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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Making Guns Is Not Rocket Science

The aurora shooting has re-inflamed the gun-rights versus gun-control debate.  There's one part of the gun-control advocates' position that I've never understood.

Let's say that somehow, via legislation and enforcement, every single existing civilian gun was removed from the face of the earth, and all military and police weapons were perfectly safeguarded.

What on earth would stop people such as criminals from building their own guns?

Guns were invented hundreds of years ago.  Many very lethal versions are extremely low technology items.  They were specifically designed to be easily built with minimal equipment.

I just did a google search with the terms "build your own gun" and got 126,000,000 hits.  That's a lot of hits.

An example link shows detailed plans on how to build an AK-47 style machine gun (and/or fully automatic handgun) in 24 hours or less using parts available at Home Depot and the like and tools you have at home.  Sure, you might only get a few thousand rounds off with such a weapon before it falls apart, but for a criminal or rampaging psychopath, it will probably do just fine.

Willing to engage machine shops and get parts built according to CAD drawings freely available on the Internet?  Well, then it might take several days to get your gun built, but it will be as accurate and reliable as a professionally manufactured weapon, because, well, it is professionally manufactured - you're only doing the final assembly.  Use several machine shops for the different parts and nobody will have any idea what you're building.

There's just no way to rid the earth of guns without also ridding the earth of metal.  Criminals will always have unfettered access to them.

This makes the concept of gun-control to be so utterly pointless as to be absurd.

Update: Via Instapundit, forget the machine shops, just use a 3D printer to print the gun.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012

Internal Alien

Two hikers in the woods encounter a grizzly bear.  The first hiker starts putting on his running shoes.  The second hiker says, "Don't be silly, you can't outrun a grizzly bear."  The first hiker replies, "I don't have to outrun the grizzly, I only have to outrun YOU!"

I used to tell that joke moderately often.

My wife and I were riding our mountain bikes on a country road a few years back.  The ride had been scenic and uneventful when suddenly, this enormous and ferocious looking dog with red eyes, huge teeth dripping saliva, and malice emanating from head to tail came charging at us.  My wife is perfect in many ways, but being a fast bike rider is not one of them.  It was clear that there was no way she could go fast enough to get away from the dog.  She said the first thing to come to her mind was the above joke about the bear and knew that I could easily ride faster than her.

My experience was quite odd and I've never experienced anything like it before or since.  Something farther down my brain stem, something instinctive and primal, took complete control of my body.  My conscious self was suddenly along for the ride, not only having no control, but not even having any input.  I heard my voice yell, "Go! Go!" to my wife and watched myself position my bike directly between her and the dog in what was clearly a protective maneuver.  I was quite surprised and remember thinking, "I wonder what my body is going to do next?" as the dog closed in.

Fortunately, my wife under these particular circumstances is actually quite a fast bicyclist.  She accelerated her bicycle through the speed of sound nearly instantaneously and the resulting sonic boom left broken windows in three counties.  Her superhuman effort left me in the dust, but fortunately I was able to go fast enough to get out of the dog's range as well.

I don't tell the bear joke very often anymore.  That experience made it too close to home.

My wife thought I was pretty chivalrous.  I haven't bothered to mention that it wasn't "me" that was chivalrous, at least not the "me" that's writing this post or the "me" that she usually interacts with.  It was some internal alien that was chivalrous, a "Mr. Hyde"-like creature who is apparently encoded in my genes to emerge when my wife and perhaps other loved ones are in imminent danger.  We live pretty safe lives and that was the most danger in which I've ever seen any of my loved ones, so the alien has always been dormant except this one time.

One thing I read about the Aurora shooting that brought tears to my eyes was the following:
In final acts of valor, Jon Blunk, Matt McQuinn and Alex Teves used their bodies to shield their girlfriends as accused madman James Holmes turned the Aurora cineplex into a shooting gallery.
Out of the 12 people who died, (at least) three did so for altruistic reasons.  Amazing!

I've always wondered if I would have the courage to do something like that.  If the emergent alien comes through, for sure.  If not, who knows?

Whether their actions were conscious or instinctual, they were heroes either way.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

I Laughed and I Cried

Here is a review I wrote on for the book "The Gardens of Democracy" by Eric Liu and Nick Hanauer:
I found this book to be contradictory, incoherent, and wildly naive. An example of the contradictory nature of this book is linked to the title and depicted in the book cover's illustration. The authors switch back and forth between a garden metaphor and an ecosystem metaphor as convenient to make their points. The problem is that a garden and an ecosystem are nearly exact opposites. An ecosystem is robust, resilient, and self sustaining while a garden is what you get after you annihilate an ecosystem and plant a limited number of flora. The garden is fragile and not self-sustaining and needs constant tending. Given that parts of the book are argued using the metaphor of the garden as depicted on the front cover (notice the neat and regular rows of crops) and other parts of the book are argued using the metaphor of the ecosystem, it's not surprising to me that it seems contradictory and incoherent. 
I laughed out loud several times when encountering incredibly simplistic and blatant use of strawman arguments. For example, the authors write, "Libertarianism ... rests ... on the falshood that humans are reliably and inherently rational, calculating, and selfish." Libertarianism rests on no such assumption. After setting up and beating down numerous such strawmen, the authors look across the resulting field of straw and claim that since none of the strawmen are left standing, their arguments must be right. 
I cried (not literally) when I then noticed the overwhelmingly positive reception this book has gotten. The positive reception is not only from amateur reviewers such as the ones here at Amazon, but also from well known thinkers and writers such as Francis Fukuyama. As a result, I fully expect that anyone reading this negative review will treat it with suspicion and/or skepticism. That's perfectly fair and I only ask that when you read the book you do so with your eyes open and your critical thinking skills fully engaged.
The good news is that I stumbled onto the book at scribd while looking for reviews so at least I didn't waste any money buying the book.  The book is just yet another call for a large, activist government that "tends" the citizenship, economic, and social "gardens" (or ecosystems, depending on what page you're on) of society.

Saturday, July 07, 2012

Crispy Crispy Benjamin Franklin

My daughter played the song "Chemo Limo" by Regina Spektor for me the other day.  I don't particularly like that artist and that song is terribly depressing.  It's about a mother dying from cancer, fighting it with chemo, but the chemo is making her intensely miserable and she's wondering if she should just blow the "Crispy Crispy Benjamin Franklins" (money for chemo) on a Limo instead, and "go out in style".  It's an interesting tradeoff: live well briefly then die or drag it out as long as possible.

What would you do?

But it got me thinking.  Imagine that you're quite old with not so many years left in the best of circumstances. Imagine Medicare didn't exist and you have no other insurance.  But you have $200,000 that you had saved over your lifetime to support retirement.  Your doctor tells you that you have cancer.  You learn that it will cost about $200,000 to fight it in which case you can expect to live a few years or you can let the disease take its course and then you'll die in a couple of months.  Assume that you have children.  In the first case you'll leave nothing for your children, but if you let the disease take its course, your children will inherit $200,000.  Your children aren't starving but they're not particularly well off either and could definitely use the money.

What would you do?

Now assume that you don't have $200,000, but you do have Medicare and/or other sufficient health coverage to get the $200,000 worth of treatment.  Your children will be no better or worse off regardless of whether or not you choose to fight the cancer.

What would you do?

If the government (i.e. everybody else) is going to pay for, why not fight it?  It doesn't cost you or your children anything.  But now let's say the government says, "Yes, we'll pay $200,000 over 5 years for your treatment if you want.  But if you choose not to take the treatment and let the disease run its course, we'll make you comfortable and we'll give you $100,000 to bequeath to your heirs when you die.  So if you refuse treatment, your children, grandchildren, etc. will be substantially better off.

What would you do?

The federal government estimates that 70 percent of health-care expenditures are spent on the elderly, 80 percent of that in the last month of life -- and often for aggressive, life-sustaining care that is futile.  What if we gave the option to those that are dying (but mentally competent to make such decisions) to forego treatment and instead give half the saved healthcare money to their children?  There are many benefits for society.  Many tens of billions of dollars per year would be saved, yet the children would be better off, doctors would have more time for other patients, hospital beds would be less overbooked, and healthcare facilities would, in general, have more capacity for other patients.  All it requires is that some people would say yes to foregoing end-of-life treatment.

What would you do?

Friday, July 06, 2012

Answer to: Let's Play Guess the Year and Party

For my recent post that highlighted a Senate debate espousing protectionism against foreign trade, the date of the debate was February 13, 1936 and the Senators were both Democrats.

A larger segment is available at Roger Pielke's blog and starts out by complaining about China.  Apparently China was a villain even back then.

Some things never change!

Thursday, July 05, 2012

Might Makes Right: Obamacare

I wasn't at all surprised by the SCOTUS decision regarding the individual mandate.  After all, it's really just semantics to say that an individual mandate to buy something or else pay a fine is any different than a tax with a deduction for buying something, the latter of which has been done over and over with no constitutional debate.

Whereas I don't personally think that Chief Justice Robert's writing in the majority decision showed particularly lucid reasoning, I think the gist was reasonable.  The individual mandate is not allowed by the Commerce Clause, but rather under the taxing clauses.

This is yet another example of taxation being in direct conflict with freedom and has been exacerbated by the 16th amendment: "The Congress shall have power to lay and collect taxes on incomes, from whatever source derived, without apportionment among the several States, and without regard to any census or enumeration." Without the 16th amendment, these sorts of tax versus tax credit bits of legislation would be a lot harder.

Any behavior can be thus enforced through taxation.  For example, Congress could legislate that everybody pay 100% of their income in taxes with deductions for various behaviors such as buying health insurance, eating broccoli, working for progressive causes, etc.  If you don't do enough of the "right" behaviors, you starve.

I'm not saying that Congress is about to do anything as extreme as that.

What I am saying is the constitution really is just a piece of paper that has virtually no protective or really even useful value.

Ultimately, Might Makes Right.

Update: According to Randy Barnett, who actually probably knows what he's talking about, I'm wrong - the level of taxation allowed in cases like this cannot amount to coercion, only incentive.

Sunday, July 01, 2012

Drat! Foiled Again!

I think that focus, tenacity, and perseverance are the three most human qualities most correlated with success. While I think that these are mostly innate qualities, I think they can be nurtured and significantly strengthened.

I got my electric guitar out of the attic for my older daughter who takes guitar classes at school. They do classical guitar the first half of the year and electric the second half.

My guitar has been calling to me. I don't mean that I've been having hallucinations, it's just that I feel a strong attraction to it.

When my younger daughter was 9, she and I were listening to "Johnny Winter And... Live" and we started talking about the music. She really dislikes his voice, especially when he hits the high notes using a sort of gargling falsetto scream. I told her I rather like that style of singing but could understand why she didn't like it.

I then went on to say the he was (is) a truly great guitarist. I wanted to then continue by turning that statement into a lecture about focus and tenacity so I pointed out that one of the reasons he's great is that he basically plays guitar or listens to music every waking second. I do believe that's one of life's most important lessons: success is more due to focus, tenacity, and perseverance than any other quality.

However, I was thwarted in delivering the rest of the lesson because the conversation went something like this:

Daughter: But you're a great guitarist and you don't play guitar all the time.

Me: No. I'm an okay guitar player[1], Johnny Winter is a great guitarist[2].

Daughter: Well, I think you're a great guitarist, daddy!

So she melted me then and there, rendering me incapable of continuing the lesson, even though my first thought was, "I'd better get her ears checked."

Unfortunately, the flip side of the focus, tenacity, and perseverance coin is obsession. Obsession is unhealthy in and of itself, but also seems to be closely related to drug addiction and alcohol dependence. That certainly was true for Johnny Winters and who knows how many other dead or ruined rock guitarists.

It's a fine balance between being obsessed enough to achieve success (how ever one wishes to define it) and staying healthy and reasonably balanced. I think it might be mostly genetic though.

[1] I feel that there are three levels of guitar virtuosity: guitar owner, guitar player, and guitarist. I'm somewhere in the guitar player range - on a good day.
[2] Great guitarists seem to have three qualities: (1) obsession, (2) huge hands, and (3) steel belted fingertips (mine blister quite easily).