep Blue Something
    Don't You (Forget About Me)Simple Minds
    BitchMeredith Brooks
    Save MeRemy Zero
    Sign O' the TimesPrince
    Cry On My ShoulderOverflow
    Cry Out to Jesus (Radio Single)Third Day
    Falling DownBebo Norman
    BraveNichole Nordeman
    SmoothSantana & Rob Thomas
    Time Stand StillRush
    Lonely No MoreRob Thomas
    Blaze of GloryJon Bon Jovi
    Beautiful Side of SomewhereThe Wallflowers
    TechnologicDaft Punk
    You Can Call Me AlPaul Simon
    PureSuperchick
    Nothing Without YouBebo Norman
    FreewillRush
    Change Your MindSister Hazel
    Radar LoveGolden Earring
    Kryptonite3 Doors Down


    Posted by Tom, 4/30/2007 6:01:28 PM (Permalink). 7 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 29, 2007


    Tradin' up

    I visited my next carry gun at the store this weekend. I've been dreaming about owning a Kimber for well over a decade now, and I'm finally on track to get one. The only issue still staring me in the face is whether I'm going to sacrifice my current carry gun (S&W 908) to make the wait shorter. That would set me back to my two 5-shot .38's for the time between selling the Smith and getting the Kimber, but I'm sorely tempted to do it. I'm thinking it's time to simplify the gun collection, taking it down to just a few calibers. This would put me at .45 ACP, .38 special, 12-gauge, and .22 LR. I had previously eliminated .380 and .44 Magnum.

    Dumping the 908 would get me my Kimber as much as 3 months earlier. Now that I'm down to the wire, I find myself getting really impatient. At the same time, it's a little sad, since this 908 was my very first carryin' gun, bought way back in Michigan for use with my first carry license. It's been a good gun, almost never jams, and has survived all manner of abuse such as swimming in Lake Superior. I've trusted it with my life for almost all of the last decade, with a year or so off for my brief ownership of a Para P13 and a Glock 19. It was never fully called into service, but I was within seconds of using it on one occasion, before the bad guy decided he had other things to do.

    So on the one hand, it has some nostalgic value. On the other hand, I'm pretty sure that it will simply get locked in the safe for the foreseeable future once the Kimber is my new constant companion. I think I'd rather someone was getting some use out of it. I haven't decided for sure yet, but if I do decide to sell it, I'll link to the listing at GunBroker.

    Posted by Tom, 4/29/2007 8:05:12 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 27, 2007


    Guns on Campus

    It's allowed in Utah.

    As states and colleges across the country review their gun policies in light of the tragedy, many in Utah are proud to have the nation's only state law that expressly allows the carrying of concealed weapons at public colleges.

    ...

    Utah legislators and law enforcement authorities said they knew of no modern-day shootings at the university. But one lawmaker cited a shooting rampage in Mississippi in 1997 as an example of how allowing others on campus to arm themselves can improve safety: After a teenager shot two students to death at Pearl High School, an assistant principal chased the gunman down outside and held him at bay with a .45-caliber pistol he kept in his truck.

    ...

    ... in 2004 the Legislature passed a law expressly saying the university is covered by a state law that allows concealed weapons on state property. The university challenged the law, but the Utah Supreme Court upheld it last year.

    Utah is easily one of the most conservative states, and the Legislature is dominated by Republicans, many of whom have a libertarian streak. Utah has no motorcycle helmet law, for example, and there is strong affection for the Second Amendment.


    Hmmm... no plants that I'm allergic to, plus sensible gun laws and a gun-positive, libertarian-leaning culture. I think I'm beginning to like Utah more and more. The worst part is some of the theocratic nuttery, but I've heard that might be on the wane.

    Posted by Tom, 4/27/2007 9:28:53 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Idiots

    Look, if you're going to specifically tell a student to "write whatever comes to your mind. Do not judge or censor what you are writing", you pretty much give up the right to charge that student with anything over what he writes.

    Allen Lee, 18, faces two disorderly conduct charges over the creative-writing assignment, which he was given on Monday in English class at the northern Illinois school.

    ...

    Officials described the essay as disturbing and inappropriate.

    Lee said he was just following the directions.

    "In creative writing, you're told to exaggerate," Lee said. "It was supposed to be just junk. ... There definitely is violent content, but they're taking it out of context and making it something it isn't."

    Lee was moved to an off-campus learning program, and the district was evaluating a punishment, schools spokesman Jeff Puma said.


    A punishment? For following directions? What a bunch of morons.

    Here's an idea: get a job flipping burgers, because education clearly isn't your thing. What's next, suspending kids for following the dress code?

    Posted by Tom, 4/27/2007 6:17:40 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    What is this crap?

    I just got an email about voting for Oklahoma's state quarter. These are our options:



    Notice anything? Apparently there are no adult men in Oklahoma. For all our "family values" rhetoric, Oklahoma is apparently the state of single mothers and fatherless children. Oh, and a bird.

    I would not have been upset to see something giving a nod to the Native Americans, but why do we need 4 designs showing an apparently widowed or divorced pioneer woman? If Oklahoma is built on families, why not toss Dad in there somewhere, on at least one design? I'm not saying take the woman out, but for God's sake would it kill us to admit that men exist, and may have had something to do with our history? Doesn't even have to be a white guy, lest you think that's my beef. A Native American man or a black guy would be just fine, since both had significant roles in our history, but why do we have to eliminate any and all references to men?

    Someone will undoubtedly say that's what the oil derrick and peace pipes are for, being obvious phallic symbols. I don't buy it. This is disgusting.

    Posted by Tom, 4/27/2007 6:16:00 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 26, 2007


    Looks like I was wrong

    The Democrats have apparently managed to find a spine somewhere and set a deadline for the troop pullout. I'm sure Bush will veto, and the Dems don't have the votes to override. I had previously predicted that the Dems would back down, and it seems I goofed on that one. Now all that's left is to sit back and watch the inevitable blamestorming.

    I wonder if the Dems will have the guts to keep sending the same legislation over and over, rather than give in to Bush's demands? I'm no longer confident enough to make a prediction.

    Posted by Tom, 4/26/2007 6:31:37 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Filed for future reference

    Apparently, Panama has no central bank:

    In 1903, the country became independent, supported by the United States because of its interest in building a Canal through Panama. The citizens of the new country, in distrust of the 1886 experiment of forced fiat Colombian paper notes, decided to include article 114 in the 1904 constitution, which reads,

    "There will be no forced fiat paper currency in the Republic. Thus, any individual can reject any note that he may deem untrustworthy."

    With this article, any currency in circulation would be de facto and market driven. In 1904 the Government of Panama signed a monetary agreement to allow the US dollar to become legal tender. At first, Panamanians did not accept the greenback; they viewed it with mistrust, preferring to utilize the silver peso. Gresham's Law, however, drove the silver coins out of circulation.


    The article goes on to describe how the country exemplifies the Austrian prediction that less interference in the economy makes the downsides of the business cycle more tolerable. Recessions are brief and recovery is swift, because government isn't mucking around providing cheap credit to people who shouldn't have it. This is handy info for my next monetary policy throwdown.

    Posted by Tom, 4/26/2007 6:13:27 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Medicating Reality

    There's some talk now about going into the psych drugs as a proximal cause of the school/workplace shooting thing. A couple of links: here's a YouTube video of a news report on the subject, including an appearance by everybody's favorite blowhard, Michael Moore. Here too is an article at WorldNetDaily, which is at the other end of the spectrum from Moore, but still concerned about these drugs.

    I've blogged about this before, and I've participated in many discussions about it. On a discussion board recently, the topic came up, and one person took a pretty standard position defending psych drugs as categorical cures rather than causes:

    The drugs treat the problem. They do not cause it.

    In fact: many people who take the right medicine ...


    That's the problem: what's the right medicine? Drugs are based on a "chemical imbalance" model of the Mind/Brain interface. We have other treatments based on electrical models, cognitive-behavior models, neural network models, and probably some models I don't know about. According to one shrink I know, each model is really only helpful for a fraction of the people being treated. When you apply the wrong model to a patient, you can get bad results... sometimes spectacularly bad. But outdated and barbaric as treatments like electroshock are, they do help a small percentage of patients, and we really don't have a clue why. Scientific psychiatry (as opposed to Freudian "cocaine is a wonder drug" psychiatry) is still very much in its infancy compared to other forms of medical science.

    So of course we spend a lot of time training and drilling our mental health professionals on how to approach these things. Since there are so many different approaches though, it seems a lot of the time they use a shotgun approach ("take these pills, see me once a week, start journaling", etc.), then divide up the results into "helpful" and "not helpful" categories. This may in fact be a perfectly reasonable and statistically safe way to approach the problem, but "statistically safe" is not the same as "completely safe" -- not that "completely safe" is necessarily a worthwhile goal in and of itself. I know of nothing on this earth that is completely safe, and frankly doubt it's even possible.

    In a population of 5 million children and teenagers (from the one article), a completely psychopathic reaction in 500 of them is still statistically safe (99.99% safe). A "danger factor" of 0.01% would not have shown up in a clinical trial with a much smaller population, but it would be more than enough to account for all our mass shootings where psych drugs are involved. This does not deny or disparage the fact that many are helped by the drugs, it simply recognizes that this is not a "clean" science. Chaos interferes, even if only at the margins.

    It must also be admitted that we are a "magic pill" society, where everything is supposedly remedied by taking this or that drug. Millions of people seek medication for what is essentially a lifestyle issue. Relational problems like codependency can create stress, anxiety, and depression. In my experience, the way out of codependency is counseling, not medication, and I think too many seek medication to alleviate the symptoms and do nothing about the actual problem.

    I don't think Michael Moore's implied solution is particularly helpful, because he's got a bigger chip on his shoulder in terms of anything related to corporations, but he may at least bring awareness to the issue. I do believe that there should be more transparency with regard to clinical trial results, and that people with media influence ought to be figuring out a way to keep track of this stuff. I think doctors need to be less pushy with the pills every time little Johnny has a "behavioral problem", and instead spend a little more time on Mom and Dad's parenting skills. And I believe society as a whole needs to get over this idea that life is meant to be medicated, especially with regard to the schools that basically require any child with a high energy level be doped to the gills.

    I'm the first person to sing the praises of modern science and technology. However, our reliance on "experts" to do our decision-making for us, rather than working with them to gain understanding before making decisions ourselves, has got to be detrimental. I don't believe that mankind is wired to give up responsibility for our own lives. I think that when we do, it creates problems in the core of our being -- call it spiritual, call it cognitive dissonance, whatever -- that affect the rest of our lives and behavior, either subtly or blatantly.

    For example, we all know "that guy" whose parents loom and hover over him well into his 30's or beyond. He may even be married and have children of his own, but his mother still makes his doctor's appointments, schedules job interviews, and so forth, never allowing (or forcing) him to grow the heck up. You may know several, as I do. As I sit here and mentally review each case, I can't think of a single one who is not made completely miserable by the arrangement. A couple have committed suicide, and most are chronically depressed.

    I think there is something in us that desperately needs to be our own moral agent -- to be fully responsible for our actions, thoughts, beliefs, and desires. When we cede agency to another, whether voluntarily or through coercion or unhealthy relationships, we starve that something that depends on agency for survival. In the case of parenting, this is one reason I'm so adamant about producing children who are as fully prepared to be adults as possible. In the case of drugs, the solution might be as simple as saying "my psychiatrist is an adviser, and the drug is a tool" rather than "my psychiatrist knows best, and the drug is a cure". One is empowering, the other emasculating. I wonder if that could make all the difference.

    Posted by Tom, 4/26/2007 2:49:58 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 25, 2007


    Living Libertarian

    Brian Doherty has a good one up at Reason today. I especially liked this line:

    Positing the benefits of a more libertarian world ... runs you smack into failures of imagination as vast as the federal deficit: anything the government has ever had a hand in, from making cities well-designed and livable to regulating commerce or the money supply to running schools, is thought to be impossible without it.

    This is God's own truth. I can't count the number of people I've talked to who believe that only government can build a road. The thought process seems to be, "this project would take a lot of money. Who has a lot of money? Rich people, but they won't let me use it. Who else has a lot of money, and will allow me to influence them? Government. Therefore government is the only possible solution."

    The problem with this sort of thinking is that it's self-emasculating. Why not instead ask how money for the project could be raised voluntarily? Why not ask how one could accomplish it for less money, or provide a service with it that people will happily pay for? My only thought is that people are lazy and impatient. A further thought is that today's overprotective parenting and "almost anything goes" education system are reinforcing laziness and impatience. Self-reliance is no longer valued; these days it's all about the herd.

    I think one of the greatest things a libertarian can do in today's times is raise competent, functionally self-reliant children who love freedom and hate oppression. I don't think we do any favors for them when we hover and fuss and tell them to rely on "the authorities". Instead, we need to teach them to look out for themselves and each other, as happened in this case:

    Police say the suspect grabbed the girl from behind and shoved her to the ground, promting the girl to scream for help.

    Nearby classmates ran to the area and saw the man on top of the girl.

    The classmates started to hit and kick the attacker, who ran from the area and was last seen driving south on Parnell.


    After high school graduation, I was released into the wild having no idea how to cook, defend myself from physical attack, manage my finances (rather than having them managed for me), stand up for myself in an argument, or recognize those occasions when the rules needed to be broken. I've had to learn all those things on my own. I'm only now approaching the level of competence that I believe I should have had at 18. If I can manage at all to do so, my plan is to change this with my children. I believe the period of life between 0 and 18 should be seen as a period of intense training in preparation for adulthood. Too many young adults these days are like domesticated dogs -- stuck in a state of perpetual puppyhood. My goal is to raise wolves.

    Posted by Tom, 4/25/2007 6:26:00 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The Weapon

    I just finished reading Michael Z. Williamson's The Weapon, which is a concurrent sequel to his other excellent book, Freehold. The story is about one of the deep-cover Black Ops soldiers, mentioned in Freehold, who were sent to Earth as "sleeper" agents, there to wreak merry hell on the enemy in response to the anticipated attack by UN forces.

    Freehold, as I mentioned when I reviewed it, is stylistically very similar to Heinlein's works, and Williamson has been well-received because of it. On the other hand, The Weapon reminded me far more of Richard Marcinko's Rogue Warrior series of books, particularly Rogue Warrior: Red Cell. It's told in the first person, as with Marcinko's work, and the protagonist, Kenneth Chinran, is very much like Marcinko in attitude, training, and personality. He's what the Freehold Military Force calls an "Operative", but functionally comes across very much like a sci-fi version of a Navy SEAL. The training and capabilities discussed in both works was eerily similar. I found myself wondering if Williamson had just finished an orgy of reading Marcinko before sitting down to type out this novel.

    Anyway, the focus in The Weapon is very much on action, with very little politics, though Chinran pauses at several points to describe his disgust with various aspects of Earth culture, readily identifiable in the present day. Williamson doesn't spend a lot of time with the political and cultural differences between Earth and Grainne, but what he does say is very effective as a form of criticism. He talks about people acting like sheep, bleating for "the authorities" to rescue them rather than doing anything to rescue themselves. He talks about how the government fosters this mentality and helps it grow by banning or fining or otherwise discouraging acts of individual initiative, as it has with the banning of weapons in various places and the emphasis on dialing 911 for help. He rails against those who will simply watch a person die rather than get involved for fear of liability or even prosecution. He even takes a potshot at democracy, which I loved:

    ...if it's humiliating to be ruled, how much more degrading is it to choose your masters?

    The really good part of the book, from my perspective, is the internal struggle Chinran has over violence. He's extremely good at it (he being the "weapon" to which the title refers), but ultimately has a rough go of living with himself after doing the things he's ordered to do. That's as it should be, and was a refreshing change from Marcinko's blustery "no regrets" attitude. There was also a vague philosophical struggle for a person who was raised in a society that valued freedom and peace to embrace aggressive violence as a means to counter the aggression of those who hate freedom.

    In the segment covering the civil war on Mtali, Chinran nearly drives himself crazy trying to figure out a way to stop the endless fighting among the various rival groups. Mtali is a planetary analog for Africa and the Middle East, and Williamson seems to despair at ever having a hope of seeing peace in those regions. The end of the section has Chinran and company finally achieving a cessation of hostilities in their immediate area:

    In a few days, there was peace...

    Then we had to leave.

    The factions resumed their mindless slaughter in less than six weeks.


    Later, Chinran has to come to grips with the atrocities he is ordered to commit on Earth, to keep Earth from destroying his homeworld. To me, this is a large part of the struggle to being a libertarian Christian. On the one hand, freedom and peace can only really be had by living in a way that respects everyone's right to do as they please as long as they don't hurt others. On the other hand, there are those who for some unfathomable reason see freedom as the gravest kind of threat, and who dedicate their very lives to stamping it out. When, if ever, is it justifiable to go after such people? The Freehold forces have their sleeper agents in place, but refuse to activate them until after the Freehold has been invaded -- twice (the first being a botched attempt). Chinran is beside himself with wanting to attack while watching the news footage of his homeworld in smoking ruins, but when he is finally set free to commit mayhem, he's horrified by the results, as any sane person should be.

    It should be obvious by now that I thoroughly enjoyed the book, and am anxious to see what comes out of this author next. According to his site, a new book called Better to Beg Forgiveness... will be out in November 2007, and according to Amazon it's a Freehold universe book. The blurb doesn't mention Grainne, but I hope there's some of it mentioned in the book. I'm still hoping to emigrate.

    Posted by Tom, 4/25/2007 6:10:44 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 24, 2007


    Columbia Sportswear

    I bought my Bugaboo parka and current favorite shoes from Columbia. The parka is the warmest coat I have ever owned. It has a water-resistant outer shell with a zip-in fleece liner. When I have it snugged up, it's very easy to start sweating. I haven't had many opportunities to wear it, but when I've gotten to it's been fantastic.

    The shoes are incredible. I have wide feet, and I have never before put on a pair of shoes at the store and had them be so comfortable right from the start. I put these buggers on, took a walk around the store, and fell in love. I hated parting with 80 bucks for a pair of shoes, but I couldn't give them up. Ordinarily after long hikes, my feet are a mess of blisters, aches, mashed toes and agonizing arch pains. These are the shoes I wore to the top of Mount Kosciuszko, and while everything else was creaking by the time I got back, my feet were doing remarkably well -- not even a blister! I also tend to twist my ankles a lot, but these shoes supported them perfectly -- better than any pair of hiking boots I've had.

    Columbia's stuff is not cheap, but assuming it holds up over time to the sort of abuse I dish out, I'm going to have to start buying more clothing from them and less from Wal-Mart. The only step left for a coat is Gore-Tex at another $50 over the Bugaboo's price, and I think I've found the perfect shoes. At this point I'll happily recommend their products to anyone.

    Posted by Tom, 4/24/2007 8:30:07 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A couple about self defense

    Michelle Malkin has an excellent piece about self defense and the campus culture that is hostile to it:

    Instead of teaching students to defend their beliefs, American educators shield them from vigorous intellectual debate. Instead of encouraging autonomy, our higher institutions of learning stoke passivity and conflict-avoidance.

    And as the erosion of intellectual self-defense goes, so goes the erosion of physical self-defense.


    I saw it all the time when I was in college, and haven't seen an end to it yet. It's truly sickening.

    Elsewhere, a US Army infantryman comments on how his training has helped him overcome passivity as a response to violence, and contemplates how it might have helped those at Virginia Tech who basically surrendered their lives from the beginning:

    I did not know any of the victims of the April 16 massacre, but I assume that they were not that different from my University classmates who graduated three years ago. Thinking about that group, I feel very confident that fewer than 1 in 10 of us had ever faced real violence, whether in sports, fistfights, or military combat. This became increasingly evident a year after my graduation when I became an Army infantryman. While training at Fort Benning, we participated in rigorous aggression training like hand-to-hand combat and tactical field problems to elevate our comfort with aggression and teach us to think rationally in the face of violence and fear. It quickly became apparent that many of us displayed little physical aggression or the ability to act violently and deliberately. But as we watched each other and experienced this sensation for the first time, along with the taste of our own blood and the fear and excitement of fighting, we learned to control, to harness our aggression and put it to use in defending ourselves.

    It boggles my mind that there are some who will rant on and on about the sanctity of life, but refuse and resist all attempts to instill in each person a sense of their own value strong enough to protect themselves. It's as though the message is "your life is infinitely valuable, but don't do anything to protect it". Violence is a tool, and like any tool it can be used for good or ill.

    This is tacitly accepted by those who advise us to dial 911 and get some cops on their way. Police officers show up to use violence, if the threat still exists. So why should we wait for them to do for us what we can do for ourselves? Every moment of inaction increases the chance of an unfavorable result for the individual. When the poo hits the flinger, the time for action is NOW. If you've resigned yourself to die anyway, die doing something other than waiting for it to happen on someone else's schedule.

    Posted by Tom, 4/24/2007 6:31:39 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Florida's getting it

    Looks like Florida might be getting an opt-out option on their ballots:

    [State Sen. Mike Bennett] persuaded the Senate Ethics and Elections committee to approve a bill, SB-494, on Monday that would require ballots to have the additional option of "I choose not to vote."

    That option could not win a race, and the actual candidate with the highest number of votes would win the election.

    Bennett, R-Bradenton, said the no-choice option would enable uninformed or disgusted voters to opt out in a way that clearly displays their intention to abstain for elections officials.


    By sheer coincidence, I tried to contact my own state representative this last week to get the ball rolling here in Oklahoma on this very issue. Presently, I am forced to leave my ballot blank in races where I don't want either candidate (which is most of them), opening the door for someone to potentially fill in my ballot with their preferences after the fact.

    "I choose not to vote", or "none of the above" as I prefer, is a simple, common sense way to prevent this particular kind of election fraud. I believe it may even increase voter participation, as people start showing up to express disgust with both parties. All I want is to see the option on the ballot, with results reported to the media. I figure the rest will work itself out.

    Posted by Tom, 4/24/2007 6:13:28 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 23, 2007


    Another Rural vs Urban story

    In my reading today, I ran across this article (thanks KABA) about some of the really bizarre reactions to the VT shooting. In it, the author recounts a story from a few years back:

    I live in northern New England, which has a very low crime rate, in part because it has a high rate of gun ownership. We do have the occasional murder, however. A few years back, a couple of alienated loser teens from a small Vermont town decided they were going to kill somebody, steal his ATM cards, and go to Australia. So they went to a remote house in the woods a couple of towns away, knocked on the door, and said their car had broken down. The guy thought their story smelled funny so he picked up his Glock and told 'em to get lost. So they concocted a better story, and pretended to be students doing an environmental survey. Unfortunately, the next old coot in the woods was sick of environmentalists and chased 'em away. Eventually they figured they could spend months knocking on doors in rural Vermont and New Hampshire and seeing nothing for their pains but cranky guys in plaid leveling both barrels through the screen door. So even these idiots worked it out: Where's the nearest place around here where you're most likely to encounter gullible defenseless types who have foresworn all means of resistance? Answer: Dartmouth College. So they drove over the Connecticut River, rang the doorbell, and brutally murdered a couple of well-meaning liberal professors. Two depraved misfits of crushing stupidity (to judge from their diaries) had nevertheless identified precisely the easiest murder victims in the twin-state area. To promote vulnerability as a moral virtue is not merely foolish. Like the new Yale props department policy, it signals to everyone that you're not in the real world.

    I found a couple of other articles to back up this account, and they can be found here and here.

    While much of the gross disparity in violent crime rates between rural and urban areas can undoubtedly be laid at the feet of population density, I believe the cultural differences make a significant contribution. Rural people tend to be more pragmatic and self-sufficient. Magazines like Backwoods Home celebrate this aspect of rural culture and encourage folks to cultivate it. It's even present in our music, and this one from Hank Williams, Jr. eerily mirrors the situation in the Dartmouth murders:

    I had a good friend in New York City
    He never called me by my name, just hillbilly
    My grandpa taught me how to live off the land
    And his taught him to be a businessman
    He used to send me pictures of the Broadway nights
    And I’d send him some homemade wine

    But he was killed by a man with a switchblade knife
    For 43 dollars my friend lost his life
    Id love to spit some beechnut in that dudes eyes
    And shoot him with my old 45
    Cause a country boy can survive
    Country folks can survive


    City folks tend to sneer at rural individualism, at least in my experience. I wonder why they don't see its advantages.

    Posted by Tom, 4/23/2007 6:25:22 PM (Permalink). 6 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More twists and turns

    According to Findlaw, Cho may actually have been a prohibited purchaser of firearms. Unfortunately, the information in the article cited comes largely from the anti-gun nuts, so it should be viewed as possibly being their wishful thinking rather than reality. At any rate, the pertinent details are here:

    In court papers, Special Justice Paul M. Barnett checked a box that said Cho "presents an imminent danger to himself as a result of mental illness." Barnett did not check the box that would indicate a danger to others.

    Federal regulations from the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives bar the sale of guns to individuals who have been "adjudicated mentally defective."

    The definition outlined in the regulations is "a determination by a court ... or other lawful authority that a person as a result of marked subnormal intelligence, or mental illness ... is a danger to himself or to others."

    Virginia State Police sends information on prohibited buyers to the federal government. They maintain that the sale was legal under state law and would have been barred only if the justice had committed Cho to a psychiatric hospital. Barnett ordered outpatient treatment instead.

    ...

    "The law is very confused about this," said Richard Bonnie, a professor of law and psychiatry at the University of Virginia who also heads a state commission on mental-health reform. "The source of the confusion is the relation between federal and state law."


    The anti-gunners quoted elsewhere in the article are obviously of the opinion that federal law should have prevented the sale, but it's nice to see they're not accusing the sellers of any wrongdoing, since they followed established procedures. The story also notes that the Supreme Court struck down the unfunded mandate of the original NICS law, which required the states to furnish all relevant information at their own expense to the federal government. And while all this is instructive, I don't really see where it's going for the anti-gunners. It's just another rule that Cho broke, after the one about not being allowed to have guns on campus and the one about not murdering other people. Why should we believe that adding yet another rule will somehow fix it?

    I watched a segment of some show that had Jim & Sarah Brady on, and they were remarkably subdued. Mostly what they seem to want is some reconciliation between the state and federal laws regarding mental health adjudication, and I suppose that's fine. I still believe such laws do more harm than good, but as long as the Bradys aren't pushing for new restrictions like that McCarthy moonbat, there's not too much to get worked up about.

    The worst was Tucker Carlson, who appears to be nominally pro-gun, debating Paul Helmke. Carlson's heart seems to be in the right place, but when he claimed Helmke was lying about the availability of 30-round magazines for Glocks, I wanted to scream. After all, Glock advertises them on the website. I really hate it when someone who agrees with me makes such a stupid and easily refuted statement. I'm glad more reporters are calling gun control into question, but I wish they'd learn to shut up or even admit it when they don't know what they're talking about. One should never oppose an opponent's statement just because it came from an opponent. It's called integrity, folks. It can be difficult to learn, but it's definitely worthwhile.

    Posted by Tom, 4/23/2007 5:59:43 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 22, 2007


    My Religion

    According to a BeliefNet Quiz:

    You scored 59, on a scale of 25 to 100. Here's how to interpret your score:
    25 - 29 Hardcore Skeptic -- but interested or you wouldn't be here!
    30 - 39 Spiritual Dabbler -- Open to spiritual matters but far from impressed
    40 - 49 Active Spiritual Seeker – Spiritual but turned off by organized religion
    50 - 59 Spiritual Straddler – One foot in traditional religion, one foot in free-form spirituality
    60 - 69 Old-fashioned Seeker -- Happy with my religion but searching for the right expression of it
    70 - 79 Questioning Believer – You have doubts about the particulars but not the Big Stuff
    80 - 89 Confident Believer – You have little doubt you’ve found the right path
    90 - 100 Candidate for Clergy


    According to the Belief-O-Matic (another quiz at the same site):

    1. Mainline to Liberal Christian Protestants (100%)
    2. Orthodox Quaker (88%)
    3. Liberal Quakers (82%)
    4. Mainline to Conservative Christian/Protestant (79%)
    5. Reform Judaism (76%)
    6. Unitarian Universalism (75%)
    7. Seventh Day Adventist (72%)
    8. Bahai Faith (67%)
    9. Orthodox Judaism (67%)
    10. Sikhism (62%)
    11. Islam (62%)
    12. Eastern Orthodox (58%)
    13. Roman Catholic (58%)
    14. New Thought (51%)
    15. Theravada Buddhism (51%)
    16. Hinduism (49%)
    17. New Age (49%)
    18. Mahayana Buddhism (46%)
    19. Nontheist (45%)
    20. Secular Humanism (42%)
    21. Neo-Pagan (41%)
    22. Christian Science (Church of Christ, Scientist) (41%)
    23. Scientology (41%)
    24. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints (Mormons) (40%)
    25. Jainism (40%)
    26. Taoism (38%)
    27. Jehovah's Witness (31%)


    Don't know what this tells anyone, but there it is.

    Posted by Tom, 4/22/2007 8:14:04 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Accidental Shooting

    This bogeyman seems to be popping up a lot lately, and it's apparent that many people have somehow become convinced that accidental shootings are monstrous in number. I think it's probably just a case of laziness; someone thinks "accidents are bound to happen, therefore they must happen a lot", and doesn't give any more thought to the matter. Then when a story comes on the news about an accidental shooting, they find their beliefs vindicated and therefore strengthened.

    This is one reason I've recently been harping on the need to go prepared into debate. If one actually goes and looks up the numbers, it turns out that accidental shootings are an extremely rare cause of death. In this report from the CDC, we can see that, of nontransport accidental deaths for all ages in 2002, firearms were the least problematic. Here's a screen cap of the total deaths...



    ...and the deaths per 100,000 people...



    Clearly, we are more in danger of falling, drowning, being poisoned, or dying of fire-related causes than we are of accidental shootings. Somehow though, it has become "common knowledge" that accidental shootings are some sort of epidemic. The numbers simply don't support that.

    Posted by Tom, 4/22/2007 9:08:40 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Language

    I find myself continually frustrated by the inattention of others to language. I'm not talking about foul language, but the use of specific terms to refer to specific ideas. When I discuss an issue with someone, I am habitually very careful in my choice of words. I say what I mean to say, and don't say what I don't mean to say. However, it seems some people are just as habitual about misinterpreting words as I am about trying to make sure they can't be misinterpreted.

    The latest arguments about guns and gun control in the wake of the VA Tech shootings is a prime example. In one argument, a person challenged me on Oleg Volk's graphic, the text of which includes the statement "concealed carry could have saved 32 lives". The person said this was "shameful", misquoting the text as "concealed carry would have saved 32 lives" and going on to state that nobody can know that. There's a reason Oleg chose the word "could". It indicates possibility, where "would" indicates certainty or likelihood. Oleg uses the word "could" to show that a possibility that might have existed was all but eliminated when concealed carry was banned from campus.

    In other arguments, one of my opponents will invariably translate a desire to allow concealed carry into "arming" someone. The argument goes something along the lines of "arming everyone is a bad idea". This is in fact a statement I agree with, but it is a non sequitur: My argument is that those who wish to be armed should be allowed to be armed. Changing the operative verb from "allow" to "arm" changes the essential idea from one of permissiveness to one of actively providing guns to people, regardless of their skill or comfort levels with them.

    I'm beginning to think that someone needs to offer a course in critical comprehension of the written and spoken word. It's clear that high school English class isn't doing the trick for disturbing numbers of people.

    Posted by Tom, 4/22/2007 8:36:54 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 21, 2007


    We need to dump Social Security Numbers

    In a classic example of government idiocy and reckless disregard for citizens, various agencies of the federal government have been posting Social Security Numbers on publicly-accessible websites, in some cases for years at a time:

    For more than a decade, the Census Bureau posted on a public Web site the Social Security numbers of 63,000 people who received financial aid, officials said yesterday. The apparent violation of federal privacy law prompted concerns about identity theft.

    ...

    Last month, Los Alamos National Laboratory discovered that a subcontractor working on a security system in 1998 had posted the names and Social Security numbers of 550 lab workers on the subcontractor's Web site. The site was removed that day, a spokesman said.

    ...

    In the current incident, Marsha Bergmeier said she was bored April 12, so she did an Internet search for her farm's name. It brought up a link to FedSpending.org, a site created by OMB Watch to allow monitoring of federal spending.

    The site includes a searchable database of federal contract information, and her farm loan amount, under an Agriculture Department program, was listed. Also listed, Bergmeier discovered, were the Social Security numbers of 28,000 farmers.


    Every time, the government supposedly dodges an identity-theft bullet, but how long are we the people prepared to put up with this crap? SSN's are the magic key to everything, and they absolutely should not be. I am normally loathe to recommend legislative action, but I make exceptions when government is the problem. In this case, we need a law prohibiting the use of Social Security Numbers by any entity other than the Social Security Administration. No banks, universities, other government agencies, or anyone else should have this information. Government policies encouraged everyone with whom American citizens do business to use SSN's as a "universal identifier", and that universality is what makes these numbers such a huge liability. It's got to stop.

    For the longest time, SSN's were on driver's licenses. I don't know about other states, but when we switched our licenses to Oklahoma, we were given the option (and encouraged) to have a randomly-generated number used instead. It needs to happen everywhere else. Every agency and business should be required to issue their own numbers to identify people, rather than glomming on to this train wreck in progress.

    All of this is not even the really infuriating part. The really infuriating part is that there's no mention in the article (and presumably in the various agencies) of anyone getting fired for it. This level of incompetence can potentially destroy the financial well-being of thousands of American citizens, and the best government can say is "oops".

    I'm sorry, but there is a point at which "oops" doesn't cut it. If identity theft results from these incidents of gross criminal negligence, there needs to be repercussions other than soaking the taxpayers to pay off the victims.

    Posted by Tom, 4/21/2007 9:02:17 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 20, 2007


    Wow!

    I can't believe this article was even published by the LA Times. I especially can't believe that they published important factoids like these, which get almost no play in the mainstream media:

    If we want to guess by how much the U.S. murder rate would fall if civilians had no guns, we should begin by realizing — as criminologists Franklin Zimring and Gordon Hawkins have shown — that the non-gun homicide rate in this country is three times higher than the non-gun homicide rate in England. For historical and cultural reasons, Americans are a more violent people than the English, even when they can't use a gun. This fact sets a floor below which the murder rate won't be reduced even if, by some constitutional or political miracle, we became gun-free.

    ...

    ...In one Mississippi high school, an armed administrator apprehended a school shooter. In a Pennsylvania high school, an armed merchant prevented further deaths. Would an armed teacher have prevented some of the deaths at Virginia Tech? We cannot know, but it is not unlikely.

    AS FOR THE European disdain for our criminal culture, many of those countries should not spend too much time congratulating themselves. In 2000, the rate at which people were robbed or assaulted was higher in England, Scotland, Finland, Poland, Denmark and Sweden than it was in the United States. The assault rate in England was twice that in the United States. In the decade since England banned all private possession of handguns, the BBC reported that the number of gun crimes has gone up sharply.


    This was such an incredible coup for the good guys that it almost pains me to make one correction, to this bit of misinformation:

    ...another [European newspaper] said that buying a machine gun is easier than getting a driver's license (even though no one can legally buy a machine gun)...

    Machine guns can be legally owned, depending on the state you live in. It takes a whole lot of messing around, with letters of reference from local law enforcement, a $200 tax, and several months of waiting. No, it's not easier than getting a driver's license, but it can be done.

    Posted by Tom, 4/20/2007 7:31:21 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Another day, another ineffective "gun-free zone"

    The bodies keep piling up in so-called "gun-free zones". This time it was a nut at NASA, and if you don't believe they're "gun-free" you're smoking some good weed. I thought "gun-free zones" were supposed to keep us safe. Guess they don't work as advertised.

    That's why those of us in the gun community prefer to call them by a more accurate name: Criminal Empowerment Zones, or Victim Disarmament Zones. It communicates their effect, rather than their intent.

    Posted by Tom, 4/20/2007 6:44:31 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Nuge weighs in

    Ted Nugent has an opinion piece out now on the Virginia Tech problem. Ted's kind of a mixed bag most days, so I was pleased to see that he's hitting the nail squarely on the head in this one.

    Posted by Tom, 4/20/2007 6:32:28 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    I don't understand this...

    The Asheville (NC) Citizen-Times has published an editorial on the Virginia Tech shooting that just drives me bananas. Much of it is good and reflective, some of it pointing out the irony of a privileged kid complaining about how unfair life has been, but then they come to this line:

    Likewise, any sympathy for this person is sympathy wasted.

    The man was mentally ill. He was constantly tortured by his inability to interpret the world around him in a way that was healthy and affirming of his value as a person. After having watched some of the video footage he sent to NBC, I have no doubt that he experienced persistent emotional pain and was lashing out at anyone and anything. While the vast majority of us have never been so angry and hurt as to kill another human being, we have all been hurt badly enough at one time or another to lash out at others, even if only with words. All that's required for some empathy/sympathy is to remember those times.

    Is it a wasted effort? Not at all. To the contrary, stifling our compassion toward this tortured individual reduces our own humanity proportionally. It is not for us to judge who is deserving of love. We are commanded to love all and serve all -- not just the ones who meet our approval or the ones we deem "sane enough" or "valuable enough" to love.

    It's true that, had I been present and armed, I would have shot Cho Seung-Hui in an attempt to stop him from committing more mayhem. But that does not mean he was undeserving of respect or compassion. Badly injured animals will often attempt to attack the very human beings who are trying to help them. Sometimes they need to be euthanized because nothing more can be done for them. Does this mean that the veterinarian administering the lethal shot does not feel compassion towards the animal?

    Cho Seung-Hui was a fellow human being who was suffering. That should be enough.

    Posted by Tom, 4/20/2007 6:06:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 19, 2007


    On that other shooting...

    One of the reasons few people are aware of it outside the gun community, particularly the details about the armed students who stopped it, is the pervasive media bias against guns being mentioned in a positive light. This guy has done us the great service of collecting a monster load of stories regarding the shooting at the Appalachian School of Law, with the relevant bits highlighted (or summarized). In story after story after story, the students who stopped the attack have their guns editorially redacted, like props from a Stephen Spielberg movie. Here's a sampling:

    The former Marine and police officer was among several students who tackled former classmate Peter Odighizuwa on the school’s front lawn after last week’s shootings.

    ...

    he was tackled by fellow students, the Virginia state police reported.

    ...

    The gunfire sent terrified students running from the building before classmates tackled the alleged shooter.

    ...

    Students ended the rampage by confronting and then tackling the gunman, who dropped his weapon, officials said.

    ...

    Some students tackled and handcuffed him before he could do more harm.


    And it keeps going on that way, through dozens of articles. Is it any wonder why the general public doesn't know about the positive role guns played in this incident? Apparently, you don't need a gun to take on a gunman, just a football team.

    I've been in a lot of arguments over media bias. While it is debatable whether the media is conservative or liberal or corporate in its bias, there should be no doubt whatsoever that the media is anti-gun.

    Thanks to mcb for the heads-up.

    Posted by Tom, 4/19/2007 7:09:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Prison Rape

    As previously promised, here is Cathy Young's article on prison rape, which has just been posted to Reason's website. Like Cathy, I find the jocularity with which Americans approach the topic disturbing. It's especially apparent on the "law and order" conservative side of things, and it turns my stomach when I hear of someone who proclaims to be a "compassionate conservative" or worse, a fellow Christian, making light of such things.

    Even lower-end estimates given by correctional organizations suggest that 20,000 to 40,000 inmates are sexually assaulted in American prisons every year. Those are figures no civilized society should accept.

    I would simply like to add that while our prisons are reportedly better than those in many countries, they are still not exactly theme parks. Much hay has been made over "coddling" prisoners. In my younger years, I was one of the people who participated in the grumping. Then I actually visited a prison as part of a ministry team, and that experience changed my mind. It may sound all flower child moonbeam head of me to say so, but the incarcerated need love too. They need to know that who they are is not what they've done, and they need someone to value them as human beings. They may be locked up, some of them for unspeakable acts, but I don't believe God throws anyone away.

    Posted by Tom, 4/19/2007 6:22:10 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    A couple of good ones

    Clayton Cramer has had some good posts lately. The first regards uppity foreigners sniffing haughtily and looking down their noses at us Americans with our loose gun laws. He documents a few mass shootings in gun control paradises for the sake of counterpoint. Of course, given that mass shootings in America happen almost universally in so-called "gun-free zones", the point is largely academic, but it's still nice to have some facts on hand.

    The second post of note is about dealing with mentally ill people. I suspect this will become a topic of conversation in policy circles for some time to come, so it's probably a good idea to start getting up to speed on it. He answers some of my earlier questions about what exactly it meant for Cho to have an order against him, versus what is required to trigger a firearm purchase disability. I'm not sure about his final statements, but it is obvious that he's trying to figure out a way to walk the tightrope, so he should be given some credit for that. I do agree that if we're going to step up the use of mental illness disability, there needs to be due process protections against abuse. I don't agree that government is necessarily even capable of pulling it off -- it seems to me that it would require sensitivity, the ability to treat people like individuals, and above all a willingness to think. None of these are qualities I typically associate with bureaucrats.

    Posted by Tom, 4/19/2007 6:07:56 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 18, 2007


    I don't like where this one's going...

    This article seems to be headed down the path of criminalizing individuality. They don't come right out and say it, but there's an undercurrent of "that's odd, but not criminal, though maybe it should be".

    "Everyone's going to be looking at those threshold points, and (ask) `When do we take more drastic action?'" [associate executive director of the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators Kevin] Kruger said. "It's the classic tension between individual freedom - the right of every individual to stay on campus - with the interests of the community."

    ...

    "People were saying free speech, but it was a lot more complicated," said Sallie Huntting, the [San Francisco's Academy of Art]'s vice president for public relations. She said she was reluctant to criticize Virginia Tech, but suggested that schools should treat threatening speech with more alarm.


    Makes me wonder if folks like Martin Scorsese, Quentin Tarantino, or Frank Miller would be able to get through these classes without being thrown in the rubber room. This is a very dangerous line being walked, one that could potentially spell doom for all sorts of creative expression. What of those who find writing about violence therapeutic when dealing with violence in their past? What of those whose ability to deal with their negative emotions is wrapped up in expressing them artistically? It seems to me that telling these people they are unfit for college society is a good way to make them bottle up their emotions and repress them until such a time as it all boils over. Then again, I'm not a shrink, and don't play one on TV.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 6:14:17 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Curious...

    Apparently the Virginia Tech shooter had some form of mental-illness-related adjudication on the record, but apparently it was insufficient to cause him to incur disability for mental illness. I'm fuzzy on that particular aspect of the law, but it is an interesting tidbit:

    The stalking complaints, which did not result in charges, led the campus authorities to seek Cho's admission to a mental health hospital on December 5 2005 for his evaluation as a suicide risk.

    Under Virginia law university authorities obtained a temporary detention order from a magistrate allowing his referral to an off-campus facility, the campus police chief, Wendell Filchum, told a press conference yesterday.


    Don't have time now, but it might be instructive to figure out the exact difference between what he had and what is required to trigger disability to purchase a firearm.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 6:00:21 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The other Virginia college shooting

    For those having trouble grasping the value of having armed students, perhaps they should read up on the other campus killing spree in Virginia, one that didn't go so well for the shooter. It happened at the Appalachian School of Law, on January 16, 2002:

    When Odighizuwa exited the building where the shooting took place, he was approached by two students with personal firearms.

    At the first sound of gunfire, fellow students Tracy Bridges and Mikael Gross, unbeknownst to each other, ran to their vehicles to fetch their personally owned firearms. Gross, a police officer with the Grifton Police Department in his home state of North Carolina, retrieved a bulletproof vest and a 9 mm pistol. Bridges pulled his .357 Magnum pistol from beneath the driver's seat of his Chevy Tahoe. As Bridges later told the Richmond Times Dispatch, he was prepared to shoot to kill.

    Bridges and Gross approached Odighizuwa from different angles, with Bridges yelling at Odighizuwa to drop his gun. Odighizuwa then dropped his firearm and was subdued by several other unarmed students. Once Odighizuwa was securely held down, Gross went back to his vehicle and retrieved handcuffs to detain Odighizuwa until police could arrive.


    It's so obvious, I just want to scream.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 5:58:54 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    It's official

    I'm changing the name, and this site is now SurlyCurmudgeon.com. I will retain CenterDigit (because I can), and I have other plans for LibertarianChristian, to be announced when I get the time to fool with it. I don't think I broke anything with the switch, but I'm sure someone will let me know if I did.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 2:55:32 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Guns and Compassion

    This recent post at a message board, where we were discussing the Virginia Tech shootings, has been eating at me.

    You'll have to forgive me. I just find firearm conversations a little weird coming from a bunch of vegans.....people who are suppose to be compassionate, caring human beings.


    A supporting post from another person was somewhat less diplomatic:

    Many of us find it particularly disconcerting when the pro-gun-talk on this forum starts up although most are too polite to say so directly. I will. I'd like it to stop. I just deleted what I wrote and I'll instead wait for the apologies to roll in.

    The moderator has since shut down discussion, but I feel compelled to answer the sentiment here.

    First, when I am vegan, it is not for compassionate reasons, but rather for selfish ones. I feel better when I eat less meat and dairy. Eggs make me sick, for some reason, so that's more a matter of self-defense. I've made no bones about this, and both posters have been around long enough that they should be aware of it.

    That said, I do strive to be compassionate, as several of my posts here should amply illustrate. I've struggled on these pages to work out how one integrates a love of peace and one's fellow man with the endorsement of armed and possibly lethal self-defense.

    So how does one integrate the two? Ultimately, with much sorrow. I view the killing of a human being who poses an existential threat, such as the VT shooter, much as I do the killing of a rabid dog. Whenever possible, I still believe the problem human should be taken alive. However, under no circumstances should that be construed to mean that taking them alive takes precedence over preventing further mayhem, even if it means killing them. If it comes to that, it should not be a joyful task, and I tend to distance myself from people who think it should. There are way too many hotheaded gun owners who seem to relish the idea, and frankly I wish they'd all just shut the hell up. That's why I only frequent one gun board these days -- it's the only one I've found with a measure of sanity and compassion.

    The Virginia Tech shooter was sick and suffering, just like a rabid dog. Just like a rabid dog, he took out his suffering on those around him, before his illness killed him. Just like a rabid dog, once the more obvious symptoms of his illness showed up, it was pretty much past the point of being treatable. And just like a rabid dog, he needed to be put out of his misery sooner rather than later, before the final deadly spasm of his illness had run its course. No one should take pleasure in such an act, but neither should anyone pretend it isn't necessary. To do so is to act without compassion toward his victims or even toward him.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 1:54:22 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Rape Crisis Feminism

    Cathy Young has an excellent article about how the feminist movement has shot itself in the foot by making rape crisis a pillar of its dogma. It's very powerful, and I won't dilute it by dissecting it here. Go read it. After that, check out this post over at her blog, which discusses the matter a little more.

    Incidentally, in the current print issue of Reason, she also has an excellent discussion of prison rape, and why we as a culture should be more concerned about it. I'll link it as soon as I see it online. It should be easy to see why Cathy Young is my favorite feminist -- she's one who believes that being feminist means treating both women AND men like human beings.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 12:43:40 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Obsessive fact-checking

    I was recently challenged on my obsessive fact-checking, as though it indicated some form of malicious intent on my part. I do it because I want the truth. If the truth leads me somewhere I don't want to be, I'll go kicking and screaming, but I will go eventually.

    One of the news stories I saw in Australia was about America's honeybee crisis, where colonies are disappearing all over the place. The only culprit suggested by the news reports was genetically modified crops. This article over at Reason, written by fellow fact-checker Ronald Bailey, shows why this probably isn't the case:

    By the way, colony collapse disorder is not confined to biotech-friendly United States. Hives are collapsing in biotech-free Europe too. The head of the German beekeeper's association says there has been a 25 percent drop in bee populations in Germany. Bizarrely, one particularly irrational German beekeeper blames biotech corn even though the Germany's biotech corn is only 0.06 percent of the total crop. Last week, the Irish Times (subscription required) reported that in Britain 30 per cent of hives inspected so far have been lost and that hundreds of thousands of colonies have collapsed in Spain. Beekeepers in Poland, Greece, Croatia, Switzerland, Italy and Portugal have also reported heavy losses.

    Developing or attempting to develop a complete picture of all the facts is not an anti-social behavior. Too many people associate contention against their facts as personal slights against them. Information is value-neutral, and in a world where the mainstream media's reportage of information is limited to sound-bites and sensationalist headlines, the most socially valuable thing a person can do when discussing current events is to make sure all the facts are brought to light and examined. It's true that obsessive fact-checking helps me win arguments, and I'd be lying if I said that my primary motivation was the social utility of the practice rather than a selfish desire to win. That said, its social utility cannot be denied, not just for those involved in the argument, but for those affected by the argument as well.

    In Rachel Ramen's book, My Grandfather's Blessings, she tells the story of two computers charged with keeping a trans-Atlantic jet on course. One computer ran calculations many times a second, and the other constantly checked those calculations and made corrections. The corrections were issued accompanied by a short beep, and the beeps happened so often that they sounded like one continuous tone. The computer was wrong almost constantly, and yet the airplane always made it to its destination within a few minutes of its projected arrival time.

    Corrections of fact or logic are not personal attacks, they are an attempt to keep the truth central to the conversation, so that all involved may arrive at the correct destination. Sometimes I wish people were more like computers, having no egos to bruise or feelings to hurt when the subject needs to be about facts. I guess it's good that they're not, because it gives me a lot of valuable practice with apologies and humility, while trying desperately to explain that I only dispute their facts and not their worth as a person.

    Posted by Tom, 4/18/2007 12:10:07 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, April 17, 2007


    Amusing, but not surprising

    A Pew Survey has discovered that watchers of Comedy Central are the most knowledgeable about current events and such:

    Other details are equally eye-opening. Pew judged the levels of knowledgeability (correct answers) among those surveyed and found that those who scored the highest were regular watchers of Comedy Central's The Daily Show and Colbert Report. They tied with regular readers of major newspapers in the top spot -- with 54% of them getting 2 out of 3 questions correct. Watchers of the Lehrer News Hour on PBS followed just behind.

    Why am I not surprised? Because comedy requires context. A person who lacks basic background knowledge will never understand jokes, and will either educate themselves or self-select themselves out of the viewership. I've been getting the majority of my news from comedy for years, and have found that these shows and sites like Fark.com keep me at least as well informed as anyone I talk to, with only one notable exception. (One of my friends is a "digger" -- when he decides to understand an issue, he sucks it dry at the marrow. He does more research on some news stories than I've done on some term papers.)

    The next "not surprise" is of course the Fox thing:

    Virtually bringing up the rear were regular watchers of Fox News. Only 1 in 3 could answer 2 out of 3 questions correctly. Fox topped only network morning show viewers.

    I watched Fox for a little while when it first came on, but quickly realized that they really didn't give any more information than the other networks. The 24-hour news cycle lends itself to endless, tedious repetition. "Breaking news" typically amounts to regurgitation of the scant few facts that are known, followed by endless streams of opinion and conjecture and some ridiculous "expert" getting his fifteen minutes of fame. Occasionally the "expert" is amusing, such as when Gene Simmons was brought on one show to talk about post-9/11 invasion of the Middle East, but that happens too rarely for me to watch and hope for.

    There was one surprise:

    Democrats and Republicans were about equally represented in the most knowledgeable group but there were more Democrats in the least aware group.

    Didn't see that one coming. I generally find myself working just as hard to argue with Democrats as with Republicans, but maybe this only indicates that I tend to converse with the "most knowledgeable" members of both sides.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2007 11:31:55 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More facts

    Some more details are emerging about the Virginia Tech shooter's weapon purchases:

    According to a Roanoke, Va., news site, a police affidavit says Cho possessed Walther P22 and Glock 9 mm handguns...

    Cho legally purchased his first gun, the 9 mm, along with a box of 50 bullets about five weeks ago from a local gun shop, according to the Roanoke Times. The Walther was purchased just last week. Virginia law prohibits buying more than one handgun in a 30-day period. It appears Cho waited the full month before buying the Walther, suggesting he didn't just snap.


    This assumes of course that he was planning the attack at the time of the first purchase, which is unsupported. The press is already in the mode of diagnosing his mental illness, portraying him as a psychopath waiting for an opportunity, speculating as to the source of his troubles, and so on. It makes me sick. We get article after article after article with a lot of philosophizing, policy recommendations, and handwringing, with a fact or two sprinkled in here and there. What ever happened to reporting?

    After Columbine, I searched high and low for reporting that focused solely on the facts, without all these little assumptions and biases built in to the commentary. The only -- and I mean ONLY -- source I ever found that discussed the attack dispassionately and with regard only for the facts, was the oft-vilified Soldier of Fortune magazine. They went through the planning and execution of the attack, as well as the procedural and tactical problems that screwed up police response, without blinking an eye, and without editorializing. That's the kind of reporting we need in situations like this, not the endless emote-fest where reporters interview each other and get opinions on what should or should not be done about the situation.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2007 3:12:58 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Some Facts

    So far, we've learned that the shooter was in fact a Virginia Tech student, living on campus. As such, he was prohibited by the university administration from having a gun on campus. Near as I can tell, the only people allowed to have guns on campus are law enforcement.

    He was a resident alien of the USA, which does not, in and of itself, put him under disability from purchasing firearms in the USA or getting a concealed carry license in the state of Virginia. He was also 23 years old, making him eligible for both. Whether he actually obtained his guns legally or got a CCL remains to be seen. I'm betting "no" on both counts, but that's just past experience talking.

    UPDATE: I was wrong on one count... at present, it appears as though at least one gun was purchased legally:


    A law enforcement official, speaking on condition of anonymity because the information had not been announced, said Cho was carrying a backpack that contained receipts for a March purchase of a Glock 9 mm pistol.

    ...

    As a permanent legal resident of the United States, Cho was eligible to buy a handgun unless he had been convicted of any felony criminal charges, a federal immigration official said.


    So, at the very least, there were laws in place (not counting the obvious ones against murder and mayhem) "preventing" the shooter from being where he was with his gun, proving yet again that mere laws don't actually do anything to keep people safe. Not that it'll make any difference to the idiotic mindset that says "just one more law" will make it all better.

    While it's difficult to find news stories that present much in the way of facts, I'll be trying to keep an eye on this one to see if I can't piece together all the details.

    Posted by Tom, 4/17/2007 10:03:59 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 16, 2007


    Virginia Tech



    Thanks to Oleg Volk for the graphic.

    Posted by Tom, 4/16/2007 7:47:01 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Another Reason

    As if we needed another reason to promote private space flight over NASA, now we find out the cost of bureaucratic incompetence goes even deeper. NASA paid out 26.6 million dollars to the families of the civilian astronauts killed aboard Columbia.

    NASA spokesman Allard Beutel said little about the settlements, citing family privacy. He said the money came from the agency's budget via a 2004 Congressional appropriation.

    Private companies would have paid this with insurance or company assets -- which would have motivated them to work harder to avoid such a catastrophe in the first place. NASA on the other hand, sticks it to the taxpayers. Sure, it's a drop in the bucket compared to a billion-dollar spacecraft (not to mention the lives of seven people), but when does it stop? Has anyone been fired yet? Has the budget been cut? Has any meaningful change happened anywhere?

    Oh, right. Don't hold my breath.

    Posted by Tom, 4/16/2007 8:21:59 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Hit her again, boys

    The governor of Kansas has either vetoed or announced her intentions to veto a bill to override local municipality rules on concealed carry, aka a "statewide pre-emption" bill. Despite her pretending to be pro-gun, this is not the first time she's failed to stand up for gun owners. Fortunately, the legislature has already proven its willingness to stomp her vetoes on this issue, since Kansas only has concealed carry as the result of a similar showdown last year.

    The current bill was passed by more than enough votes for a repeat performance, so I say smack her down again, guys. And for the love of Pete, find a candidate to take her down in the next gubernatorial election.

    Posted by Tom, 4/16/2007 1:04:48 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 15, 2007


    Quote of the Day

    Perseverance is the most consistently rewarded virtue.
    -- Rev. Richard Whetsell


    Posted by Tom, 4/15/2007 8:52:19 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New friend

    I was looking through my pics of the trip for possible ones to print. This one is blurry because of all the activity going on in the shot, so it's not a good candidate, but I like it all the same. Basically the story is this: at the Jindabyne Equestrian Resort, this little Jack Russell something or other decided he liked me, so he jumped up on the picnic table bench for a scratch. Then he jumped on the table for a better scratch. When he decided I still wasn't paying enough attention to him, he started climbing up my chest, and in my attempts to lean back away from him I made a perfect place for him to stand.



    Posted by Tom, 4/15/2007 2:18:32 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Truckers

    A friend once tried everything short of gunplay to get me to read some Terry Pratchett. It's not that I'm opposed in principle, as I find his style much like that of the late Douglas Adams, which is to say amusing and occasionally uproariously funny. The issue is that I have to be in the right mood to read what I'm reading, which is why after bowing to the persistent haranguing and reading a couple of books, I stopped reading Pratchett.

    As it turns out, however, one of the recipes for putting me into the mood to read Pratchett's work is a 14-hour airplane ride with my existing reading materials already exhausted. This even to the point of paying a ghastly AU $15 for a pocket paperback that by rights should cost no more than about $6.99. Thanks again, Australian government.

    All that said, Truckers is a whimsical, consistently amusing ride through Pratchett's vision of a "Nome" society living literally beneath our feet. It's the first of a trilogy, the second and third books being Diggers and Wings, respectively. In it, a young Nome named Masklin must lead his brethren to safety, braving dangers and complaints and the general unwillingness of those without vision to be guided by those with. It's a case study in the problems of leadership, and one sympathizes with Masklin as he battles the urge to simply abandon everyone else and save himself.

    It probably doesn't qualify as "great literature" (not that I read much that does), but it is entertaining and certainly helps to kill the time while locked into one uncomfortable position for half a day. I'm intrigued enough to want to finish the trilogy, before perhaps moving on to greener pastures. So it's probably a 3 out of 5 overall, but 5 out of 5 if what you're after is just some light entertainment to pass the time of day.

    Posted by Tom, 4/15/2007 12:16:44 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Eldest

    It took me a while to find this sequel to Eragon. Turns out that it's not in the fantasy/science fiction aisle as I expected, but rather in the "young adult" section.

    I was initially very disappointed. The first chapter is a ham-handed and clumsy attempt to wring some emotion out of the characters, and it really doesn't work. Three or four chapters later, it seemed as though the book was a lost cause and Christopher Paolini was going to be a one-hit wonder.

    That assessment would have been premature. Somewhere after those first few disastrous chapters, Paolini starts to shine, displaying an understanding of relationships and politics that frankly astounded me. He seems to thoroughly comprehend the power of humility, and employs it at key points, especially with Eragon's relationship to Arya. It's very common to write hard-headed, stubbornly defiant heroes. It's far less common to see main characters develop empathy, and this seems to be Paolini's main thrust for this book. Eragon still does his heroic deeds, and still displays the brashness of a teenager, but Paolini works hard to make him care about the other characters, even to the point of trying to understand his enemies.

    Eragon also explores ethical veg*nism, the first time I've ever really seen the topic addressed in depth in science fiction or fantasy, beyond a cursory "these people don't eat meat". Eragon's journey is one of discovery and revelation, linked tightly to his use and mastery of magic. While I'm more likely to agree with Saphira than Eragon on the topic of eating meat, Paolini does a very creditable job of providing a rational, ethical basis for Eragon's choice. I was impressed.

    Paolini also serves up a number of plot surprises, which more astute or imaginative readers may see coming, but which completely blindsided me.

    The pacing of the books seems to be following a "Star Wars" style model, with a bright, hopeful beginning, a dark middle, and (presumably) a thunderous crescendo in the third book, which has yet to be published. If the purpose of Eldest was to keep the reader hooked in for the third book, reportedly titled Glaedr, I think he's accomplished it. I'll ding him a star for the atrocious beginning, so this book gets 4 out of 5.

    Posted by Tom, 4/15/2007 12:15:21 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 13, 2007


    So long, and thanks for all the fish!

    It's actually Saturday, 7:45 AM, but due to the wonkiness of time zones and the international date line, this post appears in the past.

    We're on our way to the Canberra airport, to once again be entombed in a flying coffin for 14 hours or so. As I bid farewell to Australia, I'm looking forward to getting back to my guns and my dogs and the usual headaches. I'm told by my boss that work has been piling up for me, as have my other responsibilities to various unpaid commitments. But the rest has been good, the food plentiful, the exercise invigorating. So I guess it's time to call it complete.

    Besides, I need to start saving for the next trip.

    Posted by Tom, 4/13/2007 2:45:45 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 12, 2007


    Some Observations

    The people I've met in Australia are far different from the Australians I've met online. I think it highlights the vast gulf between rural and urban even here.

    Those I meet online are universally leftist, believing with all fervor in the supposed superiority of universal healthcare, heavy taxation, and cradle-to-grave government support. They want to see the government care for those in need, support single mothers, take care of those who've retired or can't work. They universally see America as a barbaric wasteland because we still allow people to have guns in spite of our various mass shootings, and by comparison to Australia our complete disregard for the less fortunate. Near as I can tell, they are all from large population centers like Sydney or Melbourne or Brisbane.

    The people I've met in the small towns are the exact opposite. Without any prompting at all, they'll freely complain about the heavy level of taxation ("government steals from you before you get your check, then steals again when you go buy food with what's left"), gun control ("they took all the guns off everyone, now people are getting killed all over the place"), and overall control ("nowadays you can't fart without getting a license first, else they'll throw you in lockup"). Elected officials are discussed in tones of contempt and scorn, and there is a universal fear of doing anything to attract the attention of the police. Recent crackdowns on what here is called "drink driving" have many afraid to have a drink even if they have a designated driver. There is an undercurrent of unrest that, if these people had any time to do something other than earning a living, might be a potent political force if channeled properly.

    The depredations of oppressive government are visible everywhere: one only need to visit a restaurant or grocery store to see them. Selection is minimal and prices are high. I've worked out a basic rule of thumb for the cost of any consumer good I've cared to look at or purchase: take the price you'd pay in America and triple it. Sure, the result is in Aussie dollars, but when one of those buys $0.82 American, it can't all be explained in terms of exchange rate. However, a quick read through Gene Callahan's Economics for Real People or even Mary Ruwart's Healing Our World makes it crystal clear: government intervention is impoverishing Australians relative to Americans.

    Australians who've been to America express the same shock in reverse -- they wish they could buy their groceries at a Wal-Mart in Podunk, USA rather than here at the tax- and regulation-inflated prices. One person expressed wonder at how we manage to buy milk, given that there are at least 3 different brands in every store, each with its own version of whole, 2%, 1%, 1/2%, and skim milk. She said that she'd gladly trade the confusion though, for the chance to buy soup for less than a dollar a can, a six-pack of beer for five or six bucks, or half a cart full of groceries for forty dollars.

    That's the real tragedy of Australia, for me. She could have all that and more, if only there were a way to explain, simply and quickly, how every single regulation her government hands down winds up costing her money, and how vital it is to resist those regulations, even when they sound like a good idea. Even those regulations that are supposedly "only for safety reasons" or that are laughably described as "without cost" create pressures on the market that force prices inexorably up. It's easy to see how a tax impacts the price of goods and services, but regulation is a sneaky demon. There exists on this earth no ability to restrict the freedom of others to choose and buy and transact as they will, without increasing the costs of the transactions that remain available to them. The inevitable result of such restriction is the inflation of prices, resulting in an increased burden on those with marginal ability to pay.

    It's evident in the restaurants. In a town the size of Jindabyne in America, with as many large pubs and eateries as I've seen around here, the restaurants would be packed to the rafters with lines out the door on Thursday through Sunday nights. However, minimum wage for their food service workers is something like $15/hour. Soft drinks cost $4, and no entree can be had for less than $13 that I've seen, with most priced in the $18 - $25 range. As a result, the restaurants are largely empty, appearing to exist solely for the once-yearly tourist flood that comes when the Snowy Mountains turn snowy. It makes me fervently hope that America's leftists and government do-gooders don't get their way in the long run. Australia is a warning to those in America who still value freedom: protect it, or suffer the consequences.

    It's not all grim and dreary, and I don't want to leave anyone with that as their only impression. The people are largely happy and content, when they're not talking about the government. Like their counterparts all across rural America, all they want is a chance to work their dreams out for themselves, without anyone getting in the way. Pull a guy away from talking about the soul-crushing despair of how the government and leftists are trying to ruin him and his livelihood, and his eyes will light up as he relates some cherished memory or talks about his hopes for the future of his business or tells one of his favorite jokes. As one guy put it, "it's not all bad, I guess. I got somethin' to do with my time, three feeds a day, and a warm place to sleep." That's the sort of outlook, almost universally present, that makes me love rural people no matter where I find them.

    Posted by Tom, 4/12/2007 1:21:12 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 11, 2007


    Trail Ride

    Today we went on another trail ride, this one lasting several hours. We went up a hill or mountain called Wollondibby, and saw a few kangaroos, a fox, and a whole lot of brush. The scenery at the top was pretty amazing, and as usual cameras don't really communicate its grandeur.



    My horsemanship has improved a little with some tips from my sister-in-law, and I even managed to hold a respectable trot for a short distance. My horse was a grumpy, stubborn ol' girl named Bella. She and I disagreed with one another throughout most of the trip, so we made a game of it. I'd try to get her to go where I wanted, and she'd try to scrape me off on trees and low-hanging branches. In the end, it was kind of a draw, me with some sore knees and fresh scratches, her with a tired back and mouth from lugging me around and ignoring my tugs on the reins. Still, she's a beautiful girl, and if I weren't allergic to horses I'd love to have one like her:




    Posted by Tom, 4/11/2007 10:18:28 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 9, 2007


    Thoughts and Intimacy

    I am continually amazed by the number of people who claim to want to know what is up with me, yet are unwilling to come to this site and find out. I have friends who persistently ask me what I think of this or that, and act as though I'm so completely tightlipped about my thoughts as to be impossible to understand. I've had folks ask about what I believe regarding God, Christianity, various doctrines, government, education, violence, the media, and multitudes of other subjects. I ask, "isn't it obvious from my writings?" Then they say they don't bother to read what I write, and I'm left to wonder if they're really all that interested in what I think.

    On these pages, I've written about issues far more intimate than most friendships warrant. At times, I wonder if it's a good idea to write about the things I want to write about, and then I write about them anyway. This blog exists mostly for my purposes, as an outlet for my frustrations, but it's not hidden from anyone. I give the address to anyone who asks for it. I even invite conversation through the comment pages, and have engaged in face-to-face discussions with folks who wanted to know more about a particular topic.

    The fact is, however, that I write far better than I speak. It's difficult for me to make a verbal argument, because my brain shoots off in a dozen directions at once, and I have a hard time keeping up with it. I'm not by nature very organized. My thoughts are chaotic and undisciplined. Writing forces me to slow down, organize my ideas, check my assumptions, and lay out an argument. I'm easily defeated in verbal and instant-message debates because I simply can't keep it all straight enough to sound like I'm anything more than a raving lunatic (some would say that's the case even when I write).

    I'm far more open here about my thoughts and feelings and the things happening in my life than I'm credited by those who claim to care about such things. I wonder if the intimacy here is too much for them to bear -- as though seeing what I really think and believe and feel is too painful for them if it disagrees in some fundamental way with the way they think, believe, or feel. I'll admit that I've written much here that might be seen as heretical by some, but I've never once regretted writing it. If I can't be honest about my thoughts, I can never truly examine them and change them if they need to be changed. Lying about a belief is the same cognitive error as believing in a lie.

    In the past, some have also questioned my supposed "journalistic integrity", saying that I haven't checked my facts, or am presenting a biased worldview. First, I'd like to note that I'm not a journalist. I react to news stories, I don't write them. My reactions, like anyone else's, are colored by my personal experiences and the beliefs and assumptions that feed into my interpretation of data. Second, my worldview is unapologetically biased, as is everyone's. Rather than attempting to present an "unbiased" view, which I see as fundamentally impossible, I believe we'd all be better off presenting our biases as forthrightly and honestly as possible. So when I write here, I write from the perspective that government is at best incompetent and at worst evil, and from my own peculiar slant on Christianity. I'm sorry if it offends some, but it'd be dishonest of me to write from any other perspective.

    One criticism, however, is well taken from my critics; that my thoughts on a given topic are not readily found. Primary among my future projects for this blog is to begin categorizing my posts so that they may be more easily browsed by topic. Of course, this means I'll have to go back through 4 years of entries and categorize them all, but I feel up to the challenge. I also plan to get my search feature fully implemented, with a nice little text box and button for y'all to fill out and click. Maybe then I'll hear less about how hard it is to find my thoughts and more about what others think of them. Assuming, of course, that they can be bothered to read them.


    Posted by Tom, 4/9/2007 5:36:10 PM (Permalink). 6 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Kings of the High Frontier

    I once had a burning desire to start writing some science fiction. One of the ideas that persistently floated through my mind was of an independent, privately funded space race that thumbed its nose at the authority of the world's governments and struck out for the stars. I imagined that it would probably go in stages, perhaps as a series, with the first book being a massive poke in NASA's eye, calling them on all the stupidity and bureaucratic incompetence that their blundering around in space has become. It would display them as the puppets of Congressional pork-barreling that they are, ridicule the shuttle program for the boondoggle that it is, and re-ignite the flame of space pioneering that once captivated an entire generation. It would be a clarion call to action, embracing the power of the free market and the limitless resources of the Universe itself, begging any with the means and the guts to make that first step into the final frontier.

    It turns out that Victor Koman already wrote my book.

    Kings of the High Frontier has all that I wanted to say, and more. It is an essentially libertarian work, with characters seeking not only to "slip the surly bonds of earth and touch the face of God", but also to free themselves from their State-maintained enslavement to others. It is Atlas Shrugged mixed with The Man Who Sold the Moon. Even the book's disclaimer throws a giant middle finger in the face of the State:

    Kings of the High Frontier is a work of Fiction. All names, places, and institutions (both public and private) are either completely imaginary or used fictitiously...Any resemblance to actual people -- living or dead -- or to actual events, locales, secret projects, or high-level conspiracies is entirely coincidental. Any resemblance to actual governments and their institutions is purely malicious.

    On the "future front", Victor Koman eerily predicts the next shuttle disaster after Challenger, years before Columbia's destruction. While the details of the actual catastrophe are not as they happened in reality, the causes -- bureaucracy, compulsive ass-covering, unwillingness to change the fundamental structure of the space program -- are exactly as they were discovered to be in the investigations following Columbia. I almost found myself wishing that Koman's version was the correct one, because it broke the back of NASA once and for all, though at a cost of many more lives.

    There were a couple of technical items I wasn't sure about. He talks about fairly primitive skinsuit technology, without really saying anything about the cold of space. This is something I haven't done much reading on, but it seems that space is either deathly cold or deathly hot. Heinlein once wrote that it's actually more difficult to stay cool in space than warm, so maybe the skinsuits are OK (I do tend to trust Heinlein's assertions more than others, perhaps to my detriment). The other thing was the use of firearms in space, which I had always understood to be problematic due to the lack of air to allow gunpowder to burn. So those two technical details leave me with questions, and I'll probably spend some time looking into them upon my return to the USA.

    The other technical details were fascinating, and I feel rather foolish for saying this, but I really wanted some illustrations to go along with his descriptions of the various spacecraft. Davy Crockett's "orbital helicopter" is depicted on the front of the book, but the rest were difficult for me to envision. This is probably just a failing of mine as a reader, since I've always had trouble envisioning technical descriptions (one reason Tom Clancy leaves me cold), but I really would have appreciated some visual aids in this book, especially considering the multitude of designs discussed.

    As for the storyline, the book has about 6 of them, and it takes a fair amount of mental effort to keep up with everything. I found myself wanting to take notes so I could remember who was who and what project they were working on and where. I also wanted a map of the USA with certain Air Force bases and other landmarks noted, so I could figure out where the characters were working at any given time. It was a bit confusing, but he did manage to bring it all together to a satisfying conclusion in the end.

    For those of us with nothing more than a burning desire to get off this rock before we die, Koman has a message: invest in private spaceflight. Send money to folks like Burt Rutan and others who are working to make the dream a reality. Oppose government attempts to control access to the Universe by regulating to death the experiments and vehicles that can and will eventually take us there. Mankind's expansion to the stars can hold the answers to so many problems that it is utterly irresponsible to depend on government to make it happen. Vast wealth awaits those who start mining the moon, the asteroids, Mars, and so forth -- all we have to do is claim it. The knowledge we can gain about our own planet's climate change by observing climate change elsewhere is essential. And it is my belief that if mankind is to survive as a species, establishing permanent, self-sufficient colonies on other worlds must necessarily occur.

    Overall, I give the book 4 out of 5. I'll drop that to 3 if my technical concerns are borne out by investigation. Either way, it's still a worthwhile read if you can find it.

    Posted by Tom, 4/9/2007 12:58:56 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, April 8, 2007


    Mount Kosciuszko (Kozzy-osko)

    When I was told this was the highest mountain in Australia, and that we'd have an opportunity to climb it, there was no doubt in my mind that I would. The doubts didn't begin until about halfway up, but I physically stomped them down with every step as I climbed. I forced Australia beneath me as I walked, willing my overweight and out of shape bulk to the top, with an allergy-induced head cold and pulled back muscle keeping me company. Along the way, I saw some great rock formations that reminded me of the Wichita Mountains in Oklahoma (click pics for larger version).



    The whole trek was about 7 km from the top of a ski lift, much of it uphill (obviously). At the 2.5 km mark, I stopped to take in the last view of the ski lift, seen here as a tiny gray blotch slightly to the right of center, on the lower ridge.



    It was at this point that the top of the mountain came into view, about 4.5 km distant.



    To protect the tundra, the trek was largely conducted on this metal grating.



    It made the going a little easier, but not much. Other notable sights along the way were a multitude of mountain streams...



    ...and this peaceful little lake.



    With 1 km left to go, I arrived at a little rest area run by the park rangers. At this point I had pretty much completely burned off breakfast and was feeling famished. The last bit was grueling... the steepest part of the trail yet, and my legs, lungs, and heart were on fire. I experienced a brief moment of doubt, of wondering if it wasn't "close enough". After all, I still had all that way to walk back, and I had no granola bars or anything else for some quick energy, only a couple of bottles of water to keep me refreshed. But then I decided I'd never forgive myself for coming this far and calling it quits, so I took a deep breath and pressed on.

    The last kilometer was a struggle for every step. I'm in far better shape than I began the year with, but still no alpine hikemaster by any stretch of the imagination. In the end, however, I was treated to some spectacular views, which photography unfortunately fails to really capture:





    I grabbed a shot of the survey marker for posterity:



    It was long, it was hard, it was brutal. I'm still in disbelief that I made it all the way up and back. I suppose it wasn't all that big, compared to other "highest mountains", but it was enough to challenge me. So while it wasn't my mountain, for today...



    ...it'll do.

    Posted by Tom, 4/8/2007 7:32:02 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, April 7, 2007


    Tourists

    Today we went on a long drive all over the place. I was in an antihistamine haze, so I don't remember much of it at all. I do remember that we stopped at some tourist caves, and did a hike through them. It astounds me how similar are guided cave tours. You get the same lecture about not touching, about how long the formations take to grow, and so forth. I think that's what I hate about tourism in general: for the most part, no matter where you are, it's all the same. The things that are different and special are the adventures you make up yourself, like my little roo hike yesterday.

    Driving in Australia is nerve-wracking. The roads are much narrower than in the USA, and then there's that "other side of the road" thing. I've decided it's arrogant to call it the "wrong side of the road", since it seems that everyone except North America drives on that side. Makes me wonder why it turned out that way... I'm sure there's a website somewhere that can explain it.

    Anyway, it's pretty easy to remember that you're supposed to stay on the left. The problem is that it messes with all the habits you've got programmed into your brain. I've had trouble because my brain insists that driving on the left means that "left" and "right" are also reversed. It's the strangest thing. People tell me "turn right here", and I start making movements to turn left. It takes conscious effort to go the correct way. And then once I get on the new road, I have to remind myself to get back on the left again.

    Add to that the fact that the driver's controls are on the other side of the car, which may or may not mean that some of the controls are switched from one side of the steering wheel to the other. Of the 2 cars we're regularly driving, one has the turn signals on the right, the other on the left. One of them is a stick shift, and shifting with the left hand just feels wrong. I constantly found myself pushing in the clutch, banging my right hand against the door, remembering the stick was on the other side, grabbing the steering wheel with the right while grabbing at the stick with the left, all the while trying to accomplish this before losing forward momentum, and then having to look at the stick shift because my brain insisted that the gear pattern MUST be a mirror image of right-hand gear patterns. It's not. Thankfully, I have not stripped the transmission out of that car in all my fumbling.

    Another strange thing that's happening is that I'm starting to pronounce words like an Aussie. My language has always adapted to the accent around me, especially when it came to the American Southern accent. I didn't expect to pick up Australian inside a week, but there it is. Yesterday someone asked me where we were staying, and I replied "Jeendaboyne", instead of "JindaBINE". I've started hearing the accent in my head whenever I'm thinking about what to say. What's even weirder about this is that I can't for the life of me remember what American Southern sounds like. I've been trying, but I can't hear it in my head. I'm sure it'll come back as soon as I'm back in Oklahoma, because even though Oklahoma is not properly "the South", the accent hints at it. It's not Georgia, but it's not Ohio either.


    Posted by Tom, 4/7/2007 2:41:17 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, April 6, 2007


    Roo Safari

    This morning I got up and went for a hike in the hills. I walked slowly and carefully so as not to spook any wildlife, though I knew they had seen me long before I could see them. As I descended a hillside into a valley, a blotch of brown and white started moving on the opposite hill, walking away at an unhurried pace. A pair of deer were being careful to maintain distance from me, though they weren't spooked enough to run. I tried to get a shot of them, but it was a good 300 yards away, so the picture isn't all that great (click pics for full-sized original):



    As I proceeded down the hill, I kept watch on the opposite hillside, and moved only a few steps at a time, trying to place my feet only on soft, quiet grass. I occasionally made a misstep in the rough terrain, but for the most part managed to keep it steady. I could see kangaroos occasionally bounding away, but couldn't get my camera up fast enough to get shots off. They were too far away to get a decent shot anyhow.

    At the bottom of the hill, I crossed a small stream, then began my ascent up the next hill. I climbed all the way to the top, about a mile distant from my beginning point, all the way seeing kangaroos hopping just out of reach of my camera. At one point I saw a kangaroo staring at me from behind a downed tree. I carefully pulled out my camera, got it ready, and just as I switched my attention to the viewfinder, he was gone.

    Upon reaching the top, I pondered going to the next hill, but didn't know how soon I needed to be back, so I decided to turn around (in retrospect, we sat around for so long I could have gone at least twice that far). I was feeling a little dejected, my photo safari having come up without any good pics, but at least I'd seen the rascals running around. Still, I tried to walk slowly and carefully, just in case any roos had circled in behind me.

    Kangaroos behave a lot like American whitetail deer. When they first detect something that might be a threat, they freeze and look for it. If they find it and it scares them enough, they'll run away. If it's not scary, they'll continue to watch it until they feel OK, then continue eating or traveling. They seem to travel in groups of about 2 to 4, and it seems like when the group leader decides to move on, he stomps on the ground with his foot. At least, that's what I infer from hearing a loud thump just before seeing kangaroos bounding away.

    As I continued back down the hill, I started to clue in to this pattern, and every time I heard a thump, I looked in that direction, and sure enough I saw roos bouncing. At one point, I saw them stop and look back at me, trying to decide if I was really scary enough to run from, or if they were safe enough at their present distance of about 200 yards.

    Since I could see them well enough through a tunnel in the branches, I decided to try and get some shots off. It was really difficult holding the camera steady with the optical zoom at maximum and nothing to brace against, so I snapped as many as I could before they left again. I think this was probably the best one:



    I felt a little better as I continued down the hill and back to base. At least I'd gotten a bona fide, if not terribly great, picture of a wild kangaroo, stalked on foot. There was a small sense of accomplishment. I hit the bottom of the hill, crossed the stream, and started up through the scrub to the house where we stayed. I paused to look back at the hill I'd just left, wondering if I'd see more roos popping out and possibly be able to get a couple more shots.

    As I looked, I heard a rustling in the bush to my right, and not 50 yards away, a large gray kangaroo wandered down to cross the stream. He hadn't seen me yet, and I got the camera out again, desperately trying to move quietly enough to not attract his attention. I snapped one wide-angle shot, which went off just as he passed behind a forked branch sticking out over the stream. See if you can spot him in it:



    Afterwards, I started to zoom the camera in while mentally willing the kangaroo to stop in a clear area. Apparently, my mind powers were working at their best capacity, because these were the results:











    Lest anyone think I'm pulling a fast one, that this was not in fact a wild kangaroo because of the fence behind him, the fence is for sheep, cattle, and horses. Kangaroos jump over fences like this as though they don't even exist, much like whitetail deer in North America.

    Later on, I got some other pics from the car as we drove around, but I'm proudest of these because I got them on my own, on foot, just me vs. the kangaroos. I'll post the others later on if any of them turned out -- I haven't slurped them off the camera yet to look at them.

    Posted by Tom, 4/6/2007 4:51:44 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, April 5, 2007


    Horseback

    Yesterday we went on a trail ride. My horsemanship is fairly primitive, as I've never had much opportunity to really study at it. And then there's the fact that I'm allergic to the darn things. So I can steer, walk, and trot, though a trot tends to beat me up a bit. The one time I tried a canter, I almost got shaken off, because I haven't gotten the motion figured out yet. In all, I think I've ridden maybe a dozen times in my entire life.

    Anyway, we did our trail ride, I started sneezing, eyes swelled up, face itching, and we saw what my grandfather would call a "blue jillion" kangaroos. All in all, it was pretty fun, though I declined the second ride in favor of going back to the house and dosing up on Benadryl, then taking a nap.

    Our constant walking around, with me toting a backpack full of snacks and extra layers, put a serious cramp into a very small muscle just below my right shoulder blade. When I carry a backpack on one strap, I carry it on the left side, which apparently causes me to use that muscle to pull my right shoulder down and left up. This muscle started to complain after 2 days, and on the third day it was excruciating. Yesterday, just sitting up straight on a horse caused me problems, so I had that going on in addition to the allergies. Fortunately, I got an offer for a back rub, which helped considerably. I can see that if I'm going to follow through with some other plans I have, I'm going to need to start training with a backpack as well as my other exercise regimens.

    Today, we have a free day, with only a couple in our group needing to go somewhere for a horse lesson or something. Some day I'm going to have to find some really effective allergy drugs (when is Allegra going to be available over the counter?) and put some serious effort into becoming at least moderately competent on horseback. This crew doesn't seem likely to give up on the horsing around any time soon, and it'd be nice not to slow them down all the time with my ineptitude.

    Posted by Tom, 4/5/2007 8:30:00 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, April 4, 2007


    Sydney Day 2, Jindabyne

    I've been awake for about 2 hours. Even on vacation, my insomnia follows me. I just can't seem to quiet my mind enough to fall asleep for longer than is absolutely necessary to maintain daily function.

    Anyway, what's been happening... we walked all over Sydney again, seeing different sights this time, but still in the same general downtown area. Went to the top of their Centrepoint Tower, which is a lot like the Space Needle and similar buildings. I got some good shots of the surroundings from up there.

    After spending the day in Sydney, we hopped aboard a prop plane to Cooma. Apparently we passed over some mountains or storms or something, because the turbulence was rather entertaining. We were met at the airport by our hosts, crammed into a couple of vehicles and drove to Jindabyne, where we're spending the majority of our vacation.

    Our hostess is the mother of a girl named Giddy who works with my sister-in-law at a horse farm in Illinois. She is apparently married to a sheep farmer, but her business is property management. Right now we're being put up (for free, no less) in what's basically a mansion. I think so far we've seen 5 children's bedrooms and 2 master bedrooms. There's also apparently more bedrooms upstairs. We'll be here 2 nights, then we'll set up in a hotel downtown that's apparently managed by our hostess' sister. I'm having a hard time keeping up with how everyone's related, but I think I've got the gist of it.

    Haven't seen any kangaroos or wallabies or wombats yet, but we're assured they're all over the place. In a few hours, we'll be taken to see the sheep farming operation, as they're getting ready to do the last shearing... I assume that what they mean is it's the last before winter, but I'm not sure.

    So far I'm about halfway with the Australian accent. The first part is that they put emphasis on different syllables than we do, and as a result it's easy to miss words because your brain is expecting something that's not there. For example, Giddy recently turned eighteen. In America, that's pronounced "EIGHT TEEN". Here, it's "AYdeen". I'm managing to pick all that up for familiar words.

    After the syllable change comes the change in word usage. Our street signs say "yield", theirs say "give way". We call it a circle, they call it a roundabout. One guy at the airport asked me "how are you going?" and I said "by plane". Apparently it's a greeting, not an interrogative. I'm starting to get all that sorted out as well.

    The part that still gives me fits though, is the Australian words -- words that sound like something a child might make up. I can't remember any of them off the top of my head, but there's a scene from The Simpsons that explains it quite clearly. I don't remember the exact quotation, but it goes something like this:

    Australian: What's that?
    Bart Simpson: It's a frog.
    Australian: That's a silly name. I would have called it a gozwozzle.

    So what happens is, I'll be talking to some Australian, occasionally stumbling on their choice of words or accent but basically keeping up, and they'll drop an Australianism on me, bringing my comprehension to a screeching halt. At that point, I can either nod politely and assume that what they mean will become clear, or stop the conversation and ask what is meant by a bullywoodgie or gibbertyflidget.

    Anyway, I'm eager to see what other little surprises are in store.


    Posted by Tom, 4/4/2007 5:00:50 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, April 2, 2007


    Sydney Day 1

    Customs was a breeze, though I'm always nervous when in an area where government prevents you from having a record of the proceedings. Large signs proclaimed it a serious crime to use cameras, recorders, or communications devices of any kind, which of course means that those in charge can get away with just about anything, because nobody can prove their version of events.

    We checked into a hotel, then went out for some sightseeing. There was an earthquake in the Solomon Islands, so all the beaches were closed for a tsunami warning. As far as I know, no tsunami ever showed up. We went to the Sydney Opera House, spent a whole lot of time tooling around on Sydney's mind-bogglingly complex subway system, and took a look around the Sydney Aquarium.

    I got the first taste of the differences in economy with the food. First, what I call the "Big Mac Index": we saw a McDonald's in the downtown area. A regular size Big Mac meal was AU $4.45, which after conversion is probably fairly comparable. But when we ate at a restaurant with actual table service, the difference was astounding. We paid AU $13 for a club sandwich and fries, which probably comes out to $11 American. I heard that wait staff makes something like AU $15/hour, and tipping is not expected (backed up by a few comments over at the Stained Apron). This pretty much explains the price. However, the restaurant in question was a hotel restaurant near the airport, so perhaps some of it is the price inflation that comes with that. I'm hoping to see some more examples to go on.


    Posted by Tom, 4/2/2007 9:00:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...