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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    Saturday, March 31, 2007


    San Francisco

    Our day-trip into San Francisco wound up a mess. We had a 10-hour layover at SFO, so we hopped on the BART train to head downtown for a little sightseeing. As soon as we got on the train, we discovered that some kind of fire was preventing the train from going all the way downtown, so we got dropped off halfway there. We tried to figure out what was going on with the alternate arrangements, but the BART employees just sort of mindlessly repeated "bus 84. Bus 84. Bus 84". Not having any idea where Bus 84 was going, we elected instead to hail a cab.

    Our driver seemed to know only one speed -- 85 miles per hour. City streets, freeways, exit ramps, didn't matter. 85 mph. He dropped us at the piers, but at the extreme opposite end from where we wanted to go. Oh well, it was getting to be a steep cab fare anyway ($31 when we finally called it), and we needed the exercise. I wasn't really wearing the shoes for it, and no one else really seemed ready to lug carry-ons (apparently airport lockers are a thing of the past), but we gutted it out and walked what was probably only a couple of miles to the Hard Rock Cafe.

    Fortunately, HRC was on the ball and we got right in. After a meal of good (if expensive) food, we hoofed it the rest of the way down Fisherman's Wharf to the cable car station and took a ride on these iconic SF mass transit vehicles. I was hoping to get on the outside benches, but by the time we boarded nobody was in a mood to complain about being trucked somewhere after my cheerful death march through the entire pier area. So we got crammed into the inside, standing room only, and rode the rickety contraption to Powell & Market, where the BART station waited.

    I would have liked to have shown the peeps around a bit, but by this time we were all worn out, so after making sure the BART was running full service to SFO again (alternate plan: find a hotel shuttle), we hopped aboard and made it back in time for check-in at the international terminal, Qantas Airlines.

    All in all, I had a blast, though some in my party seem less than thrilled with the experience. I think you just have to make your fun in spite of the obstacles.


    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 8:38:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    G'day mate!

    Finally figured out a way to connect to the internet. Some of my blog posts are ready, and I'll be popping them up here soon. It's actually Wednesday, 4/4/2007, but I'm backdating this so it appears in the right order.

    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 4:52:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Airport Security

    It's amazing how easily we accept the yoke. Like zombies, we stumble through airport security checkpoints, allow ourselves and our belongings to be poked, prodded, examined, manhandled, and suffer all manner of indignity. Tyranny falls upon us and we utter barely a whimper, more concerned with getting to our destination than with the rights being stripped from us as we go.

    First and foremost goes the right of self-defense, as our guns and knives and other makeshift weapons (no MagLites, thank you) are tossed aside, packed into checked luggage, or left behind. It's ironic in that in an era after terrorists were thwarted by acts of communal defense by the passengers of flight 183, these heroics are not further enabled and encouraged. Rather, they are all but denied. Not only do we lose the means of self-defense (it's a miracle they haven't demanded our hands be chopped off, Sierra Leone style), but we are threatened with the inability to travel, imprisonment, or worse if we show any sign of being other than dutiful, bleating sheep being pushed through the corral.

    After we are made defenseless, privacy goes out the window. Constitutional guarantees of being secure in our papers and persons give way to unwarranted searches and seizures of our property. Blue-gloved hands rifle through our most intimate belongings, pawing through our lives in search of that which the powers-that-be deem "contraband". It might seem like more of a violation of our persons if it weren't so impersonal.

    That, to me, is the ultimate indignity. Our masters and overlords don't even see us as people. We have been so dehumanized by the process as to be merely ambulatory annoyances, our lives the supposed justification for these soul-crushing invasions. The process speaks differently -- we do not possess precious lives to be protected, cherished, and defended. We are merely things standing in the way of a bored foot-soldier and the end of his workday. Words like "sir" and "ma'am" are used repeatedly, but without any sign of the respect such terms traditionally carry.

    Part of me wants to climb on top of the scanning machine and shout for everyone to wake up and tell these bastards to go home and quit oppressing us. I want to ask the TSA employees how they can sleep at night, knowing that their job is the destruction of rights and the dehumanization of their fellow Americans. But I realize that they've probably bought the lie that all this somehow makes us safer. In the end, I'd only be dragged off like some random kook, probably locked up, and possibly permanently disowned by my traveling companions.

    So I entertain myself with thoughts of competition. I dream of an alternate network of air travel, where customers are actually customers rather than subjects. I see a cursory checkpoint where customers are asked if their sidearms are loaded with frangible ammunition, and issued complimentary rounds in appropriate calibers if the reply is in the negative. I envision a host of alternative security procedures, where customers drive the market and decide what is an acceptable level of intrusion, with voluntary contract rather than legislative and executive fiat. Those who want to fly armed on "2nd Amendment Air" are welcomed to do so, those who wish a minimal level of collective intrusion can contract for it, and the sheep of course can always fly the unfriendly skies of Tyranny Air.

    Taken to the next level, the mind can only boggle at the possible variations that free-market experimentation might provide. What about pet-friendly air travel? Less cramped quarters? What about simple things, like better access to networking for computers and cell users, enabled by experimentation in new and different ways to handle flight communications? How about Burt Rutan's Heinleinesque visions of commercial transport rockets, for transoceanic travel in a matter of hours? The possibilities are literally endless, but require abandonment of this top-down, centrally planned infrastructure to which we find ourselves enslaved. I just wish someone in power had the moral courage to suggest it.


    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 10:20:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thought for the Day

    A man should be hard enough to do the unpleasant when necessary, but soft enough that he doesn't enjoy it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 3:23:15 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    That's love, baby!

    Nothing says love like deadly weaponry:

    There was a strange reaction from my family and friends when I became engaged to a beautiful and amazing woman on September 16th, 2005. They were happy for me, but they were also amazed that a woman was willing to put up with my idiosyncrasies for the rest of her life. However, what really shocked them was what I got her for our one year anniversary of dating - a handgun.

    To some people it was a strange and dangerous gift. To others it was much more than just a gun.

    ...

    If you love a woman, get her a gun and teach her how to use it. It may save her life. The decision not to arm the woman you love may have dire consequences. Hopefully you won’t find yourself regretting your decision while you identify your loved one at the morgue or while you are holding her hand as a nurse performs a rape exam.


    I truly don't understand the man who would prevent his significant other from defending herself. I understand that there are those men and women who are pacifists in the extreme, and I'm not really addressing my comment to them. I'm talking about the guy who, for reasons of machismo or sexism or apathy or whatever, just doesn't want to enable and empower his woman in this way. The world needs more women willing to bust a cap in a rapist, not less. We need more ferocious she-bears willing to defend their cubs with something more effective than a cell phone. Peace is not passive.

    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 3:15:25 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Pink Pistols

    I totally love these guys & gals.

    Nicki Stallard isn't your average lady.

    She was born a man.

    Stallard, who has been living as a woman for the past year and a half, is the coordinator of the San Jose chapter of the Pink Pistols - a national organization that encourages gay, lesbian and transgender people to arm themselves to prevent hate crimes. Part social gun club, part political platform, the group's slogans are "Armed gays don't get bashed" and "Pick on someone your own caliber."

    Founded in 2000 in Boston by libertarian activist Douglas Krick, the Pink Pistols have since grown to more than 40 chapters across the country. Not surprisingly, the group has garnered its fair share of controversy, both locally and nationally.


    I'm a big fan of challenging stereotypes. I'm a big fan of guns and gun activists. And I've got some gay friends. What's not to love?

    The article has some interesting comments about who's really tolerant:

    Yet Pistols founder Krick says the most controversy - and, sometimes, outright hostility - comes not from conservatives, but the gay community.

    "We've gotten a lot of support from the gun community in general," Krick says, "but as for the organizations geared towards the queer community, that's where we've been getting a lot more static."

    Two of the largest lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender organizations in the nation, the Human Rights Coalition (HRC) and Parents and Friends of Lesbians and Gays (PFLAG), refused to comment for this article. Spokespersons from both groups claimed their organizations had no stance on the issue.

    "For a lot of these groups, they're tied-in very strongly with the liberal demographic that thinks that guns are bad, evil, nasty things, and they tend to buy into that propaganda wholeheartedly," Krick said. "As a result, when we came along they'd already made their decision."


    Borne out in my own experience.

    I realize I haven't spent much time on this blog addressing certain issues, homosexuality among them. I guess I must be saving it for the book.

    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 3:03:19 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    As usual...

    It's the night before a big event and I can't sleep. It's not really an excitement thing, it's just not being able to make that final descent into oblivion. I tossed and turned for about an hour, then decided it was a lost cause, got dressed and trundled the laptop out here to the hotel lobby. The staff has been looking at me weird. They'll get over it.

    We're planning to spend some of our 8-hour layover in San Francisco doing a little day trip. Since I go to Apple's World Wide Developer Conference (almost) every year for work (tickets already bought for this year), I'm fairly familiar with downtown San Francisco, and the in-laws have decided to trust me to play tour guide. I think we can get to the wharf and find a good restaurant, maybe even check out the aquarium, and still be back well before flight time. Hopefully, if I can push through today without taking a nap, by the time we board the red-eye from San Francisco to Sydney, I'll just pass out and miss most of the discomfort and excruciating boredom of a 14-hour flight in cattle class.

    Posted by Tom, 3/31/2007 12:20:51 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 30, 2007


    Driving in the rain

    It rained all the way from St. Louis to Sterling, IL. I bought new windshield wiper blades just before we left Oklahoma, and they did the trick. Had the iPod nano jacked into the stereo with one of those cassette-tape adapter things, so there was no need to search for unfamiliar radio stations every 50 miles or so. The Holiday Inn has wireless.

    I love driving in the rain.

    Posted by Tom, 3/30/2007 8:03:55 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More wallowing

    Sister-in-law, within 5 minutes: "you look like you've lost some weight".

    Narcissistic? Probably. But shut up, I need this moment.



    Posted by Tom, 3/30/2007 7:04:29 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Satisfaction

    So the big secret around here has been my effort to lose weight and get in shape. I've been sticking to a fairly strict diet, riding the exercise bike, and doing a weight program. I can't say it's ever easy to get started -- to force myself onto the bike or the weight bench -- but I do like it once I'm there. I'm even beginning to like the military press, which was once the bane of my existence.

    I dropped 20 pounds and got stuck, but I'm making continuous improvement at the weights, so I'm telling myself it's muscle growth offsetting fat loss. The worst part though was the anticipation of this trip. My main goal for the first 3 months of this year was to make people who hadn't seen me in that time notice a difference. In this last couple of weeks, I've been stressing out over the remaining weight I wanted to lose, thinking that I hadn't done enough to make a noticeable difference.

    Then we arrived at my brother's house last night. The second thing out of his mouth, after general greetings and pleasantries, was "Tom looks like he's lost some weight."

    I think I'll wallow in that for awhile.

    Posted by Tom, 3/30/2007 6:27:49 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 29, 2007


    Shock and Awe

    Not sure which of us is which...




    Posted by Tom, 3/29/2007 7:40:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Chillin' wit mah O-Dawg





    Posted by Tom, 3/29/2007 7:34:41 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Good morning!

    I'm off to Australia today, and will be gone for about 3 weeks. I have my trusty MacBook Pro with me, and will be writing up things as I have the opportunity and inspiration. However, since I don't know what kind of connectivity, if any, I'll have there, my ability to post what I write will be spotty at best.

    My travel gear consists of:

    MacBook Pro
    Olympus digital camera
    Leatherman Kick
    Cell phone (probably useless once outside the USA)
    iPod nano
    Eldest
    Kings of the High Frontier
    Practical Programming for Strength Training
    And probably some other books before it's all said and done
    Various outdoor clothing and gear, assembled over the last few months

    Unfortunately, the Buck Juno and Mr. Carry Gun will have to stay behind. The Aussies aren't too friendly when it comes to self defense.

    Itinerary is a drive to Chicago (with a stop in St. Louis to see Oliver), then on the plane to San Francisco, then a LOOOOOONG flight to Sydney. Same thing in reverse about 2 weeks later. I think that about covers it.

    Oh -- in case I don't see ya... good afternoon, good evening, and good night.

    Posted by Tom, 3/29/2007 7:08:54 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 28, 2007


    Quote of the Day

    It is the heretic that makes the fire,
    Not she which burns in't


    -- William Shakespeare, A Winter's Tale

    Posted by Tom, 3/28/2007 7:07:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    How to lie with statistics

    The inimitable Dr. Lott takes us through the recent "sharp surge" in violent crime, showing how it was invented from whole cloth. Among the wreckage:

    [the Police Executive Research Forum] reported murder, robbery and aggravated assault, but not rape. Why? Could it be that the number of rapes as well as the rape rate both fell?

    But the worst is their mangling the data for city crime. They selectively pick 56 jurisdictions (mainly cities but some counties) with populations over 70,000. There are 253 cities with over 100,000 people.


    Gee, ya think it might be possible to skew some stats by hand-picking the data?

    Six of the top 20 most populous cities that they just happened to leave out had smaller increases or even declines in murders from 2004 to 2006.

    ...

    If you look at them all and not the small group the Forum selected, the murder rate rose by only 2 percent, less than a third of what their selective sample implies.

    ...

    The problems that particular cities face are more local than national in nature. Some cities such as Philadelphia, have poorly managed police departments and have seen big drops in arrest rates. It is not surprising that violent crime and murder rates have also gone up.

    Not surprisingly, last fall the Forum ended its hysterical claims of a gathering crime “storm” with a call for more money for their member’s police departments.


    Just like schools. Do a bad job, get more money. I feel like I'm starting to see a pattern in the way government operates.

    Today's lesson: never argue over the other guy's numbers until you've figured out how he got them.

    Posted by Tom, 3/28/2007 7:00:18 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Blood... boiling...

    Cities set limits on serving food to homeless people

    Cities are cracking down on charities that feed the homeless, adopting rules that restrict food giveaways to certain locations, require charities to get permits or limit the number of free meals they can provide.

    Orlando, Dallas, Las Vegas and Wilmington, N.C., began enforcing such laws last year. Some are being challenged.

    Last November, a federal judge blocked the Las Vegas law banning food giveaways to the poor in city parks. In Dallas, two ministries are suing, arguing that the law violates religious freedom.


    Damn straight it violates religious freedom!

    So what prompted this travesty?

    City officials say the rules were prompted by complaints about crime and food safety.

    BULL!

    What else you got?

    Some say they want control over locations so homeless people can also get services such as addiction counseling and job training.

    Neither of which is prevented or hindered by giving a hungry person a meal. Strike two.

    What else?

    "The feedings were happening several times a week" in parking lots and sidewalks downtown, says Dewey Harris, director of Wilmington's Community Services Department. "A lot of the merchants said, 'We feel uncomfortable when you have all these homeless being fed downtown when we're trying to attract tourists.' "

    Bingo. This is about control over public spaces, which could be solved by the application of private property. I'm in favor of merchants making a buck, but it seems clear that part of the issue is that there's too little private property involved, so what we wind up with is adjudication of property rights over public spaces to some at the expense of others. It's a travesty.

    At the very least, some sort of public space sharing arrangement should be made, so that charities can access those spaces as well. Alternatively, businesses could be offered the chance to purchase sidewalks and parking lots that serve their retail space. But telling people they're just not allowed to serve God and the homeless, or erecting barriers to doing so, just to appease some favored businesses, is the height of cronyism.

    Dallas also limits outdoor food giveaways to approved locations. Those distributing food must take a food-handling course and get a city permit, says Karen Rayzer, director of environmental and health services. A violator can be fined $2,000.

    Let me get this straight: I go to a park in Dallas for a picnic lunch and share my food with a homeless guy, and I can be fined $2000 for supposedly handing out unsafe food that I'm eating too? Brilliant.

    "This ordinance wasn't established to ban feeding," says [Orlando] city spokeswoman Heather Allebaugh. She acknowledges that some groups ignore the law.

    Civil disobedience is alive and well! This is great news. Reminds me of a story:

    At that time Jesus went through the grainfields on the Sabbath. His disciples were hungry and began to pick some heads of grain and eat them. When the Pharisees saw this, they said to him, "Look! Your disciples are doing what is unlawful on the Sabbath."

    He answered, "Haven't you read what David did when he and his companions were hungry? He entered the house of God, and he and his companions ate the consecrated bread—which was not lawful for them to do, but only for the priests. Or haven't you read in the Law that on the Sabbath the priests in the temple desecrate the day and yet are innocent? I tell you that one greater than the temple is here. If you had known what these words mean, 'I desire mercy, not sacrifice,' you would not have condemned the innocent. For the Son of Man is Lord of the Sabbath."

    Going on from that place, he went into their synagogue, and a man with a shriveled hand was there. Looking for a reason to accuse Jesus, they asked him, "Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?"

    He said to them, "If any of you has a sheep and it falls into a pit on the Sabbath, will you not take hold of it and lift it out? How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath."

    Then he said to the man, "Stretch out your hand." So he stretched it out and it was completely restored, just as sound as the other.

    -- Matthew 12:1-13


    Even God's law steps aside for compassion.

    Posted by Tom, 3/28/2007 6:52:46 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Why I don't care about prosecutor firings

    The latest flap over AG Gonzales and the Bush administration is about the supposed politically-motivated firings of various federal prosecutors. I really couldn't care less, because I see the entire thing as partisan bickering rather than any real attempt to see open, honest, just government.

    As Reason put it:

    It’s sad, but not terribly surprising, that it would take accusations of excessive partisanship – that is, unfairly using the office to gain a political advantage over the Democrats – to spur the Democrats in Congress to take any meaningful action. Trample on the rights of U.S. citizens, and the Democrats largely look the other way – can’t be seen as soft on crime, or on national security. But trample on the political prospects of Democrats, and the subpoenas fly.

    Statists don't care if government tramples peoples' rights. They typically only care about whether government is promoting their agenda. Every administration since I was old enough to be politically aware (which would be the Reagan admin) has had the same accusations leveled against it: they're not being fair to our people, they're not pushing our agenda, they're doing stuff we don't want them to do. The nitpicky details have changed from Iran-Contra to Monica Lewinski to Alberto Gonzales, but the overall picture is the same. Massive abuses of power are overlooked in favor of tiny little worthless piece of crap allegations.

    The reason for this is simple: attacking the abuses of power might result in a reduction of that power. Neither party wants that to happen, because they want the power preserved for them when it becomes their turn to wield it. If anything, they want the power to be increased. They're like children bickering over a toy -- the worst possible outcome is for Mom to come and take the toy away. They don't want that to happen, they just don't want the other kids to play with it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/28/2007 6:31:35 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    COPA struck down

    I've refrained from commenting on this item because I've been waiting for a good commentary. Thankfully, Reason has provided one.

    As U.S. District Judge Lowell Reed noted when he issued his injunction, filtering software used by parents and Internet service providers is much more effective than COPA would have been at keeping porn away from kids (or perhaps I should say "keeping kids away from porn," which better describes the reality of the situation).

    The insistence that there nevertheless ought to be a law, which could still be heard in the wake of Reed's decision, betrays a disregard for the damage done to freedom of speech by heavy-handed efforts to make the Internet safe for children. It also reflects a knee-jerk statism that demands a top-down, one-size-fits-all solution even when diverse, decentralized responses clearly work better.


    That knee-jerk statism is readily apparent in almost every facet of life these days. I'm glad someone's finally taking it to task in the judiciary.

    Worse, as Reed concluded based on expert testimony, none of the "age verification" options mentioned in COPA is a reliable way to verify age. The law thus would cost websites money, inconvenience adults, reduce readership, and chill online speech without accomplishing the avowed objective of shielding minors from pornography.

    Filtering software, by contrast, is easy and cheap (often free) to use, and it can be close to 100 percent effective at blocking porn, whether it originates in the U.S. or abroad. Even the worst-performing programs, Reed found, block around 90 percent of sexually explicit material.


    If government policies could simply be subject to an efficacy test, I'm sure a great majority of libertarians' work would be done for them. As it is, we have to wait for someone to get enough of a clue to strike down laws on other grounds, with "accomplishing stated goals" relegated to mere supporting evidence.

    I will ding the author on one item concerning filtering software:

    Passwords prevent kids from circumventing the controls.

    There's an old joke that if you want to know how to bypass childproofing, ask a child. Some time ago, I read an article (that I cannot find) detailing a reporter's trip to a 7th-grade classroom, where the kids rattled off the ways to circumvent just about every filtering package currently being sold. Unfortunately, most adults are too far behind the curve to be able to keep ahead of their kids when it comes to technology. Worse, too many parents seem to think filtering software is an electronic proxy for good parenting. There's really no substitute for being involved in your child's life and especially their online experience.

    Posted by Tom, 3/28/2007 6:11:11 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 27, 2007


    But wait... there's more...

    It turns out that Anthony Abbate is not the only cop going around beating on people while the video cameras roll.

    Posted by Tom, 3/27/2007 7:42:17 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Spiritual Trust-busting

    I was watching TV this past weekend, and happened upon a show called Shalom in the Home. It's about a rabbi who goes to peoples' homes and tries to diagnose and fix their dysfunction, sort of like a kosher Nanny 9-1-1.

    Rabbi Shmuley is very personable and engaging, and has some great insights into family systems, as one might expect from a person with his credentials. I was struck by how much his discussions sounded like the things I've heard my friend Richard say (he's a Methodist minister and counselor). Watching the show was in fact a lot like watching a Jewish version of Richard in action.

    As I've been thinking about the show over the past couple of days, I've also been reminded of a different Jewish/Christian comparison that happened a while back. I was telling a fellow Christian, one who prides herself in how doctrinally "pure" she is, about Rachel Remen's book My Grandfather's Blessings, which I've blogged about at various times. I even went so far as to give this person a copy of the book, which turned out to be a huge mistake. Dr. Remen was raised by atheists, had a grandfather who was a rabbi, and has since gleaned her spirituality from all sorts of different sources.

    This fellow Christian soon called me up and told me she couldn't read any more of this book because she believed it was improper to do so. She didn't go so far as to say it was "evil" or anything, but she didn't want to read any more for fear that it would poison her mind. I tried to get an idea of what she was afraid of, but the best I could understand was that in her mind, only Christians can be "good".

    This wasn't the first or last time I've run across this sentiment. For some reason, the rank and file of the Christian community seems to have a widespread belief in the idea that Christianity has a monopoly on Nice. Stories of Buddhists or Hindus or Jews or (*gasp*) pagans performing acts of kindness for other people are met with derision, sneers, or even offense. I truly don't understand this. I suppose it might be that they've become a "nicer" person as a result of their own conversion, and thus subjectively see non-Christian as "not nice", but that explanation seems really hollow to me.

    It seems to me that Christians should applaud those who are doing the work of Jesus, even if it's not Jesus they're specifically venerating when they do it. Jesus even said that "whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother." If this is so, who are we as Christians to shun them? Shouldn't we welcome the chance to recognize the compassionate achievements of others, or even the opportunity to work side by side with them in various endeavors? Is doctrine really so important that we have to shut down all talk of caring for the sick and poor and needy until the doctrinal issues are hammered out and those "outside the (Christian) church" are persuaded to toe the line?

    As I understand it, the Pharisees were people of supposedly perfect doctrine, and Jesus didn't get along very well with them. Instead, He spent His time doing the Work. Is a Christian of today who stops the Work to monitor the doctrine of others more like a Pharisee or more like Christ? Are they not effectively going on strike against the Work until the doctrinal issues are worked out? Is it any wonder that the "scab workers" of other faiths are stepping into the gap we leave open when we start these conflicts?

    I think it's high time we bust up this Union, this monopoly on compassion, and get back to work.

    Posted by Tom, 3/27/2007 6:56:06 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Weep with those who weep

    Like the other part, this is also not as easy as it seems, and for pretty much the same reason. I've blogged about this before, and I'll probably repeat myself a little, but here goes...

    Someone close to me recently went through a very emotionally stressful time. I was not able to be present with him, but his family members showed up to "help" and try to make things more comfortable for him. Issues arose when those who wanted to "help" decided in advance how they would help, rather than asking him what he needed or wanted from them. This led to a phone conversation in which he laid out his frustration to me, and it quickly became apparent that what was really lacking in all the hustle and bustle was someone who was truly concerned with how he was handling the situation emotionally. Unfortunately, I failed to be any better than the others. As the conversation was winding to a close, I told him I loved him and would be praying for him. This moved him to tears, and I was so startled that I couldn't think for a moment, clumsily said goodbye, and hung up.

    While I feel bad about the way it wound up, in retrospect his need was so obvious I can't understand why those who were there couldn't see it. Were they so focused on their definition of "help" that they didn't realize he wanted support? Or did they realize it, but were too afraid of having to offer it -- afraid that they might cry too? It seems like the best thing we could do for those who are hurting is to simply be present in the moment and available to them. Perhaps we should ask what they need or want from us, and be willing to accept whatever they say with grace and kindness, regardless of how we think we might be able to "help".

    Of course, doing such a thing puts us in a very vulnerable position, which may explain why it's so hard. Again, what if it means we have to cry too -- to weep with those who weep? It's easy to feel sorry for people. It's easy to spew platitudes and homilies and wax philosophical. It's hard to be present, available, and vulnerable. Maybe we can only do it with certain others who are close enough to make it "safe", but I think we need to do it. Detached and clinical have their place, but I think we are missing something vital if that is our only response.

    Posted by Tom, 3/27/2007 6:23:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Does God talk to us?

    Warning: This post is long and boring and really only subjectively relevant. Save yourself!

    I was raised in a church that, near as I can remember, believed that God no longer talks directly to us, and actually had some doctrinal reason for it. It had something to do with the post-Crucifixion time and I really didn't understand it then and don't really care now, because I'm convinced God does talk to us. The trick is to be listening.

    The skeptical, scientific part of me says that what I think is God talking is actually the subconscious mind finally making some connections between disparate pieces of information and coming to a metaphorical revelation. I cannot discount this, and I've spent quite a lot of time meditating on how much is God and how much is my "background processes", to put it in computer geek speak. In the end, I've decided that the answer doesn't really matter, because the revelation itself drives action on my part, regardless of its source, and action is what really matters because it's what others see. And because I'm a big fan of James.

    It might be helpful to note at this point that I perceive God a bit differently from what I hear presented in church and among my fellow Christians. I don't know if it's heretical to say so, but I can't see God as the white-haired old man in the sky, or even as human-looking at all. I even doubt that God has any sort of recognizable form whatsoever. I think that God's true nature is so alien to us that we are utterly incapable of comprehending it. When the Bible says "let us make man in our image", I don't think it's talking about physical appearance. I don't think any of the various ways we refer to God, such as "father", are anything more than gross simplifications to make Him conceptually accessible to our limited brains. I think these are like showing a picture of the ocean to someone who's never seen the ocean. You're not showing them the ocean (i.e., "This is not a pipe"), and the picture is a poor representation of what the ocean actually is, but it's the best you've got for explaining the ocean.

    All that said, I think the Bible shows us a path to meeting with some small part of God. I think the path is at once simple and complex -- it's easy enough to describe, but terribly difficult to actually do. But if we can "do the deal", set ourselves aside, seek the peace and understanding and compassion that God offers, I think He will talk to us. Sometimes it's in the "still small voice" that requires straining ears to hear. At other times it can be a powerful experience that leaves us marked for life.

    One night a couple of years ago, I had a series of dreams that I believe were from God. As I said above, I'm willing to accept the possibility that this was only a brain process, but the subjective experience that I had makes me believe that it was not. I have dreams all the time, but in 36 years I have never had dreams so vivid or intense, emotionally and experientially, as I did that night. I've described the dreams to a few people, and recently my wife said I should write them down. So that's what I'm going to do.

    All are invited to stop reading at this point, unless you're really truly interested.

    I also don't want anyone to think that I believe these dreams mean anything to anyone but me. This is not a "God told me to go chastise the sinners" thing. The messages were meant for me, though some have taken meaning from them for themselves. The most I expect anyone to get out of this, if they continue reading, is to know me a little better.

    The first dream was the most involved:

    I'm a homicide detective, on the trail of a serial killer who's known only as Lust. My partner is this large bald guy with a rather dull-witted expression perpetually on his face, and for some odd reason his name is Anger. We've been tracking this guy for weeks, possibly even months, and we're always at least 2 steps behind him. It's getting really frustrating, and I'm starting to wonder if we'll ever get a break. The powers-that-be are beginning to think I'm incompetent, and are starting to pressure me to either make some progress or get reassigned.

    Somehow, we accidentally wind up in the same building as Lust, while he's stalking his next victim. I can feel the adrenaline start to surge as we track him through the building, an abandoned apartment complex, and we hear him in a room. I draw my gun and run in. Lust is an emaciated man in his 30's, skinny and hollow-eyed, and he looks exactly like some minor actor whose name I don't know. The room has a window on one side, which is boarded up, and doors on each of the other 3 walls. There's a pile of wood in the center, like a fire pit.

    He's just finished killing a pretty young woman, but the scene is strange somehow. I tell him to back away from her, and he does. I tell him he's under arrest, and he asks "what for?" I say it's for killing all these women, and he says "what women?" and points at the ground. The woman isn't a woman, but a life-sized doll. I suddenly remember that all the other women looked like that too, and now I'm confused, but there's something not right. I know he's tricking me somehow, but can't figure it out.

    He's laughing and grinning and capering around, obviously pleased with himself, and I'm afraid he'll escape so I run around real quick and lock all the doors. As I'm trying to figure things out, for a brief moment I see through the illusion and can see the woman instead of the doll. This makes him really mad, his eyes go black and his teeth grow into fangs, and he leaps at me. I somehow know that if he bites me, I'll turn into one of whatever he is. I try to shoot him, but my gun jams. We wrestle around on the floor, with me barely able to keep his teeth away from my skin, as he's unnaturally strong for his size. I try to gouge his eyes, but he's too quick and almost manages to bite my thumbs. I try to choke him, but it doesn't work. I try wrenching his head around, but his neck stretches and refuses to break, almost as though it's made of rubber.

    I realize I'm losing the fight and will be bitten soon, so I yell for my partner to help me, and give a shove just as he grabs Lust from behind and pulls. I'm wondering why Anger isn't being more help, and I look down and see that he's grabbed my legs instead of Lust's. His gaze meets mine, and he's got the same black eyes and pointy teeth Lust has. Like a thunderbolt the revelation hits me: Lust and Anger are on the same side.

    I kick and scream and somehow manage to push them both away without getting bitten by either of them. What really seems strange is that, as long as I can remember, Anger's been the strongest guy I know, but he's easier to get away from. Lust is at least twice as strong as he is. I pick up a piece of wood from the pile in the room and start beating on both of them, until they fall down and lie still. Panting heavily, I call for backup. Then I notice that they're looking at me and grinning. They've been playing with me all this time, and now the real fight is about to begin. I start to run for the door, remembering as I do that I've locked it and it opens inward. I hear boots stomping through the hallway outside, and other officers shouting for me. Lust and Anger launch themselves at me, knocking me face-first into the door as the officers arrive outside it, and as I go down I yell "They're on the same side! Lust and Anger are on the same side!"

    I wake up.


    The second dream is much simpler:

    I'm helping set up for a church service. Jesus is here, and He's going to speak to the crowds we're expecting. He doesn't look like any Jesus I've ever seen. He's a white guy, kinda pudgy, with a beard but no mustache, like the Amish men wear. His hair is sort of dirty blonde, and it's not really long and flowing, but it's not short either. I think to myself that He needs a haircut, because it's a little raggedy around the edges. He's wearing a white robe, but it's not the gossamer silky thing we always see depicted. It's more of a terrycloth, almost as though it was made out of some bath towels.

    We've just about got the setup completed, the sound guys are doing their thing, and I get a few moments with Jesus. I try several different times to start up deep philosophical discussions with Him. I want to discuss the issues that have been burning in my brain for most of my life. I want to know if I'm on the right track as a libertarian Christian. I want to know if He agrees with my assessment of democracy. I want to know, once and for all, His stance on self defense and homosexuality and the treatment of criminals and drugs and everything else. I want to know if my understanding of how the world works is getting close to the heavenly understanding I'll have when I die.

    I try to start up on every one of these topics, but all Jesus ever does is smile, put his hand on my shoulder, and say "I'm so glad you're here."


    The third and final dream was the simplest of all:

    I'm standing in a drawing made with colored pencils. I'm at the top of a hill covered in bluish-green grass, overlooking a serene valley. There's a small dark green wooded area below and to my left, and on the right a blue stream meanders in, emptying into a small blue lake. The crest of the hill cuts off my view of the valley just a little, but I can still see most of it.

    An incredible sense of peace falls over me. It's so intense and overwhelming that I lose all sense of myself. I can no longer feel my body, and I'm not even sure I have one. Everything that I am is lost in this scene, to the point that I can no longer readily identify my consciousness. All I know is this sense of peace and the scene before me.

    Just as I'm about to lose myself completely, a message comes to me in the form of two words, words that are not read or heard or thought so much as simply felt. The message exists as part of this place, as though it's written in every stroke of the pencils that drew it.

    The message is this: Rest Here.


    Bored yet? If so, I'm sorry for wasting your time with this. In my defense, I did warn you earlier to stop reading.

    Honestly, I don't know that I've gotten the full meaning out of these visions. It's been at least 2 years, and I've thought about them off and on. They're still as vivid today as they were the night I had them, and I don't think that I'll ever forget them. I think I understand the meaning of the first one best of all, but on the second and third I've only got a tenuous grasp. The third I understand in a non-intellectual way -- I "get it", but can't for the life of me begin to explain it. The second is the hardest. It's a Gordian knot that I can only puzzle at. I'm certain there are deeper messages in all three that I haven't even begun to contemplate, but I figure those will come with time. I also have this really intense feeling that despite their widely variant subject matter, the dreams are connected somehow. I don't know how, and have never been able to figure it out, but there it is.

    Posted by Tom, 3/27/2007 6:04:05 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, March 26, 2007


    Where do we stand?

    Reason has an excellent summation of the status of libertarian ideals in America, with a word of caution about seeing vote counts as being the only sign of success.

    [Rose Wilder] Lane was investigated by the FBI in the early postwar years for daring to write on a postcard that Social Security was the sort of socialistic government management of people's lives we fought wars against. True Social Security, she insisted, was canned vegetables and slaughtered pigs in your cellar.

    A.K.A. "savings".

    She and [Isabel] Paterson refused to accept anything from the Social Security system.

    Hey, where have I read that before?

    Anyway, moving on:

    A full libertarian victory is certainly unlikely, as a cursory survey of the leading presidential candidates going into 2008 shows. But libertarians can take heart in Americans' growing dissatisfaction with military intervention overseas, with the prospect of an entitlement state in which recipients far outnumber taxpayers and with government manipulations and intrusions in education, immigration, abortion and stem cell research. In such a political context, libertarian wisdom about keeping government out of our lives as much as possible looks more and more promising.

    This seems like a good time to note that Lew Rockwell has also argued against the strategy of "electoral victory", saying that education is our most potent weapon in the battle for freedom. I tend to agree, though I'll vote for any largely libertarian candidate who presents himself (and no others). By "largely libertarian", I mean to say that I borrow from the software engineer's rule of thumb, the "80/20 rule". If a guy is 80% pro-freedom, the other 20% can probably be mitigated. Of course, there are some issues (guns, speech, economic liberty, etc.) that count for at least 21%, and those issues disqualify almost every current elected official there is.

    A friend recently wondered how I could commit myself to non-voting in cases where there is no clearly libertarian option. He indicated feeling compelled to vote even if only to distinguish himself from those who don't vote due to apathy. Well, that's one reason I feel a desire to get a "none of the above" option added to all ballots everywhere (though I really don't know how to go about starting a campaign to get it done). Leaving that aside though, it's hard for someone to argue that you're apathetic if you actually go to the polling place and turn in a ballot, even with some races left unmarked. Then it's not that you've decided to stay home and be lazy; you went and didn't see anything appealing. This strategy also adds impact to requesting "none of the above", because one can always imply that without such an option, it's theoretically possible for poll workers to enter votes in all of your blank spots.

    Going beyond that, it's important to recognize that one's vote is indivisible. As I posted on a message board recently:

    Any vote that does not truly express your desires and opinions is a wasted vote. Every vote is indivisible, and in the mind of the elected official, constitutes a 100% endorsement of everything they stand for. An electee will not say to himself, "I was elected because of my stance on X, but in spite of my stance on Y". He believes that he was elected for both, and will pursue both accordingly.

    Every person has at most 2 or 3 issues that they really care about, while paying lip service to the rest. Finding a candidate that lines up with those issues then, is most important. But splitting those really important issues between Tweedle-dum and Tweedle-dee is always going to make you feel worse.

    My hot-button issues are guns, ending the War on Drugs, and what Rand called "separation of economy and State". That pretty well leaves libertarians as my only option -- every other candidate will get a mixed message, as above, and I want there to be no misunderstandings.


    Is it easy to turn in a blank or nearly blank ballot? No it isn't. Everything in our society is set up as an either/or proposition. Would you like fries or onion rings? Coke or Pepsi? Republican or Democrat? I have to constantly force myself to remember that these are all false dichotomies. The primary mental discipline of economics, as described by Hazlitt, is learning to see what is not in front of you -- the "hidden costs". Learning that skill has taught me a complementary skill that uses the same part of the brain, that of seeing the third option: Fries and onion rings are both junk food and I'll have neither, I'll drink iced tea, and I'll wait for candidates who will truly represent me.

    Posted by Tom, 3/26/2007 6:22:34 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Socialized health care

    Evan has an interesting bit up about a film discussing the realities of socialized health care. We hear a lot about how great it is, and while economists predict shortages, we don't have a lot of hard and fast evidence. This film is anecdotal, but it certainly reflects what economists have been saying all along.

    My suspicion is that the Canadian authorities go to great lengths to make sure low-grade health care (sniffles, cuts and bruises, etc.) is completely taken care of. Since this is the maximum most people use for decades at a time, it creates a widespread belief in the efficacy of the system. The problem is that this strategy would necessarily leave the more specialized and expensive treatments underfunded by central planners as they attempt to control costs, because bureaucracies are insensitive (relative to the market) to shifting demands.

    Trailer at the movie's site.

    Posted by Tom, 3/26/2007 6:01:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, March 25, 2007


    The Ultimate Gift

    Spoilers ahead.

    While at the theater to see Amazing Grace, we saw a trailer for this movie and decided to give it a shot. I really wanted to like the movie, and I suppose it's OK, but it suffered from being very heavy-handed, much like one of those movies made for the Hallmark channel.

    It's the typical life lesson movie about the guy who learns that money isn't everything, relationships are what's important, and so forth. I generally like these movies, but this one felt the need to take it one step further and use death and illness to deliver its emotional punch. It's this kind of cheap crap that makes Hallmark movies so nauseating, and if this movie is representative, shows the horrible trap that Fox Faith is headed into.

    The best counter-example I can think of is the fantastic movie Bruce Almighty. It has the same message, same themes of bad behavior followed by self-examination and repentance, far better delivery, and no resorting to cheap tricks to play with the audience's emotions, though the movie is very emotional. There's one scene in particular that makes me choke up every time I see it: Bruce's girlfriend Grace has left him because of his self-centeredness, her sister has told him how much Grace prays for him, and he winds up outside her bedroom window as she sobs and begs God to let her forget him. In that moment, he's hit with the full realization of how deeply he's hurt her, and his remorse drives him to change his ways.

    Contrasted with this, The Ultimate Gift's hackneyed cliche of the little girl dying of leukemia is so crude and brutal as to cheapen the entire experience. The more experienced actors (Brian Dennehy, James Garner, Lee Meriweather) are genuine and comfortable in their roles, and I really loved Bill Cobbs' performance. The rest of the cast was adequate, and Abigail Breslin seemed oddly out of place after Little Miss Sunshine, but honestly I think the fault of the movie lies squarely with the script.

    2 out of 5. Maybe. If you squint your eyes just right.

    Posted by Tom, 3/25/2007 4:01:07 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Amazing Grace

    This is an excellent movie. If you haven't seen it, drop whatever you're doing and go. It's the story of William Wilberforce's campaign to end the slave trade in the British Empire, and his relationships with William Pitt and John Newton. It takes its title from the famous song penned by Newton.

    The problem with reviewing movies lately seems to be that I'm seeing a lot of them that affect me on many different levels. As a result, I never know what to comment on first, what to leave out, or what to gloss over. I therefore ask the reader's indulgence as I ramble a bit.

    First, the movie impacted me politically. I have very little use for legislators, and tend to prefer an anti-legislative approach to solving problems. However, the campaign to outlaw slavery is one that I would endorse as being both Christian and libertarian. I feel myself more inclined to minarchy as opposed to libertarian anarchy as a result of this film. I'm going to have to ponder this further.

    Second, I indicated that the movie was secondarily about the relationships Wilberforce had with Pitt and Newton. Obviously some (or a lot) of this is probably conjecture on the part of the filmmakers, but the portrayal was very moving.

    William Pitt was the friend who didn't quite understand the passion. His own lay in a different area (politics vs. abolition), and he urged moderation in the face of other political necessities such as fighting the Napoleonic Wars with France. It reflected my own struggle with people I count as friends over issues such as the abolition of gun laws, coercive taxation, and economic freedom. I've heard Pitt's moderating words a thousand times, and deeply felt Wilberforce's frustration at not having communicated the urgency and necessity of his cause.

    John Newton was the mentor on whose spiritual guidance Wilberforce depended as he tried to decide what to do with his life in light of his religious beliefs. I found this reflected my relationship with my good friend Richard, whose grace and peace have provided emotional ballast through many storms. Newton's advice that Wilberforce should serve God where he was moved me to nostalgic tears over a similar conversation I once had with Richard.

    Finally, the real impact of the movie for me was not Wilberforce at all. I actually found it hard to relate to him emotionally, though I certainly related to his passion. I found him most approachable in the spirit of "tilting at windmills", as when he and Pitt decide to take on the slave trade because, as Pitt puts it, they're too young and foolish to know that it's impossible. That's how I feel in my campaign against the uber-state. I try to be rational as much as possible, but I also try to avoid consciously contemplating my chances of success. There's nothing but despair and hopelessness in that.

    John Newton, on the other hand, had me choked up every moment he was on screen. Masterfully played by Albert Finney, his face clearly communicated the mixture of regret and grief carried by a man haunted by his sins. The torture of being reminded of his wrongs, the uneasy peace that comes from having accepted God's forgiveness but not one's own, and the desperation to do something -- anything -- good and decent and kind enough to change one's self-perception, were so evident in his every expression that I could barely stand to look at the screen.

    I've had many recurrent bouts of insomnia over my own misdeeds, and at times have felt it necessary to blurt out confessions in an effort to purge them from my soul. Lately, I've been going through it again, getting a few hours of sleep at most because the ghosts and demons in my head will not stop unearthing memories of the ways I've wronged people, some of whom were very close to me. It inspires me to want to attempt wholly irrational acts of kindness and charity in a search for internal peace. And while I realize that God's grace is infinitely and abundantly available, sometimes I fear accepting it because it feels like doing so might rob me of my motivation to try and be a better person.

    So real was the portrayal of John Newton in this respect that I find it difficult to imagine that Finney could have played the role without some emotional baggage of his own to draw on. I pray his sorrows rest lightly upon him.

    Posted by Tom, 3/25/2007 4:57:44 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, March 24, 2007


    Tipping is not a city in China

    Yesterday I listened to a podcast of Dave Ramsey's show, where he did a theme hour on tipping. Somewhere near the beginning, he highlighted a website, The Stained Apron, where waiters and such go to vent their frustrations. His focus was on their list of "celebrity tippers", which says who's good and who's not, but that just scratches the surface.

    Overall, it highlights the rude, insensitive, and boorish behavior that restaurant folks have to endure from their customers. Some of the accounts left me open-mouthed with shock at the things "adults" (and I use the term loosely) will say and do to people. I find it amazing that some of these customers have survived long enough to cause such trouble. The stories are illuminating, often funny, and occasionally extremely disgusting. Do NOT read the "Revenge" page unless you're sure you want to know. You've been warned!

    There is plenty of negativity to be observed at the site, but I wanted to highlight two uplifting items. The first is a caller (Richard in Dallas) from the aforementioned radio show (transcribed as close as I could get, the guy talks really really fast):

    I had a faith-based non-profit here in the metro area. We took about 30 men up into the mountains of New Mexico a couple of years ago. On a Sunday morning we went to breakfast and on a $250 breakfast bill, we left the waitress $485 for her tip. We teach people to be generous and bless people.

    She followed us out into the parking lot and she-- we left it anonymously and she ran out into the parking lot as we were loading back up in our vehicles. She came up and said "this has got to be a mistake".

    We said "no darlin', it's not a mistake. We believe in blessing people."

    She started crying. She actually fell on the ground on her knees and started crying. She said "I came to work this morning knowing that Sunday was the worst day of my week to get tips, and not knowing how I was going to feed my two children this week. This will buy us groceries for two weeks."


    The second is from the site:

    Several decades ago my wife and I were dirt-poor newlyweds traveling from coast-to-coast in a rattle-trap car with about $300 to our name. One night near Jackson, Mississippi, we started looking for a place to eat. In those days it was rare to find fast-food places except in larger cities and every small-town eatery we passed had already closed for the night. Finally, about 8:45 pm we saw a steak house (seemingly in the middle of nowhere) that still had its lights on, though the only cars we saw we're parked off to the side and probably belonged to the staff. Normally, with our limited resources, this kind of place would have been too expensive -- but we thought maybe we could at least get a chef salad or something.

    Being too young and stupid to know, we didn't think much about the fact that we were the only customers in the restaurant and that they were scheduled to close at 9 o'clock. We asked the waitress if we could get a salad and maybe some vegetables because we didn't have much money and hadn't been able to find any other place to eat. She kindly let us look at a menu and took our orders for two dinner salads. After a few minutes, a man came out from the kitchen (probably the owner) and asked us if we wanted baked potatoes and steamed vegetables to go with the salads. We told him we didn't have enough money, but he insisted that wasn't the issue since the food would just go to waste anyway since they were closing. A few minutes later we were served an entire meal with everything but the steak -- salad, vegetables, bread and butter, potatoes, iced tea, the works. Oblivious to the restaurant staff waiting to close up, we ate the best meal we'd had for days.

    As we finished eating and got ready to leave, our waitress came over and told us the meal was on the house. My wife started to cry and several employees came over to assure both of us that it was just something they had all decided to do. The kindness of these strangers toward a couple of poor teenagers who were just 'passing through' still ranks in my memory as one of the most significant events in my life. I want to personally thank every waiter and waitress for their hard work and professionalism even when faced with low pay and difficult customers.

    -Steven W., Lincolnton, NC


    My faith in the potential and goodness of humanity is refreshed and renewed by stories like these. I'm cynical about a lot of things, but I know that people have boundless capacity for love and compassion, if only they give themselves over to it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/24/2007 8:36:12 PM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 23, 2007


    Smart Metal

    It appears that gifted and intelligent people are drawn to heavy metal music for much the same reason as dumb rednecks like me:

    [Psychologist Stuart Cadwallader says] "There is a perception of gifted and talented students as being into classical music and spending a lot of time reading. I think that is an inaccurate stereotype. There is literature that links heavy metal to poor academic performance and delinquency but we found a group that contradicts that.

    "We are looking at a group with lower than average self-esteem that does not feel quite as well adjusted. They feel more stressed out and turn to heavy metal as a way of relieving that stress.

    "Participants said they appreciated the complex and sometimes political themes of heavy metal music more than perhaps the average pop song. It has a tendency to worry adults a bit but I think it is just a cathartic thing. It does not indicate problems."


    I'm glad for this last comment. It's a sort of rhetorical pre-emptive strike against those who believe that intelligence is of the Devil.

    Dan Silver, assistant editor of the music magazine NME who has worked for Kerrang! and Metal Hammer, said: "Many themes of heavy metal are about alienation. If you have these kinds of feelings there is a lot you can get out of the music and the community of fans who are into it."

    Who can listen to Metallica's "Welcome Home (Sanitarium)" or White Zombie's "More Human Than Human" when they feel frustrated and isolated, and not feel a sense of release?

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2007 6:02:50 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More on the woman-beating cop

    There's something fishy going on here...

    Anthony Abbate, a 12-year veteran of the Chicago force, was charged with aggravated battery and placed on leave pending an internal investigation in the attack February 19 as several bystanders watched, department spokeswoman Monique Bond said Wednesday. She said Abbate is expected to be fired.

    ...

    Abbate, 38, was arrested Tuesday night at his home. Bond said authorities were notified of the incident on February 21 but were unable to locate Abbate until mid-March.


    Add that to this:

    "The Chicago Police Department made a unilateral decision that they were going to charge him only with a misdemeanor without telling the State's Attorney’s Office," said [the victim's attorney Terry] Ekl.

    But prosecutors took over and filed felony aggravated battery charges.


    I'd always heard that the Chicago police were corrupt. This certainly seems to support that. The guy could not be located for 3 weeks? Is it normal for Chicago cops to not show up for work 3 weeks at a time? And don't you love the cover-up?

    Then there's this little unsubstantiated tidbit:

    Prosecutors are investigating adding possible obstruction of justice and intimidating a witness charges.

    "Another individual came in moments after the attack and attempted to offer the victim money in order for her not to prosecute the defendant," [prosecutor David] Navarro said.


    No word on whether this was a fellow cop, but that would also fit the stereotype. Somebody tell me again why we should be relying on the "experts".

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2007 4:28:29 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Protest done right

    This guy shows us that you catch more flies with honey:

    I have been asked to write an account about my experience in changing management’s opinion and policy on posting “No Guns” signs on the doors at Elyria's Midway Mall in Elyria, OH so others might learn from the way I handled the situation.

    ...

    The next morning bright and early I went to the mall wearing an OFCC shirt and a large smile on my face. I asked to speak with the gentleman on the card I received the night before. When he came to the counter, I introduced myself and asked him if we could sit down and discuss the mall’s new policy prohibiting legal concealed handguns.

    ...

    ...I told them that people that have a license would do one of two things when they see the sign on the door. They will either return to their car and remove their sidearm, locking it in the trunk before returning to shop or they will do their shopping at a retailer that respects and supports their Second Amendment rights under the law.

    Let’s look at Wal-Mart for a moment. I think we can all agree that Wal-Mart is one of the largest retails in the world and they understand the thinking here. They removed their signs and changed their policy to a pro-choice stance and with that they let the American people decide if they want to carry a concealed handgun or not with their license.

    Although law-abiding people will honor your request to not bring a weapon into your mall, criminals will ignore your signs and do as they please. Which customers would you prefer do their shopping here?


    The signs came down. How likely is it that the "other" approach, the one with the screaming and camo and marching and protesting, would have achieved the same effect?

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2007 4:20:25 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Zumbo time

    Well isn't this just perfect. Carl Levin, one of the worst anti-gunners on Capitol Hill, is now quoting Jim Zumbo's rant against assault weapons for the Congressional Record.

    We all owe Jim Zumbo a debt of gratitude for his forthrightness, his honesty and his courage. We must put the safety of our communities first by taking up and passing sensible gun legislation that includes renewing the assault weapons ban.

    No need to get newly irate at Zumbo, who's reportedly mending his ways. Instead, be irate at the rest of the gun community who fall into that class of people who say "my gun is OK, yours is not". That includes anti-gun hunters, the folks who hate the "full auto fraternity", and those vilifying the .50 caliber club. These people need to be educated before they do us any more damage a la Jim Zumbo.

    Posted by Tom, 3/23/2007 3:56:06 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 22, 2007


    Mayhem

    This article provides a discussion of the possibility (the authors say inevitability) of Middle Eastern terrorists staging an attack or series of attacks on America's public schools. They dissect the school attack in Russia and plausibly claim that it was a practice run for taking down an American school. They offer several interesting and eminently reasonable bits of advice to the law enforcement audience they're pitching to, but I think they leave out some important thoughts.

    Much is made of "crowd control" and the scenes of utter chaos that were evident at the Russian school attack and its closest American counterpart, Columbine. Obviously, the lessons of Columbine, particularly with regard to unit coordination and communication, need to be learned and their solutions applied.

    However, 911 and the ensuing domestic issues have highlighted and exacerbated a severe weakness in America's culture, one which the scenario of all-out terrorist attacks on schools will exploit to the fullest: We are entirely too dependent on "experts". When one of the major voices in policy discussions regarding emergency and disaster response is the one that says "just call the police", it demonstrates how utterly helpless we've trained ourselves to be.

    This is further evidenced in the videos and articles I've highlighted here recently. In one, a man attempted to stab his wife to death in a parking lot in broad daylight. People responded by calling the police and honking their horns -- not by physically intervening to stop him -- until one guy with a gun and a plan stepped into the fray.

    In the more recent example of an off-duty cop beating the crap out of a woman half his size, bystanders basically stand there and watch. It is only after the altercation has gone on for some time that they even begin to make any protest whatsoever.

    This is, as Jeff Snyder put it, a nation of cowards. And the terrorists know it. Not only is it a nation of cowards, but it is also a nation where the "experts" are contemptuous of help from "civilians". That's why there's an emphasis on "crowd control". That's why so many private attempts at helping in the aftermath of Katrina were shut down by the powers-that-be. People attempting to provide security had their guns seized. People attempting to deliver food and supplies were turned away. Government has truly set itself above and apart from those it considers its subjects. This will be our downfall.

    What happens if the envisioned scenario actually takes place? Schools will be closed temporarily, but eventually they will reopen. A smart terror leader would let the security start to go lax, then strike again. Every school would need monitoring, guarding, and hardening against this sort of threat. But as we ironically hear so often, the "experts" are stretched too thin as it is. How would they possibly cover all the bases with as many public, private, and parochial schools as America has? How would they possibly cover even just the public schools, assuming the private ones would be left to their own devices?

    We have vast reserves of people willing, in some cases begging for the chance to do something positive. Many of them have undergone detailed criminal background checks in order to be certified to carry a concealed weapon. Others have kept up their emergency first aid certifications out of a sense of civic duty or personal need. Others have other skills, in communications for example, or search & rescue, or are simply willing to work to make things better in whatever situation arises. But in every case, these people are pushed aside by "experts" who believe that they only hinder operations, without any due consideration of what help they might be with just a little training or coordination.

    The conceit of government is that these people are useless. Worse, they're a hindrance. But our Constitution and early laws have another word for them: the militia. There's even authority given to train them and coordinate them, completely on a volunteer basis. Even though I believe this is what absolutely must happen, my bet is that it won't. Instead, we'll be taxed more in a misguided effort to increase manpower among the "experts" to where it's just barely enough to cover the bases, and then we'll wait to see what the terrorists cook up next. After all, in the thinking of government (such as it is), why get for free what you can spend billions to acquire?

    I truly hope these nightmare scenarios do not come to fruition. I truly hope that if they do, the powers-that-be recognize the vast untapped militia resources waiting to be called upon. I stand ready to help out in whatever way I can -- I'm inspired by this report to train more, possibly take some classes in first aid and the like, and generally become a more useful, competent member of a response team should the need arise. As the article puts it:

    ..."you have to have your heart and mind ready," Grossman said. "In our nation, the military is not coming to save your kids. You are the Delta Force. It's your job to go in like thunder when they come to kill your kids and destroy your way of life.

    " Get training-all you can. Advance steadily along the warrior path. Live life in Condition Yellow, vigilant readiness. Cultivate hobbies that reinforce your survival skills."

    He conjured a bumper sticker that says, Piss on golf. Real Americans go to the range. "We don't have time for childish pursuits," he declared.


    These comments were directed at police officers, but I believe they apply to the militia as well. As I wrote before, someone needs to be willing to stand in the gap, and training is essential to make that effort effective. I just wish I wasn't convinced that government will ignore the militia in favor of beating its head against the wall.

    Some might ask, "why bother training, if you don't think government will use you?" The answer is simple: because someone needs to know these things if government's resources are out of place or otherwise engaged when mayhem strikes, or worse, if government decides to abandon us to our fate, as it did in the LA riots following the Rodney King trial. Relying on experts to save us is a failure to contemplate what to do when the experts don't arrive. Someone needs to stand in the gap. Why not us?

    Posted by Tom, 3/22/2007 6:19:11 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Home Security

    This has recently come to my attention... it may be old news, but I'm posting it in case anyone else hasn't heard of it.





    Obviously, some reason must be applied... no sense putting $300 worth of gear into protecting a front door that's flanked by two of those floor-to-ceiling glass panes.

    Here's a Wikipedia page on lock bumping.

    Posted by Tom, 3/22/2007 6:06:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 21, 2007


    *boggle*

    You Are Dr. Pepper

    You're very unique and funky, yet you still have a bit of traditionalism to you.

    People who like you think they have great taste... and they usually do.

    Your best soda match: Root Beer

    Stay away from: 7 Up



    I'm amazed that an internet quiz, of all things, managed to tell me my favorite soft drink.

    *cue Twilight Zone theme*

    Posted by Tom, 3/21/2007 6:37:50 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Housing bubble blues

    We've been hearing about this housing bubble thing for quite a while now, and it doesn't appear that anyone's going to shut up about it, least of all this guy:

    The crisis has been building for months - if not years. Experts agree it is a result of banks and other lenders' granting home loans to people who were not truly able to afford the payments. Now, with the national economy in a slide, the number of mortgage defaults is rising at an alarming rate.

    OK, so lenders have been overextending credit, no doubt as a response to the central bank's ridiculously low interest rates, held there by political notions of how to "finesse" the economy into behaving. Now they're about to get burned, because they've been lending to ever-riskier borrowers, some of whom should never have gotten a loan in the first place. To top it off, some of those risks are being underwritten by the government in the form of FHA and VA loans, so the taxpayers are at least partly on the hook if the deal goes south.

    Right here is a good time to take note of who it is that's talking to us:

    Peter Morris is chairman of the PRM Realty Group, with offices in New York and Chicago.

    And what exactly does PRM do? According to their web page:

    PRM REALTY GROUP, LLC, based in Chicago, IL, is a visionary developer group which specializes in adding value to high end residential, resort and commercial developments...

    PRM's expertise includes all fields vital to successful real estate transactions, including finance, theoretical and practical appraisals and valuations, acquisitions, urban and development planning, marketing, architecture and design, engineering, construction, leasing and property management, strategic planning, risk analysis, law and capital market movements.


    In other words, our author is a guy who specializes in building these monster houses that stretch family budgets to the breaking point. Pay attention. You will see this material again.

    So what does noodlenard want to do about all this overlending?

    Before we engage in the usual finger-pointing over how we got into this mess, let's agree on an aggressive course of action to mitigate it. Our nation must recognize there will be economic pain if the problem goes unaddressed; there will be residential foreclosures and billions of dollars in write-offs as auditors discover that many of these mortgages can never be fully paid down.

    Not looking good. Any time someone starts talking in terms of "our nation" and "aggressive course of action", my butt starts to clench.

    Sure enough, the handout proposals start flyin' like bats out of a cave at sundown:

    The nation must ensure that the mortgage market remains viable, liquid and stable. The response should include a government restructuring of a portion of the multi-trillion mortgage debt through federal and state underwriting.

    Translation: make taxpayers absorb the cost of these ill-advised loans so the banks won't have to.

    That's the carrot, now the stick:

    A tough oversight program should be put into place that prevents "liar loans" from being sold to millions of unwary consumers who can't spot the hidden fees or balloon payments that make pay-down impossible...

    Another remedy - placing a review board under the auspices of an existing federal agency, such as the Department of Housing and Urban Development - would create and enforce specific underwriting standards for the mortgage industry to ensure that brokers can't issue substandard mortgages with impunity. And using an existing agency prevents the birth of a new bureaucracy.


    Bwahahahahahaha!!!!

    Dang, now I gotta clean lemonade off my monitor.

    "Using an existing agency prevents the birth of a new bureaucracy." How stupid is this guy? The Brady Act used an existing agency (the FBI) to administer the new NICS system for gun purchases, but that created a monster bureaucracy. It was just hidden inside another bureaucracy. The only thing that was saved was the creation of a new acronym for people to remember and curse at.

    As for "ensuring that brokers can't issue substandard mortgages with impunity", that's what the market does already, you moron! At least, that's what the market will do unless you get your way and the federal government bails them out. Make bad loans, lose money. Make enough bad loans, go bankrupt. It's pretty simple, really. No bureaucracy needed.

    Another carrot! This guy is a veritable fount of ideas!

    We also need to create a Washington-based insurance program for many of those precarious mortgage holders. That way, when they do go belly up, the nation can prevent a slide in confidence that triggers a total mortgage market collapse and/or hobbles the stock market.

    Wait a minute, first you say that people are making bad loans "with impunity", now you're saying they're going to go belly up. You really don't smell the stuff you're shoveling, do you?

    Anyway, the real motivation is becoming clear, I think. Let's read on:

    Whether the fault of this mortgage crisis lay in the lenders' laissez-faire attitude or the distractions of presidential politics and a nation at war, the potential destabilization of our economy must occupy the political epicenter of our national debate. We need aggressive policies that create public-private risk-sharing and regulators who will unmask and prevent the unbridled greed that got us into this fix.

    Butt clench again. He doesn't want to play "the blame game", he just wants to work on a solution. For all of us. For me and you. For Mom and apple pie. But mostly for him.

    If demand for a particular class of goods starts to fall off, typically the hardest hit will be those on the margins -- the excessive luxury items and the cheap, low profit, low quality knockoffs. People will seek good value at a good price, and stick with it. This means bad things for our Peter Morris -- after all, he's in the business of building high-class homes and resort properties. If more people start living within their means, less of them are going to be buying the kind of stuff he sells. He might not be able to afford that new hot tub he's had his eye on for the beach house.

    So, in the interest of keeping his own business afloat, he's asking for regulation of his and tangential industries, holding out his arms to beg for the chains to be placed upon them. He follows in the great footsteps of businesses like Standard Oil, Pan Am World Airways, and Wal-Mart: ask for regulation to protect one's own business and hurt one's competitors.

    But what to do about all those pesky voters? Surely some tack could be taken that would get them to toe the line or even demand this regulation? Maybe there's some other crisis we could compare this to:

    The failure to act could do as much strategic damage to the United States as a terrorist attack, more lasting harm than a hacker taking down the Internet and more sustained pain to every American family than the collapse of Social Security.

    Holy crap! A trifecta of doom and gloom! This guy's playin' hardball. He's obviously been taking cues from the drug warriors (ever notice how everything is "as addictive as heroin"?), the peak oilers, and of course the global warming kooks. In fact, I'm surprised he didn't go there: "failure to act could do as much damage to LIFE ON EARTH as global warming!"

    When it's all said and done, what America really needs is a shakeout in the mortgage industry. The failing businesses need to fail -- as publicly and spectacularly as possible. New Century Mortgage has been de-listed by the NYSE, and is no longer originating any new loans. Other subprime lenders are taking notice, and battening down the hatches. Non-subprime lenders are also taking notice. Yes, this may mean a slowing of sales and building. Yes, it may mean that some people are no longer able to afford or even get mortgages. If the bar for getting a loan gets raised, people will need to return to old-fashioned ideas about money management, rather than leveraging themselves to the hilt. This can only be a good thing for America, but like most good things it will come at a price.

    That price is now being paid, and it would be a shame if the government stepped in to stop it. The market is already working to fix the problem. By the time any law gets passed, the shakeout will be complete, much like it was with Sarbanes-Oxley. America can no longer afford to continue bailing out bad businessmen with their bad business models. Our economy will be stronger in the long run if we let them fail and allow the market to shift resources to their stronger competitors.

    As for our boy Peter Morris, perhaps he should revisit that section of his company's web page that says they specialize in "risk analysis". Here's an idea: building high-end homes and luxury real estate in a country where the vast majority of the population is in debt over their heads is risky. Analyze that.

    Posted by Tom, 3/21/2007 6:29:04 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The real reason you can't carry a gun in Chicago...

    ...is to protect cops like this one when they want to beat the crap out of a woman half their size:

    This wasn't any barfight caught on tape. An angry man pummels a much smaller female bartender. As it turns out, he's a Chicago police officer and late Tuesday night he was taken into custory.

    Video? You betcha. Not for the squeamish.

    I love how he was originally charged with "misdemeanor" battery and whatnot. The size and gender differential alone makes it attempted murder in my book, not to mention the fact that he can be seen trying to stomp on her when she's down. I don't think anyone in their right mind could blame her for shooting him if she'd had a gun.

    Posted by Tom, 3/21/2007 6:07:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 20, 2007


    Self-portrait

    Click for full size:



    I'm constantly taking snaps with the MacBook Pro's built-in iSight camera. This is one I happened to like.

    Posted by Tom, 3/20/2007 7:10:35 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Legislative showdown

    Woot! Looks like we've got trouble a-brewin' over the war in Iraq:

    Only two things are certain as Speaker Nancy Pelosi and her Democratic deputies prepare for this week's House vote on a war spending bill that seeks the withdrawal of U.S. forces from Iraq by Aug. 31, 2008.

    One, even with a full-court press for votes, passage will come narrowly, if at all. Two, President Bush says that if legislation setting any sort of deadline for ending the U.S. involvement in Iraq makes it to his desk, he will veto it.


    It would be cool if this thing played out, but I'm betting the Democrats blink first. I think Bush knows they're wimps, and I think he's counting on them backing down. I don't know if he's got the guts to actually do a veto (isn't he zero vetoes so far? can't remember), but I put the disadvantage of "wimp factor" on the Democrats.

    Wish I had a polling thingie. What do you think happens:

    A) Democrats back down
    B) Democrats pass the bill, Bush backs down
    C) Democrats pass, Bush vetoes

    My five bucks is on A. I don't think B has a ghost of a chance.

    Posted by Tom, 3/20/2007 6:23:23 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Oliver and Fambly



    Posted by Tom, 3/20/2007 6:06:36 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Irony so thick...

    ...you could eat it with a fork:

    ANIMAL-RIGHTS activists have called for a zoo’s baby Polar bear to be KILLED -- because it relies on humans.

    ...

    Activist Frank Albrecht said last night: “The hand-rearing of Knut is a breach of the animal protection code.

    “He’ll rely on humans forever and this cannot be right.”


    Rest of the story (with holy-crap-that's-cute pic) here.

    Posted by Tom, 3/20/2007 6:04:33 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wow...

    Someone in the mainstream press actually wrote an article that correctly distinguishes between fully automatic and semi-automatic weapons!

    The fully automatic version can fire single or sustained bursts of 30 rounds from a single clip.

    ...

    The semi-automatic version requires the operator to pull the trigger each time a round is fired.


    OK, so it wasn't a direct comparison, but we gotta give kudos for the technical accuracy. Of course, the other issue here is that the article is about how the New Jersey cops are "outgunned" and now need fully automatic weapons to deal with problems, despite the fact that New Jersey has some of the strictest gun control laws in the nation. Unfortunately, that little factoid seems to have escaped our author. But still, good job on the full/semi issue. Really.

    In other news, Australia's gun buyback didn't work:

    HALF a billion dollars spent buying back hundreds of thousands of guns after the Port Arthur massacre had no effect on the homicide rate, says a study published in an influential British journal.

    ...

    The director of the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, Dr Don Weatherburn, said he was not surprised by the study. He said it showed "politicians would be well advised to claim success of their policies after they were evaluated, not before".


    Percentage of American gun activists who predicted this: probably over 90%.

    Chance Australia's government will do the smart thing and loosen the restrictions: probably less than 10%

    The main problem with government is that incompetence quickly rises to the top.

    Posted by Tom, 3/20/2007 6:20:37 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Monday, March 19, 2007


    Fascinating

    My wife told me about this site. I glanced at it, intending to move on, but was still reading half an hour later. It's absolutely fascinating. Check it out:

    Confessions of a student nurse

    It's somewhat mis-titled now, as a recent entry notes she is no longer a student but a full ER nurse.

    Posted by Tom, 3/19/2007 6:54:33 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Yay!

    Evan's film is finally hitting the big time. It seems like I've been waiting an eternity for this.



    Posted by Tom, 3/19/2007 6:03:24 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, March 18, 2007


    Stuff coming

    A while back, I was asked to tackle some pretty tough topics. I'm working on my answers, but it's a struggle. I guess if peaceful approaches to the Middle East or Africa were easy, someone would have done it already. I've also got some other items that I really want to talk about, but that are also proving difficult to put into words. Pluggin' away...

    Posted by Tom, 3/18/2007 8:08:20 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Rejoice with those who rejoice

    Sometimes it's easier said than done. Like when you've been trying to have a child for 5 or 6 years, and every other eligible couple you know has babies poppin' out all over the place. I was genuinely happy for the arrival of my new nephew Oliver. Since then, the baby parade has just kept going. It's hard when old friends pop out of the woodwork just to announce the arrival of their firstborn.

    Ah well... We're still on track to get one the old-fashioned way: buy adopt it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/18/2007 6:00:29 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wild Hogs

    City Slickers on motorcycles. That's really all you need to know. If you like stories about men reclaiming the primal spirit of manhood (and I do), you'll love this movie. 4 out of 5.

    Posted by Tom, 3/18/2007 3:16:57 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 16, 2007


    Editorial Roundup

    Here's some of the wailing that's been going on about the DC gun ban decision (thanks to KABA):

    Laws as a right to safety (there is no such right)
    Right to bear bazookas
    Taking aim at judicial activism (but only the judicial activism he opposes)
    Give us back our gun law (how about "no"?)
    A deadly wrong ruling

    Here's an amazingly level-headed piece that gives a somewhat more rational response:

    One step back

    And here's a pro-rights person refuting some of the hysterical garbage:

    Gun Unhappy

    Enjoy!

    Posted by Tom, 3/16/2007 5:51:53 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 15, 2007


    Government "Compassion"

    What do you do when you're asked to prevent the DEA from harassing, arresting, imprisoning, possibly even killing a woman who's just trying to live as best she can with a host of ailments and excruciating pain? If you're the 9th Circuit, you slap her down:

    Medical necessity doesn't shield medical-marijuana users from federal prosecution, a clearly sympathetic federal appeals court ruled Wednesday in an Oakland woman's case that earlier went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

    "Nothing in the common law or our cases suggests that the existence of a necessity defense empowers this court to enjoin the enforcement of the Controlled Substances Act as to one defendant," 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals Judge Harry Pregerson wrote.

    ...

    The court also found the Constitution's guarantee of due process of law doesn't embrace the right to make a life-shaping decision, on a doctor's advice, to use medical marijuana to avoid intolerable pain and preserve life when all other prescribed medications have failed.


    I have a hard time understanding how this can be described as "clearly sympathetic". This judge wasn't even remotely sympathetic. He didn't give a damn about the plaintiff, he works for the same federal government his idiocy is protecting, and he had no desire whatsoever to bite the hand that feeds him, that's all. Even if we give him the benefit of the doubt, he's clearly got no grasp of the Constitution or the Bill of Rights, and should have recused himself as incompetent.

    Want to know how long it took me to find a Constitutional guarantee of our right to treat our suffering in any way we see fit? Less than two seconds:

    Amendment IX

    The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

    Amendment X

    The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.


    I'm just a dumb redneck, but it seems pretty clear to me. Unless one can find specific language in the Constitution delegating the right to make medical decisions for individuals to the federal government, that entity needs to step off. Not even the spread-eagle Commerce Clause can cover this one, because the drugs are grown and traded intra-state.

    Posted by Tom, 3/15/2007 7:03:20 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Totally seeing this one

    Someone's doing to credit card companies what movies like Fast Food Nation and Super-Size Me did to fast food restaurants.

    Don't get me wrong; I support the right of both fast food and credit companies to sell their products and services. Nobody has anyone but themselves to blame for the negative effects of purchasing those products. At their best, movies like these simply offer an idea of what happens to the careless.

    Sometimes, they offer wrong-headed policy recommendations that are distinctly anti-freedom and are intended to prevent certain types of transactions. This sounds good on the surface, but is a mistake because it sends the message that government has "handled it" and that it's now "safe" to return to your risky behavior.

    When you play with snakes, you're going to get bitten. The solution is not to de-fang all the snakes, but rather to stop playing with them.

    Posted by Tom, 3/15/2007 6:40:01 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Time to take up the infowars again...

    This latest thing about the DC gun law decision has really gotten the anti's in a tizzy. At one time I was quite the statistical warrior when it came to gun control debates, if I do say so myself. I sort of gave it up when I came to the conclusion that this is a moral problem, not a mathematical one. That said, it never hurts to stay sharp, and Clayton Cramer has highlighted a nice one-two punch of his over at the Volokh Conspiracy:

    [Anti-Gun Nut:] Our guns kill mostly family members. Frequently by accident and sometimes in anger.

    [Clayton Cramer:] Utterly wrong. Gun accidents? They're noise relative to murder and suicide. And murders within family, while not trivial, aren't a majority--not even close. I think you have confused the "known to" statistic that appears in the FBI UCR with "family members." The "known to" means not just family members, friends, but also your neighbor, your drug dealer, your pimp, a person you've met a few times but may not even known their full name. See the summary of Table 9 of the 2005 UCR:

    Concerning the relationships (if known) of murder victims and offenders, 22.4 percent of victims were slain by family members; 25.4 percent were murdered by strangers.

    And remember that more than 1/3 of murder victim/offender relationships are unknown. See here for a detailed table.

    Even for that 22.4% that are family members--what's the surprise? Those are people that you know well, often love tremendously, and when someone feels betrayed--they often take revenge.

    [AGN:] You have a greater chance being killed by your wife, than an intruder. Get real and quit living some frontier fantasy.

    [CC:] You have some evidence for this? For 2005, Table 9 Expanded Homicide Detail shows that 135 victims were men killed by their wives--or less than 1% of all murders that year. "Strangers" committed just under 14% of murders. By circumstances, 88 of the murders are categorized as "burglary" and 921 a "robbery." Combined, that comes to 6.8% of all murders. Remember that if someone forces entry into a home that they know to be occupied, the police will categorize it as a robbery, not a burglary. We don't know how many of those classed as murders committed during a robbery were in one's home, and how many were done elsewhere.

    You know, a little data goes a long ways to correcting ignorance.


    Couldn't have said it better myself.

    Those interested in poring over the data themselves can find the FBI's Uniform Crime Reports here. Never, under any circumstances, trust some organization's interpretation of the data, even if they agree with you. Read the numbers and understand them for yourself. It makes you a much more effective info warrior.

    Posted by Tom, 3/15/2007 6:19:52 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Ouch

    Got hacked at about 1 am. Was fighting insomnia, wound up working on my scripts and trying to salvage my data. Lost one really good blog post, no longer have the energy to rewrite it. Live and learn.

    Posted by Tom, 3/15/2007 2:18:45 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 14, 2007


    What is an anti-gun hunter?

    I wrote this in response to a question in the comments, but then decided it should be a post.

    Basically, it means a hunter who thinks guns are sporting goods, like tennis rackets and baseball mitts, and any gun which does not neatly and totally fit into that description is a "weapon" and should be controlled.

    The anti-gun hunter I know personally believes handguns should all be banned and forcibly seized from the populace, and believes there is no connection whatsoever between my handgun and his duck gun. Jim Zumbo with his comments is another, though he's supposedly changing his mind on that one.

    Really good examples are people like John Kerry, who go on publicity hunts to prove they're "a friend to sportsmen", when it's obvious from their voting or speaking record that they believe anything beyond basic duck guns and deer rifles is evil and must be banned.

    There are a ton of these folks, and they're very dangerous to the 2nd Amendment cause, especially to those of us whose primary reason for owning and using guns is defense, not sport. By recasting the debate in terms of sporting goods, they make gun ownership about recreation, not basic human rights. After all, who wouldn't agree to some (or total) restrictions on recreation if it will supposedly "save the children"?

    That's exactly how other countries have gotten sweeping gun bans past their voters. If it's about recreation, well, nobody needs to shoot in any place other than a designated recreational shooting area. That's why in the U.K. and Australia, you have to be a member of a gun club and are generally required to store your guns at the club. You can't shoot recreationally in your house, the logic goes, so you obviously don't need to store your guns there.

    Anti-gun hunters are to 2nd Amendment defenders what Ephialtes of Trachis was to Leonidas. They're leading enemy forces around the back way.


    Posted by Tom, 3/14/2007 6:44:57 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    The Unabridged Second Amendment

    Given the recent goings-on in Washington DC over the 2nd Amendment and all the nattering from various media outlets over why this ruling was good or bad, I thought this would be a great time to review the only in-depth analysis of the Amendment's grammar that I've ever read. I have seen none that are this complete and thorough, but would be willing to entertain others if they're sent to me.

    The Unabridged Second Amendment

    I believe that Prof. Copperud has since shuffled off this mortal coil, so it might be instructive to employ another such expert in a repeat of the experiment.

    Posted by Tom, 3/14/2007 6:09:42 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 13, 2007


    Law is no substitute for a brain

    Check this crap out:

    A Deltona sex offender was told he needed to move Monday after being found in violation of a May 2006 city ordinance, though he said the offense was urinating in public after drinking alcohol to celebrate his daughter's birth 21 years ago.

    ...

    The 49-year-old took the stand before Volusia County Judge Peter Marshall in DeLand on Monday to say he never molested anyone back in 1986, but just got drunk and urinated at the side of a car along a Massachusetts street when three people passed by and saw him.

    ...

    The only information in the National Sex Registry states that Matamoros is guilty of two counts of open and gross lewd and lascivious behavior. Details of the original case in Essex, Mass., were not immediately available.


    First, there's the obvious idiocy of labeling "public urination" as a "sex offense". When I was in college, it was a constant source of amusement to check the police blotter every Monday to see if anyone I knew had been ticketed for public urination. Now it's a freakin' federal case. Of course, the article doesn't give us verifiable details, so I'm just taking it as read that a guy who's on the stand in front of a judge realizes that the judge has those facts or can get them relatively easily.

    Then we get to the real source of my irritation:

    City Attorney Roland Blossom presented Deltona's case, requesting that Matamoros have reasonable time to move so his children aren't pulled out of school.

    "This is not a case we feel good about having to prosecute," said Blossom, who did not ask for jail time or a fine. "However, it does put us in a situation that violates the ordinance."


    In other words, it's the law, so nobody has to think, least of all the prosecutor. This is the problem with the theory of self-executing law, and it can be seen all over the place, not just in sex offender cases. The real irony/tragedy here is that by creating "offender colonies", with the overly elastic definition of what constitutes a "sex offense", innocent children are put at risk:

    [Matamoros] requested he not have to move his two young sons to an area with a concentrated number of sex offenders.

    "If I had the opportunities to pick up and go, I would do so, but I have a family and I have bills," Matamoros said. "I'm raising two children the best I can."


    This brings to mind another question: what of the people who live in areas not covered by sex offender codes? They are having an artificially large number of known sex offenders forced into their areas, putting them at risk. I'm not going to pretend that all the listed offenders are innocuous like Mr. Matamoros -- some are probably pretty dangerous. In all the hype over the "wisdom" of such laws, I've seen no discussion whatsoever of what liability the State carries for any incidents which happen in the offender colonies after all the offenders are forced to move there.

    Sure, a defender of the idea might say "well, that just means the innocent people should move out". But why should they? Presumably the place was a perfectly nice neighborhood before all the sex offenders were forced to congregate there. Why should the innocent be forced to pay for the misdeeds of the guilty? How many people should be uprooted and penalized just to satisfy the paranoid delusions of legislators and those who back them?

    If I were a conspiracy nut, I might note that there's a higher concentration of schools and playgrounds in urban areas than in rural areas, and hypothesize that relocating the "criminal element" out of the cities is just another way that urban folks plot to oppress rural ones. After all, offloading "undesirables" onto despised populations is a time-honored tactic of those who think themselves superior. But I'm not a conspiracy nut, so I won't go there.

    Toward the end of the article, the local cops weigh in on Matamoros' character:

    But Volusia County sheriff's Sgt. Erik Eagan said Matamoros isn't being entirely honest. He got the information about Deltona's new sex offender law when he registered in November and changed his address, and he violated felony probation for a drug violation.

    "He's not the family man he says he is," Eagan said.


    So we've got a guy on probation for a drug violation (don't get me started on that pile of crap), and we presumably want him to re-enter society and be a productive, useful person. Apparently the way to do this is to victimize his family, put his kids at risk, and force them to live in the modern-day equivalent of a leper colony. A person can only be told he's evil and repugnant so many times before he starts to believe it and begins to act accordingly. If he does become an upstanding citizen in the second half of his life, it won't be because of government but in spite of it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/13/2007 7:08:15 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Worth reading

    Reason has posted an article from the latest print edition about the US Border Patrol. The article's title comes from a quote deeper in, that sums up the tragic mission of this agency:

    "It's very hard to make this job look pretty," [Border Patrol Agent Elizier] Vasquez says softly to me later, referring to Ramirez and his companions. "We're fortunate enough to live in a country where there are lots of opportunities. And most of the people who we run into out here want to make that dream happen. Unfortunately, it's our job to stop that dream..."

    A thorough understanding of basic economics can explain why folks like Ramirez (who was just border-jumping to look for work) pose no threat to America or American wage-earners. But even stand-up comedians have noted that they're not coming to take our high-paying jobs. They're coming to cut grass, pick fruit, wash dishes, etc.

    The article is not exactly uplifting, but it is an informative ground-level view of what goes on in border enforcement. It's worth taking the time to read.

    Posted by Tom, 3/13/2007 7:04:40 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Not speaking for me

    This guy tries to put a friendly face on us gun owners, but winds up saying some things that I'd rather he didn't:

    Responsible gun owners consider guns as tools. We don't own fully automatic weapons.

    There is nothing irresponsible about owning fully automatic weapons, assuming you can afford them. Several gun stores near me sell such items, but the price tags are enough to make me choke on my Dasani. However, I would if I could, and that would not transform me from a "responsible gun owner" (which I am) to an irresponsible one.

    We apply for and receive concealed weapons permits, but it's not because we plan to carry a gun around.

    Speak for yourself. That's exactly why I applied for my permit.

    We gun owners believe in and obey the nation's laws regarding illegal use of firearms.

    Not even close. I'll obey them, because I'd rather not go to jail, but I'll do everything in my power to overturn and destroy them. I don't believe in gun laws. Never have, never will.

    We are willing to consider creative new ways to identify weapons that have been used for criminal purposes and wish the National Rifle Association would cooperate more in this effort.

    What? Now gun owners are in support of this "smart gun" BS and all the other crockery being peddled by people with too much time on their hands? This guy is sounding more and more like what I call an "anti-gun hunter". Yes, they do exist. One works just down the hall from me.

    He goes on to make some sense towards the end of his article, but at this point I pretty much don't like him. By presuming to speak for all of us gun owners, and then laying down this irresponsible drivel, he's coming really closing to Zumboing himself.

    Posted by Tom, 3/13/2007 6:50:36 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, March 11, 2007


    300

    Much has been said in the various professional reviews about the violence in this movie. I'm not sure what others expected; it is a war movie after all. It's really no more or less violent than the various Vietnam movies I was raised on, Saving Private Ryan, or that latest thing from Clint Eastwood about Iwo Jima. Get a grip, people: it's about war. Leave your Disney expectations at the door.

    Much has also been made about the allegory for modern political problems and the War on Terror. I've already contemplated those ideas on these pages, and will not rehash what I've already written.

    The main impact of the movie, for me, was the imagery of those who enforce the boundaries. Libertarian philosophy, as Vox Day so astutely noted, contains within it the notion that rights have limits, not for the good of society or to meet some arbitrary policy objective, but as a result of the fact that others have rights as well, and that the rights of one end at the rights of another. This begs the question, though, of who will identify and defend those boundaries.

    The story of 300 is about one such man and those who followed him. Like Joel Myrick, Thomas Glenn Terry, Todd Beamer, and Suzanna Gratia-Hupp's father, King Leonidas saw evil at work and rose to defend its victims. Like countless others throughout history, he put up his hand and said "stop. This far you may go, and no further." And then he backed up his words with his life.

    I'm aware that the story of 300 differs somewhat from the historical record, and that much of the characterization is purely hypothetical. None of that really matters; the essential action is the same. Few stood against many, and gave their last breath defending something they believed in. 300 draws the line between those who would appease evil, and those who will resist it.

    Answering the unasked question, "which kind of person are you?" is at times nearly impossible. Sometimes it seems like I struggle with it daily. I oppose war -- the constant retaliation upon retaliation upon retaliation. I try to live according to a Christian ideal that says we are to love our enemies. But there is a competing ideal, possibly even Christian, that says evil must be stopped when it can. Even Jesus stopped the crowd from stoning the adulterous woman. Yes, He did it with words, and there is no way to know what He might have done had they stoned her anyway. Why speak up if He was not willing to go the distance? Nothing in Scripture leads me to believe that Jesus was given to half-measures. Of course, given His miraculous abilities, perhaps He was planning to erect a force field or something. I, on the other hand, am lacking such gifts.

    There are people I respect very deeply who seem to believe that dying to defend is OK, but killing is not. Under this view, Suzanna Gratia-Hupp's father did the right thing, even though it was ultimately useless. Under this view, Joel Myrick and Thomas Terry are little better than murderers (Myrick by intent, Terry by deed). Others advise us to simply "call 9-1-1", or "just give them what they want". Can a person really be a pacifist if they call the police, expecting a man with a gun to show up and do for them what they refuse to do for themselves?

    While I have no desire to minimize Leonidas' sacrifice or that of those who have done the same, and I have no reason to believe that I will ever be called upon to step into the breach for someone, it's hard not to see similarities. I agitate for my right to be armed for the defense of myself and others. I am surrounded by advisers who tell me that I am "extreme" for carrying a gun. I've had people ridicule me publicly for my opinions about guns and carrying. Innumerable voices participate in a chorus that says people like me are madmen, needing to be controlled. And then there are those who, with gentle and loving reproach, suggest that perhaps Jesus would rather I didn't go armed.

    It is this last group that makes it so hard. I want to do what's right. I've prayed and struggled to know God's will on this subject. Unfortunately, the Bible isn't really all that clear regarding it, at least not the portions I've managed to understand. Larry Pratt's discussion of Biblical teachings about self-defense is ultimately unsatisfactory to me for a variety of reasons, not the least of which being that his explanation seems overly manipulative. The only thing that I can say is that no matter how much I pray, I can't shake the conviction that someone needs to be willing to stand up for the intended victims in a violent situation. When existential threats arise, someone needs to be willing to say "this far you may go, and no further".

    So convinced am I on this one issue, though it makes me tremble to even consider it, I am willing to meet God and be wrong. If God wants me to change my beliefs on this issue, He needs to be sending me some bigger signs, because right now they all point the way I'm headed. Sometimes I wonder if using deadly force against another person, no matter how heinous their actions, would cause me to lose my own humanity, my soul, my integrity, or my sanity. Strangely, I always find myself willing to trade those things for a chance to make a difference when Evil strikes.

    So I carry a gun. Realistically, I don't believe I'll ever be called upon to use it. I also don't believe that I'd be able to use it if I were the target of the attack -- having talked to the survivors of such attacks, it sounds as though things happen way too fast for a holstered gun to do much good. The one time I used a gun in my own defense, the situation was developing slowly and at a good enough distance that I was able to get ahead of the reaction curve.

    One might wonder, if I don't think I'll ever use a gun (again) to defend myself or others, and I don't think it's going to do me any good if I'm attacked, why carry at all? Because some day, when I'm least expecting it, someone may start shooting up a school near me, or the restaurant I'm eating in, or try to kill their wife in a parking lot that I'm passing through. I have long prayed that if that day ever comes, I'll have the courage -- like Leonidas and the others -- to stand up and enforce the boundary that separates Evil from what it intends to take from us.

    The movie? It's a great movie. I'll own it on DVD when it comes out. I'm aware that this has been more about my reaction to the movie than about the movie itself, and I beg the reader's forgiveness for my self-indulgence. Suffice it to say that the movie made a deep impression on me, and got me thinking about a great many things. I feel sorry for the reviewers who saw only rippling muscles and gratuitous violence.

    Posted by Tom, 3/11/2007 5:37:23 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, March 10, 2007


    Christianity in action

    OK, so I don't know if these people are Christians, Hindus, Muslims, or what, but this story struck a chord with me.

    In a bid to seek blessings from them, a couple from Kolkata, India sent personal invitations to nearly 250 beggars in the city for their wedding reception party. The groom's father Malay Saha said on Friday that it's a tradition in their family to invite beggars to the wedding ceremony "to seek divine blessings and fortune in the life of the newly married sons and daughters."

    The family believes that the tradition brings them good fortune. Thus, they invited beggars by asking their names from them and then writing it down on the envelopes. The tradition of inviting beggars to a wedding is traced back to their great-grandfather Satish Chandra, who too invited 175 beggars to his wedding party. "And they blessed my son and daughter-in-law from their heart," said the groom's father.

    ...

    ...The new bride, Mampi, personally served the beggars, treating them to rice, pulses, fish fry and many other delicacies including the sweet dishes.

    Beggars blessed the couple from their heart after they received gifts from the family that included various clothes and sweets.


    This seems like exactly the sort of thing we should be doing as Christians. It reminds me of the stories Jesus told about the king who threw a wedding party and wound up inviting beggars off the street. Those stories were told to make another point, but they worked very well with His ministry of caring for the poor and treating them like real people.

    I note that the website where the story resides lists it as "weird news". I don't think it's weird at all; it's beautiful.

    Posted by Tom, 3/10/2007 6:13:53 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wailing and gnashing of teeth

    Predictably, the lefties and anti-freedom folks are up in arms about the DC gun ban ruling:

    The Washington Post labels it a Dangerous Ruling.

    Josh Sugarmann is of course predicting "a long national nightmare".

    I predict that the next court up the chain will overturn, and in a typical display of moral cowardice, the Supreme Court will decide not to take the case. That's been the pattern so far, anyway.

    Posted by Tom, 3/10/2007 7:16:22 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 9, 2007


    FBI tramples rights, nobody cares

    Well, Congress is putting on a show of caring, but nothing will come of it. Mark my words.

    The F.B.I. has improperly used provisions of the USA Patriot Act to obtain thousands of telephone, business and financial records without prior judicial approval, the Justice Department’s inspector general said today in a report that embarrassed the F.B.I. and ignited outrage on Capitol Hill.

    Article here

    The (un)funniest part of this whole deal is this:

    “How could this happen?” [FBI Director Robert] Mueller asked rhetorically. “Who is to be held accountable? And the answer to that is, I am to be held accountable.”

    And what does that mean, exactly?

    Mr. Mueller said in response to a reporter’s question that he had no intention of resigning his post.

    No mention of a pay cut either. So what exactly constitutes being "held accountable"? Listening to Senators lecture?

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2007 8:51:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Libertarian Christian

    I tend to like articles that link libertarianism and Christianity, so I was glad when the wife-unit forwarded me this one by Vox Day:

    ...I suspect the problem many Christians and conservative Republicans have with making the leap to Libertarianism is that they still see a connection between the concepts of legality and morality. But there is no inherent relationship between the two; indeed, it is becoming increasingly obvious that it is not possible to honor both in many aspects of American life.

    "It's the law!" is not a moral argument. It is an argument based on the threat of force. Yesterday the law required one to return an escaped slave to his owner; tomorrow it will require one to have an implanted Social Security number when one simply wants to buy Cheerios at the supermarket...


    I'm totally adopting that one-liner: "It's the law!" is not a moral argument. Wrapped up in those words is the whole of why I oppose theocracy and theocratic aspirations. My way of saying it has been: Law is no substitute for morality. It's what I've been calling Tom's Axiom #1. It's gotten so ingrained in my way of thinking that I feel sick to my stomach whenever I meet an aspiring theocrat. I had to leave church last Sunday because our Sunday School discussion revolved around electing good Christian leaders and making sure they enact good Christian policies.

    I've also long thought that libertarianism and Christianity need each other. Christianity needs libertarianism to free itself from theocracy, and libertarianism needs Christianity to soften its image from the bleak visions of the likes of Ayn Rand. And it appears that his Voxness agrees:

    And Libertarianism is not inherently godless. In fact, it is the only political philosophy that is truly in accordance with Christianity. The Christian religion posits an all-powerful God who nevertheless permits humanity to turn its back on Him. This shows an extreme respect for free will and for the very sort of individual choice that is banned by Democrats and Republicans alike as they attempt to enforce their will upon the people through the power of government.

    The basic principle of Libertarianism is not anarchic. There are real limits. My free will ends where yours begins. Neither the community nor I have any claim whatsoever on your property or your life, and a libertarian legal system would be structured around that principle.

    ...

    To love Jesus Christ and individual freedom; that is what it means to be a Christian Libertarian.


    Some day, I'm going to have to get around to writing that book, unless Vox Day beats me to it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2007 8:17:55 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    DC gun ban struck down

    The Brady bunch needs to retire one of their arguments... the one about no gun ban ever being struck down on 2nd Amendment grounds. It's been done:

    A U.S. appeals court struck down a three-decade-old District of Columbia law that bans residents from keeping a handgun in their homes, saying the Constitution's Second Amendment protects an individual right to bear arms.

    Appeals are likely, celebration premature. But those of us who prefer freedom to tyranny can rest a bit in our victory.

    PDF of the decision can be found here. Thanks to WomenAndGuns.com for the file.

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2007 7:49:05 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Rights and privileges, laws and contracts

    In the course of my grousing, I tend to hear a lot about the so-called "social contract" with government. I have always replied that I never signed any such contract, and if there were in fact a contract it would be bilaterally enforceable -- meaning government would not be able to change the terms of the deal at a whim.

    Using zoning laws and homeowner's associations as an example, Jim Fedako lays out why our relationship with government has nothing to do with the niceties of contract, and everything to do with tyranny. In his article at Mises.org, he makes the case for changing the term "social contract" from an ironic euphemism to a practical reality, and describes what exactly that would mean:

    Because enforced contract law and full property rights are the foundations of freedom, governance systems should be based on enforceable contracts that defend property rights. The concepts of general welfare and public good have no place in such systems, as the intent of those ideals is to break contracts and trespass on property.

    Governance — government — must be limited in a manner that is akin to a legal, binding contract, where rights are understood and unchanging.


    One of my favorite passages from any Heinlein work is ironically from one that I consider sub-par: Stranger in a Strange Land. In it, there is a scene where government agents arrive to search the house of one of the primary characters.

    The first car hovered, then dropped vertically for a landing in the garden area around the pool; the second started slowly circling the house at low altitude. The cars were black, squad carriers in size, and showed only a small, inconspicuous insignia: the stylized globe of the Federation.

    Anne put down the radio relay link that would let "the balloon go up" got quickly into her professional garb, picked the link up again and put her thumb back on the button. The door of the first car started to open as it touched and Jubal charged toward it with the cocky belligerence of a Pekingese. As a man stepped out, Jubal roared, "Get that God damned heap off my rose bushes!"

    The man said, "Jubal Harshaw?"

    "You heard me! Tell that oaf you've got driving for you to raise that bucket and move it back! Off the garden entirely and onto the grass! Anne!"

    "Coming, Boss."

    "Jubal Harshaw, I have a warrant here for --"

    "I don't care if you've got a warrant for the King of England; first you'll move that junk heap off my flowers! Then, so help me, I'll sue you for -- " Jubal glanced at the man who had landed, appeared to see him for the first time. "Oh, so it's you," he said with bitter contempt. "Were you born stupid, Heinrich, or did you have to study for it? And when did that uniformed jackass working for you learn to fly? Earlier today? Since I talked to you?"

    "Please examine this warrant," Captain Heinrich said with careful patience. "Then --"

    "Get your go-cart out of my flower beds at once or I'll make a civil-rights case out of this that will cost you your pension!"

    Heinrich hesitated. "Now!" Jubal screamed. "And tell those other yokels getting out to pick up their big feet! That idiot with the buck teeth is standing on a prize Elizabeth M. Hewitt!"

    Heinrich turned his head. "You men -- careful of those flowers. Paskin, you're standing on one. Rogers! Raise the car and move it back about fifty feet, clear of the garden." He turned his attention back to Harshaw. "Does that satisfy you?"

    "Once he actually moves it -- but you'll still pay damages. Let's see your credentials... and show them to the Fair Witness and state loud and clearly to her your name, rank, organization, and pay number."

    "You know who I am. Now I have a warrant to --"

    "I have a common-law warrant to part your hair with a shotgun unless you do things legally and in order! I don't know who you are. You look remarkably like a stuffed shirt I saw over the telephone earlier today -- but that's not evidence and I don't identify you. You must identify yourself, in the specified legal fashion, World Code paragraph 1602, part II, before you can serve a warrant. And that goes for all those other apes, too, and that pithecan parasite piloting for you."

    "They are police officers, acting under my orders."

    "I don't know that they are anything of the sort. They might have hired those ill-fitting clown suits at a costumer's. The letter of the law, sir! You've come barging into my castle. You say you are a police officer -- and you allege that you have a warrant for this intrusion. But I say you are trespassers until you prove otherwise... which invokes my sovereign right to use all necessary force to eject you -- which I shall start to do in about three seconds."

    "I wouldn't advise it."

    "Who are you to advise? If I am hurt in attempting to enforce this, my right, your action becomes constructive assault -- with deadly weapons, if those things those mules are toting are guns, as they appear to be. Civil and criminal, both -- why, my man, I'll wind up with your hide for a door mat!" Jubal drew back a skinny arm and clenched a bony fist. "Off my property!"

    "Hold it, Doctor. We'll do it your way." Heinrich had turned bright red, but he kept his voice under tight control. He offered his identification, which Jubal glanced at, then turned back to him for him to show to Anne. Heinrich then stated his full name, said that he was a captain of police, Federation Special Service Bureau, and recited his pay number. One by one, the other six men who had left the car, and at last the driver, went through the same rigamarole at Heinrich's frozen-faced orders.

    When they were done, Jubal said sweetly, "And now, Captain Heinrich, how may I help you?"


    THAT is how interaction with government agents should work. It's worth noting that all of this did not stop the intended government action, but it does establish that the person in conflict with government has contractual rights that can only be ignored at the peril of the agents themselves, even if the person is completely at a disadvantage in terms of their ability to use force. One gets the sense from the rest of the book that the threats Jubal makes are not unfounded, and Captain Heinrich's behavior in the scene is a far cry from the way government agents operate in our reality, further reinforcing the contractual nature of their government.

    The closest thing we have to a contract in America is the Constitution, but any idiot knows that the government has been redefining the terms of that contract, nulllifying rights willy-nilly, for the better part of 2 centuries. Of the original Bill of Rights, only the 3rd Amendment comes to us untarnished, and it's essentially useless in this day and age. The contract is no longer enforceable by the individual citizen, as there are no neutral parties to which one may appeal. The judges all work for the government.

    This is why I am a supporter of anything that gives us even marginal enforcement power. Jury nullification, for instance. "None of the above" for our election ballots. Free speech -- not McCain/Feingold ideas of freedom, but true freedom. And of course, though I fear ever having to use it, the right to bear arms.

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2007 6:56:58 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    America's most profitable retailer

    Fortune magazine, as reported by CNN, has sorted out the most profitable retailer in America, by dollars per square foot per year. It's Apple.

    Saks, whose flagship is down the street, generates sales of $362 per square foot a year. Best Buy (Charts) stores turn $930 - tops for electronics retailers - while Tiffany & Co. (Charts) takes in $2,666. Audrey Hepburn liked Tiffany's for breakfast. But at $4,032, Apple is eating everyone's lunch.

    This is of course a grand case for ignoring the naysayers:

    "Sorry Steve, Here's Why Apple Stores Won't Work," BusinessWeek wrote with great certainty in 2001. "It's desperation time in Cupertino, Calif.," opined TheStreet.com. "I give [Apple] two years before they're turning out the lights on a very painful and expensive mistake," predicted retail consultant David Goldstein.

    The main reason for their success? They did to retailing what they did to technology: they redesigned it. They looked at their stores as a product, and built prototypes to make sure they were doing what they thought they were doing:

    "One of the best pieces of advice Mickey [Drexler] ever gave us was to go rent a warehouse and build a prototype of a store, and not, you know, just design it, go build 20 of them, then discover it didn't work," says Jobs. In other words, design it as you would a product. Apple Store Version 0.0 took shape in a warehouse near the Apple campus. "Ron and I had a store all designed," says Jobs, when they were stopped by an insight: The computer was evolving from a simple productivity tool to a "hub" for video, photography, music, information, and so forth. The sale, then, was less about the machine than what you could do with it. But looking at their store, they winced. The hardware was laid out by product category - in other words, by how the company was organized internally, not by how a customer might actually want to buy things. "We were like, 'Oh, God, we're screwed!'" says Jobs.

    But they weren't screwed; they were in a mockup. "So we redesigned it," he says. "And it cost us, I don't know, six, nine months. But it was the right decision by a million miles." When the first store finally opened, in Tysons Corner, Va., only a quarter of it was about product. The rest was arranged around interests: along the right wall, photos, videos, kids; on the left, problems. A third area - the Genius Bar in the back - was Johnson's brainstorm.


    This underscores one of the crucial points about competing in the marketplace: EVERYTHING is a factor. The slightest thing that impacts a customer's experience is important, and can either retain them or drive them to your competitor.

    I've spent a lot of time writing about why Wal-Mart is successful and defending them against their detractors, but I haven't actually spent much time shopping at Wal-Mart. Why? Because the shopping experience at Wal-Mart SUCKS. I'd rather pay more at Albertson's (for groceries) or Target (for everything else) than have to put up with the crowded aisles, the sterile lighting, the horrendous lines, the barely-conscious employees, and all the rest that come with shopping in a Wal-Mart store.

    Apple stores are the exact opposite, reflecting all the work that's gone into them. Price is not the only competitive edge, and often it's not even the most important.

    Posted by Tom, 3/9/2007 6:21:59 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 8, 2007


    So wrong...

    ...and yet so funny.



    This is exactly what I think of the adoption industry.

    Posted by Tom, 3/8/2007 7:27:14 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Miller on 300

    I've finally found an article with some juicy tidbits from Frank Miller:

    To complicate matters, consider that in an interview on National Public Radio in January, Miller echoed much of what Leonidas says in the movie about the clash between West and East: "It seems to me quite obvious that our country and the entire Western world is up against an existential foe that knows exactly what it wants."

    Miller said he had no problem judging American culture to be superior to Islamic extremism. "Let's finally talk about the enemy," he said. "Nobody seems to be talking about who we're up against, and the sixth-century barbarism they actually represent. These people saw people's heads off... . They do not behave by any cultural norms that are sensible to us."


    I thoroughly agree with this statement. One only has to flip through the newswires and find articles about what passes for "civilization" in modern-day Persia, such as honor killings of women in Middle Eastern culture, to see that it is so.

    Previously, I had stated emphatically that George Bush is Xerxes, not Leonidas, and this article appears to disagree:

    Miller's Leonidas is a king whose passion to defend Greece against Persia leads him to break international treaties and defy his own Council of Elders (bloggers have pointed to this as a caricaturish version of President Bush's defiance of the international community) in the rush to war.

    I don't know if it's a trait specific to gun owners, or if other people can actually "get it", but there's a difference between defense and offense. As popular as football is in this country, I would think this would not be too difficult a concept. When we were attacked on 9/11, we were defenders. When we invaded another country, we became offenders. How complicated is that?

    For the Bush metaphor, Leonidas is defending his nation against an invading army, led by Xerxes. Yes, there may be similarities between Bush and Leonidas in terms of political maneuvering, but morally they are worlds apart. So far, I've seen nothing to suggest that Leonidas wanted to mount a pre-emptive strike against Baghdad, or wherever Xerxes kept his throne.

    Generally speaking, I believe that defenders have the moral high ground, and aggressors do not. Like anyone who's ever taken a quality class on the ethics and legalities of self-defense, I know that one can switch roles in a heartbeat. Shoot a man who's attacking you, and you're a defender. Chase him down the street spraying bullets after he's decided to flee, and you're an aggressor. If he dies from the first wounds, you've got a case for self-defense. If he dies from the second, you're a murderer. Because government cannot sanctify an action that would be morally wrong if an individual performed it, the same rules must apply.

    I think there are ways to deal with the Middle East (and Africa, by the way) that do not involve going to war. I think we can have a much greater impact on barbarous societies by changing them with persuasion and peaceful interaction than we can by pursuing this plan of "keep killing them until the survivors agree with us." But that's just me.

    Posted by Tom, 3/8/2007 6:28:37 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    More on abusing sex offenders

    It never ceases to amaze me when I blog about something, then start seeing articles on the same subject (and often with the same viewpoint) popping up. Case in point: Jacob Sullum's recent article at Reason about punitive punishments for sex offenders.

    New York is about to become the 20th state with a civil commitment program for sex offenders, thereby embracing an increasingly fashionable contradiction: When sex offenders are caught and convicted, the government says they're responsible for their actions, so it locks them up. But after they serve their time, it says they can't control themselves, so it locks them up some more.

    After nearly two decades of forcibly "treating" sex offenders deemed especially likely to commit new crimes, it seems clear that psychiatrists are not psychics, treatment is an expensive failure, and commitment is a euphemism for imprisonment.


    It really seems like the mass of American society has determined that they are experts in abnormal psychology, and that pedestrian voters can determine what a person can and cannot prevent themselves from doing. Never mind the fact that the mass of American voters also think that Microsoft Windows is a good operating system, debt makes you wealthy, and "reality TV" has something to do with reality.

    There's little evidence the two major treatment approaches, "relapse prevention" and cognitive-behavioral therapy, reduce recidivism. Yet civil commitment coupled with ineffective therapy costs, on average, four times as much as ordinary imprisonment—$166,000 per year in California, for example, compared to $43,000 for prison.

    ...

    The U.S. Supreme Court has upheld civil commitment of sex offenders on the grounds that it is therapeutic and preventive rather than punitive. But the therapy is a sham, and the preventive rationale could be applied to a wide variety of criminals, all of whom have demonstrated a tendency toward anti-social behavior and many of whom are at least as prone to recidivism as sex offenders are.


    Again, I believe this is a sort of low-grade mass hysteria regarding sex offenses, because it really doesn't make a whole lot of sense, especially when one considers what we classify as a "sex offense":

    ...it's important to keep in mind that "sex offenders" are a highly diverse group, ranging from teenagers who have consensual sex with younger teenagers to men who rape and murder children.

    As if to support my belief in the visceral emotion of the subject completely overriding peoples' ability to think critically, Sullum offers this:

    Under Arizona law, mere possession of pornography involving minors younger than 15 is punishable by a 10-year mandatory minimum sentence. Each picture is a separate offense, and the sentences must be served consecutively. That's how Morton Berger, a former high school teacher, received a 200-year sentence without parole: 10 years for each of 20 images on his computer.

    ...

    ...When I discussed Berger's case on Reason's blog, one reader insisted that "200 years is not sufficient. He should get life."


    The inmates are truly running the asylum.

    Posted by Tom, 3/8/2007 6:05:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, March 7, 2007


    I'm Bert




    You Are Bert



    Extremely serious and a little eccentric, people find you loveable - even if you don't love them!

    You are usually feeling: Logical - you rarely let your emotions rule you

    You are famous for: Being smart, a total neat freak, and maybe just a little evil

    How you life your life: With passion, even if your odd passions (like bottle caps and pigeons) are baffling to others



    My brother got the same result, which is funny because when we were kids he was always Ernie. We even had Bert & Ernie puppets. I wonder what happened to those...

    Posted by Tom, 3/7/2007 9:33:57 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Abusing people is so much fun

    Ohio has turned into its very own statewide Stanford experiment. It has collectively decided that once a person gets the label "sex offender", they are no longer really human. As a result, there are no real moral issues with heaping abuse on them, even after they've served their sentence for their crimes. The latest, special license plates to make them easily identifiable, is just another in a long line of abuses:

    The bill is the latest in a series of Ohio measures to crack down on sex crimes. Among them: tougher minimum sentences for rapists of children under 13; increased penalties for public indecency involving victims under 13; and mandatory tracking devices after those classified as sexually violent predators serve their sentences.

    I'm sure propaganda shows like Law & Order: Special Victims Unit are doing their part to foment hatred and fear regarding sex offenders, shifting the opinions of the masses in favor of draconian measures like this. I can only imagine what happens after the license plates go through -- special clothing? a scarlet letter? forehead tattoos?

    I'm not discounting that sexual offenses are horrible crimes. So is murder, but we don't see paroled murderers getting this treatment. Why not? At least sex offenders' victims are still alive.

    I just don't like what this does to us as human beings. When we start rationalizing the abuse of one person or group, no matter how despicable, we are on a road to losing our humanity entirely. And from the point of view of "preventing future incidents", where's the evidence that crap like this does any such thing? What is it about further alienating and dehumanizing an already socially marginal person that will make them want to be a productive, peaceful, useful member of society? Can we not take some lessons from the likes of Ishmael Beah, and actually try to rehabilitate those we've decided to bring back into society? Shouldn't reintegration with society be a huge priority in such cases?

    I hesitate to ask where the Church is in all of this, because I'm pretty sure I know. Instead I'll ask, how would Jesus, the Prince of Peace, the guy who loved everybody, react to this kind of marginalization? It seems to me like He was against division and ostracism. The whole thing makes my heart heavy.

    Posted by Tom, 3/7/2007 7:40:13 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    *snort*

    Apple Unveils New Product-Unveiling Product

    "Get ready for the future of product introduction," said Jobs, looking resplendent in a black turtleneck and faded jeans. "The iLaunch will be able to make announcements from this, or any other stage, making human participation in generating consumer awareness almost entirely unnecessary."

    I love the Onion.

    Posted by Tom, 3/7/2007 6:43:42 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, March 6, 2007


    Sinners and Salvation

    Recently, something (forget what) triggered me into a rant about the so-called "sinner's prayer". I have issues with it, and I don't think it truthfully reflects what God wants from us. My wife was my audience, and she just forwarded this article to me, about what Jesus says in regards to salvation:

    In reading through Luke, I had discovered that twice (10:25, 18:18) Jesus is asked, "What must I do to inherit eternal life?"

    In the first passage, Jesus turns the question back on the lawyer who asks it. The lawyer replies with the Old Testament commands to love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, and to love your neighbor as yourself (cf. Mt. 22:34-40). Jesus affirms his answer: "You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live." The lawyer then tries to narrow the meaning of neighbor. So Jesus tells the unforgettable parable of the compassionate Samaritan, who proved to be a neighbor to a bleeding roadside victim.

    In Luke 18, Jesus responds to the same question, this time from the man we know as the rich young ruler, by quoting the second table of the Decalogue, forbidding adultery, murder, theft, and false witness, and mandating honor towards parents. His questioner says that he has kept these commandments, and Jesus proceeds to call on him to "sell all … and distribute to the poor." Jesus assures him, "You will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow me." The "extremely rich" ruler won't do this, and Jesus goes on to teach his disciples about how hard it is for the wealthy to enter the kingdom of God.

    Trying to be an honest expositor of the texts in front of me, I told the chapel students that morning that on the two occasions in Luke when Jesus was asked about the criteria for admission to eternity, he offered a fourfold answer: love God with all that you are, love your neighbor (like the Samaritan loved his neighbor), do God's will by obeying his moral commands, and be willing, if he asks, to drop everything and leave it behind in order to follow him.


    The author goes on to discuss the artificial and contrived-sounding "sinner's prayer", and why it's too much of a fast food approach for what God intended to be a lifestyle.

    I am far from a model Christian, so maybe it's not even a good idea for me to pontificate on this, given the warning in James 3. But it seems to me that the "sinner's prayer" is utterly unnecessary. Yes, I think there needs to be a deliberate decision to follow Jesus. I just don't think that scaring people with talk of Hell, then inviting them to mindlessly recite someone else's idea of communication with God, is really a way to save souls. I'm probably awful close to "works doctrine" in my beliefs, but I think you have to be doing something.

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 7:45:58 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Cleanup

    Removed some inactive blogs from the sidebar.

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 7:41:46 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Skype

    One major issue I've experienced with regard to my Mac-ness is that of videoconferencing with Windows users. Apple's iChat works really well when talking to other Mac users, but although it runs over AOL's network, AOL Instant Messenger users on Windows can't seem to connect up a video session with me.

    Microsoft Instant Messenger for the Mac doesn't operate video.

    Thanks to the wonders of Parallels, I can run Windows XP on my MacBook Pro, but for some reason I can't get the iSight camera to work properly, and there doesn't seem to be any officially supported Windows drivers for it.

    Enter Skype. Mac client for me, Windows client for my buddy in Alaska. Click. Click. Boom. Videochatting like the gadget geeks we are. The video is a little grainy, but not too bad, and there are some annoying glitches with sound occasionally getting backed up, but over all it allowed us to catch up, "face to face", and we had a good time with it.

    So if cross-platform video chat is what you crave, but you're held up because your friends are still Windows philistines working with stone-age tools (or because you are said philistine), I recommend Skype. The price is right (free), and it was amazingly easy to sign up and set up.

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 7:24:49 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Protecting us to death

    I used to think that the BATFE was the worst government agency. Over the past few years, I've become increasingly convinced that it's the FDA. I realize that certain of my readers vehemently disagree with my opinion of the FDA, and my desire to boot the agency completely, but I can't stop thinking about the people who die waiting to try something that the FDA won't approve. Case in point:

    Washington, DC - University of Virginia student Abigail Burroughs died of head and neck cancer at age 21 on June 9, 2001. She died while fighting to gain access to promising experimental anti-cancer drugs recommended by her oncologist at Johns Hopkins University Hospital. Her father, Frank Burroughs, founded the Abigail Alliance for Better Access to Developmental Drugs and sued the Food and Drug Administration, arguing that terminal cancer patients have a constitutional right to try to gain access to developmental medicines that the agency has not yet approved.

    They've won the preliminary round, and only time will tell if the whole thing manages to stick. In the meantime:

    [Abigail Alliance lawyer Scott] Ballenger compared the situation to self-defense. "Self defense is the most obvious and self-evident rights of men," he asserted. "No state can deny someone self-defense in the face of an attack." Ballenger argued that if the law recognizes that people have the right to defend themselves from attack by a bear or infectious bacteria, then surely they have the right to defend themselves against a rogue cancer cell.

    On the one hand, we have the desire of some to beat their cancer, asking for untested medications with the advice and counsel of their oncologist, presumably willing to sign away liability if the drug has unanticipated effects or just doesn't work. Of course, the latter has been illegal by our government nannies:

    Mark Gately, a Baltimore attorney who defends pharmaceutical firms, pointed out another big issue in this debate -- the fact that federal law forbids a patient using experimental drugs from waiving negligence.

    On the other hand, we have the desire of others to be protected by government and told what to do. While I certainly would prefer to get rid of the FDA altogether, surely it would be a meaningful compromise to give a nod to those who simply want to exercise their right to self defense. Wouldn't it?

    At the other end of the spectrum, we have the FDA also holding up the approval of some drugs, not because they're suspected of being dangerous, but apparently because they're not dangerous enough:

    [Former FDA deputy commissioner Scott] Gottlieb pointed out that new cancer drugs are rarely held up on safety grounds, so research should focus more quickly on efficacy. He does worry that the agency has begun to refuse to approve drugs that have fewer side effects but are less efficacious than earlier more brutal treatments. The agency fears that patients would trade off a higher risk of dying for fewer side effects. Why mentally competent people in consultation with their physicians should not be allowed to make such tradeoffs is not at all clear.

    I wish the FDA would just make up its collective mind about whether it wants people to live or die, and how much suffering they're supposed to do in either case. At least then when we are in pain or dying, we'd have the comfort of knowing that we're doing it according to regulations.

    Incidentally, this attitude is not limited to the FDA. Consider this recent article at the Mises Institute, detailing the tragedy at the high school in Enterprise, Alabama:

    The first warnings about a tornado came at 10:30am, and that's when the disastrous "preparations" began. The school could have permitted the students to leave. After all, we are talking about a High School here, and most students could drive. Those who couldn't might have gotten a ride. Parents would have been glad to pick of their kids, and many tried but were turned away.

    At least some choice in the matter should have been allowed. But, if you know anything about disaster plans, you know that choice and human rights are the last things on the decision-makers minds. They treat people like cattle to be herded, bark orders, and threaten everyone in the most awful way for having the most normal impulses to seek a safe way out.

    So instead of just letting the kids go, the officials herded them all in hallways, where it was said that they would be "safe." There they sat in crowded conditions for hours and hours, just waiting for the moment of death to come. It finally did: at 1:30pm. The twister slammed into the building, the walls caved in, and eight kids were killed, with many more injured. Parents who had come to pick up their kids at the earliest possible moment (the school announced that this was 1:00pm) sat helplessly by. They weren't allowed in before, and when they showed up, the police demanded that they come inside and still wouldn't let the kids go.


    Might there have been more problems if the kids had been allowed to leave? It's hard to say for sure. The article notes that other schools in the state did let people go, and didn't have people getting killed as a result.

    Ultimately, my issue is this:

    This brings us to the final presupposition of emergency management in this country: officials assume that you are their property. You have no rights, no freedom of choice, and no volition of your own that should be respected. Your one job is to obey them, and at least if you are killed, they can have bragging rights that they got everyone to go along.

    I would go further and say that the "ownership model" is not limited to emergency management. It is the fundamental premise of government, as we see with the paternalism in the FDA, the emergency managers, and pretty much every agency, bureaucrat, politician, and officer that tries to say they know what's best for us, and will force us -- at gunpoint, if necessary -- to accept it.

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 6:46:38 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Think Bush is bad?

    Wait until you see John McCain get going. The latest issue of Reason has an in-depth article on Mr. Straight-Talk, and it's pretty frightening.

    The John McCain presidency effectively began on January 10, 2007, when George W. Bush announced the deployment of five more combat brigades to Iraq. This escalation of an unpopular war ran counter to the advice of Bush’s senior military leadership, ignored the recommendations made by the bipartisan Iraq Study Group, and sidestepped the objections of the Iraqi government it was ostensibly intended to assist. But the plan was nearly identical to what the Republican senior senator from Arizona, nearly alone among his Capitol Hill colleagues, had been advocating for months: boost troop levels by at least 20,000, give coalition forces the authority to impose security in every corner of Baghdad, and increase the size of America’s overburdened standing military by around 100,000 during the next five years.

    And how would that size increase be accomplished in McCain's ideal world?

    For years McCain has warned that a draft will be necessary if we don’t boost military pay, and he has long agitated for mandatory national service. “Those who claim their liberty but not their duty to the civilization that ensures it live a half-life, indulging their self-interest at the cost of their self-respect,” he wrote in The Washington Monthly in 2001. “Sacrifice for a cause greater than self-interest, however, and you invest your life with the eminence of that cause. Americans did not fight and win World War II as discrete individuals.”

    While I don't want to go into the whole article here, this is a pretty good start on what it's getting at. McCain is a true believer when it comes to American hegemony, and he's willing to trample the rights and freedoms of everyone, citizen and foreigner alike, in pursuit of his vision of American greatness. If you think George Bush has turned America into a bully state, you ain't seen nothin' yet.

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 6:25:45 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Why do I carry a gun?

    Because I don't want to be useless in situations like this one:

    As customers watched in horror Sunday afternoon, a man stabbed a woman and attempted to set her on fire in the parking lot of a Jackson store, witnesses said.

    The attack was stopped by a passer-by, who held the man at gunpoint until police arrived, witnesses said.

    ...

    "It wasn't five minutes from when she had left my line when I heard a scream outside," said Theresa Stuckey, a cashier at the Family Dollar at 516 Nakoma Drive in Jackson. "I looked out, and (the attacker) was on top of her stabbing her, and stabbing her and stabbing her.

    "She was screaming, 'Help, he's trying to kill me!' She was rolling on the ground, trying to get out of the way, but he kept stabbing her. He stabbed her about 20 times in the neck, back and arms."

    As the attack continued, people were yelling at the man to stop and honking their horns, Stuckey said. She said she called 911.

    "He was just standing over her hacking away," said Dolly Baker, who had just left the Save-A-Lot store next door when she saw the attack.

    Baker said she watched the man pour gasoline on the victim then try to strike a match.

    "He was literally trying to kill that lady in broad daylight," she said.

    Baker said a passer-by stopped the attack.

    "He told the man, 'Stop, or I'm going to shoot. And if you run, I'm going to kill you,' " Baker said.

    The man held Watson at bay until police arrived at the scene.


    Let's see... yelling, honking horns, dialing 911: useless. Having a firearm and the will to use it in the defense of innocents: effective. Every time I think I'm getting tired of carrying, or it's too much trouble, or that it's just an affectation of mine with no real possibility of impact, I think of stories like this one.

    (hat tip, Clayton Cramer)

    Posted by Tom, 3/6/2007 6:52:23 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, March 4, 2007


    Sweet

    There's a new documentary out challenging the entirety of anthropogenic global warming theory.

    One major piece of evidence of CO2 causing global warming are ice core samples from Antarctica, which show that for hundreds of years, global warming has been accompanied by higher levels of CO2 in the atmosphere.

    In 'The Great Global Warming Swindle' Al Gore is shown claiming this proves the theory, but palaeontologist Professor Ian Clark claims in the documentary that it actually shows the opposite.

    He has evidence showing that warmer spells in the Earth’s history actually came an average of 800 years before the rise in CO2 levels.

    ...

    He said the influential United Nations report on Climate change, that claimed humans were responsible, was a sham.

    It claimed to be the opinion of 2,500 leading scientists, but Prof Reiter said it included names of scientists who disagreed with the findings and resigned from the UN’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change, and said the report was finalised by government appointees.

    The CO2 theory is further undermined by claims that billions of pounds is being provided by governments to fund greenhouse effect research, so thousands of scientists know their job depends on the theory continuing to be seen as fact.


    Hmmm... once again, I keep wondering why it's OK to question the motives of those funded by private industry, but not OK to question the motives of those funded by government.

    I'm hoping this documentary shows up on DVD or the internet somewhere. A nice point-counterpoint double feature of this with Al Gore's movie might be an interesting exercise.

    Posted by Tom, 3/4/2007 7:40:14 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, March 3, 2007


    A Long Way Gone

    My high school friends in New York City have begun to suspect I haven't told them the full story of my life.

    "Why did you leave Sierra Leone?"

    "Because there is a war."

    "Did you witness some of the fighting?"

    "Everyone in the country did."

    "You mean you saw people running around with guns and shooting each other?"

    "Yes, all the time."

    "Cool."

    I smile a little.

    "You should tell us about it sometime."

    "Yes, sometime."


    So begins Ishmael Beah's autobiography, A Long Way Gone. Wrapped up in that tiny little narrative is what I believe to be his main message to Americans: of all the words to describe war, "cool" is not one of them.

    Ishmael launches into his tale at the point where he is 12 years old, just days before the war came to his home. He and his brother and friends play together, listen to rap music from America, and believe the war exists only in some far-off corner of the country. The idyllic scene doesn't last long, and the reader is rushed headlong into a series of events so horrifying it sears the soul. Ishmael wastes no time stripping away our illusions with graphic descriptions of those early days. He unrelentingly relays atrocity after atrocity in a way that clearly communicates the destruction of his own innocence, and asks -- begs -- the reader to allow just a little of their innocence to be shattered also as they journey with him.

    On its face, the book is about child soldiers and the life they lead. But inside, the book is about war. For decades, we in America have seen war only through the eyes of the media, and it is completely sterile. One side fights another side. Bad guys die (yay!), good guys win (yay!), some good guys pay the ultimate price (tragic!). War in America is about heroes on the battlefield -- Chuck Norris, Sylvester Stallone, Arnold Schwarzenegger. Occasionally we see the graphic violence of soldiers being torn apart (Saving Private Ryan), but there's no real questioning of the act of war itself. It's just necessary.

    Rarely told, mentioned, or even hinted at, are the costs borne by civilian populations when governments decide to go to war, or, as in the case of Sierra Leone (and America's own Revolutionary War), create rebellion with their own corruption. This is one of the facets that Ishmael drags into the light for us. In one place, he writes that one of the worst effects of the war is the fact that people stop trusting one another. As a child in a war being run by child soldiers, he is shunned, attacked, and narrowly escapes death countless times because the people he comes across fear him so much, before he ever becomes a soldier. Grown men with machetes and rifles grab him, tie him up, and prepare short little trials to decide when and how to kill him before he lays waste to their entire village, so afraid are they that he is a spy or soldier sent to scout their village for the next raid. This happens so much that he begins surrendering as soon as he sees a male villager coming after him.

    While some parts of the text are somewhat primitive or contain awkward technical errors ("semiautomatic machine gun" is an oxymoron), the vast majority of it is very solid. Every once in a while, Ishmael shows his promise as a writer with masterful turns of phrase that leap off the page:

    Normally, the crickets and birds sang in the evening before the sun went down. But this time they didn't, and darkness set in very fast. The moon wasn't in the sky; the air was stiff, as if nature itself was afraid of what was happening.

    ...

    I had passed through burnt villages where dead bodies of men, women, and children of all ages were scattered like leaves on the ground after a storm. Their eyes still showed fear, as if death hadn't freed them from the madness that continued to unfold.


    The litany of horrors continues throughout, with some images that refuse to disappear long after the book has been put down. The one that haunts me (as I'm sure it does him) is that of a mother who ran from rebels carrying her baby daughter on her back, unaware that as she fled, her daughter's tiny body shielded her from the bullets. Despite this, and despite the growing awareness that something is breaking inside young Ishmael's spirit and a creeping doom approaches, he somehow manages to stay positive as he flees the war:

    When I was very little, my father used to say, "If you are alive, there is hope for a better day and something good to happen. If there is nothing good left in the destiny of a person, he or she will die." I thought about these words during my journey, and they kept me moving even when I didn't know where I was going. Those words became the vehicle that drove my spirit forward and made it stay alive.

    All this, of course, is merely the beginning. When Ishmael is finally cornered and can no longer flee the conflict, he joins it. Given the chance for revenge, forced into it by the adult soldiers in a "safe place", he takes up arms and abandons hope, his only thought to kill as many of the enemy as possible before he himself is killed. At this point, the American reader is almost relieved: finally, war makes sense again. There are two sides, good guys and bad guys, everyone has a weapon and folks are dying in a more-or-less orderly fashion, with no more of those pesky civilians and their lives getting in the way. There's a corner of your brain that asks "what's the big deal?" I don't know if this is intentional or not, but it is masterful, because that's when Ishmael unleashes the worst yet.

    I fear cheapening it by revealing it here, because some may simply say "yeah, that's horrible", and click on the TV. Suffice it to say that in the space of about a year, near as I can tell, we watch this 12-year-old boy go from playing with his friends, to experiencing terrors that would drive many insane, to becoming a soldier, to being a cold-blooded killer. There are scenes and activities described that froze my heart.

    Eventually, Ishmael finds his way to some redemption, as must necessarily be the case given that he's still alive and living in America to tell this tale. Even the story of his return to humanity contains lessons for America, most notably that there are no easy fixes for situations like this. Aid workers attempting to rehabilitate the boys are so incredibly stupid and naive that they manage to get half a dozen of the boys killed in their ignorance. Africa's problems are not a "boo-boo" to be treated with a band-aid and a bag of rice from a UNICEF truck. Some of the conflicts go back centuries, persistent cycles of revenge so ingrained in cultures as to require a sea change to end them. Others, like Sierra Leone's, are rooted in the attempt by Africans to mimic the West's government structures (or carry them on post-colonially), only to be led astray by our own bad examples. If we want to help Africa, we have to try to truly understand Africa.

    The May 1997 military coup of Sierra Leone is the point at which I first became aware of the tiny nation, and then only because a coworker of mine was from there. As he struggled long-distance to get his mother out of the country while I watched and listened from my neighboring cubicle in Detroit, the newly rehabilitated Ishmael Beah was engaged in a desperate flight across the border into Guinea, and eventually to America. I don't know what happened to my friend Malik's mother. Malik and I spent a few lunch hours talking about the conditions there, and I think those conversations sowed the seeds for my present opposition to war in all its forms.

    I am ashamed to admit that like most Americans, I was fired up and ready to kill me some Arabs right after 9/11. I supported the idea of going to Afghanistan. I was less sure when it came to Iraq, and quickly changed my mind about the efficacy of a War on Terror. I was not helped at all by the leftist protesters who infamously attacked those with differing views, used opposition to the war to advance other agendas, and generally behaved like spoiled, clueless children. Ultimately, it was an article at the Mises Institute that said "war is the ultimate expression of the State", that got me to re-evaluate my priorities and turn against war.

    A Long Way Gone is a reinforcement of my opposition to war. It is The War Prayer retold, in more graphic detail and with the force of actual events behind it. Further, it is the type of work that demands a response. It lays out an unimaginable horror, identifies that horror with a concept so sanitized in the American psyche as to be unrecognizable, and asks without asking, "what are you going to do about it?"

    Unfortunately, my answer is "I don't know". And that makes me feel very small.

    Posted by Tom, 3/3/2007 5:34:34 AM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, March 2, 2007


    More Nutrition

    Since my previous post on nutritional information for various restaurants, I've seen an upsurge in the number of hits I'm getting, with new traffic coming from people looking for that information. I also realized that I missed some restaurants, mostly because I don't tend to eat there. I figured I'd do a little more research in the interests of disseminating information, so here's some new restaurants:

    RestaurantNutritional InformationComments
    Saltgrass SteakhouseUselessNo info I could find
    TexadelphiaUselessNo info I could find
    McAlister's DeliUselessNo info I could find
    Outback SteakhouseWeb PageNo calories listed, only a "guide" for various diets, but with no real info.
    Olive GardenPrinter-friendly web pageExtremely limited info for "garden fare" menu only.
    Red LobsterPDFLimited info for "light" menu only.
    Cracker BarrelUselessHas some "low carb" listings with no real information.
    Jimmy's EggUselessIf there's info, I can't find it.
    Golden CorralOnline OnlyUgh. Fairly comprehensive info; worst implementation ever.
    Denny'sVarious PDF's at this pageWish they had a consolidated list instead of a bunch of broken up documents, but the info seems fairly complete.
    Burger KingPDFTheir site is so Flash-heavy and difficult to navigate (not to mention broken in Mozilla) that I feel a rant about crappy web design coming on.
    KFCPDFNutrition link on front page
    Long John Silver'sPDFAlso has online calculator.
    SonicPDFLooks pretty complete
    Arby'sPrinter-friendly web pageAlso has online calculator.
    Braum'sWhat the...?Apparently, nutritional information is on the wrappers of the food items. So you don't know what you're getting until you've bought it.


    If you don't know it, Jimmy's Egg is a sit-down breakfast food restaurant, on par with IHOP and Waffle House. Braum's is a burger place where the food is kinda like Wendy's, but with a grocery store. I never saw either one until I came to Oklahoma.

    Posted by Tom, 3/2/2007 6:28:48 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More Oliver

    I know this probably isn't as fascinating for others as it is for me, but so what?








    Posted by Tom, 3/2/2007 5:58:08 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, March 1, 2007


    Oliver







    Posted by Tom, 3/1/2007 5:52:31 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...