Author Archive

How soon we forget the lessons of LeVar Burton

Posted in Uncategorized on January 7, 2013 by eposognatus

Interest in my previous post (If you never change your mind…) has led me to continue on the subject of firearms crime, a short series in which this entry will be part two of three.

No doubt in the maelstrom of debate surrounding firearms in the United States you have been subject to many statistics and heard numerous and contradictory claims hurled about with equal authority. Do more guns invariably lead to more crime, or is the opposite actually the case? Rarely do media outlets or the persons who they give voice to cite their sources in their claims, and if they do they are usually guilty of picking and choosing the numbers that suit them best. As they say, “figures lie and liars figure.”

Just as the wise sage of Reading Rainbow spake unto us, “…you don’t have to take my word for it,” neither must we take theirs. The bounty of the Internet permits us immediate access to numerous databases from the FBI, CDC, Behavioural Risk Factor Surveillance System (BFRSS) and numerous others, from which we can derive raw data to draw our own conclusions. From such sources I have created the following graphs, which I will comment on briefly and leave the rest to you.

Firstly, let us set aside comparing the United States to country X, Y, or Z. The United States is not those countries, and in comparing them many factors are invariably ignored or skewed. Let us instead compare the US to itself, as it is composed of many differing cultural and economic regions known – oddly enough – as states. This first graph shows us all fifty of them and the rate of firearms ownership by household, along with the homicide rate per 100,000 and the firearms homicide rate per 100,000.

LB_Ownership_vs_h

So, what do we see here? Both the general homicide rate and the firearms homicide rates trend upwards to the right, while oddly enough, firearms ownership trends downwards. That can’t be right! What’s going on here? This is the basic data set that most pro-gun groups are going to use. It shows that the fewer guns there are, the more crime there is. That’s actually true, and if you look at the raw data it sticks right out at you, but it is of course not the whole story. My take? Areas of high crime have enacted stricter gun control measures, decreasing the percentage of guns per household. Obviously it doesn’t seem to decrease homicides, however…

So it’s a chicken or the egg scenario then. If, based on this data we take the view that more guns does not lead to more death, what then is causing the increase in homicide rates? This is something that is heavily ignored by nearly everyone, but the answer(s) should be obvious to anyone who gets around or can look at a map.

LB_Firearm_hr_vs_pdpl

Here I’ve taken only firearm homicides and compared them to two other significant factors – population density and poverty levels. Across all fifty states we can see a much clearer link to a rise in population density and poverty with homicide rates.

LB_Topten

Let’s get more detailed and break this down and see it it holds up. Here we have the top ten states with the highest rates of firearms homicide, compared to firearms ownership, population density, and poverty level. As we can plainly see, while firearms ownership decreases as the firearms homicide rate goes up (despite there being fewer firearms), population density and poverty levels neatly follow an upward trend along with homicides. You may be wondering why I’ve left out the overall homicide rate, and if I’m hiding something by doing so. It is (un)surprisingly unwavering across the graphs no matter how you plot them, so I left it to make the remaining data more clear.

LB_Bottom_ten

On the the other end of the spectrum we have the ten states with the lowest firearms homicide rates. You’ll note first of all that several of these states also have the highest rate of firearms ownership – well over 50%. This graph is a little different because two states – Hawaii and Rhode Island are interesting outliers. Were I a bureaucrat or lobbyist I would most likely drop them from the chart but I’ve left them here for you to see. All these states have very low firearms homicide rates, and also generally low population density and poverty. The trend lines are skewed due to Hawaii and Rhode Island’s much higher population density and their much lower firearms ownership. Hawaii makes sense in this case because it’s an island, and therefore easily regulated, but Rhode Island remains a mystery to me. It would seem there is something to be learned from RI, as its immediate neighbour, Massachusetts, has a nearly identical firearms ownership rate but a firearms homicide rate three and a half times as high. Its other bordering state, Connecticut, of recent mass shooting infamy, has a comparable firearms ownership rate but a firearms homicide rate of more than four and a half times as high. Feel free to crunch your own data on that one.

Let’s get back to poverty for a moment. The “gun control” debate will likely continue for some time, but then both sides stand to make huge amounts of money (either through the manufacture and sale of firearms or through the policing and incarceration of offenders), but not many people have have gotten rich helping the poor. Addressing some of the most basic and long-standing problems of society just isn’t as sexy to talk about as “getting rid of guns.” Poverty, crime, and murder have existed for millenia before firearms were even invented, yet we make little effort to combat so obvious and persistent problems. Better to battle the bogeyman of the terrorist, lone gunman, or looming fiscal cliff. These are all distractions to keep us from taking a hard look at what the real problems are and what we can do to remedy them.

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Inverse Appropriation of Power

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, Environmentalism with tags , , on October 5, 2012 by eposognatus

overcompensatingIt continually astounds me how people crave more than they need, or even more than they could ever possibly use. The automotive industry is a horrific offender in the more than you need category, and while we – in the US – still do not produce any fuel-efficient vehicles worth speaking of, we continue to cater to the horsepower crowd.  The majority of people today have no contact with horses. Because of this, and their immensely poor elementary education, they have no concept of the power of single horse. Horsepower is a measurement of work performed over time, equivalent to 746 Watts or 33,000 ft·lbf/min. Since this still is meaningless to most of us, let me put it in terms of driving. To maintain 60 MPH on level ground the average car only requires about 12 HP. That’s it. All the extra is there for acceleration, passing, and going much faster than the speed limit.

Power output of automobiles has varied over the years, with the earliest cars making around 20HP and going from there. The point here however isn’t how much and when but why. The average passenger car today comes with well over 200 HP. If you look at what you can do with that much power, you really have to start wondering why you need it to drop the kids off at school and pick up groceries.

The above graphic illustrates some popular vehicles and their HP ratings. These were not chosen as extremes, but as well known and commonly-operated models. The Toyota Camry and F-150 are consistently in the top five best selling vehicles in the US, and the D6 and Skyhawk are iconic in their roles.

From Low to High

Caterpillar D6n: 150 HP

Cessna Skyhawk: 180 HP

John Deere 6170r: 200 HP

Toyota Camry: 268 HP

Dodge Grand Caravan: 283 HP

Ford F-150: 360 HP (or more).

If you never change your mind, why have one?

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, Legal / Laws, Politics on August 19, 2012 by eposognatus

A guide to discussing gun control and other divisive topics.

In the wake of the recent Aurora, CO.,  Oak Creek, WI., and other mass shootings I’m sure your Facebook newsfeed and workplace watercooler conversations are saturated with both pro and anti-gun rhetoric. It is undoubtedly circular and and divisive, with each side nodding their heads sagely and thinking the other quite insane. Despite generally being a rational person, the subject drives you to a degree of utter inflexibility that no other can aside from perhaps abortion, religion, or Obama’s country of birth. Well, personally, I’ve rather had enough of all your choir-preaching and utter inability to concede on any point whatsoever or hold a logical, productive discussion.

So, in light of your continued and undying cyclical arguments, I present some observations and guidelines here in the vain hope of bringing some common ground. If you find any of them offensive, you’re probably too thin-skinned to even bother discussing the issue anyway.

For everyone

1. Broaden your perspective. Be critical and open-minded. Question and Factcheck. Don’t just read/listen to/watch the propaganda of your own party/group – pick up the newspapers and magazines of “the other side.” Maybe you have to secret yourself away in some dark corner of the basement in order to turn the pages of American Rifleman or Mother Jones but whatever it takes, read up. Know thy enemy, as they say.

2. Educate yourself. Bone up on history, politics, and law. And I don’t mean sit and watch the “History” Channel. Crack the spine of an actual book. There are these fantastic buildings called libraries which are full of them and staffed with wonderful people known as librarians who can help you find a title worthy of your time.

3. Discuss. Talk to friends, family, co-workers, strangers – about what you think and listen to what they have to say. Don’t go looking for an argument or make one yourself. Don’t discard other’s beliefs out-of-hand just because you think them “crazy.”

4. Be active. Don’t just bitch about how things are or aren’t or how the NRA is too powerful or the “Liberal Media” has brainwashed everyone. Vote. Write your Congress-person. Protest. Make a website or Youtube video. Whatever you need to do to get your word out and see what others are saying.

 For the anti-gunner/(non-gun-owning) Democrat/Liberal

You’re a latte-swilling, long-haired dirty hippie/commie/atheist tree-hugging vegan who – if you have a job at all – works at some liberal arts college. You like to whine, whine, whine!

You wouldn’t go to a foreign country without first learning at least a few phrases and checking up on the customs, right? In the language of firearms, right now you can’t even ask where the bathroom is. You are an outsider and you’ll have to make an effort to understand the culture before you can hope to have a conversation, nevermind negotiate a contract. What’s more is that a little book-learning doesn’t replace experiential knowledge. Just because you “know” something doesn’t make you “right,” so be wary of becoming too much like your opponent in this regard.

1. For the love of all that is holy, learn how firearms actually function. You may have a degree in English Lit, but when you talk about guns you sound like a moron. If you learned terms like “high-powered rifle” and “machine gun” from watching CNN and don’t know the difference between a magazine and a clip, get thee to some firearms education.

A. Ultimately, you should probably even find a competent instructor and take a basic course on firearms safety and handling, culminating in actually firing a gun.

B. Taking such steps is not only beneficial to bettering your own argument(s) but substantially improves your own safety and awareness should you encounter a firearm or (unthinkable as it may be) have need of one.

2. Understand why people own guns. There are as many reasons as there are guns – some more reasonable than others – but it is a very personal matter. Ignoring why someone does something or how much they care about it won’t win you any points in a debate, nor will it help you work out solutions.

3. Be calm. Do you find it frustrating how your conservative gun-toting opponent seems so smug and at ease, despite obviously being so WRONG? Aren’t liberals supposed to be the smug ones?! I hate to tell you this, but you do tend to be a bit excitable. They get a kick out of riling you up too (it’s so easy!).

4. Forget the statistics. Numbers are great, and I know how much you love to throw them around (X number people die from guns each year, etc.) but as Stalin is attributed to have said “The death of a single man is a tragedy – a million – a statistic.” Don’t talk about numbers and abstractions. Make it personal. How would a person feel if their husband/wife/son/daughter/friend were shot and killed? What would they do? They may deny that it would/could happen, but suppose it did?

5. Realize that you can’t just “ban guns.” Why not, you ask? A ban is fine, but I’m sure you’ve heard the phrase, “when guns are outlawed, only outlaws will have guns.” As tired as it may be, this is true. Let me ‘splain:

A. There are as many firearms in the US as there are adults. Something between 30-40% of persons own a gun or guns. Suppose they were banned tomorrow. How do you propose to collect them all? There is no existing record of exactly who has what (since private sales and hand-me-downs are unrecorded). Do you expect everyone to just quietly hand them over? Do you intend to go door to door with the Police and Military and conduct a Search and Seizure? Do you find this thought unsavory? (you should).

B. As Prohibition shows, banning something that people want just drives it underground. A black market for guns and ammo will undoubtedly be created, with attendant organized crime and – you guessed it – murder.

C. Assume for a moment you have a magical gun magnet that can suck every gun in the country out of stores and homes and cold, dead fingers. What then? Let me put it this way: Cocaine is illegal and yet every year upwards of a thousand TONS of it is smuggled into the United States. If we can’t stop drug-runners from bringing in multi-ton shipments, how are we going to stop gunrunners from bringing in guns?

6.  Realize that the raison d’être for the gun lobby’s incomprehensible aversion to even the most reasonable legislative measures is rooted in a fear of the domino effect. The idea that if one thing is banned their freedoms of ownership will quickly erode until it is impractical or impossible to have a gun at all. This is not a groundless fear as it has happened before their eyes in Britain and Australia. You may not have any problem with this thought, but you’ll never win your case or pass a bill unless you can figure out how to assuage that fear.

 For the gun-owner/Republican/Conservative

You’re a beer-swilling cowboy/redneck/hick who drives a pickup for Jesus and watches NASCAR when you’re not at Walmart. You like to say “Mine, mine, mine!”

You tend to be inflexible. When traveling you are easily discerned by your loud, obnoxious manner, swaggering gait, and bone-headed remarks on the superiority of your own nation. You make no effort to understand other cultures because you’re already written them off as inferior. You need to chill out, man. If your fear of not being seen as powerful and in charge was as tiring to yourself as it is to others, we’d all be much better off.

1. Skip the mantras. “Guns don’t kill people, people kill people.” Yes, yes, we’ve heard it before and repeating it doesn’t make it anymore relevant even if it is true. You may also famously declare how far more people die from car accidents than guns. You do realize these are avoidant, insensitive, bullshit arguments, right?

A. People always have and (presumably) will continue to find unique and innovative ways of offing one another, but they do often use guns for this purpose. Admit it. Guns may not be the problem in and of themselves, but the US is ranked right between Mexico and the Philippines by rate of firearm deaths and that’s not cool.

B. Saying that firearms deaths aren’t a problem because X many more people die from something else is basically saying that those deaths don’t matter. More people die from heart disease than car crashes – does that mean we do nothing about making cars and driving safer?

2. Get some grey. You’re very often a dichotomous thinker – seeing things in black and white. Your oversimplification of the world may make it easy to be uncompromising, but it is also a symptom of mental illness.

3. The whole truth, please. You do tend to have the “facts” right more often than your utopian opponents, but you like to mangle the context to suit your whims.

A. The 2nd Amendment. You know how it goes: “the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed.” You love that bit, but you often leave out the first half. The part about “A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free state.” The liberal yokel you’re talking to will surely bring that up, and how the National Guard is that very militia of which our Founding Fathers spoke! That is a long and heavily written-upon debate which I’ll not comment upon here, but consider that in those few words they wrote what is – taken as a whole – a clearly conditional statement.

B. Speaking of conditions… at some point you’ve certainly thought that some person or other shouldn’t be allowed to drive a car. Why then do you continue to defend an absolutist stance on gun ownership? There are definitely people out there – not just criminals – you wouldn’t want anywhere near a gun. Recent illegal uses of legally-purchased firearms weaken your arguments for unrestricted purchasing.

4. You’re very spoiled. For as much as you whine about attempts to restrict your access to firearms, you really can have just about whatever you want. Ok, fine, so you need a Class III FFL to play with the really fun stuff, but it’s not an impossible task to get one. And honestly, you have your pick of thousands of different models of handguns, shotguns, rifles, all in innumerable calibres with infinite customizations and so many accessories you probably spend more on them than on the gun itself. A few comments on this point:

A. Grandad did just fine taking deer with his .30-40 Krag and iron sights. He was probably a better shot than you too.

B. You have to face facts – when the anti-gunners say there is no “legitimate use” for 50-100 drum mags, they’re spot on. Unless of course “fun” is a “legitimate use.” They ARE fun, but with 5.56 at .60 cents a round do you really want to feed that thing anyway? And Slide Fire systems. Come on. Really? There is no way to justify this other than “it’s fun!”

5. Be not Afraid. You’re afraid of a lot of things. The Govm’t, Terrorists, Carjackers, Gays, Zombies, and non-Christians. You may have legitimate reasons for any or all of these, but bringing them up just makes you look like an insecure paranoid nutcase. Also, disguising your fear with disdain doesn’t fool anyone.

6. The hypocrisy of tradition. You love the idea that we have always been a nation of gun-owners. That it is a part of our American heritage. You invoke images of Revolutionary minutemen, 19th Century frontiersmen, and Civil War soldiers. All of whom were shooting muzzle-loading blackpowder flintlock and percussion lock arms. Have you ever even shot such a thing? Or is your idea of a muzzeloader some awful in-line job you only break out once a year to extend your deer season? If you truly love the past then practice what you preach and realize that muzzleloaders, single-shots, and bolt-guns are the bulk of what our forefathers survived with. If they were good enough for them, what excuse do you have for your over-love of black guns with quad rails?

While I speak specifically to the issue of gun control, much of this applies to any divisive issue. Stop following the rhetoric of your party leaders and moderate yourselves. Everyone sounds so crazy because they repeat what is told to them by increasingly crazy people, seeking to out-do their opponents through ever increasing hyperbole. The further each side goes Right or Left, the more they resemble each other, so do yourself a favour and take the middle ground.

UPDATE: Part II

Politics of Night

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, History, Politics on February 18, 2012 by eposognatus

Recently on NPR Robert Siegel interviewed professor Philip Freeman about timeless political advice, discussing a letter written by Quintus Tullius Cicero to his brother in 64 BC.  Over 2000 years later, in 1964, Frederick Pohl writes just as aptly concerning politics, in a theme very appropriate to current campaigns:

“The classics of public relations clearly show how little reason has to do with M/R, and yet I had allowed myself to fall into that oldest and most imbecilic of traps set for flacks. Think of history’s master strokes of flackery: ‘The Jews stabbed Germany in the back!’ ‘Seventy-eight (or fifty-nine, or one hundred and three) card carrying Communists in the State Department!’ ‘I will go to Korea!’ It is not enough for a theme to be rational; indeed it is wrong for a theme to be rational if you want to move men’s glands, because, above all else, it must seem new and fresh and of such revolutionary simplicity that it illuminates an enormous, confused, and disagreeable problem in a fresh and hopeful light. Or so it must seem to the Average Man. And since he has spent any number of surly, worried hours groping for some personal salvation in the face of bankrupt Germany or a threat of subversion or a war that is going nowhere, no  rational  solution can ever meet those strictures… since he has already considered all the rational solutions and found either that they are useless or that the cost is more than he wants to pay.”

As he says, “If there is an area of human endeavor in which I know a specialist’s kind of knowledge, it is politics. I spent 20 years in political work, have written one book (Practical Politics) on the subject and a lot of shorter pieces, have ghost-written speeches, run campaigns – the lot. At least a dozen times I’ve tried to write a science-fiction story about politics, and every time I’ve abandoned the effort – every time but one. “The Children of Night” is the one.

Who can hear the insane ramblings of any of the GOP candidates today and not agree with Pohl’s observation that rationality is counter to effective campaigning? The more extreme and irrational a candidate appears to be, the better they seem to do!

Percentage-based Purchases

Posted in Cooperatives / Communities / Networks / Travels, Economics, Legal / Laws, Services, Sales or Trade on August 21, 2011 by eposognatus

Some time ago I recall reading of how some countries base their traffic fines upon a percentage of the annual income of the offender. I believe this to be a great practice, as it assigns a penalty relative to the means of the person in violation, and in principal at least, making it “hurt” equally between low and high income earners.

Then the other day I wondered: What if the cost of all products and services were based on a percentage of one’s income?

For example, say the current U.S. median income is $50k/year. A typical consumer television might cost around 500 USD, or 1% of that median earner’s income. So if we then extend that formula across the board, someone earning 22k/year would pay 220 USD and someone earning 120K/year would pay 1,200 USD for the same product!

Such figuring would extend to all aspects of the economy, and would undoubtedly be exceedingly complicated when factoring in entire companies, shipping, wages, etc., but in reality, how much more so than it is already? It would, in effect, flatten the distribution of wealth without overtly re-distributing it.I’m certain someone somewhere must have already experimented with or designed such an economy, and if so, I’d like to hear more about it.

Of course the usual reaction to this thinking will be something along the lines of “Then what incentive is there to make more money if we all pay the same amount?”

Exactly.

Some Prefer the Familiar, Others the Exotic.

Posted in History, Military, Philosophy, Uncategorized on August 12, 2011 by eposognatus

Recognizing the effect a martial art’s cultural background has on its teachings, how it is taught and understood is an important aspect for both teacher and student. Bob Orlando cites as his “central truth” in his work Martial Arts America, that the “philosophies and methods of instruction must match the culture of those being instructed.” In his work he argues for recognizing the differences between East and West and assessing relevancy to the American student in modern society. In such an approach it should not seem far fetched to recognize that an American claiming European ancestry might find more inherent romantic attachment and understanding in the teachings of a 15th century Franconian fencing master than any number of Asian schools which can present unfamiliar languages, religions, and philosophical concepts.

A martial system developed for persons of another culture arguably ignores fundamental instincts or tendencies of those raised in other cultures and influenced by their own traditions. This does not make it less effective a martial art, but perhaps less implicitly understood by someone whose understanding of combat is fundamentally different, and perhaps better served by a different style of teaching or training system.

By contrast, Western Martial Arts align themselves very handily with the same such individual seeking to reconnect with their European ancestry. The languages, religions, social habits, even the foods their historical counterparts knew are still familiar today within their own cultural sphere. If the philosophies and methods of teaching must match the culture of those being taught then by going straight to a martial art of one’s own culture this requirement is met much more readily then by traversing not only time (as must occur in any historical study) but culture as well (through East and West).

Perspective

Posted in Critical Commentary of Civilization, Military, Politics on May 18, 2011 by eposognatus

Relative cost of a few items. Figures are adjusted for inflation or are near enough to estimates made sometime between 2005-2011. I generally insist on thorough citations, but these are readily verifiable. And really, when the numbers get this big, what’s a few billion?

A Boeing 747:  $318 Million

Boston’s Big Dig: $14 Billion

The Channel Tunnel: $17 Billion

The Manhattan Project: $23 Billion

Three Gorges Dam: $25 Billion+

Bill Gates’ net worth: $56 Billion

International Space Station: $157 Billion by completion.

The entire Apollo Program: $188 Billion

U.S. Share of cost for WWII: $288 Billion

War in Afghanistan (2001-present): $405 Billion

Vietnam War: $686 Billion

NASA’s entire budget from 1958 to 2008: $790 Billion

War in Iraq (2003-present): $790 Billion

US Education Budget 2011: $880 Billion

Total US Defense Budget 2011: ~1.2 Trillion (GDP of Australia)

US Debt (as of 2011): $15.5 Trillion (GDP of United States)