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
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    Friday, May 28, 2004

    Gun Controllers Gasping for Air

    Thanks to Rachel Lucas for the heads-up on this one.

    NPR described the VPC as "one of the more aggressive gun groups in Washington." Yet the VPC's representative claimed: “If the existing assault-weapons ban expires, I personally do not believe it will make one whit of difference one way or another in terms of our objective, which is reducing death and injury and getting a particularly lethal class of firearms off the streets. So if it doesn’t pass, it doesn’t pass.”

    The NPR reporter noted: "[the Violence Policy Center's representative] says that's all the [assault-weapons ban] brought about, minor changes in appearance that didn't alter the function of these weapons.”

    Yet, before the Senate vote the VPC had long claimed that it was a "myth" that "assault weapons merely look different. The NRA and the gun industry today portray assault weapons as misunderstood ugly ducklings, no different from other semi-automatic guns. But while the actions, or internal mechanisms, of all semi-automatic guns are similar, the actions of assault weapons are part of a broader design package. The 'ugly' looks of the TEC-9, AR-15, AK-47 and similar guns reflect this package of features designed to kill people efficiently."

    So why the sudden disarray after the Senate defeat? Simply, gun-control groups' credibility is on the line and they are getting cold feet. With no academic research showing the assault weapons ban reduces crime, gun control groups realize that soon it will be obvious to everyone that their predicted horror stories about "assault weapons" were completely wrong.

    That's what happens when you lie. You eventually get found out. Too bad the Million Mad Mommies aren't teaching their kids anything about honesty or integrity, or we might actually be on our way to a better country.

    Posted by Tom, 5/28/2004 8:05:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Cigarettes and Seat Belts

    The nanny state is at it again, with their Click It Or Ticket campaign and more of the usual crap about tobacco. I know I for one am tired of the stupid "Truth" ads on TV. I mean, how many tenuous links can they string together in one 30-second commercial? The answer is quite a few.

    Take the latest... tobacco industry execs talk about the "positive imagery" that Hollywood associates with smoking, then we flip to two girls whose mom started smoking "because a movie made it look cool", then died of emphysema a couple of decades later. The leap that the audience is supposed to make is that tobacco execs killed this woman. But that would presuppose that the tobacco company called the shots on the movie so as to lure unsuspecting teens into using their product, that somehow the lure was such that every single teen (or at least a good portion of them) who saw this movie decided as a result of that movie alone that smoking was a good idea, AND that this woman was forced to continue using the product all the way up until her death. Poppycock, says I.

    As for the seat belt spiel, Reason had this to say:

    The good news is that most of us do buckle up. About 80 percent of Americans use seatbelts, a decision probably based less on government nagging than on a simple understanding of the safety benefits. After all, the word is out—seatbelts make you safer. We get it. Why wage an ever-intensifying campaign against the remaining holdouts?

    Too bad the government has apparently never heard of the 80/20 rule, or we'd be done with all this nonsense.

    Posted by Tom, 5/28/2004 7:52:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    You Learn Something New Every Day

    For me, it was this recent point in Reason's Database Nation piece:

    With the exception of sites targeted at young children, which are federally regulated, under current law Web sites choose their own privacy policies and are judged accordingly. Consumers can rely on nongovernmental rating and reputation systems to steer them toward desirable destinations. Just as The Michelin Guide reviews restaurants and kashrut organizations certify foods, these systems rate privacy. TRUSTe, BBBonline, and WebTrust offer "privacy seals" to Web sites so consumers can find companies worthy of their trust. To earn a TRUSTe seal, a firm signs a contract that requires its site to prominently disclose how it collects, uses, and distributes personally identifiable information about its users. The cost ranges between $300 and $7,000 a year, depending upon the company’s size, and participating companies can display a bright green TRUSTe logo. TRUSTe claims 2,000 member companies, including many high-profile sites, and BBBonline has awarded its privacy seal to more than 500 sites.

    In and of itself it doesn't say much, but add it to government licensing of various businesses. Government issues licenses for a business, and so long as they do nothing which violates the applicable law regarding the license (and often times even if they do), government has no incentive to do any sort of quality control. The citizen assumes that because the business is in operation with appropriate licenses, the business is a good one and winds up doing business with them, even if there would be other reasons not covered by applicable law not to do business. A citizen relying on a reputation system, especially in this age of faster-than-light information travel, could check at a glance whether or not the business is a good one. We live in a day where patrons of local bars have instant electronic access to a nationwide trivia game -- why not the same for QA cards? A business has less incentive to voluntarily participate in the reputation system (other than word-of-mouth, of course) because they have the licenses. A gun store, for example, would have very little incentive to be a part of a BBB for gun stores, unless their livelihood depended on them doing so by virtue of the fact that no one would shop with them otherwise. As it is, they have their FFL and that's a stamp of approval from almighty government, so they get away with some of the worst customer service on the face of the planet. It therefore seems fair to say that the government has a distorting effect on the reputation system, which is what protects us from bad businessmen when government isn't involved.

    Posted by Tom, 5/28/2004 7:34:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Saturday, May 22, 2004

    Capitalist Chicks

    I'd lost this link, and I'm glad I found it again. is a site dedicated to rolling back the perception that "capitalist" necessarily means "middle-aged white male". They're doing a good work just in that. But they've also got some great stuff in their articles, like this one on capitalism and art, which is absolutely hilarious:

    Art shouldn't be for sale. Art should be free. Money corrupts the art. Artists should not care whether the art sells at all. They should be wild and experimental and live in a commune, and not worry about their rent, or their clothes, or their food, because it's all free, man, given to us by the great big Mother Spirit in the sky, and all we have to do is lie in a field all day making love and making art and sipping dandelion juice and eating magic friggin buttercups.

    Not true. Not even close to true. Horsesh-t, as a matter of fact. Let's put a stop to this commie rumor once and for all. It's time to comb the hemp seeds out of your hair, scrub that patchouli stink off your clothes, and air the bong fumes out of the Volkswagen microbus, because Jerry Garcia's dead, Wavy Gravy's an ice cream flavor, and Cat Stevens is out there trying to kill Salman Rushie. It's a hard cold world, and things cost money.

    There's also this scathing rebuttal against all the anti-capitalist nitwits who want to claim that luck is the primary factor in success:

    It always starts and ends the same:

    "...but other people are not as lucky as you and I are. "

    "Define 'lucky': what do you mean by that?"

    "I mean that other people aren't lucky enough to be college educated like us."

    "So you scratch a winning lotto card now to get a degree? When did they start that?"

    "You know what I mean! I mean that other people can't afford college educations and they're forced to work at minimum wage jobs, wearing name tags and serving burgers."

    "I'm not college educated. I dropped out of high school at age 16. By 17 I was pregnant and by 18 I was a teen mom. I worked 16 hour days at multiple minimum wage jobs, wore a nametag, and yes, I served many burgers through the drive through window. Now tell me, if I'm so 'lucky', what did I have that these so called nameless others did not?"

    This is a great site, and bears watching in the future.

    Posted by Tom, 5/22/2004 3:41:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The media is...

    ...anti-gun. I know that there's a lot of fur flying between the so-called conservatives and the so-called liberals over whose side the media is on, but regardless of which it is, there is ZERO doubt that it's not on the side of gun owners. Case in point:

    In the past two days, the Warren Tribune Chronicle (Trumbull Co.) and Elyria Chronicle-Telegram (Lorain Co.) have begun punishing the citizens of their respective counties as a means of protesting Ohio's new concealed carry law.

    Both news outlets, known for a history of publishing vehemently anti-concealed carry editorials, published the names of every person who has been issued a CHL in the county.

    So now for example, the woman who has gotten a concealed handgun license for protection against her estranged husband has been "helped" by her local newspaper by revealing to him that she lives in the area. And yet if he finds her and murders her, the newspaper won't be charged as an accomplice. That's justice, baby!

    Posted by Tom, 5/22/2004 3:35:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Don't dare call it education

    From the land of the loony left (California), we get yet another black mark against public education. It seems teachers there are in the habit of helping students pass standardized tests by coaching them during said tests. Makes me wonder how far down the ladder California's education system would fall in the state-by-state rankings if we got a measure of the students' actual ability.

    Way down at the bottom of this piece is a wonderful little gem:

    Marvin Jones, director of research and evaluation for the district, said the teachers' explanations included not understanding the rules, "everybody does it" and "I was trying to help the students do what I knew the students can do."

    The teachers were not fired — partly because "we have unions to deal with," he said. "I hear a lot of people say that the pressure to get high test scores is so high that it drives people to use desperate measures."

    Wow, 2 sacred cows shot in the head on the same day! It's an object lesson in why you don't hire unions and why private education or homeschooling is better: the market would have bounced those teachers out faster than they could say "pssst... it's 'mitochondria'".

    Posted by Tom, 5/22/2004 3:26:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 18, 2004

    Re-thinking Gun Laws

    The scurvy dogs running the governments of Canada (and here, and here) and the UK are finally starting to think that maybe their gun control laws aren't all that great an idea after all. Of course, the UK's media are reporting the issue in typical anti-gun fashion. Surprisingly enough, Canada's media is being fairly pro-gun about it. I guess I shouldn't be too surprised however, since Canada's gun registry is a failure of epic proportions:

    Something certainly has to be done about the registry. The government's own estimates show that the cost of this thing, first estimated at $2 million, will reach $1 billion by next year and could climb past $2 billion within the next few years. To date, about 7 million firearms have been registered, leaving an estimated 1 million unaccounted for.

    If there were some irrefutable proof that the registry had led to a decrease in the number of murders and suicides, Canadians might will support it, despite its astronomical cost. Unfortunately, proof of a cause-and-effect nature is hard to come by. It might be, as Calgary criminologist Mahfooz Kanwar said earlier this year, that any control on guns can help, and that eventually the registry will have an impact. But $1 or $2 billion is a lot to spend on a "might be."

    Imagine, a 50,000% cost overrun. I'd think you'd have to work mighty hard to make that happen.

    Posted by Tom, 5/18/2004 7:22:00 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, May 17, 2004

    Burt Rutan Flies Again

    SpaceShipOne is off and running. If anyone can get the X-Prize, it's Burt Rutan. Go Burt Go!

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2004 6:26:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Junk Science

    The Cato Institute's Pat Michaels unmasks The Day After Tomorrow's politically-driven drivel masquerading as science.

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2004 6:24:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    What He Said

    Finally, some intelligent commentary on the Homeland Security issue...

    Think of two good things that happened on that horrible September 11. The first was the actions of the heroic passengers on United Flight #93. They got information about the hijackers' true intentions, not by waiting for some central government announcement, but by acting in the moment to get information from friends and loved ones. They quickly figured out that they would not be on a free trip to Cuba, but on a one-way trip, probably to a high-value target in Washington. So, with little to lose, they acted to protect the lives of strangers in Washington. And they succeeded.

    The second good thing was a centralized agency, the FAA, letting its air traffic controllers figure out, in a decentralized way, how to bring a few thousand planes down safely in a few hours. As USA Today reported (August 13, 2002), after 9/11, the FAA started to write a manual for clearing the skies so they could have a more organized plan the next time. Then it stopped. FAA officials realized that they couldn't plan for the next time because the situation would be different. Instead, the FAA would have to trust that hundreds of air traffic controllers would cooperate the next time as they did so well on that awful day.

    A centralized government agency can't be the main body entrusted to protect us. Because it must sift through too much data, almost all of which will turn out to be benign, it moves too slowly. That was Dr. Rice's insight even if she didn't dare state it quite so bluntly. The government failed to protect us-that was Mr. Clarke's insight stated bluntly. So let's protect ourselves.

    Once again, the authoritarian State is brought to its knees by the tremendous force of its own weight. So tell me once again why I should pick Bush or Kerry this election year, considering the fact that this is the type of State they want to have -- large, powerful, and essentially impotent in a crisis?

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2004 6:20:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    New Home

    Well, somehow the FTP incompatibilities between BlogSpot and CenterDigit's home have magically disappeared, so now I am ad-free. Woohoo!

    Posted by Tom, 5/17/2004 6:17:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 12, 2004

    There is No Reasoning with a Rabid Dog

    Case in point. Our enemies are not human beings. They are animals. They will bite at any opportunity, and give zero consideration to the idea of peaceful coexistence. The only way to deal with such a creature is to either get out of its habitat or shoot it.

    I am not advocating that we match their brutality, and I in no way excuse our own sadism. The troops responsible for the abuses on our side need to be dishonorably discharged forthwith. That said, we need to engage in a more serious campaign of eliminating the enemy, or simply bow out and let the savages kill each other.

    This isn't something to be done with vengeance on our hearts, or gleefully matching an eye for an eye. This is the sort of thing that you do simply because it has to be done. It is grim work, even sad. It's time we as a nation grew up when it comes to war. It's not romantic, or patriotic, or laudable. It's a dirty, nasty business that is best gotten over with as quickly as possible.

    When it comes to the types we're dealing with, I would say the proper approach is as a young boy shooting his rabid dog to put it out of its misery.

    Posted by Tom, 5/12/2004 5:50:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, May 11, 2004

    On Prisons

    The Stanford Prison Experiment

    How we went about testing these questions and what we found may astound you. Our planned two-week investigation into the psychology of prison life had to be ended prematurely after only six days because of what the situation was doing to the college students who participated. In only a few days, our guards became sadistic and our prisoners became depressed and showed signs of extreme stress.

    "It may be necessary to kill a man, but to incarcerate him destroys both his dignity and yours."
    -- Robert A. Heinlein

    Posted by Tom, 5/11/2004 7:25:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, May 6, 2004

    And the "Big Rock O' Crack" Award goes to...

    ...Michael Moore, who claims to be non-partisan in his latest effort, Fahrenheit 911.

    Mr. Moore does not disagree that "Fahrenheit 911" is highly charged, but he took issue with the description of it as partisan. "If this is partisan in any way it is partisan on the side of the poor and working people in this country who provide fodder for this war machine," he said.

    Granted, I have not seen the film, but if Mr. Moore's past is any indicator at all, it's about as "non-partisan" as a letter from Terry McAuliffe.

    Posted by Tom, 5/6/2004 7:30:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, May 5, 2004

    Key Thought for the Day

    Government can punish wrongdoers, but it cannot make them better people.
    The church can help a wrongdoer become a better person, but it cannot punish them.
    Any time either institution tries to do the other's job, tyranny results.

    This might be my Third Axiom. The first two are:

    There is no morality at gunpoint.

    There is no reasoning with a rabid dog.

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2004 9:33:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Microsoft: Evil or Stupid?

    Perhaps a bit of both. Microsoft's new concept of a "media PC" (cooked up with HP) sounds like fun and pancakes until you get to this line:

    A biometric device built into the remote would read the user's fingerprint – not for security purposes, but to identify the user and launch his personalized content, Karim said.

    Yick. Even when they're trying to do something good, that people would like, they build in something entirely unnecessary with a huge potential for really bad results.

    In the incompetence department, we have the laughable hardware requirements for their new "Longhorn" operating system.

    Microsoft is expected to recommend that the "average" Longhorn PC feature a dual-core CPU running at 4 to 6GHz; a minimum of 2 gigs of RAM; up to a terabyte of storage; a 1 Gbit, built-in, Ethernet-wired port and an 802.11g wireless link; and a graphics processor that runs three times faster than those on the market today.

    Even taking Moore's Law into account (which is by no means a certainty), such a PC will be in the $4000 range when Longhorn ships, if it exists at all. This means that Longhorn will be a good year or two old before the hardware is widespread among the user community. Of course, this might not be so bad. Maybe by then Microsoft will have some of the bugs and security holes fixed.

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2004 9:21:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    More from the "Only Cops Should Have Guns" Department

    Apparently, it's a great way to outfit your local neighborhood criminals -- cops get guns, cops "lose" guns, criminals get guns, all is well.

    Still, as long as they're able to keep track of their guns, cops are the epitome of goodness and upright character. We like to ignore the little faux pas like statutory rape, abusing the blind, and so forth. This doesn't even get into the other things mentioned in these articles, like the gross disparity between the cops' apparent concern for one of their own vs. one they are sworn to "protect and serve" (see second link).

    Posted by Tom, 5/5/2004 9:08:00 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...