Tuesday, December 24, 2013

I'm Dreaming Of A White Christmas

It's Christmastime again and we're in Erie again, but this time our Christmas will be white.  It started snowing yesterday afternoon and then stopped after delivering a light dusting, but overnight the snow returned and we had five to six inches of fluffy vanilla frosting this morning when we woke.  It feels very strange.  This will be our first 'White Christmas' in about 32 years — since we moved out of Connecticut.

Jessica, of course, revels in it.  This is what she moved North for.  I admit I haven't dealt with the stuff in many years and I do not consider that 'a problem'.  It will continue to be 'not a problem' until the new Ford has to be moved.  Keep your fingers crossed.

Merry Christmas.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Thoughts for Bill Of Rights Day, December 15th, 2013

Today, December 15th, is "Bill Of Rights Day", commemorating the date in 1791 when the Bill of Rights was ratified.  Oddly, this commemorative day was first proclaimed on its 150th anniversary in 1941 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who, only second behind Abraham Lincoln, did the most to destroy the Bill of Rights.

The name "Bill of Rights" is itself something of a misnomer.  The Bill of Rights grants us no rights;  they merely codify and protect pre-existing rights:  "Congress shall make no law...", "...shall not be infringed", "...shall not be violated".  They are all prohibitions on actions the government might attempt.  The BoR simply says "thou shalt not".

Note, also, something else about those "rights" (actually, "those prohibitions"):  nowhere do any of them say "citizen", as in "the right of citizens shall not...".  The government is being told "don't do this to anybody", presumably even if they're French...  or Iraqi, even.  Given some of our Supreme Court's recent decisions relating to Guantanamo Bay, it appears those "learned justices" haven't actually read the thing they claim the authority to interpret.  (Not exactly a surprise, I know.)

It's said, and probably 'truthfully', that you can only have rights you are willing to demand.  When the police officer asks "Do you mind if I look around your car?" most of us, knowing our own innocence, respond "Sure, why not?"  If the police officer didn't need to ask, he wouldn't have.  This is your clue to decline the search (others by extension).

It is also said, absolutely truthfully, that you can only have those rights you're willing to let anyone exercise.  As soon as you say "I believe in the right to (here fill in a sample right), but..." you've lost it.  If you admit to circumstances where a right can be foreshortened, you've just burned the right down to the ground.  "IBITR of free speech but... you can't shout 'Fire!' in a crowded theater."  Oops.  What do you shout when the theater is on fire?  "Free popcorn!" doesn't have quite the sense of urgency called for here.  The prohibition on causing panic in the theater is actually a prohibition on lying.  You can speak the truth freely;  you can't slander.  You can keep and bear arms;  you can't murder.  You have the right to do things you should; you never had a right to do things you shouldn't.  More precisely, you don't have any rights to harm others.  Seems somewhat "Golden Rule-ish", no?  Don't do things you wouldn't want others doing to you.  Makes sense to me.


In line with that and with yesterday's commemoration still firmly in mind, today is also "Guns Save Lives Day".

Some background:  back oh... twenty-five years or so ago, someone did a survey to find out how often honest, peaceable folk saved themselves from victimhood because they had a gun.  It wasn't a very rigorous study, so when the figure "2.5 million defensive gun uses (DGU) per year" was announced, everyone snickered.  Ridiculous!

The Clinton-era Justice Department did their own study, this one a little more rigidly controlled.  Their number was 800,000 DGU.

Even this number was too unbelevably high for some people, so a(n anti-gun) Harvard researcher by the name of Hemmenway did his own study, eliminating every instance that might be even-a-little-bit suspect.  Hemmenway eliminated every case where it wasn't certain that a life in danger had been saved.  Hemmenway's number was 80,000 DGU, and even Hemmenway wasn't happy.  When he compared his own pared-to-the-bone number against the 30,000 annual unlawful gun deaths (40% of which are suicides), even he had to admit that it was likely — verging on 'extremely likely' — that guns in the hands of law-abiding folk prevented more deaths than guns in the hands of criminals took — by a factor of 2.7 .

If you're not so anti-gun that you're willing to accept the anti-gun Clinton-era DOJ estimate, then for every person criminally killed each year, 27 violent crimes are prevented, in almost every case without a shot being fired:  "Get lost.  I have a gun and I'll use it."  Problem solved.  2,291 times a day.

The implications of this are important.  Some organizations (Moms Demand Action, Committee to Stop Gun Violence, etc.) would like to see us all disarmed, claiming that this would solve our national crime problem.  That DOJ study, and to a lesser extent the Hemmenway survey, say otherwise.  They say our national crime problem would be horrendous without all those guns in the hands of good people.  What sort of moron would want that?  What sort of evil ghoul would want that?  Not you, certainly.

Happy Bill-Of-Rights Day.  Guns Save Lives.

Saturday, December 14, 2013

Newtown, Arapahoe, and the Inherent Evil of Gun-Free Zones

Jessica, my daughter, posted on FB the day of the shooting at Arapahoe HS (and the day before the first anniversary of Newtown):

Repeat after me. Gun free zones are ONLY gun free for the people following the law!!! Criminals don't care about the sign on the front of the building touting it as a "gun free zone".

Agreeing with her, but elaborating, I commented in reply:

It is EVIL to demand our children remain unprotected against the ravages of a madman. The same people who demand (willing) teachers be disarmed in the classroom would never dream of leaving school children unvaccinated (that is: unprotected against the ravages of a communicable disease).

They KNOW what they are doing and they don't care. They WANT more dead children thinking it will shame us into defenselessness.


I'd like to go a little deeper with that.  This is not rocket science:  the notion that declaring a school a "gun-free zone" will somehow prevent gun tragedies within that zone is "magical thinking" and it is fantasy.  The proof that it is fantasy only requires us to look at the last 60-or-so mass shootings and examine them for commonality.

The common thread you will find is that in all but two, those mass shootings occurred in so-called gun-free zones.  With all the non-gun-free zones we have in this country, what an amazing coincidence that virtually none of the mass shootings occurred where it is legal to have a firearm!  Or is it a coincidence?

There's an old joke about some mental patients being transported by car when the car gets a flat tire.  The driver jacks up the car, pops off the wheel cover, undoes all the lug nuts and places them in the wheel cover so they don't roll away.  Just as he's ready to put the spare tire on, a passing car kicks up a rock that hits the wheel cover and scatters all the lug nuts.  The driver is frantic until one of the mental patients suggests: "Take one lug nut from each of the other tires.  That should secure the spare well enough to get you to a gas station."  The driver tells him: "That's brilliant!  Why are you a mental patient?"  The other responds: "I'm crazy, not stupid."

Mass murderers may be crazy, but they aren't stupid.  The craziest of them will still understand that in order to successfully kill a large number of victims it is necessary that there be little or no effective resistance.  Shoot up a gun store? They may be crazy, but they aren't stupid.  Gun store employees have guns!  Let's find a school, instead.

The solution is obvious to everyone without an agenda: gun-free zones are really criminal-enablement zones.  On the day such a thing was first proposed, sensible people warned of the easily-predictable consequences, but they would not be heard.  Those proposing the original gun-free zones had a thought permanently welded into their brains: guns are evil;  we must keep them away from those most vulnerable.

Could they really have been that stupid to think stern approbation would be enough of a deterrent?  Answer:  no, they didn't think simply declaring a school to be "gun-free" would be any sort of protection, but it sounds nice, and those who feel their way through life get a warm, fuzzy sensation that they have done something.  They haven't, of course.  You and I can see that;  they cannot, and because they cannot, they will think highly of the legislator who helped them feel better and they will vote for hir in the next election.

As to the legislators, they are neither crazy nor stupid.  They know what it is they are doing and they don't care.  Another school shooting merely gives them another opportunity to orate to the TV cameras and to sponsor another bill — clear evidence they are "doing something" about the problem of school violence.  In fact, if there were no such thing as school shootings, those politicians would have to invent it.  It is a fact that the first mass-shooting in a school occurred after passage of the Gun-Free School Zones Act.  Prior to that, the worst school-sited tragedy was the Bath Township disaster, May 18th,1927 (Google it) where a disgruntled school board member dynamited a school killing dozens.

No, dead school children are a good thing to certain people:  those who are so sure firearms are bad that they will suffer the deaths of innocents in order to shame you into giving up your guns.  They may have different motivations, but their end-game is the same.  Some just think guns are yukky;  others know that an armed populace can resist the tyranny they are planning, the world they look forward to;  still others are anti-hunter and wish to see hunting as a sport and hunting as a means of subsistence living done away with.  Whatever their motivation, guns in the hands of "ordinary people" are seen as a bad, bad thing and must be expunged from our culture.  Look!  That child pointed his finger like a gun!  Suspend him!  Shame the parents!  The madness continues because we allow it to continue.  They may be crazy, but they're not stupid.

The madness will continue as long as the bulk of humanity looks at the gun-free-school-zone adherents as merely well-meaning fools.  "They mean well;  they're just not very bright."  Enough of that.  People who put our children at risk regardless of the motivation must be challenged.  What they are doing is EVIL even if they did not intend evil.  The politicians who pass such laws are EVIL.  The people who demand such laws are EVIL.  Those who support evil laws are themselves EVIL.  School administrators who lobby legislators to keep their schools, their colleges, gun free are EVIL and we must get rid of them before more of our children are harmed by well-meaning fools.

The time is now long past that we should "suffer fools gladly".  These people are killing children with their policies.  They didn't pull the triggers, but they loaded the guns.  They need to hear a rising chorus of sensible voices telling them that the last child has died because of their insanity.  They need to be shamed into silence because they finally understand that being crazy and not getting professional help for it is really stupid.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

The Walk

When I was quite young, eight or nine or so, — it seems odd saying that, doesn't it?  'Nine' as 'quite young'?  but at 70, that's the way you see the world. — my father had a Thanksgiving Day tradition: "Would you like to go for a walk?"  We would trek on foot from our home on 43rd Street to the Mrs. Smith's Bakery Outlet at — I'm guessing here — 2nd Avenue and 6th Street.  That's about two miles each way.  Dad would pick up a mince pie, an apple pie, and a pumpkin pie and then we would walk all the way back home, arriving in time for Thanksgiving Dinner, and I'd be famished.

The purpose of the walk, by the way, was twofold: one, to get the kid out of the house so that Mom could pull dinner together (relatively) undisturbed, and two, to get me ready for dinner.  Worked like a charm.

When my brother, Jerry, started his family, he continued this tradition of taking the children for a Thanksgiving Day walk, and his children (and theirs) have carried on that tradition so that The Walk is now done not by two or three walkers, but by two or three dozen and any thought of possibly skipping it this year is strictly out of the question.

I'm sure my father would be pleased.

Friday, November 22, 2013

Military History and the 'Low-information Voter'

I watched a program on the Military History Channel Tuesday (I think - it took me this long to calm down) titled "The Works — Guns and Ammo" which may have been originally broadcast on 8/14/2008.  It seemed to be pitched to the 'low-information voter', so I tuned in to see what they're being told.  This is what I 'learned' (among other things):

  • The M-16 is a semi-automatic.  Well... yes, the M-16 can fire semi-auto but it's really a 'select fire' arm: full-auto, 3-shot burst, and semi-auto.  The M-16 is thus a true "assault rifle".
  • The recoil of an M-16 is light because the muzzle brake reduces it to a manageable level.  Ah... no.  the recoil of an M-16 is light because the puny .223/5.56mm round doesn't produce much oomph.  A muzzle brake keeps the recoil from taking the rifle far off its aim-point.
  • The flash hider hides the shooter's position from the targeted enemy.  Absolute balderdash.  A flash hider hides the flash from the shooter for the purpose of retaining the shooter's night vision capability.
  • The AR-15 is 'AR' because it's an 'Assault Rifle'.  No, it's called an AR-15 because it was first produced by the Armalite Corporation which labels all their models "AR-something".  In fact, if you ask the CSGV (Committee to Stop Gun Violence), they will call an AR-15 an "assault weapon", a made-for-TV term that means "scary-looking guns we would like to ban forever".
  • If you fire a bullet absolutely straight up such that it would fall back onto your head, it will expend all its energy getting to altitude and when it finally gets back down will bounce harmlessly off your head.  (Do NOT try this at home.)

That last really ices the proverbial cake.  It calls into question everything I've ever seen on the Military History Channel; everything.

Let's talk physics.  I fire a bullet absolutely straight up (ASU) at 1,180 fps (feet per second).  The acceleration due to gravity is 32 ft/s/s, so the bullet will rise for (1180/32) 36.875 seconds and it will attain a height of 21,765.25 feet (4.12 miles).  At that instant, its upward velocity will be zero.  It will then begin to fall — 21,765.25 feet.  It will fall for 36.875 seconds (sound familiar?).  When it finally strikes your head, it will be traveling 1,180 fps.  Yes, it expended all its energy getting to a height of 4.12 miles.  Then it gained it all back by falling that same 4.12 miles.

"Bounce harmlessly off your head"?  Uh... probably not.  There is one odd thing that happens, though.  As the bullet exits the muzzle, it will be spinning because of the rifling inside the barrel, and it could be spinning 2,000 rpm.  Although the bullet loses its vertical velocity, it loses very little of its rotational velocity.  At the top of its path, vertical speed zero, it is still spinning at about 2,000 rpm, and it will continue to spin, nose up due to gyroscopic forces, as it falls those 21,765.25 feet.

So, a word to the wise:  whatever you see on the Military History Channel should be taken with a very large ration of salt, especially when they tell you that the Fokker D-7 was "reluctant to spin".  A plane reluctant to spin is also reluctant to turn, and this is not a good thing in a fighter airplane.

Tuesday, October 22, 2013

Leave your friends out of this

"Linda wanted to go with Jim and I on vacation.  Jim and I didn't think this was a good idea."

Do you see the error?  For the sake of etiquette, we always put ourselves last in a group  (...and I).  This frequently causes a syntax error.  (Syntax error?  Dammit, there's a tax on everything!)

We can easily avoid such errors if we just leave our friends out of it.  In the example above, make believe Jim isn't involved at all...  leave him out:  "Linda wanted to go with [...] I on vacation.  [...] I didn't think this was a good idea."

Got it?  Linda wanted to go with me on vacation.  That means that Linda wanted to go with Jim and me on vacation.

Yes, by all means put yourself last when listing a group, but use the same pronoun you would use if it were just you.  Leave your friends out of it.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

User Manual vs Requirements

In the IT world, we have a process.  When a user comes to us with a problem, we collect their requirements (what's wrong, how do they see it being 'fixed', how they wish to initiate the solution if it isn't something that has to happen all the time, etc.).  Armed with the requirements, we create a 'specification' or 'spec', then build and test the solution according to the spec, and lastly we create a user manual to instruct the user(s) how to operate the solution.  Sometimes the user manual precedes the spec, especially if the problem can be solved just with user education.

'Quality' we define as 'conformance to requirements'.  A quality solution to the users' problem(s) is that it matches very closely (ideally, 'exactly') to the requirements they set out in the requirements document.

Comes the day someone is looking at the code/program and scratches their head in wonderment ('what the heck were they thinking?'), one can always go back to the spec or the user requirements to find out what was originally intended.  As regards the user requirements document, there are two rules:

  1. The user requirements are presumed to be definitive;
  2. If the user requirements appear to be incorrect, refer to rule #1

The U.S. government is constructed somewhat along these lines, it turns out.  Our user manual, the instructions for use, are called 'The Constitution of the United States'.  The requirements document is called 'The Declaration of Independence'.  Whenever you suspect something is not working correctly, you can always refer back to the user requirements document to find out what was originally intended.  Sometimes when you do that you get a shock when you realize somebody reallyreally messed up.

The Declaration of Independence is structured into phases.  In the first phase, Jefferson and his colleagues wax philosophical about the nature of man and the nature of government and how the two interact.  It then goes on to list all the ways King George III's government fails to meet their expectations (fails at being a quality government).  It continues on with a catalogue of the ways the colonists have tried to remedy 'the problem' and ends by announcing that they see no other path than to upend the entire apple cart.

The most eloquent segment, pure political poetry when you come right down to it, is the front section where they lay out what a quality government looks like, feels like, smells like:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,  that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.  That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed,  That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. (emphasis mine)

Fairly radical requirements:  our government (according to our founding document) exists for no reason other than to secure our rights.  It's not there to protect us or to make sure we have a good education or decent dental care or a nourishing breakfast.  Its one-and-only function is to make sure our rights are protected.  When we discover our government doing things to minimize our rights (like the USA PATRIOT Act or indefinite detentions or feeling us up at the airport) we have the right to abolish that government — and we probably would if we weren't such sheep.  In fact, the requirements document goes on to say that abolition is actually our duty.

So, what shall we do with a government that actually spends our own money to prevent us traveling freely, and prevents us visiting National Parks which (presumably) we have already paid for and which are (presumably) our property?



Thursday, August 29, 2013

Over There

Well, here's the 'straight skinny'. If you give a President a large, robust armed force, there's an awful temptation to — you know — use it. For that reason, Article I, section 8 ("Congress shall have the power to...") allows them "To raise and support Armies, but no Appropriation of Money to that Use shall be for a longer Term than two Years; To provide and maintain a Navy."

Got that? We can have a permanent (standing) NAVY, but not a similarly situated ARMY. Why? Because it's hard to institute martial law with just a navy, and it's next-to-impossible to go adventuring in tropical climes with just a navy. Yeah, you can shell the beaches and coastal towns, but after that it's pretty much over.

Now, I know (and I've actually had the argument used against me) that one can't survive in the modern world without the ability to 'project force', although most other nations seem to be doing just fine without a DOD whose budget makes it the seventh largest economy in the world.

So that's where we are today: every President back through Harry Truman, including Eisenhower who warned us about "the military-indutrial complex", have used their large, robust army to project force throughout the world: Korea, Iran, Cuba, Africa, Eastern Europe, Southeast Asia, the Caribbean, the Middle East... did I miss anyone? And along the way we have caused a substantial amount of collateral damage and cultivated entire cultures of people willing to commit suicide as long as they get to take a few (dozen, hundred, thousand, million) Americans with them.

And our solution to this problem: obviously, we need a larger, more robust army, plus DHS, plus TSA, plus plus plus plus plus.

Allow me to suggest an alternate plan. We cut the Pentagon budget by 82%. We use the remaining 18% to repatriate all our overseas troops and their expensive equipment and to refuel/rearm all our naval ships. We stop solving everybody else's problems and concentrate on solving our own. For the few thousand core members of the army that enable us to train an army when/if we ever need it, we make sure that they understand the nature of their oath: that they swear to follow the Constitution, and the orders of their superiors in support of that same Constitution.

This could lead to odd situations, it's true. The President orders the First Marine Division into the surf off Latakia, and the General in charge asks for a copy of the Congressional Declaration of War against Syria so he can show it to his gyrenes. The President says "Well, actually, there hasn't yet been a declaration of war on Syria." and General Jarhead tells his boss to let him know when it happens, then stands all his Marines down because they're going nowhere until Congress agrees to pay the bill (on your behalf).

Fantasy, of course. Most of our military join up for the express purpose of making loud noises. Where's the fun in not being able to airdrop into a third-world country and shoot the place up?

Here's the fun: it almost all goes to the American civilian population who no longer get taxed as heavily (because we don't spend so much on expendables), we're thus able to afford luxuries like foreign travel, and we get to go to the airport and get directly onto our airplanes without having our crotches inspected, and we get to visit countries like Cuba with new and interesting customs, and when we get there people don't sneer at us; they (in fact) smile because the US dollar is now actually worth something.

I'm trying to find the downside to this plan. I know there must be one; I just can't see it. Help me out here.

Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Jane Fonda as Traitor (sic)

On FB someone posted the old “Jane Fonda is a traitor” crap and I asked how much of a traitor she could have been given the NVN wasn’t enough of an enemy for Congress to declare war upon.  This brought a not-entirely-unexpected reaction from someone whose brother never came home.  I pointed out that people like Lyndon Johnson and Robert McNamara knew (McNamara said so in his autobiography) VN was a lost cause from day-one but they still sent American soldiers to fight and die in order not to be seen as “soft on Communism”.

At the time, I was a supporter of Barry Goldwater, “Mr. Conservative”, who thought it was a good idea to defoliate all of VN to deny the Viet Cong greencover.  The defoliant was called “Agent Orange”.  I, with Barry, supported raining ecological armageddon down upon all of Southeast Asia in order to “win” (whatever that means).

So, here we are, 42 years and 58,000 dead American soldiers later, and VietNam is one of our trading partners.  Does anyone think the situation would be different had we not sent all those young men over there with their M-16s?  Can anyone actually say those 58,000 deaths served some purpose?  True, they did get John McStain into Congress, but I’m not sure that should be seen as ‘a good thing’.

What we need to learn from places like VietNam, Iraq, Afghanistan, and others, is that soldiers are little more than blocks of wood.  They will be thrown into the sacrificial fire whenever and wherever our elite masters in Washington deem it expedient.  There is no honor in being firewood, and we need to stop playing the game that says ‘s/he’s a hero because s/he got paid out of the Pentagon budget’.  There is no honor in ‘just following orders’.  After WW-II we hung generals and privates for doing just that.  There is no honor in dropping a Hellfire missile from a drone onto a wedding party just because someone in Washington thinks there might be a bad guy or two among the ushers.  That sort of behavior eventually makes people crazy – crazy enough to fly airplanes into office buildings.  If you don’t think that’s true, imagine how we’d feel if Italy were doing it to us.

It’s time – it’s well past time – we demand answers to difficult questions before we send our children abroad with orders to kill.  We need to ask – and get believable answers to – questions like

  • What do we hope to accomplish?
  • How will we know when we’re done?
  • What repercussions should we expect?
  • Is it lawful?
  • Is it moral?
  • Is it just?
  • Is it practical?
  • How much is this going to cost?

We don’t ask any of these questions now.  We charge in “to free the oppressed people of West Wheresoever”, we free them, and almost always we make the situation worse than it was before we butted in to other nations’ business.  And, we empty the Treasury to do it.  Where does all that money go?  To Lockheed-Martin, to Halliburton, to Kellogg-Brown&Root, to thousands of charter members of the military-industrial complex.  Where does all that money come from?

Why, my dear, it comes from you.  It’s the price you pay for the privilege of having your sons and daughters, aunts and uncles, cousins, friends, and acquaintances buried at Arlington with full military honors (sic).