Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
Loading...
Location
  • Somewhere in the crusty outer layer of small towns surrounding the warm creamy center that is Oklahoma City.
Site Navigation
  • Current server time:
  • 12/13/2017 2:20:08 AM
  • Categories
    My Nerdly Hobbies
    The Daily Browse
    Reference Material
    Blogs of Note
    Non-blog Friend Pages
    Archive

    Wednesday, January 31, 2007


    This will end badly

    Chavez granted rule by decree

    Venezuela's congress has granted Hugo Chavez, the president, powers to rule by decree - enabling him to push through plans to nationalise key industries as part of his "socialist revolution".

    ...

    Chavez's supporters deny the law constitutes an abuse of power and say radical steps are necessary to accelerate the creation of a more egalitarian society.

    The opposition accuses Chavez of being a tyrant in the making, taking a slow approach in following Fidel Castro, the Cuban leader.


    I can't even describe the feeling in my stomach. Venezuala is on the road to ruin.

    Then there's this little gem:

    George Bush, the US president, said Chavez's expanded powers and possible plans to nationalise key economic interests left him worried about Venezuelan democracy.

    "I'm concerned about the Venezuelan people, and I'm worried about the diminution of democratic institution(s), as well as nationalisation efforts that may or may not be taking place," Bush told Fox News television.


    George Bush to kettle: You're black.

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2007 9:25:02 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The other side of climate change

    Following up on my previous post concerning the use of force to get one's scientific view accepted, here's an example of intimidation from the "climate change denial" side:

    Two private advocacy groups told a congressional hearing Tuesday that climate scientists at seven government agencies say they have been subjected to political pressure aimed at downplaying the threat of global warming.

    The groups presented a survey that shows two in five of the 279 climate scientists who responded to a questionnaire complained that some of their scientific papers had been edited in a way that changed their meaning. Nearly half of the 279 said in response to another question that at some point they had been told to delete reference to "global warming" or "climate change" from a report.


    If we take these things at face value, it's obvious there's problems in the science of climate change. If we don't take them at face value and just see this report as whining from the perennially offended, it's still obvious there's problems in the science of climate change.

    Intimidation is nasty business regardless of one's viewpoint. The use or threat of force is an attempt to shut down another's reason and make them react with fear, in accordance with one's own viewpoint. Whining does the same thing, but attempts to engage compassion rather than fear. Any time someone deliberately attempts to sidestep another's reason (or their own, for that matter), it's a clear sign that they have doubts about the validity of their own point of view.

    All that said, I fall somewhere in the middle on climate change. I have no doubt that the climate is changing, and that it may produce drastic circumstances for some people. I do not believe that we have sufficient information to specifically and categorically state that mankind or SUV's or Big Oil is the cause of global warming. I do not believe that any sort of apocalypse is coming. I do believe there's some impact by humans, but I don't believe we know how much, and I do believe we're overstating our impact. JunkScience.com has an extensive page on the subject.

    Ronald Bailey, Reason magazine's science correspondent, had this to say on the subject of heresies and science:

    Heresies are any opinions or doctrines at variance with the official or orthodox position. There are no heresies in science—there are theories that have wide assent among experts but all theories are perpetually open to criticism and revision. So instead of heresy trials, let's stick to scientific free speech and let scientists and policy types argue out the meaning of data, experiments and proposed programs in public. Scientific understanding advances through the application of what Brookings Institution fellow, Jonathan Rauch calls the Liberal Principle: Checking of each by each through public criticism is the only legitimate way to decide who is right.

    I have a lot of respect for Ronald Bailey, and I understand that he has changed his mind on the subject of anthropogenesis in global warming. I may eventually join him, if I see convincing enough arguments. But I'm certainly not going to do it just because people on one side or another are using appeals to emotion or politics instead of reason.

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2007 6:39:56 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Ron Paul for President?

    Looks like the only good guy in congress might be making a bid.

    Libertarians and conservatives alike, frustrated by their early options among the so-called 2008 front-runners, may turn to a familiar face in pursuit of the White House: Rep. Ron Paul.

    Paul, R-Texas, has been a fervent advocate of limited constitutional government, low taxes, free markets, and a return to sound monetary policies based on commodity-backed currency. He's now considering taking his no-nonsense show on the road in an under-the-radar run for the White House.


    Ron Paul is the one person in either major party that I'd vote for. I say he should go for it. I might even volunteer on his campaign.

    Here's his congressional web page. Yes, he's from Texas. Get over it.

    Posted by Tom, 1/31/2007 6:27:09 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 28, 2007


    Rich Dad, Poor Dad

    I've begun reading Robert Kiyosaki's book on the differences between what the rich and the poor teach their children. I'm only about 2 chapters in, but very much intrigued. One of the key points he makes early on is how our use of language can limit our potential. I've long believed that people who use defeatist words prophesy their own fate, and he expands on this point in the arena of money and personal wealth. I know several people who, when talking about money, wealth, investing, jobs, and so forth, always use words that limit what they can do, how much they can earn, and how pleasant their lives can be. As a person who instinctively rages at any form of restriction (hence the libertarianism), I have a very difficult time understanding the mindset. Yes, I have my negative moments, but for the most part I'm always looking for a way to earn more, do more, save more, build more.

    Anyway, I hope the rest of the book is as good as the opening chapters.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2007 7:49:26 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thank God I Had A Gun

    Apparently there's a new book out, in the same vein as Robert Waters' books Outgunned, The Best Defense, and Guns Save Lives. Since I'm a fan of Waters' books, especially due to the time he takes to expand on the details of each situation, I thought it appropriate to plug the new work, apparently by Chris Bird, whose earlier work on concealed carry is an excellent primer on that subject. The Buckeye Firearms Association has a brief review up at their site.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2007 7:54:36 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    WoW and Relationships

    I used to think that World of Warcraft had a perfect model for male/female relationships. The Warrior wears heavy armor, carries a big something-or-other for bonkin' things, and charges into battle to keep all the nasties away from the squishier members of the group. The Priest is one such squishier members, but they have healing powers above and beyond any other class. In the "ideal" combat situation, the Warrior has to stay in the middle of it, risking death, trusting that the Priest will keep him alive, continuing to fight in the face of odds that would spell his doom if he did it alone. The Priest has to trust the Warrior to keep her alive by making sure none of the monsters are attacking her, and that he will peel them off if they are. If a monster is attacking her, for example, she needs to resist the temptation to attack it back or switch her healing to herself, because that uses up time and energy that is probably better devoted to keeping the Warrior alive.

    I tried to get my wife to play in this model with me, starting up characters that do just what I've described, with me as the Warrior and her as the Priest. It's never really worked. We've always made it a few levels, then dropped off those characters to return to our primary ones. I think I just realized why. Sometimes he's not a Warrior. Sometimes she's not a Priest.

    In our case, he's a Paladin -- very much like a Warrior, but with other talents besides just simple death dealing. He can heal others (or himself) as well, he's just not very good at it compared to Priests. He can deliberately sacrifice himself to protect her.

    Just as he's not a pure fighting type, she's not a pure healer -- not a Priest, but a Druid. She can heal almost as well as a Priest when she chooses to. But she can also fight, sneaking up behind monsters that are attacking him, and ripping them to shreds with her claws.

    With the Burning Crusade expansion, our characters are beginning to level up again, since the level cap has been raised from 60 to 70. We're enjoying playing together, and yesterday was almost a full day of just spending time online together, fighting in very much the same model as the Warrior and Priest. The only difference is that I'm not a Warrior and she's not a Priest. And now that I've stopped trying to force my ideal vision of our talents and embraced the reality we actually have, things are going a lot smoother. Sometimes, in spite of myself, I do get a clue.

    Posted by Tom, 1/28/2007 6:57:42 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 26, 2007


    Congress vs. Credit Cards

    You might think this would make me a fan of Democrats:

    Democratic lawmakers challenged credit card executives Thursday over rising late fees and other penalties and marketing practices they portrayed as predatory.

    The credit card industry and its practices came under scrutiny at a session of the Senate Banking Committee. Several Democratic members of the panel are proposing legislation to require companies to provide more details to consumers on how long it will take them to pay off their debts if they make minimum monthly payments, and to rein in solicitations of college students.


    You'd be wrong.

    Much as I dislike credit cards, they offer a product at a price. I think it's rather condescending of the Democrats to assume people can't do the math; I learned to do it in 6th grade. The problem isn't math, it's behavior. Unlike the Democrats, I don't expect anyone to tell me, as they're trying to get me to buy their product, that doing so is a dumb idea. That goes for guns, tobacco, credit cards, whatever.

    I advocate the legalization of all drugs. That doesn't mean I'd recommend using them to anyone. It's one thing to say that people should have the freedom to do whatever they wish, economically speaking. It's quite another to say the government ought to butt in and screw around with the transaction.

    Based on what I've read about members of Congress and their personal finances (can't remember the number who've filed bankruptcy, but it's high), and their demonstrated inability to handle the government's finances, my suspicion is that this outrage comes from a member or two who's gotten a wake-up call from their own credit cards. After all, who has a greater interest in controlling the personal cost of bad habits than those who are a slave to them?

    That said, there is one piece of this article that I'd like to know more about:

    Some credit card issuers use a billing method that charges interest on credit card debt already paid by the consumer.

    This sounds like the one thing in this article that needs legal remedy, though I would prefer that remedy come from the courts rather than the legislators.

    I'm just sayin'.

    Posted by Tom, 1/26/2007 5:49:46 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 25, 2007


    Aimless

    As we try to arrange a Financial Peace University in my workplace, it's amazing to me the number of misconceptions people have about this stuff.

    "I'm not in debt, so I don't need it."

    "I don't have credit cards, so what could this possibly teach me?"

    "I save money, don't have debt, so there's nothing I can learn about money."

    I don't know how people got the idea that the only thing FPU is about is cutting up the credit cards and getting out of debt. I also suspect that some believe credit cards are the only thing that counts as debt, as though student loans, car loans, home equity lines of credit, and mortgages are somehow not borrowed money.

    Regardless, I've found myself explaining over and over again that the FPU plan is a complete financial strategy for building wealth, preparing for retirement, protecting assets, teaching kids about money, preparing a legacy, giving to others, having fun with money, and so forth. Getting out of debt is only step 2 of a 7-step plan.

    I think part of the problem is that most of Dave Ramsey's more vocal adherents are people in debt who want to get out. I certainly fit that mold. But getting out of debt and staying out of debt are not ends in themselves, the whole point is to move on to the next step. There's no point whatsoever in getting out of debt just to live paycheck to paycheck afterwards, perhaps building up a little savings in an account paying 1.99% compounded quarterly, then spending it on XBox 360's and whatnot.

    Wealth-building and asset protection are not subjects taught in schools, and we have a whole class of people who think the subjects are witchcraft practiced only by greedy capitalists who light cigars with hundred-dollar bills. Fact is, they're essential skills in our economy, especially when the Social Security Administration is constantly sending me various guesses as to what year they'll run out of money, all of them before the year I'll be reasonably able to retire. I've personally fooled around with investments, and I've found some stuff that works a little bit, but in FPU I learned about much more solid and profitable strategies that I'm looking forward to putting into practice.

    I'm not much of a salesman, and I have a hard time most days convincing my wife to do things she already says she wants to do. I couldn't sell water in the desert. So I'm at a loss to figure out how to communicate, quickly and effectively in a water-cooler conversation, how "Financial Peace University" is not "Get Out of Debt University". FPU contains GODU, but it's way more than that.

    It also occurs to me that I'm suddenly blogging a lot about this. It's on my mind a lot, moreso than Bush's crummy health plan, McCarthy's anti-gun bill, or other things I probably should be writing about. I think I'm just at a loss for relevance. My life right now is relevant to me, and Washington seems like a far-off fantasy land where logic doesn't work anyway. So why bother?

    Bleh.

    Posted by Tom, 1/25/2007 7:01:51 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 24, 2007


    Government taking care of the poor

    This video is absolutely insane. Police and fire units move into a tent city of homeless people and just destroy the tents with boxcutters. No real explanation, no offers to help the people, just destroying what meager belongings they have as cruelly and wastefully as possible. That's how government takes care of the poor.

    Isolated incident? Without historical precedent? Ever hear of the Bonus Army?

    Still think the State exists to stand up for the little guy?

    Posted by Tom, 1/24/2007 5:44:58 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Back in the saddle again...

    Went back to what I call "casual vegan" at New Year's. I'm also riding 10 miles a day, kept up from last summer's bicycle death marches. I need to work some weights in somewhere, but that might take a while to get arranged -- the new house doesn't have any really good places to stick a weight bench, and we're kind of far away from any gym-like businesses. I'm feeling much better already, and that danged weight is starting to come off again.

    If I keep this up, before too long I'll be physically fit and financially fit, but still nutty as a loon. Wonder if there's any exercises I can do in that area.

    Posted by Tom, 1/24/2007 6:49:11 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Keeping it all straight

    I want to make it perfectly clear that I'm not mad at anyone who uses credit cards or even those who advise me to use them in the manner prescribed. I'm glad you found something that makes you happy.

    My issue is about the 70% of America that lives paycheck to paycheck, making debt payments and wondering why they can't ever get ahead. Those are my people, because that's how I lived for 15 years. You shouldn't tell an alcoholic to "drink just a little", and you shouldn't tell broke people to "pay off their credit card every month". It's bad advice on both counts, and for the same reason.

    I believe that changing our society requires changing fundamental attitudes about money, debt, and charity. One of these is that it's safe or a good idea to use credit. Another is that charity is a loss proposition. Another is that capitalism is inherently evil. And so forth.

    I'm no angel... I've pissed away more money than I care to think about. I tried the monthly payoff strategy, but something always came up. Somebody got sick, the car broke down, the heat wave caused a spike in the electric bill, whatever. And because I was used to paying by credit card, I just paid by credit card, then paid what I had in cash, leaving a balance. Then next month would come, and I'd get a little ahead, then the next month would come and the next minor catastrophe hit, causing the balance to bump up again. One day I woke up $40,000 in the hole not counting the house, and decided I'd had enough.

    The only person to ever show me a way out was Dave Ramsey, and his plan works as much as I work it. I've whittled $40,000 down to $5,000, and for the first time in my adult life, I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. I hear him calling from the debt-free side of the mountain: "come on over! It's great over here!" I'll bring as many as I can with me, but I'm going whether anyone joins me or not. And no, I haven't forgotten the house, it's next on the list.

    I want to be free.

    Posted by Tom, 1/24/2007 6:44:02 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 23, 2007


    "I have altered the deal..."

    "...Pray I don't alter it further."
    -- Darth Vader

    My wife and I each have a credit card, our last two debts we're trying to eliminate. We're planning to close the accounts and never open another as soon as they're paid off. As we've discussed this plan with various friends and family, we've heard the argument to "just pay it off every month" from countless sources, and it seems on the surface to be a good one.

    However, we've recently received notice that the "paid off every month" gravy train is coming to an end. Apparently the banks don't like it when you do that, and using their power to change "the deal" at their pleasure, this is the notice we've just received:

    This Change in Terms notice contains the details of upcoming changes to your Cardmember Agreement ("agreement"). These changes will be effective the first day of your billing cycle that includes February 1, 2007. They will apply to current and future balances on your account.

    Please read this notice carefully. If you have questions about it, please contact us at the number on the back of your card.

    Summary of Changes:

    In calculating finance charges, the date when transactions are added to your daily balances and begin to accrue periodic finance charges will be as early as the transaction date.


    Don't think it's coming to your credit card? Think again. As the "monthly payoff" strategy has taken hold among various people, the banks have been losing revenue. They're in it to profit, and they're going to use their ability to change the deal to make sure they make a profit. All it takes is enough people like you to adopt the strategy that it shows up on their bottom line, and they'll make the switch.

    I propose an alternate plan: if you pay off your balance every month, simply spend nothing for a month (or half as much for two months), put that money in the bank, and use a debit card. It's the same difference in practical terms, only you're using your own money and don't have to be a slave to the lender.

    Posted by Tom, 1/23/2007 9:35:30 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    And here I thought science was about skepticism

    From the Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works:

    Grist Magazine’s staff writer David Roberts called for the Nuremberg-style trials for the “bastards” who were members of what he termed the global warming “denial industry.”

    Roberts wrote in the online publication on September 19, 2006, "When we've finally gotten serious about global warming, when the impacts are really hitting us and we're in a full worldwide scramble to minimize the damage, we should have war crimes trials for these bastards -- some sort of climate Nuremberg.” (http://gristmill.grist.org/print/2006/9/19/11408/1106?show_comments=no)

    Gore and Moyers have not yet commented on Grist's advocacy of prosecuting skeptics of global warming with a Nuremberg-style war crimes trial. Gore has used the phrase "global warming deniers" to describe scientists and others who don't share his view of the Earth's climate. It remains to be seen what Gore and Moyers will have to say about proposals to make skepticism a crime comparable to Holocaust atrocities.

    The use of Holocaust terminology has drawn the ire of Roger Pielke, Jr. of the University of Colorado's Center for Science and Technology Policy Research. “The phrase ‘climate change denier’ is meant to be evocative of the phrase ‘holocaust denier,’” Pielke, Jr. wrote on October 9, 2006


    This is not science, it's tyranny. Skepticism and debate is healthy for the process of discovering the truth. Scientists who challenge the conclusions and methodology of others are to be applauded, and if the conclusions and methodology cannot stand up to scrutiny, the response should not be force but thanks.

    This is just one more piece of evidence that convinces me this stuff is a political agenda, not a scientific discovery.

    Posted by Tom, 1/23/2007 6:47:06 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 22, 2007


    America: Freedom to Fascism

    Thanks to a heads-up from reader "Catch22", it appears this film is finally available online at Google video.

    I've watched the film, and it is certainly some food for thought. The narrator/producer rather irritatingly misidentifies capitalism, associating it with the fascism that he's trying to fight. Beyond that though, it is rather chilling and disturbing, and would be even if only half true. It's designed to make you ask questions (particularly the IRS segment), and it achieves its purpose.

    A lot of the arguments I've heard before, though this is the first time I've ever seen them presented together. It also highlights (finally) a bona fide motive for powermongering, as opposed to the usual, vague "power for the sake of power" that leaves one feeling as though one's questions have been sidestepped.

    It would pay to be cautious, however, in embracing the film. The first sign of a paranoid delusion is when everything makes sense and there are no loose ends. That said, I am intrigued, and emboldened in my personal quest to spread the word that we don't need government if this is the kind of crap it creates. If this film leads just one more person to wonder if it's really worthwhile to have a government that can give them all they want (with the attendant power to take it all away), it will have been worth it.

    Posted by Tom, 1/22/2007 8:25:17 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    The rich rules over the poor,
    and the borrower is the slave of the lender.

    -- Proverbs 22:7 (ESV)


    Posted by Tom, 1/22/2007 6:29:10 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 21, 2007


    Pearls before swine

    Sometimes it just pays to know when to give up. Some people are not about to be convinced, do not want to be convinced, don't care what the facts are. "Those convinced against their will are of the same opinion still." Giving up in such a case isn't conceding the point so much as conserving energy.

    I went to the Dave Ramsey Live Event yesterday in Oklahoma City, and he touched on these points. First off, if you've never been to a live event, yes, it can be exciting, but you can hear the same stuff on his radio show or read it in one of his books. One of the little exercises he does is to have everyone stand up, close their eyes, and point north. When you open your eyes, of course, everyone's pointing in a different direction. Dave pulls out a compass and indicates the correct direction, and then goes on to say that he doesn't care if it hurts your feelings, makes you feel bad, or rubs you the wrong way, THAT'S NORTH.

    He then talks about how consumer debt is marketed to the tune of $500 million a year spent solely on advertising, using all these different ways to convince us that it's "responsible spending" or financially wise or a good idea. He talks about that commercial that's on right now, where the guy who pays cash gums up the works in a smoothly-running plastic society. He mentions that the reason McDonald's now takes credit and debit cards is because they discovered the average ticket price went up by 37% when people pay with plastic rather than cash. Then he wonders, if he were to spend half a billion dollars per year on ad campaigns to convince people that some other direction was north, how long it would be until experts showed up on Fox News claiming that very thing.

    But the thing is, it doesn't matter what the experts say. It doesn't matter what the commercials say. It doesn't matter what you believe. There's only one north, and it's thataway.

    Dave also talked about how, after 18 years of giving people financial advice, he can tell almost immediately who's going to "make it" and who isn't. It's in their language, their attitude, their posture, their voice. Some people just won't budge from their mindset to take a look around at a different point of view. I listen to Dave Ramsey on personal finances because nothing else has ever worked. The advice to get a credit card "but pay it off every month" put me in the poorhouse. It didn't work. So when I heard of something different to try, I did, and so far it works as much as I work it (nod to the 12-steppers out there).

    That's also how I've begun approaching politics. The present model everyone seems to be using (myself included) seems to be to browbeat people into agreeing with you, even temporarily, just long enough to get a vote cast, then let everyone revert to their default position. What has it given us over the past couple of centuries? A big ol' mess. That's another reason I'm a libertarian. I'm ready to try something -- anything -- that isn't what we've been doing, because what we've been doing demonstrably doesn't work.

    So anyway, I wish I had been reminded of these things earlier, because a recent conversation went south almost right from the start. I could tell this person wasn't going to "make it". She has her idea of how things work, in defiance of economic law, and I just kept trying to convince her. But she was sending all the signals that said she didn't want to be convinced. She didn't care. Her political agenda was all that mattered to her. So upon coming home from the Dave Ramsey event, with these fresh reminders, I decided to cut bait. I could have stayed in, but what's the point? I stated my position. I don't need to have the last word. I'm done. THAT'S NORTH.

    Posted by Tom, 1/21/2007 6:08:37 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Friday, January 19, 2007


    Leftist Media

    Let's get one thing straight: I am no fan of the Bush administration. I'm no fan of any administration, except maybe Madison's, and it's been a long time since he was in office.

    Naturally then, I am always interested in what the critics have to say. The problem is, it's very difficult to find a critic with integrity, as this post over at Brain Terminal demonstrates. I also remember when the Dems and their mouthpieces were blaming the Bush administration for the bursting of the stock market bubble, which happened in spring of 2000, almost a full year before he took office.

    Is it any wonder that the average pedestrian can't really make any sense of politics, when nobody seems to bother checking the facts? I suppose I'm guilty of my share of blind ideology, but this is ridiculous.

    Posted by Tom, 1/19/2007 6:15:52 AM (Permalink). 5 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, January 18, 2007


    Check this out

    Here's a great video by Law Enforcement Against Prohibition. It's some powerful stuff.

    Best quote:

    You arrest a rapist, the rapes stop.
    You arrest a bank robber, the bank robberies stop.
    What have you ever seen stop when you arrest a drug dealer? Or a drug user? Nothing. Nothing changes.

    -- Captain Peter Christ (ret.), Tonawanda NY


    I hope these guys get further than groups like NORML. They certainly have the market cornered on a previously unheard viewpoint.

    Posted by Tom, 1/18/2007 6:39:14 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Quote of the Day

    On being defined by one's past:

    "Why don't you climb down off that cross, use the wood to build a bridge, and GET OVER IT?!?!?"
    -- Christopher Titus, Norman Rockwell is Bleeding

    Posted by Tom, 1/18/2007 6:22:59 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 16, 2007


    Goodbye, old friend

    My Uncle Mike's Sidekick IWB holster went into the trash this weekend. It's served me well for about 10 years now, which ain't bad for a $10 holster. I switched to my Bianchi belt holster, and I think I'm going to stick with it for a while. It's a little harder to conceal, being on the outside of the pants and all, but holy crap is it more comfortable (being on the outside of the pants and all). It really makes me wish we lived in a more enlightened society that embraced the armed individual as someone willing to put a stop to nastiness, so that I could dispense with all the concealment garbage and just walk around openly armed.

    Granted, there are times when I'd prefer others didn't know I was armed, but there are also a lot of times when I feel like I shouldn't have to care. It should be my choice to conceal or not conceal. If it's too stinkin' hot outside to wear a proper cover garment (as it often is in Oklahoma), I should be able to simply dispense with same and stroll into the movies, a restaurant, church, or whatever.

    I should also be able to carry at work. My life is no less valuable to me when I'm sitting at a desk at the office than it is when I'm elsewhere. Who takes responsibility for my life and safety while I'm at work? Are the meteorologists down the hall going to throw anemometers at a workplace shooter? Is some nutjob hell-bent on killing his ex-wife or ex-boss really going to stop at the little "no guns" sticker on the front door and say to himself "guess I can't do this here"?

    I want to live in a society where I can go anywhere armed, and it's taken as a sign that I'll do whatever is necessary to stop bad things from happening to my fellow human beings. I'm tired of living in a society that's afraid of inanimate hunks of metal, wood and plastic, where beings that call themselves "men" advise people to "give the bad guys whatever they want and hope they go away". Then there's this little logic bomb: "Don't carry guns at work. Guns are dangerous and cause workplace shootings. If something bad happens, call 911, which will summon a man with a gun." Am I the only person who puts all this together?

    Argh.

    Anyway, I'm liking the OWB carry. I might switch to it permanently, assuming I can make the whole concealment thing continue to work when it gets all sweaty outside.

    Posted by Tom, 1/16/2007 6:52:15 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Whaaaaa????

    This idiot thinks that 5 gun shows in one year is "too many", and somehow believes they will contribute to the gun crime rate in her area.

    I am concerned about the alarming number of gun shows scheduled for Solano County in 2007.

    I'm sure we are all aware of the rising level of senseless gun violence in America. I understand that many citizens feel the need to own guns for protection. However, scheduling gun shows for March, June, September, October and November is a bit excessive.

    ...

    Carole Johnson, Richmond


    Hmmm... in Oklahoma City, there is a gun show every month. And for those in-between-gun-show cravings, we go to Tulsa for their gun show.

    I did some quick fact-checking. In Richmond, California, the homicide rate as of 1997 was around 30 per 100,000. In 2002, Oklahoma City's was 8.5 per 100,000. Clearly, Ms. Johnson is on the right track, but headed in the wrong direction. Solano County needs more gun shows, not less; they want to be more like Oklahoma City and less like Richmond, California.

    Now obviously this is spurious logic, because it's the same logic Ms. Johnson is using. She says gun shows cause crime. Using only those two variables, I proved her wrong. Crime is more complex than she would like to admit, having found a "one-size-fits-all" solution to it. So there's not much I can do but show that even if the world did work the way she believes, where gun shows are somehow controlling the crime rate, according to the data the relationship is opposite what she believes. It's not particularly satisfying, but having spent some time in the company of anti-gun types, I doubt the conversation can get much deeper than that.

    Posted by Tom, 1/16/2007 6:33:51 AM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 14, 2007


    Writer's block

    Lots of stuff to write about, just can't seem to start the words flowing. Soon.

    Posted by Tom, 1/14/2007 10:51:45 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, January 9, 2007


    Republicans and Democrats

    This morning in the shower, I think I figured out why Republicans make me slightly more comfortable than Democrats. Both parties drive me up the wall, and the difference may only be a matter of perception, but here it is:

    Republicans seem to see the State as a means to an end. They have this grand vision of bringing the world to the Great White Way or something like that, and a powerful USA is their means to achieve it. Obviously, there is much that should be questioned about the ends that they aim at, but there's no doubt that they're aiming at them. The attitude, however, leaves open the possibility that they might be convinced that the ends could be achieved more readily by a different means. They're not married to the State, as it were.

    Democrats, on the other hand, seem to desire the State for its own sake. They are the ones from whom I hear the arguments embodying the attitude of the Sanctified State. The State can do no wrong, though individuals can corrupt the State's immaculate purpose and existence. It's the attitude that "things would be peachy if only the right people were in charge", without the wondering of whether anyone should be in charge.

    Granted, the present administration seems to want control of everything, but again I believe it's only as a means to an end. They want to be seen as "protecting the country". I think Democrats won't change the control, because they seem to believe that the State is automatically entitled to whatever control it presently enjoys -- but now "the right people" will be in charge of it.

    On the flip side, the Democrats got their Assault Weapons Ban passed, and the Republicans refused to renew it. I don't think they would have repealed it had it not had a sunset provision, but they did let it die on its own -- it didn't matter who was in charge. So they're gutless cowards, but at least they recognized that the law was a bad one.

    For further musings, Reason has posted an article collecting the opinions of several political observers as to what the current power shift has in store for us. Check it out.

    Posted by Tom, 1/9/2007 6:13:30 AM (Permalink). 3 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Sunday, January 7, 2007


    Paying Cash

    Dave Ramsey preaches a lot about paying cash. Most of the time, he's talking about cash as opposed to debt, but he also spends some time on cash as opposed to checks or debit cards. Two of the main points he makes about cash are that is both visual and emotional.

    By "visual", he means that when you're peeling off the 20's, your brain processes the expenditure differently than when you write a number on a check. Every bill is a tangible thing that you have to surrender to the person with whom you're doing business. When you write a check, there is little visual difference between one for 1 dollar and one for 100 dollars. But there's a big difference between a single dollar bill and a hundred of them.

    Closely linked to the visual nature of cash is the fact that it is emotional. Dave demonstrates this onstage by casually pulling out a wad of 100-dollar bills and riffing through them while he speaks. It grabs your attention. There's a part of your mind that's hoping he'll decide to start passing them out. There's a part that wants your own wad of bills to riff through. There's a part that envies/respects/looks up to Dave because he's got this money to wave around. That's his point -- cash has an immediate emotional connection for anyone in the area.

    Dave's purpose, of course, is not to be a big shot, but to explain these qualities of cash to you so you can understand them and use them to your advantage. He talks about paying for things with cash, and about negotiating prices with cash -- the visual and emotional appeal of $500 offered in cash for an item (say, a used 4-wheeler) advertised at $600 is an advantage for the buyer. It doesn't guarantee a sale, but it certainly helps. The visual and emotional nature of cash also causes you to spend less. It's harder to part with cash than it is to swipe a card or write a check.

    My wife and I have recently started taking cash very seriously, and I've noticed another benefit of cash that Dave never mentions: privacy. Every store nowadays wants your zip code, your phone number, your ID, and so forth. Supposedly it's for "your protection" when you pull out the credit or debit card. In the last week, however, as we've gone around and paid cash for things, we've not been asked once that I remember for any of it. And it's weird -- I have this attitude when I pay cash that anyone who asks for such things is invading my privacy, an attitude I don't have when swiping the ol' debit card. Every time I get ready to pay cash, I start planning my response to any questions of that nature: "Why do you need to know? Are you afraid my 20's will bounce? Just take my money and leave me alone." But it hasn't come up... wonder why?

    Anyway, cash is great for privacy and anonymity -- two things that are increasingly precious in our overly documented world, and doubly so for libertarians, who just want to be left alone.

    Posted by Tom, 1/7/2007 2:20:28 PM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, January 3, 2007


    Boot Camp Boondoggle

    Reason had an excellent article recently on the "Boot Camp for Troubled Teenagers" concept, and I've been waiting for it to show up at their website so I could comment on it here. The article is a disturbing look at the programs, popularized by daytime talk-show hosts and a "Reality TV" series or two. As the first few paragraphs attest, these programs can be dangerous and even deadly:

    The state of Florida tortured 14-year-old Martin Lee Anderson to death for trespassing. The teen had been sentenced to probation in 2005 for taking a joy ride in a Jeep Cherokee that his cousins stole from his grandmother. Later that year, he crossed the grounds of a school on his way to visit a friend, a violation of his probation. His parents were given a choice between sending him to boot camp and sending him to juvenile detention. They chose boot camp, believing, as many Americans do, that "tough love" was more likely to rehabilitate him than prison.

    Less than three hours after his admission to Florida’s Bay County Sheriff’s Boot Camp on January 5, 2006, Anderson was no longer breathing. He was taken to a hospital, where he was declared dead early the next morning.

    A video recorded by the camp shows up to 10 of the sheriff’s "drill instructors" punching, kicking, slamming to the ground, and dragging the limp body of the unresisting adolescent. Anderson had reported difficulty breathing while running the last of 16 required laps on a track, a complaint that was interpreted as defiance. When he stopped breathing entirely, this too was seen as a ruse.

    Ammonia was shoved in the boy’s face; this tactic apparently had been used previously to shock other boys perceived as resistant into returning to exercises. The guards also applied what they called “pressure points” to Anderson’s head with their hands, one of many “pain compliance” methods they had been instructed to impose on children who didn’t immediately do as they were told.

    All the while, a nurse in a white uniform stood by, looking bored. At one point she examined the boy with a stethoscope, then allowed the beating to continue until he was unconscious. An autopsy report issued in May -- after an initial, disputed report erroneously attributed Anderson’s death to a blood disorder -- concluded that he had died of suffocation, due to the combined effects of ammonia and the guards’ covering his mouth and nose.

    Every time a child dies in a tough love program, politicians say -- as Florida Gov. Jeb Bush initially did on hearing of Anderson’s death—that it is “one tragic incident” that should not be used to justify shutting such programs down. But there have now been nearly three dozen such deaths and thousands of reports of severe abuse in programs that use corporal punishment, brutal emotional attacks, isolation, and physical restraint in an attempt to reform troubled teenagers.


    As the former guardian of a "troubled teenager", I have mixed emotions about all this. I certainly believe that there are kids who need some kind of "out-of-culture" experience to awaken them to the damage they do to themselves both physically and emotionally when they misbehave in egregious ways. However, I am increasingly convinced that "tough love" is probably not the way to go about it.

    To my chagrin, I did watch one of the "reality TV" shows about a boot camp somewhere in Oregon, and kind of enjoyed it. I think it engaged that place inside me that wants bratty, spoiled kids to be shown what's what. But I've also watched shows like "Nanny 9-1-1" and "Super-Nanny", and I think there's another side of this story as well. By the way, I'm not saying that reality TV is the best place to gather information, these are just common examples I can point to.

    One of the most striking contrasts between the boot camp show and the nanny shows is that in the boot camp show, the child is portrayed as though they exist in a vacuum. Little to no attention is given to the parents, their childrearing skills or style, the child's early life, differences between siblings, etc. We are led to believe by implication that the child just woke up one morning and said "screw this GI Joe and Barbie Dream House crap. I'm going to become the Devil Incarnate and torture my parents for the rest of their days."

    In the nanny shows, on the other hand, the children are most certainly misbehaving, but it's the parents who need to change. "Tough love" isn't evident so much as firmness and consistency. There's no beating or torture going on. The worst punishment is "time-out", and the primary focus is on routines and positive reinforcement. As I said though, the parents are the ones doing the growing most of the time -- the nannies almost universally discover that one or both parents is sabotaging their children's chances of success with their own emotional problems. Either they're too distant, or want their child's approval, or have been convinced that any form of discipline is "abuse", or lean the other way and are too heavy-handed and controlling.

    It makes me wonder if, in fact, the kids who get sent to boot camps are merely later versions of the younger children whose parents are on the nanny shows. The only difference would be that now the parent is abdicating their responsibilities to the child in favor of having someone else do what they should have been doing all along. Of course, that "someone else" is a stranger thrown into a situation where all they see is a misbehaving kid and a "normal" parent. Maybe the real issue is that these boot camps need to be family affairs.

    From my own experience, I can say that a large part of the trouble was certainly my fault: I was only a handful of years older than the child who was in my charge -- 26 to her 13. I had no idea how to raise a child, had not had 13 years of practice with her, and her previous life had not gone all that swimmingly either. She did not have the most pleasant of childhoods; no child of divorce really does. Would it have been fair to blame her alone for the trouble she got into, without looking at the adults who were failing her left and right?

    There is, of course, a point at which a person must take complete responsibility for their own actions, and the process of childhood should ideally prepare us for that moment. I'm fairly certain, however, that boot camps and "attack therapy" are not good ways to address the issue at hand. It seems to me as though a child should be considered in conjunction with their environment and relationships, not apart from them. Maybe it isn't the child that needs fixing. I'm just a failed parental figure, not a shrink or anything, but that's the way it looks to me.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2007 6:11:36 PM (Permalink). 1 Comment. Leave a comment...

    European Authoritarianism

    A friend of mine, who has a penchant for hanging out with foreigners, has often told me that there are no socialists left in Eastern Europe. The story goes that they've all discovered the magic of capitalism and have no wish to go back. However, this article from Reason gives me pause: Is Liberalism Dead in Central Europe?

    Of the Central European countries -- Slovakia, Hungary, Poland, and the Czech Republic -- all but the Czech Republic are seeing the rise of politicians who combine "right-wing" attitudes toward public and private morality with "left-wing" ideas about economics. Demands for tax hikes, price controls, tighter labor regulations, and renationalization of privatized property mix freely with calls for a return to faith, traditional family values, and restrictions on sexual autonomy.

    Granted, I don't really know the difference between what is referred to as "Central" Europe in the article and what my friend terms "Eastern" Europe, so maybe we're not talking apples and apples. But I'm left wondering if, rather than there being "no socialists" left, socialists are all that's left after all the capitalists got the heck out of Dodge.

    Posted by Tom, 1/3/2007 6:40:25 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, January 1, 2007


    Best of 2006

    The best movie of 2006 was so good that no others deserve to share the "top 5" list with it. The Pursuit of Happyness is a wonderful portrayal of the American Dream, and an awesome example of how hard work and dedication pays off in the end. Beyond that, it underscores several important financial principles that are unfortunately lost on the majority of the American population. Among them are of course the necessity of an emergency fund -- 6 months' worth of expenses in savings would have made Chris Gardner's life a whole lot different.

    Just as important as the emergency fund is the willingness to stop doing what isn't working. Chris quickly becomes aware that selling medical devices is not working, so he decides to go into stockbrokering. He has to endure a painful transition with a 6-month unpaid internship for a chance it might turn into a paying job. Of course, there are reasons to avoid the path Chris took, but the point is that we can't be so married to what we do that we're not willing to do something else if it's not working for us. Far too many people appear to believe that what they're doing now is the only thing they can do and ever will do. They avoid opportunities to transition into something better. Instead of adapting to market conditions, they complain that the market isn't buying their services, or paying enough when it does.

    The fact is, we don't pay cartwrights to do anything these days. Blacksmiths are largely out of business except in very limited sectors. And when was the last time anyone really needed the services of the Pony Express? Guys who can fix wagon wheels, work iron by hand, or ride a horse real fast to deliver the mail are all pretty much unemployed. There's no reason to believe that it won't happen in other sectors as well. Even Chris Gardner's work has drastically changed with the advent of online brokerages and the common man's ability to manage his own portfolio. Rather than bemoan these changes, we as individual workers should be looking for the next place where our skills can be put to use, and if they can't, looking for new skills to learn.

    Getting back to the movie, I think the reason I like it so much are the parallels with my own life. I never made it to the homeless shelter or the bathroom of a train station, but that's only because I had friends and family who'd let me sleep in a spare room or on a couch for a while so I could get back on my feet. I hit the "about to sleep in a doorway" status 3 times, and Gardner's struggles really hit home with me. Like Gardner, I busted my hump to learn something and prove to employers that I was good enough at it to get paid for it. I haven't gone as far as Gardner, but I'm still young enough to take the next step. I wonder if I will...

    Anyway, I believe that this movie will resonate with anyone who has ever had to struggle to make it. I'll call it 5 of 5 stars, and it's on my "must own on DVD" list. See it.

    Posted by Tom, 1/1/2007 12:51:08 PM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...