Thursday, October 30, 2014

African Genesis

Some of you may already know that the book that has most influenced the formation of my thinking and philosophy is my raggedy and tattered paperback copy of Robert Ardrey's "African Genesis".

Ardrey was a playwright by profession ("Khartoum" among others), not an anthropologist, but he rubbed shoulders with several of the brighter lights in that field, among whom were people like Louis S. B. Leakey and his wife Mary, and Raymond Dart.  He would cheerfully admit that little of African Genesis was original with him, most of it having come from cocktail party chatter and long talks on the veranda.

The African anthropologists, of course, hold that the human species arose in Africa and sprang from the likes of Australopithecus, so it is not a surprise that Ardrey does so as well.  What makes African Genesis so valuable are those insights that are original with Ardrey.

Ardrey points out — and I can still recall the chill that ran down my spine as I read the words — that the human species has survived only because of our inventiveness — our lethal inventiveness.  Look at our cousins, the chimpanzees and baboons.  Observe their dentition.  Observe their musculature.  Observe their agility.  Compare and contrast with our dentition, musculature, and agility, and remember that we are separated by not so very many eons.  Our DNA is said to be nearly identical with chimpanzee DNA;  A fraction of a percent difference is all that makes us us.  Yet, if you are attacked by a chimpanzee, you had better be armed, quick on the trigger, and deadly accurate.  You will not get a second chance.  Ardrey's challenge to us is to spend one night on the veldt and in the morning still hold that weapons and violence are not an integral part of our genetic makeup.  It can't be done.  No one who experiences the 'night life' of Africa's wilderness comes away with any impression other than 'an unarmed human on the plains of Africa is food'.  Australopithecus passed along its genes only because it could kill with terrible efficiency, and we are its children.

The most important insight Ardrey had for African Genesis was what he called "The Romantic Fallacy".  TRF (for short) holds that human behavior springs from human experiences, and it is a fallacy because there are human behaviors that clearly do not spring from any recognizable human experience, and plenty that mimic animal behavior in species as remote as birds.  Lord Acton brushed against TRF when he said "Power corrupts; absolute power corrupts absolutely."  The drive for power exists across all human ethnicities and cultures.  Not everyone seeks power, but every nationality and ethnicity exhibits the syndrome.  How can we humans hold that the single best route to the future is The Golden Rule, and then say that our behavior is shaped by our experience?  We may know intuitively that TGR is a good plan, but we don't act as if we believe it.  We act, in fact, as if we think it's utter nonsense:  we lie, cheat, steal, fight, and even kill to get what we want, and the thing we almost always want is power or privilege.

"That's human nature," is the typical brush-off response.  Yes, it is human nature, but what in human experience drives this behavior?  The answer:  next to nothing.

The truth is that much of human behavior is rooted in genetics and is older than our species itself — we got it from Australopithecus.  We seek power because the alpha male is the one who gets to pass along its genes and the others don't.  That's not absolutely true in our current society, but only because there's so much opportunity for other than alpha males.  We're taught from infancy that we must succeed.  Why?  Because you want a nice house (territory), don't you?  Of course, you do!

To conclude that feminine attraction for wealth and rank, and masculine preoccupation with fortune and power and fame are human abberations arising from sexual insecurity, hidden physical defects, childhood guilts, environmental deficiencies, the class struggle, or the cumulative moral erosions of advancing civilization would, in the light of our new knowledge of animal behavior, be to return man's gift of reason to its Pleistocene sources unopened.

The Golden Rule is a worthwhile philosophy for life, and yes, we ought to follow it, but when someone acts in violation of it, don't say "he must be having a bad day".  He's acting on instinct, even if nobody recognizes it.

Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Calendars

A company at which I once worked had to solve the "Y2K problem" where comparing year 99 with year 00 gives you the wrong result.  The comparison yields "99 is greater (later) than 00" and that's wrong because it's really [19]99 vs [20]00.  The solution they implemented was to subtract 28 from every year they had to process so that "99 v 00" became "71 v 72" which yields the correct result: '71 is smaller (earlier) than 72".  Why 28?  Because every 28 years the calendar repeats itself and days-of-the-week exactly match date-of-the-year.

Of course, this only works because 2000 was a leap year.  "Of course, 2000 was a leap year!" I hear you exclaim. "It's evenly divisible by 4!"  Well, actually, no, that's not the whole rule.  A year is a leap year if it's evenly divisble by 4, but not if it's evenly divisible by 100 — unless it's also evenly divisible by 400.  1900 was not a leap year, and 2100 won't be, either.  Wait;  you'll see.  1600 was a leap year, and 2400 will be, too, although I doubt very much that you care.

This got me to thinking about why our calendars repeat, and why every 28 years and not every 14 years.  Here's why:

There are only 14 unique yearly calendars.  There are seven for "January 1st is sUnday, Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, thuRsday, Friday, and sAturday.  We'll call these calendars U, M, T, W, R, F, and A.  There are seven more for "this is a leap year"; we'll call those U*, M*, T*, etc.

If a year were 364 days long (52 x 7), every year would begin on the same day of the week.  Since the typical year is 365 days long, succeeding years begin on succeeding days of the week: if this year began on a Tuesday, next year will begin on Wednesday.  When it's a leap year (366 days), next year will skip a day;  instead of beginning on Wednesday, it will begin on thuRsday.  Every 4th year will be a leap year.  So, let's see how they line up.

Let's assume a starting point where January 1st is sUnday, and it's a leap year.  The first calendar is U* and it's 366 days long.  The next calendars will be T, W, R, and F*.  Next is U, M, T, and W*, then F, A, U, and M*, then W, R, F, and A*, then M, T, W, and R*, then A, U, M,and T*, then R, F, A, and U*.  We are now back where we started, at a calendar with January 1st on sUnday, and it's a leap year.  Let's see how we got there.

U M T W R F A
U* T W R F*
U M T W* F A
U M* W R F A*
M T W R* A
U M T* R F A
U*

In 28 years, each day of the week gets to be associated with 'starting a leap year' once and 'not starting a leap year' thrice.  Neat, but it only works if every 4th year is leap.  As long as you don't cross a non-leap-century-boundary (and that only happens three times every four hundred years) you're okay.

While we're on the topic...  Every once in a while I see some nonsense either on FaceBook or via e-mail that says something like "This May has five Fridays and five Saturdays and five Sundays! That only happens once every 42 bazillion years!"  Well, as a matter of fact, no.  It happens four times every 28 years and now you know why.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

Heidelberg, 23 July


The boat docks on the Neckar River somewhat downstream from Heidelberg and buses take us the rest of the way.  It's a time-saving gimmick: the boat is slow compared to buses; while we're touring Heidelberg castle and its town, the boat can complete the trip to Speyer and we'll be that much further along.

Heidelberg is impressive, but much less so than I had expected.  In that sense, I guess, it was a disappointment for someone who has watched The Student Prince once too often.

No pictures here, alas.  Viking River Cruises' free Wi-fi is worth every penny I paid for it -- uploading anything is next-to-impossible.

Koblenz and Marksburg Castle, 22 July



Great weather again.  Temps in the high-70s and bright sun. The boat docks at Koblenz, a name which derives from 'confluence' because here the Main River flows into the Rhine.  

Buses take us up to Marksburg castle, the only German castle never successfully attacked.  As a result, it is in pristine condition.  "Pristine", in this case, means it looks and feels like something out of the Middle Ages.  There are few, if any, alterations beyond basic creature comforts like toilets.  I'd show you images, but I've already spent nearly an hour unsuccessfully trying to upload two using Viking's 'free Wi-fi'.  You'll just have to take my word for it.

Cologne, 21 July

(Posted from Speyer DE.)


It's raining in Cologne, but not heavily, and our guide is a hoot!  He's got a Masters in History, so he knows where all the bodies are buried.  We avoid the cathedral (which is closed, anyway, thank heaven) and prowl the downtown area, finally settling on a tractor-driven tram that gets us back to our ship.

At dinner, the waiter looks at our table and whispers in my ear: "I've seen tables of six with only one man, but never a table of eight with only one man.  How did you do that?"  If I ever find out, I may sell the secret to him, but he won't get it for free.  At 'my' table is Norene, Patricia, Cathy, Gail, Carolyn, and Marcia 1 and Marcia 2.

Post-dinner entertainment is a cello-piano combo performing (excellently) selected short pieces.

Monday, July 21, 2014

Kinderdijk, 20 July

(Posted from Cologne) 

Windmills don't grind grain; they pump water to keep The Netherlands dry. 



They were going to demolish the windmills at Kinderdijk because the newer pumps are so much more efficient, but a Dutch princess pointed out that the rest of the world knows only a few things about Holland: tulips, dikes, wooden shoes... and windmills.  They kept these 19.  Now they can't pull them down because it's a UNESCO World Heritage site.  



There is a message told by the way the vanes are parked: horizontal is 'taking a break'; 11:00 is happiness (births, weddings); 1:00 sadness (sickness, death); 9:30/1:30 is 'permanent stop'. These vanes mark the loss of many Dutch aboard MH17.  (You're seeing them from the back.) 
 


Re-board and we're outahere for Cologne. Internet service will be spotty the whole trip.

Amsterdam, 19 July

(Posted from Cologne.)  


Our hotel is close to the Viking docks, but far from everything else.  Tram 26 to Central Station and bus 48 to the Maritime Museum and suddenly we're in the 17th century, when the VOC, the Dutch East-India Company, ruled the world. 


The cannons are an interactive exhibit designed to teach children and adults to work a warship.  In the cargo hold is a jungle gym made of ropes and barrels.  Norene remarks that in the US, all this would be marked "Do Not Touch". 



We board the Var in time for dinner.  At 11:30 the boat departs for Kinderdijk.  

Amsterdam, 18 July

(Posted from Cologne DE.)  

Viking says they have 'free Wi-Fi', but it only works in port.  When you're in port, you're on a tour.  When you get back from the tour, you're under way.  Catch-22.)

The best laid plans of mice and men gang aft agley, and mine are no exception.  The Rijksmuseum... out.  The VanGogh museum... out.  Anne Frank's house... out.  A walking tour of Amsterdam has shown us that the Red Light district is far more confusing than shocking, but we are better for the experience. 


At least we know where the shopping is best, and we now have a 24-hour tram/bus pass.  It will serve us well tomorrow.  



Saturday, July 19, 2014

Amsterdam, 17 July

Finally!  Decent internet access!  I can finally post my first images of Amsterdam!

Got here on Thursday morning, July 17, exhausted from a long trans-Atlantic flight but determined to tough-through the inevitable jet-lag.  Did some small touring around the city.  Settled for a canal boat ride and barely made it without falling asleep.


Amsterdam is a very pretty little town ringed by three arcs of canals alongside of which are houses -- some dating from the 17th century -- all in a distinctive architecture everyone will recognize as 'Amsterdam'.

On the tour, we saw something that automatically rearranged all our existing plans:  The Dutch East India Company Maritime Museum.


It has a replica of an East Indiaman the original of which wrecked off the coast of England, about which more later.  It's late and I've had lots of wine accompanying a great dinner aboard the Viking Var, so check in again tomorrow for more.

Friday, July 11, 2014

Saving Us From Ourselves

Sheesh!  I have a SmartPhone and it's loaded with apps.  One of them is a shopping-list app provided by Publix, the grocery concern that effectively owns Florida.  I tried to get on that app a day or so ago and it demanded my password — which I, of course, could not remember.  Naturally, I poked the "forgot my password" button and got a quick email response from Publix.

The email directed me (via a hyperlink, thank heaven) to a website where I could reset my password, and that's when I noticed it.

My new password must be, according to the instructions there, between 8 and 28 characters long, composed of lower-case letters, upper-case letters, numbers, and a collection of special symbols (pick two or more).

Really?  I need a complex, hard-to-remember password for my shopping list?  Why?  Is Publix afraid someone is going to steal it?  Perhaps there is some danger that an unauthorized person will go on a shopping spree with my list.  Hell, they might even reset my "favorite Publix" to one that I wouldn't ordinarily have chosen.  Horrors!  Alert the NSA.

In truth, Publix should welcome anyone spending money at any of their locations.  That's why that app is FREE to download and use.  It's the same reason Publix publishes coupons in the newspaper and welcomes their use — by anybody.  So why is my shopping list so secure?

Trying my best to be fair, I called Publix' Customer Relations office and posed the question to them.  Their answer was that, as unimportant as my shopping list might be, there are other datapoints that are associated with the account — my email address, family names, etc. — that I probably wouldn't want compromised.  Fair enough...

But whose decision is that?  Is it Publix' job to see to it that my data is safe — or is it my job?

"The ultimate result of shielding men from the effects of folly is to fill the world with fools." --- Herbert Spencer

Monday, June 30, 2014

I feel the need... the need for speed!

Just back from a 1400-mile trip to Winchester VA (and return) with an observation about American drivers.

Most of them should have their licenses suspended.

What ever happened to "slower traffic keep right"?  Whatever happened to "don't block an intersection"?  Whatever happened to common courtesy?

The problem here, of course, is that "being stupid" is not a moving violation.  My favorite "stupid" is what my friend, Nick, calls "the rolling roadblock":  two (or more) cars abreast all at the same speed.  Yes, they're traveling at the speed limit so, technically speaking, nobody is "faster traffic" and therefore nobody is "slower traffic", either.  Regardless, the left lane is putatively for "passing traffic", and a vehicle not passing shouldn't be there.  Even if they do exceed the other cars' velocity by 0.0004 mph.

Analogous to that is the practice by some semi drivers.  (They drive semi's; they're not partially drivers...  Wait, let me think about that some more.)  Picture a line of semi's in the right lane.  Suddenly, one of them pulls out as if to pass.  Twenty minutes later, the truck pulls back into the right lane having passed all three of the trucks blocking its path.  Behind it in the left lane is a line of cars a mile long.

There is a solution to both these odious practices.  Digital technology makes it not only possible, but cheap:  You want to use the Interstates?  Okay, you have to have one of these "left lane usage indicator"s (LLUI or "Louie") affixed to the back of your car.  It's a huge illuminated stopwatch display and it has a repeater on your dashboard.  It detects that you've moved into the left lane and starts a timer.  If you leave the left lane before 45 seconds have elapsed, the timer resets to zero;  otherwise, the display turns from yellow to red and continues counting up.  If you leave the left lane before 90 seconds, the timer resets to zero;  otherwise, the timer continues counting up, and only stops counting up when you leave the left lane;  it does not reset to zero.  A stopped red timer is an automatic ticket for "obstructing traffic" when any patrolling trooper spots it.

No Louie on your trunk?  Stay off the Interstate because it's an automatic "obstruction" ticket to cruise without your Louie.

But wait!  What if there's a HUGE line of traffic?  Maybe I can't pass them all without going like... 120mph?  If I get a ticket for 120-in-a-70, I'll have to sell my house to pay the ticket!  Relax!  There's no speed limit in the left lane.  Just don't pull out in front of something that is obviously gaining on you.

Of course, there is another solution that doesn't require any sort of technology.

If we take all the speed limits off all the Interstates, Ma and Pa Kettle will no longer be able to squat in the left lane "doing the limit" because there won't be any limit.  Some of those drivers may just decide to not travel by Interstate.  They'll tell you it's because there are so many crazy drivers going at crazy speeds, but the real reason will be that they would much rather travel on highways that accommodate their skill level.

Yes, there will be accidents, but after the first few weeks I believe the accident rate will begin to look like what Germany's Autobahn experiences.  This has, in fact, happened.  In 1994 when Congress dropped '55' as the National Maximum Speed Limit, Montana changed its Interstate speed limit to 'Reasonable & Prudent', and in their first nine months of R&P they saw a 28% decline in highway fatalities.  The crashes they did have were in almost all cases spectacular.  No one should be surprised that two cars closing at 250mph will leave no survivors, but the frequency of those crashes was so low that the overall fatality rate plummeted.

How did this happen?  There were two reasons:  the first reason was that, with no numerical speed limit, drivers could no longer feel justified about monopolizing the left lane;  they moved right to cede the leftmost lanes to faster traffic.  Civil engineers call this "lane discipline".  The second reason harks back to my second paragraph:  drivers whose skill level was not appropriate to an Interstate highway abandoned the Interstates for secondary roads with speed limits their skills could handle.

I'm trying to find the down-side to this but can't.

The Interstates should be America's Autobahn.

Friday, May 9, 2014

No Easy Walk To Freedom

I listened to the music of Peter, Paul, and Mary for 35 years before I began to understand what they were singing about.

NO EASY WALK TO FREEDOM
Peter Yarrow and Margery Tabankin
©1986 Silver Dawn Music (ASCAP)

Oh, bread for the body, there's got to be
But a soul will die without liberty
Pray for the day when the struggle is past!
Freedom for all!  Free at last!  Free at last!

chorus:
No easy walk to freedom,
No easy walk to freedom,
Keep on walkin' and we shall be free
That's how we're gonna make history

There is no easy walk to freedom anywhere, and many of us will have to pass through the valley of the shadow of death again and again before we reach the mountaintop of our desires. -- Nelson Mandela

Conservatives and liberals think of themselves as holding principled positions and I don't dispute that — although their principles are not easily put into words and thus, with no firm or formal basis, no Ten Commandments, the application of those principles takes on a distinctly squishy appearance.  Republicans and Democrats are party-people;  they're content to be led by the party leadership (presumably chosen by the led in some mutually agreed format) and their principles (to the extent they can be said to have any at all) are enshrined in the party platform, principally focused on winning the next election, and subject to change at the whim of the convention.  The same may be true of Greens, Reformists, Socialist Workers, and others;  I don't know enough about them to hold an informed opinion.

Libertarians differ from all of these in a special way.  We've all had to fight our way to this point, and for many the journey has, indeed, been no easy walk to freedom.  Our single principle, that which defines us, is what L. Neil Smith calls 'the Zero Aggression Principle' (ZAP):

A libertarian is a person who believes that no one has the right, under any circumstances, to initiate force against another human being for any reason whatever;  nor will a libertarian advocate the initiation of force, or delegate it to anyone else.

Those who act consistently with this principle are libertarians, whether they realize it or not.  Those who fail to act consistently with it are not libertarians, regardless of what they may claim.

I've often said that nobody becomes a libertarian overnight.  There is always some resistance to ZAP simply because our whole life has been lived under a regime of 'do this or else...'.  It is difficult under the best of circumstances to envision a world where 'or else' does not involve somebody doing something unpleasant.  There is no 'Eureka!' moment when it all suddenly becomes clear.  Almost always it's a process that takes years rather than months.  Consequently, there will always be in any gathering of libertarian-minded folk some who are further along down that road and others who haven't quite made it as far.  This is a constant source of conflict as those far-advanced berate the rear guard for not being as ideologically pure as they ought to be.

This has to stop.  Anyone who has started their walk to freedom must be welcomed as a real 'fellow-traveler' (the Communists got that right) and be encouraged rather than harassed.  Those who haven't started their journey: conservatives, liberals, and other party-people; must be won over, but that, also, will be no easy walk.  Too many of them think of freedom as a tool with which to fashion the ultimate prize: a new world.  They seek power in the unsupported-by-experience belief that power in their hands can deliver freedom;  it can, but it will not. 

We own their hearts when they begin to understand that freedom is the prize, that it cannot be imposed, and that any polity awash in freedom will need no further fashioning.  The truth of this is not intuitively obvious.  All those non-libertarians, alas, will each have to make their walk to freedom on their own, and the only thing libertarians can do for them is to stand at the forks in the road as guides.

"Freedom this way.  Watch your step.  It's no easy walk."

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Revolt of the Nutmeggers

For those of you who do not follow Mike Vanderboegh's Sipsey Street Irregulars blog, there are big doings in Connecticut, the Constitution State.

Last April, in response to the prior December's horrendous shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary, the Connecticut legislature passed a knee-jerk law requiring all "assault weapons" and "high capacity magazines" to be registered with the state by the start of 2014.  (I put "assault weapons" and "high capacity magazines" in quotes to emphasize that these are phoney-baloney made up terms used merely to demonize equipment in wide and lawful use by very many upstanding citizens throughout the country.)

When passed, those in the know in CT estimated upwards of 370,000 assault weapons and as many as four million (4,000,000) magazines were then in the hands of an unknown number of Nutmeggers.  Well, the deadline for registering all that nasty equipment has passed and fewer than 50,000 rifles and fewer than 40,000 magazines have been registered.  That is, <15% of the guns and <1% of the magazines.  Yes, ONE percent.

It gets worse.  Pro-gun organizations in CT as well as elsewhere have bluntly stated their resolve to touch off another revolution if the state tries to confiscate any of the unregistered firearms.  Given the realities on the ground, the Connecticut State Police have the upper hand only for the first one or two such confiscations, after which an all-out war is not outside the envelope of possibility.  CT legislators have had their home addresses posted online and reacted by demanding personal state-paid security details to forestall assassination attempts.

Connecticut Carry, one such organization promoting concealed- and open-carry for CT, issued a press release giving the legislature until May 7th to repeal the intolerable act saying "shit or get off the pot" (yes, that is a quote from the presser) meaning "repeal or enforce, take your pick".

Stay tuned.  This could get interesting.

Monday, February 24, 2014

Nosing Around

Various members of my family are getting a chuckle out of one of my peculiar physical disabilities.  "That's shocking!" I can hear you bellow.  Indeed, but I'm tough;  I can take it.

The particular disability is that I cannot smell marijuana.  I first began to suspect something was wrong when we lived in Brookfield, CT back in the late 70s.  Norene and I attended a "drug awareness seminar" hosted by the local sheriff at a neighborhood church.  A deputy with a squeeze bottle inside of which burned a quantity of MJ walked among us puffing clouds of smoke so that we parents could recognize what I'm told is a quite-distinctive odor, the better to detect when our children were engaging in "reefer madness", I suppose.

"What are we supposed to be smelling?" I asked the person next to me.  She looked at me like I was crazy.  "You can't smell that?"

No, I couldn't.  It didn't smell like anything I could recognize other than burning paper.  "No, no... it's kind of a sweet smell... very flowery."  That's not how I describe a paper fire.

Since then I've deliberately placed myself — several times — in situations where I knew or suspected I was surrounded by people puffing away on joints.  Nothing.  I know it's not the aroma they're after, and I no longer smoke anything, but I am feeling a little... deprived, I guess, is the right term.  It's said to be a very pleasant aroma but since I quit smoking, that means I'll never get a Rocky Mountain High, so all this legalization going on hither and yon is likely to do absolutely nothing for me.

So don't bother trying to describe the aroma to me.  Its a waste of time.  I suspect that if someone were to synthesize "attar of marijuana" I might be unable to smell that either.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

My Favorite Piece of (Political) Poetry

That would, of course, be the gool ol' Declaration of Independence.  Thomas Jefferson is rightly honored for his masterful wordsmithing on the document that launched us down the path of nationhood.  Listen to the words, how they slip into the ears and then into the brain in such a way as to make us instinctively nod our heads in agreement:

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

Jefferson is saying "I know you think this is rash, but let us tell you why we think this is necessary" and then he starts laying out his case like a veteran prosecuting attorney:

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.

This is the axiom of the American system:  we are all equal;  our rights come from God, not from the King or Parliament;  government exists for the primary purpose of seeing our rights are protected;  we create the government; it doesn't just magically appear;  when government screws up, it is up to us to decide that government has, in fact, screwed up,  and having made that determination, we get to choose how we shall change our government so that it actually fulfills its purpose.

When the Declaration was promulgated, this was outrageously bizarre to almost everyone involved in politics.  The people make decisions about their government?  Are you nuts?  What do ordinary people know about government?  Kings and Parliaments worldwide couldn't imagine where we had gotten such odd ideas.  (Actually, they could.  I'm just dramatizing.  John Locke's name was well known among the European intelligentsia, many of whom wished he had never been born.)

Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.

Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

That is:  "We recognize that this sort of thing doesn't happen every day, and it shouldn't.  On the other hand, sometimes it becomes necessary."  He then begins an indictment of King George III, laying out the charges one-by-one.  I won't list them all, but there are a few that are worth pondering.

He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness of his invasions on the rights of the people.

He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

Any student of American History will recognize echoes of these in our Constitution and Bill of Rights.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, ... solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States...  And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.

They didn't really have to add that last part.  Everyone who inked their name below knew they were committing treason and that they were, indeed, pledging their lives.  Several of them, in fact, ended their lives and political careers destitute at the end of a length of British rope.

How many of us, I wonder, have the cojones they did?

Thursday, January 9, 2014

(Military) Revisionist History

Well, they're at it again, those crazy guys over at The Military History Channel!  They have this (usually) great program called "How We Invented The World" and it always has a sub-title: "Railroads", "Planes", etc.  Last night they did "Guns" which was a survey of how personal weaponry has changed (and how little it has changed) since the first example in the 17th century.  Most of it was very entertaining and informative, but as with all such topics, it's very easy to get things wrong, and this is especially true when one allows one's bias to creep in.  It appears that's what happened.

Discussing the early 20th century, they mentioned the venerable, iconic firearm of the Roaring Twenties, the Thompson submachine-gun, the Chicago typewriter.  Now, a little background for those who haven't studied the political history of the era — from someone who has.

The Thompson (or "tommy gun") was invented in 1919, right near the end of WW-I.  Thompson envisioned the thing as a "trench broom", but it never made it into battle before the war ended.  There was a small pre-production run and full production began in 1921.  Back in those good old days there were no federal gun laws to speak of.  It was (literally) possible to send a letter to Auto-Ordnance of Hartford, Connecticut with your check for $200 and purchase (direct from the company) a Thompson with a 20-round stick magazine.  Farmers and ranchers found it a worthwhile investment for scaring off predators, whether four-legged or two-legged, and many were sold "out west" for entirely lawful purposes.  Your brand new Thompson would be delivered to your door by the Railway Express Agency or Wells Fargo or American Express (yes, they did deliver packages once upon a time).

Here is where The (Military) Revisionist History Channel goes astray.  First, they ascribed the name "trench broom" to the Thompson as the weapon our doughboys used to clear WW-I trenches of pesky Germans, quite a feat for a firearm that hadn't been invented yet.  In fact, doughboys used sawed-off shotguns and referred to them as "trench brooms".

Then, as if to ice the cake, they note that the National Firearms Act of 1934 (NFA) was passed specifically to get these "weapons of war" off the streets because "they were making their way into the hands of criminals, probably via dodgy dealers".  (I hope I got that quote right.)  Well...  not to put too fine a point on it...  horsefeathers!

  1. The NFA was passed as a revenue bill because Congress knew they couldn't reguate firearms.  The $200 transfer tax was enough, however, to flush nearly everyone out of the habit of keeping submachine-guns, sawed-off shotguns, and silencers handy — too damned expensive.
  2. "Dodgy dealers" included Sears-Roebuck, Montgomery Ward, Ace Hardware, and the Auto-Ordnance Company of Hartford, Connecticut.  Not every Tom, Dick, and Harry store could afford to stock inventory that cost over $200 per unit.  This was the twenties, after all.
  3. In fact, there were not yet any federal firearms dealers since that didn't begin until 1934's National Firearms Act mandated a federal license to sell firearms commercially.

So many errors in a single sentence!  (Military) Revisionist History Channel, you've outdone yourself!