Wednesday, April 30, 2008

- Shooting Sports For Newbies

Since I live in New Jersey, which for more than a generation has been one of the most vehemently anti-gun states in the country, much of my time at the range is spent with my many friends who have little or no firearms experience whatsoever. The punitive (and frankly ridiculous) over regulation and the largely urban and suburban environment have not only eliminated the necessity of firearms skills, but have also significantly limited the places where one could acquire them if one felt the urge. Places to engage in the shooting sports in New Jersey are few and far between.

Well, that’s not entirely true, they’re there if you know where to look. But to someone with no firearms experience, it probably looks intimidating. My gun club is at the end of a ½ mile long private road in the Pine Barrens and has dozens of signs to discourage the anti-gun demonstrators who might feel the urge to come have a poke around. And if you’re mildly curious but know nothing about guns, I can’t imagine you driving past the ½ mile of NO TRESPASSING, PRIVATE PROPERTY, and TRESSPASSERS WILL BE PROSECUTED signs without a little hesitation.

But still, about 1/3 of the time I spend at the range these days is with someone who has little or no experience with firearms of any kind. I enjoy introducing people to the various sports and I’ve managed to convert a few people in the process. And since introducing novices to firearms has become a sort of specialty of mine, I thought I’d put together a little selection of thoughts and entertaining things to remember when initiating the newcomer.

By far the thing to focus on first and foremost is safety. Personally I’m really militant about it… virtually everyone at my club is. And rather than being put off by having me snap at them, it usually makes the newcomer feel safer. They know that while they may be a little uncertain about everything they’re doing, I’ll be right there watching their every move, and will keep them from doing anything unsafe. I make sure they know the basic rules before hand of course, but no one has ever balked about my raising a safety issue at the range either. Don’t be afraid to speak up about a safety issue, they’ll only appreciate it.

Beyond the safety issue however, knowing which type of shooting to focus on really involves thinking about the personality of the person you’re bringing along. I usually like to do a little of everything and will bring at least one rifle, one pistol and a few shotguns for someone new. But in general, a more timid person should probably be restricted to smaller, lower recoil arms. I might go with a set of smaller guns for someone who was more ambivalent about coming out. Recoil is never enough to hurt anyone seriously, even on fairly big guns. But a big shove can be very intimidating and has the potential of scaring some people away from shooting sports for good. The most important part, it seems to me, is to make it fun for the newcomer, so we should keep their perspective in mind.

And that isn’t to say that the caliber issue is simply a question of gender either. My tiny little 5 foot tall 105 pound wife will outshoot me all day long with a 44 magnum pistol, and she thinks nothing is more fun than blasting away at a row of boxes or water filled milk bottles with magnum slugs from one of my 12 gauge guns. The recoil will all but knock her over, but she’ll still be whooping and yee-hawing after every shot. So it’s really about confidence, not cajones.

My typical firearm selection for a “first timer”, is my wife’s Springfield Armory XD9, 9mm pistol, my Romanian AK47 knock off in 7.62x39mm, a pair (or sometimes 3) 12 gauge shotguns with some #8 shot and a few boxes of slugs, and maybe my Moisin Nagant 91/30 rifle in 7.62x54mm. There reason for bringing each of these firearms is different so I’ll explain them one at a time.

Pistol shooting:

I like a 9mm pistol for the first timer for 2 reasons. First the 9mm round is a good medium weight pistol round. It’s not a 22 target gun, nor is it a massive magnum, but it’s somewhere in between. I’ve yet to meet the timid pistol shooter who was put off by a 9mm but it still has enough oomph so that it has that “yep... I just shot a pistol for real” feeling. The second reason I like a 9mm round is that I typically shoot Russian “Wolf” Ammo which is a really great value. Most people will volunteer to pick up my ammo costs, but sometimes in all the excitement someone might forget. And I like to ask lots of people to come along without being concerned about it. A 45ACP might be more fun to shoot, and people could almost certainly shoot a 22L with greater accuracy, but the 9mm is a nice, inexpensive fit in between.

The Springfield XD9 is a polymer body semi automatic pistol like a Glock (which I suppose would work just as well). It’s notoriously easy to shoot, and has the same grip and trigger safety. A revolver may be a more simply mechanism than a semi-auto but it has more visible moving parts, so I’ve found that people are more intimidated by them. The newcomer isn’t going to have to clean my guns so it’s all the same to them. And the Springfield is a good weight and grip size for most newcomer shooters.

The most important thing to remember when at the pistol line for the first time with a newcomer is how profoundly difficult it is for a complete novice to shoot a pistol with any accuracy at all. I’ve had first timers deliver 15 rounds at a 12 inch target set at 7 paces, and miss not only the target with every shot, but the frame as well. Everything they know about shooting they learned from Bruce Willis movies, so it has never occurred to them what a game of precision pistol shooting is. If I didn’t specifically forbid the practice, I’m sure some of them would turn the gun sideways like they saw someone do in a rap video.

Since it’s hard to acquire bad habits with the first few shots, I’ll usually let them do anything they like with the first magazine (assuming they follow safety rules) just to let them see how distorted the Hollywood image of guns is. I’m not one to discourage people, but I’ll usually make a joke about how “I don’t think the gun quite flew out of the other guys’ hands that time out”. It’s only after they’ve spent one magazine making more noise than holes that I start to talk to them about technique and method. This also has the potential of letting them see how much they can improve in a single session and with just a little training and self discipline. Remember, it’s not just about where you’re taking them to mentally, but where they’re coming from.

Rifle Shooting:

Let’s not mince words about it, the AK47 is a scary looking gun. Most people who don’t know much about guns think it’s illegal in New Jersey, and it’s designation as a dreaded “assault weapon” only adds to its reputation as being highly dangerous. Everyone has heard of it, and they know that it’s usually the weapon of choice for virtually all of our enemies, and a few of our friends. When they see it, their first thought is of some third world desperado. But all of that only makes it cool to shoot. I’ve had lots of initiates agree to come along to the range just for the chance to fire one. The mystique it holds is greater than the AR15, especially for the total newbie. And in the meantime it’s still a very inexpensive light recoil round, suitable for new shooters of all sizes and ages. Like the 9mm pistol cartridge, the 7.62x39mm cartridge is a good compromise round.

Virtually everyone I’ve ever handed my AK knock off to, also wanted me to take their picture with it. I have dozens of photos of Wall Street guys looking like their ready to join the Jihad. It’s a horribly inaccurate firearm, and the stock is small and is shaped strangely so it’s not all that much fun for me to shoot on my own. But I still think I’ve had as much fun with that gun as any I’ve ever owned. A thousand rounds of Ammo for $139 will let you forgive a lot of sins. I’ll usually field strip it first so they can see what a simple design it is, and then let them go to town with it. I haven’t cleaned mine since 2006... that's about 2500 rounds ago. I shoot non-corrosive ammo and with the firearm’s limited clean bore accuracy, there really isn’t all that much to screw up.

I’m not much on bringing along a scoped deer gun or a precision varmint rifle for a first timer. It’s hard for me to imagine a newcomer getting excited about the size of their group, and none of them will be able to shoot too well on their first try anyway. I’ll usually stick to iron sights, and close ranges. More often than not, the newcomer isn’t interested in being the best shooter in the world as much as “trying it out”. Really it’s about making some noise and having some fun. I have video of a friend “bump shooting” my AK where seven out of ten shots kicked up dust in front of the target, but you’ve never seen a guy smile bigger or enjoy himself more.

If however someone is interested in seeing how accurately they can shoot, I’ll take out my Moisin Nagant. It’s an accurate enough gun to let anyone test themselves and is more than enough for a first timer. With Bulgarian Surplus Ammo it will throw a flame the size of a volleyball from the muzzle, and it provides a substantial kick when fired from the bench. It provides a little history, showing the development of combat arms since WWII, and since the movie “Enemy at the Gates” it also gets a hoot or two. (I’ll usually hand the rifle to one guy and 2 stripper clips of ammo to the next and tell them that the Germans are behind the 300 yard berm.) And of course the very best thing about the Moisin Nagant, is that surplus ammo which can be had for about $175 per thousand. Shoot the thing as long as you can stand it, and you’ve only spent about $10 bucks.

Shotgun Shooting:

Occasionally someone on the rifle range will say “These are great but what does something with really big recoil feel like?” When they say that, I take out my Benelli Motefeltro 12 gauge, and hand them a 3 inch magnum slug. A 12 gauge slug gun will recoil about as hard as light, 30 caliber Magnum rifle, and is more than enough to give people that “Holy $%&!” feeling. I will only let them shoot it offhand (standing position) so that their body will absorb the very substantial recoil without really hurting them. In my experience they will hit a target at 50 yards about 20% of the time. After a few misses I usually have to put one on the paper for them just to convince them that it’s possible at all. But it isn’t the kind of thing anyone will want to do more than two or three times, so I find that 2 boxes of slugs will be more than enough for any group.

More to the point, shotguns are about wingshooting. My club has 5 skeet and trap fields, and it’s where I will usually spend the most time with newcomers. Wingshooting is like golf in that it’s more about fluid motion and follow through than controlled precision, so there is more chance for the novice to impress themselves. Besides the breaking of a clay target in mid air is a more exciting event than an 8mm hole appearing in a piece of paper 50 yards away. I usually start out by explaining the (totally unconfirmed) statistic that for a first timer, an average round of skeet will see them hitting 3 of 25 targets. That sets expectations appropriately I think.

In truth I’ve found there are really two groups of people… those who will hit about 8 to12 of 25 on their first try, and those who will only hit one (and that one will be by accident). Some people are natural shotgunners and will learn fast. I think it’s the same guys who are naturals with baseball, or golf or any other sport involving hand-eye coordination. But some others just can’t get wing shooting. You can explain all day long about aiming instead of pointing, and keeping the gun moving but they will never get there. I had one fairly athletic friend shoot his way through nearly an entire box of ammo before he managed to hit the all but stationary “low house #7” shot. I’ve also had first a first timer who had the worst form I’ve ever seen (he did basically everything you can think of dead wrong) and he still hit 20 out of 25 birds on his very first round. It would be silly to imagine that anything I said contributed to either result.

But even with that, wingshooting is the thing that seems to bring the most people back to the range again. I stick to 12 gauge guns wherever possible because it’s the largest pattern and new shooters are most likely to hit with it. Wingshooting doesn’t require the precision of rifle shooting so the recoil is less relevant, and the lighter sport loads have less of it than the magnum slugs anyway. But recoil notwithstanding, I’ve found that some women are uncomfortable supporting all the weight of a 12 gauge gun. Going forward, I’ll use my wife’s 20 gauge for them, but it will reduce their number of hits by some factor so I’ll only switch people down if I have to. Either way, I’m never going to give a newbie a 28 gauge. If they can’t handle the weight of my wife’s slender 20, then I think we’ll just stay on the pistol range a little longer.

I try to get them out for at least two rounds, three if they can manage without tiring. And my repeat shooter rate on the skeet field is pretty high. People like to come back and try it again. If New Jersey didn’t make it so ridiculously difficult to buy your first firearm I’m sure many of them would stop at the sporting goods store on the way home and buy one. I make a point to bring a few different kinds of shotguns ( a semi, a pump, a double) so that people can try a each of the different types. Some people really get off on the “click-clack” of the pump, but you never really know what’s in a person’s head and I want to meet as many expectations as possible.

There is a great explanation of the game of Skeet shooting here.

And the fundamental safety rules for all firearms can be found here. I usually forward those links a few days in advance and ask everyone to be as familiar as they can with them. I’m pretty big on taking lots of pictures and video if possible, and everyone gets a chance to try everything unless I’ve forgotten something. The goal is to let everyone live out a little of their secret fantasy where guns are concerned and do it all safely. But it’s that hands on experience that changes the dynamic for them.

The mainstream media and Democratic politicians can say anything they want about guns but when I put a 12 gauge pump or AK47 in someone’s hands, it all fades away. When they see how small the AK cartridge is, they can no longer be fooled into thinking that they’re being saved from having their airplane shot down by some new “assault weapons” law. When they see how hard it is to hit anything with a pistol, they know that the stuff they see on TV is all nonsense. Some first hand experience will at the very least help them keep an open mind.

And someone could certainly swap an AR15 for the AK47 and a Garand in place of the 91/30 and it won’t change anything. You can shoot a 380 instead of a 9mm, or let everyone use the same shotgun. The point is to let people see how safety conscious the firearms community is, and how much more fun shooting sports are than they were probably led to believe. It’s that perfectly safe fun that changes minds about guns more than anything else.

For days afterward, I’ve walked up on guys in the office telling others about their experience and seen others look on with envy. (They’re usually the ones to get an invite next.) I’ve seen my one time shooters use their new knowledge to correct others when the subject of guns comes up. And I’ve seen those with neutral opinions on guns become advocates, and those with generally anti-gun opinions turn to at least neutrality. It’s not only fun, it also helps the cause.

And I’ve got to tell you, when someone who you introduced to firearms calls you aside and tells you how they just bought their first shotgun, or pistol, you’ve never felt better. It’s happened a few times for me and when it does, I always have the same thing to say. I say “congratulations, you’re no longer a subject… now you’re a citizen.” And I’m more than happy to trade a few rounds of cheap steel cased Russian ammo for a new one of those.

Tuesday, April 29, 2008

- The Issue Of Race

On the topic of race in America, there is no one out there who speaks as clearly and fluently as my hero, Dr. Thomas Sowell:

Many years ago, a great hitter named Paul Waner was nearing the end of his long career. He entered a ballgame with 2,999 hits -- one hit away from the landmark total of 3,000, which so many hitters want to reach, but which relatively few actually do reach.

Waner hit a ball that the fielder did not handle cleanly but the official scorer called it a hit, making it Waner's 3,000th. Paul Waner then sent word to the official scorer that he did not want that questionable hit to be the one that put him over the top.

The official scorer reversed himself and called it an error. Later Paul Waner got a clean hit for number 3,000.

What reminded me of this is the great fervor that many seem to feel over the prospect of the first black President of the United States.

No doubt it is only a matter of time before there is a black president, just as it was only a matter of time before Paul Waner got his 3,000th hit. The issue is whether we want to reach that landmark so badly that we are willing to overlook how questionably that landmark is reached.

This piece from him is too good to miss. His insight into the issue is expressed in such simple and clear terms that anyone should be able to see the wisdom of it... even a liberal.

Monday, April 28, 2008

- The Real Costs of Fixing Global Warming


Apparently Mark Steyn and I are on the same wavelength right now. His current piece on NRO had the following gem fo a quote:

In order for you to put biofuel in your Prius and feel good about yourself for no reason, real actual people in faraway places have to starve to death.

Damn that guy's good.
Here's his piece if you missed it.


I think it’s a telling moment that the “global warming” emergency has now been changed in all the fashionable places to, “the climate change” emergency. What that basically means is that the jig is up where Al gore’s fictitious dead polar bears and rising sea levels are concerned. The people who produced the more ridiculous political conclusions concerning the science of global warming are all starting too “revise their estimates”. Where liberals are concerned, that’s as close as anyone is ever going to get to hearing them admit that they were dead wrong.

And yet, thanks to the change in goals, the dialog about the weather continues. They’ve taken the warming out of global warming, but we still have a movement which is anxious to prevent … well to prevent something. I would assume that we’ll be told what a morally higher purpose it is to see a Carbon Neutral world. We’ll be told that only evil wicked people stay warm in the winter, and have lights on at night. It no longer matters that we won't all be drowned when the ocean jumps up 20 feet. Now it's going to be about "being a good person". The “best” people are those who are willing to make the sacrifice to stay cold and in the dark.

We’ll be hearing about how noble it is to wear your coat inside, and to bathe in a bucket of tepid water instead of taking a hot shower. The government will be cannibalizing Huey Lewis and start running publicly funded commercials where he sings “It’s hip to be cold”. There will be fashion shows (probably done with sponsorship from the department of energy) that highlight flannel and goose down as sleepwear. I can hear the dopey blonde on the today show right now “And as you can see Matt, flannel can keep you reasonably warm and besides, just think of how sexy it is to be doing your part to save the planet.”

If only we could come up with a way to use sanctimony as a source of energy. Thanks to the mainstream news media we could all go back to driving muscle cars and keeping our thermostats at 85 degrees.

The Bush administration has been about as accommodating with these people as any Republican could be without running the risk of him taking sniper fire during his speech at the presidential convention. The left still tries to demonize him for never signing the Kyoto protocol, but that was particularly tough for him to do since Bill Clinton signed it before he left office and they don’t generally let you go back and update government documents by adding your own name.

And since he’s been indulgent of their whims, we’re having a bit of a chance to see some of the costs of the “perfect world” that the enviro-liberals imagine. One cost that’s gotten a bit of press recently is how liberals have managed to make food much more expensive for the people who can least afford it. Poor people in the third world have a long history of paying the price for the self congratulatory policies of American liberals.

Rachel Carson indirectly bumped off 30 million of them when the DDT ban was implemented. You see because DDT was cheap and effective, poor people in the third world had been using it to great effect in killing mosquitoes. That in turn gave them much better odds that their kids wouldn’t die of malaria. But liberals didn’t like DDT, so out the door it went. In their “let them eat cake” tradition of ignoring economic consequences, they proposed a bunch of other solutions to keep mosquitoes away, but since they were all too expensive for the third world poor, they just went back to burying their children instead.

And now, thanks to massive subsidies for Ethanol linking food prices to the price of oil, food costs in the third world are skyrocketing. The poor are eating less, the desperately poor aren’t eating at all, and the poorest of the poor are moving to the cemetery to stay with their kids. Thanks to rich country liberals, the equatorial belt is being tightened a notch, and that’s leaving a little less room for so many people. And although we probably won’t be able to get too many of them to admit it, this will probably make liberals happy too. Because fewer people means fewer resources consumed, and anyway …they’ve been going on about that overpopulation myth since the Carter administration.

Steve Hayward from the AEI has a great op ed in the Wall Street Journal today which details some of the hard numbers around this discussion. It’s a phenomenal piece that summarizes the actual cost of meeting the expectations of the climate change lobby. Basically it says that to give them everything they ask for we’ll have to reduce our per capita energy consumption to be on par with places like Haiti, and Somalia. That will no doubt come with similar levels of economic output. When was the last time you bought a Haitian car? How was the mileage? Did it run on wind power? And the last time anyone from my family checked, the only think they were making in Somalia was dead Somalis.

But that’s the purists view. if we’re willing to accept what the advocates for global warming describe as “too little too late”, then we can just settle for going back to the level of per capita energy consumption that we had when the century ended… the 17th century. Even in colonial times when the only fuel being burned was wood, we still lived too “high on the hog” for global warming advocates. These paragraphs from the brilliant piece tells the tale quite effectively:

Today, the average residence in the U.S. uses about 10,500 kilowatt hours of electricity and emits 11.4 tons of CO2 per year (much more if you are Al Gore or John Edwards and live in a mansion). To stay within the magic number, average household emissions will have to fall to no more than 1.5 tons per year. In our current electricity infrastructure, this would mean using no more than about 2,500 KwH per year. This is not enough juice to run the average hot water heater.

You can forget refrigerators, microwaves, clothes dryers and flat screen TVs. Even a house tricked out with all the latest high-efficiency EnergyStar appliances and compact fluorescent lights won't come close. The same daunting energy math applies to the industrial, commercial and transportation sectors as well. The clear implication is that we shall have to replace virtually the entire fossil fuel electricity infrastructure over the next four decades with CO2-free sources – a multitrillion dollar proposition, if it can be done at all.

Another option, the one Al Gore uses as an excuse to power his private jet and energy hogging mansion, is the “carbon credit”. But the companies selling carbon credits usually do so by planting trees in the third world, using acreage and water that used to be available to plant food. And what do you think happens to the already rising third world food prices when all they’re growing in the third world is Eucalyptus trees to clear the consciences of blue state voters.

So if liberals get everything they’re hoping for, then for the world’s poor it’s a death sentence, and for Americans it’s a choice between living like a Somali and going back in time to the Paleolithic era. I’m glad I’ve got extra ammo. A few years ago one of my more paranoid right wing friends told me that he could see the day when our home thermostats would be controlled by the government “for our own good”. I laughed at him at the time, but they’ve proposed that very thing in California. I’m sure the people of California can rely on their liberals in government to keep them warm. Just look at all they’ve done for the poor.

Thursday, April 24, 2008

- Mothers Day Gift Suggestion

The best example of the triumph of a liberal environmental policy I know, is the story of how Rachel Carson and her now widely discredited book “Silent Spring” spawned an the movement for the global ban of DDT.

Before the ban, the national academy of sciences said that DDT was responsible for preventing as many as 500 million human deaths from Malaria. But to Carson and the Enviro-fascists who supporter her, those lives didn’t mean all that much. With a strategy of governmental lobbying and media demagoguery, and the ban was implemented in spite of the scientific facts. Since then Malaria has reemerged as one of the most deadly diseases in the third world. And since the ban, many estimates place the number of deaths due to mosquito born illness at 30 million, all of which would have been avoidable had the ban not taken place.

Through a combination of arrogance, vanity, and effective use of media, the environmental movement killed 30 million people.

While I was engaged in some other discussions, a NJ Black Bear decided to rummage through a northern NJ kitchen. Luckily no one was hurt, but it isn’t always going to be that way. It’s just a matter of time before someone is hurt or killed. It's not a question of if it's going to happen, only when.

I explained why at some length in my earlier pieces here:
The inevitable New Jersey Black Bear Hunt: Part1

And here:
The inevitable New Jersey Black Bear Hunt: Part 2

Thanks to Jon Corzine and Environment Commissioner Lisa Jackson, the death of at least one New Jersey citizen is now absolutely inevitable. They are allowing animal right politics to trump wildlife science. They are ignoring nature just like Rachel Carson and her gang. Someone is going to be killed by a bear, and the blame for that death will fall squarely on the shoulders of Corzine and Jackson. They have ignored their own DEP biologists who have continually recommended careful management of the Bear population. And instead they’ve listen to their Animal rights friends who don’t care how many people have to die to achieve their political goals.

It’s going to happen governor, and when it does, it will be your fault!

On the national and international level, liberal environmental policies, long on emotion but short on science, have wreaked havoc across the globe. Iain Murray has documented some of the most egregious examples in his new book:

The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don't Want You to Know About--Because They Helped Cause Them

The Really Inconvenient Truths: Seven Environmental Catastrophes Liberals Don't Want You to Know About--Because They Helped Cause Them

Mothers day is just around the corner and I can’t think of a better gift item. If we let the leftist environmental movement have their way, it’s our children who will suffer worst. And if you live in northern NJ, they may very well fall victim to a Black Bear.

Monday, April 21, 2008

- Hey, Look--A Religious Debate!

Unless Don comes back and demands that I be burned at the stake, (highly unlikely in the extreme) then I've posted what will probably be my last words on religion for a little while. They can be found in the comments section of the link below regarding bashing Catholics. It's not that I'm tired of discussing it, it's just that there are quite a few other entertaining things to write about right now and I'd like to get to them. The election is heating up, a bear crashed into some guys kitchen in NJ, and Corzine is planning to do all kinds of idiotic things. As smart, interesting, and well spoken a guy as Don is, he really can't top a bear in the kitchen and an idiot in the governor's mansion when it comes to fun.

It's ironic that in this debate, the guy defending Catholicism is no catholic, and the guy defending atheism (according to me anyway) is no atheist. Well.. maybe we are both in those groups in name only. Read the comments below if you are interested in what I mean.

Don Gwinn, also known as “The Armed Schoolteacher” and I are having a polite difference of opinion regarding religion. Because of it’s length, I’m posting my most recent response to him here, but the original discussion along with both our reasoned comments can be found in the comments section of this link: RadioFreeNJ: Bashing The Catholics

And in the interest of continuity, I’ll also be posting this as a comment on the original and leaving links on both our pages. Also, since this only responds to half the issues Don raised in his last note, there will be a part two of mine to follow as quickly as I can manage.

OK sorry about the slow response time but you know how schedules can be.

The big problem with this medium for a discussion like this is the slow response time. (more my fault than yours at present) If we were having this discussion over a beer then there are things I could say right now to take the conversation in a certain direction but because of the slow medium, I really can’t. Instead I’ll have to just tell you what I would have said, and I’ll rely on your honesty in your response. First, to the big question about what I think you believe.

In essence, what I would be saying right now over a beer would amount to a bunch of verbal traps to further expose the underlying logic of your response to my last question. You basically said that you do the right thing because you “like yourself better” when you do. But the truth is, that didn’t answer my actual question. At the risk of sounding like the Merovingian from the Matrix, that isn’t the “why”. It tells me what it feels like to you, and what your experience is like when you do the right thing, but it isn’t a core reason. In other words, I could just as easily ask why it makes you like yourself.

We would go back and forth like that a while and eventually you would admit to me that whatever the specific language you use to describe it, you do the right thing because it gives you the feeling that it’s truthful to do so. Essentially you would admit to believing in an objective universal truth that is larger than you and your own ego. You do not in fact make up your morality as you go along, deciding that whatever self satisfying actions you may be engaging in at the moment are morally right. If that were so, then you would never be able to resist the siren song of leftists political fashion. Global Warming, Animal rights, Gun Control, these are all political movements based upon that premise… that there is no objective truth, only the truth we decide on based upon how we feel. Things that make us “like ourselves” are good, and things that make us “not like our selves” are bad, and that changes constantly with the circumstance. Not you. You believe that there really is an objective truth, and your actions should match it.

Now your objective truth can be derived from a lot of things. I could be wrong so please correct me if I am, but I would expect that your underlying truth leaves room for lots of science. A thing as simple as the sun rising in the east is probably a part of that. Things like astronomy and particle physics explain a great deal of what the universe is actually about for me. I believe those things to be “true” as far as it goes, and I think the same is probably true of you. These aren’t conflicts with your “beliefs” they are a part of them. In fact I would guess that any belief system which doesn’t include those things which have stood the test of “logic and reason” would be rejected by you for that reason, as they are for me. Said another way, if you can’t find a way to get “actual facts in evidence” in there, then it can’t be the truth.

But also included in that objective truth of yours is a number of rules about how we deal with each other. You weren’t specific, but you described some thing as “fleeting”. Here again, I think I can make some assumptions about some of the things you mean. The chemical buzz in all its varying flavors, meets that description I think. But a better and more complex example is “sex with a total stranger”. It feels good or you wouldn’t do it, but it has other consequences and some of those feel bad. It feels bad when the other person’s emotional expectations aren’t met. And any other consequences like unplanned pregnancy or disease are certainly stressful and by that definition “bad”.

Dealing with your kids is another complex thing. Making them happy feels good, but sometimes it’s “not making them happy” that is actually doing the right thing by them. It’s a harder thing to do, and requires character, but we each have the belief that we’ll be rewarded for our diligence by seeing our kids mature as better people. The payoff later will be our pride in our contribution to making our kids into people that have many of our best qualities and little of our worst. (I know I tread thin ice semantically here but I hope you will excuse the manner in which I say that last bit and focus on the broader point I’m trying to make. Its greater virtue we wish to impart in our children, whatever that means.)

So to get a little closer to the punch line of your beliefs, you have an objective truth that you believe in that’s larger than yourself, and that comes with specific rules about how to deal with people, and how to have them deal with you. So what do these rules look like?

Well to my knowledge, you have never even planned an honor killing, and I’d be very surprised to discover otherwise. I don’t imagine there is anything a daughter of yours could do that would ever persuade you that this is a good idea. But in a substantial part of the world, this is not only considered perfectly acceptable but is in fact more “morally right” than most people can manage. I’m not being facetious here, this is the difference between the rule sets of various civilizations... in effect the difference between faiths. But to be fair that’s an extreme example so let’s use a more moderate one.

In the west, telling the truth is a moral good. (I’m not talking lying about the surprise party which everyone forgives) And like most moral guidelines, we don’t always manage to live up it. Sometimes we fail because of weakness of character, and sometimes we fail because of weakness of judgment (we convince ourselves that the lie is OK for whatever reason) but we pretty much always think that someone who is telling the whole truth and nothing but the truth is doing the right thing. Under Islam that absolutely isn’t so. There are lots of circumstances where lying is considered the out and out “right thing to do”.

(As an aside…I sight examples from Islam because it’s easy but we have great differences with the other eastern religions too. For instance, as a libertarian like me, believe in the fundamental individuality of man, and with that you believe that we all have unique desires that are morally neutral. It’s no sin for you to want a different caliber pistol than me, or for that matter like a different house, or different job, or whatever. In the meantime, the very idea of “being unique” is considered immoral in most of the east, and the idea of “striving for individuality” even more so. But back to the topic at hand…)

Anyway, you have a belief system which matches 90% (probably much much more but I’m being conservative) of the morality of Christianity. You believe in a truth to the universe which is larger than yourself, and you do your best to act in accordance with it. This isn’t purely a matter of fact, but a matter of faith because one person can never be sure of what the future holds. We act today without that knowledge…we step up and place our bets. We try to be “good parents” (as we understand the term) because we have faith that it will help our children in the future and that will provide a payoff to us. We can’t be sure… not really… but we can have faith in the purity of our intent toward them and the odds about the outcome of our own behavior. That moral code, in effect, is your religion. You are not a nihilist. You have not replaced your faith with another totally different faith which precludes an objective truth, like socialism. You have not replaced it with an objective truth as defined by a different culture like Islam, or Buddhism. You still have a faith.

You say you don’t believe in “god” which I take to mean that you don’t believe in the bearded white guy in the sky, or even an conscious, omniscient authoritarian power. OK, fair enough. But you do believe in something don’t’ you? You do believe that the universe has rules. And even though you don’t know them all you believe they can be reasoned out from the rules that you do know. And that idea puts you on par philosophically with any of the great Christian theologians of the past. Sure you have a departure from their thinking about the nature of “god”. You point to that universal truth that looks more like a highly complex mathematical algorithm that includes physics and astronomy but also the game theory of the interactions between people and say “this is what defines the law that I try to obey”; this is how I define right and wrong. And in the meantime, they point to a more self aware deity. But in the grand scheme of belief systems, looking at all the various exceptions and differences one can take with Christianity, this is actually a very small thing not a big one. (Remember, we’re talking philosophy so far, not theology)

People who belong to a church will probably tell you differently. First and foremost they’ll tell you that you aren’t a Christian because you don’t buy in to their authority over your behavior. This is in effect the same as you telling me “yes I really am an atheist”. It’s an endogenous definition… a claim over the right to define oneself. My point is, you weren’t really thinking about what I meant when I sad what I did, only about what the label means to you. The members of a church will tell you essentially the same thing. They’ll say that you cannot be a Christian because they reserve the right to define what a Christian is. In their case, that is in effect a product of them being in the business of disseminating a moral code.

There are a lot of people in the business of religion who will immediately tell you … “Oh No… 99% is not good enough.” “You HAVE TO believe in an all knowing god or you’re not a Christian. Or they may have other versions of this “have to”. You “HAVE TO” accept Jesus as your personal savior, you “HAVE TO” obey all the sacraments; you “HAVE TO” yada yada yada. That’s their endogenous view of the way things work, and is reflected in their theology. That theology will include all the things to lead the enlightened and the unenlightened. My point is, a church is an organism run by men to disseminate the rules to the populace.

But it’s a little more complicated than that. As a teacher you know that some people “get it” far better than some others whatever the subject. Just being equal under the law don’t make us equal. And a church has to be concerned with disseminating rules that EVERYONE can follow, not just the very bright. So how do you describe the rules of life in a way that someone very bright can get something out of it, and someone considerably less bright can also get something out of it? Well a series of stories with higher points embedded in them might be one. Make it poetic, and as complex as life itself, and if the truth it points to really is permanent (that is to say… it really is true), then it should survive the test of time.

And if you’re going to do that, then you should probably also include something about not getting all muddled up believing every dimwit self appointed theologian to come bounding out of Berkeley in a set of white robes, talking about how praying to meal worms and smearing each other with mud is the path to salvation. This is why all major religions call themselves “the true religion” and all deal with heresy in a similar way historically. It’s a property of “religion” not any particular religion. And that being so, it’s certainly no insult to call the various Christian faiths “religions” even if the properties of that label include some stuff we’d prefer it didn’t.

I could go on and on about… I could talk about how the Christian world deals with people who don’t believe versus other faiths (Including socialism… one of the worlds more unforgiving belief systems) and I can talk about the similarities between various faiths that bring about similar results wherever they’re raised which points to the broader truth, but I’m running out of time so let me sum up.

I’ve met a lot of people in America who call themselves atheist. That label means a lot to some people. Sometimes it means that they want to be seen as “intellectual” and use the label to announce that they’ve had their enlightenment styled “transcendental moment” where they’ve chucked aside all the superstition of religion. Or sometimes it means they want to be seen as “original thinkers” who aren’t penned in by Christianity. Mostly I think they use the label to differentiate themselves from all the “followers” they see lining up in their ties and short sleeved shirts every Sunday. They want to be seen as smart, and they think the label helps that.

Most of the people they’ve seen defend religion aren’t particularly deep thinking, and that makes atheism a one stop shopping destination for those who take pride in their intelligence. To many of them, the label is more important than what they actually believe. But in my experience, the people who say they’re atheists aren’t (even Christopher Hitchens who is far more worried about winning arguments than being right.) Those self described atheists will usually take large exception to the practices of a specific denomination because of personal experience. And they would hardly be described as religious in any event. But most of them would meet the criteria I would describe as “philosophically Christian”.

I’ve met quite a few actual atheists. But they always describe themselves as Socialists, or communists, and I even met one guy who described himself as a Big Lebowski style “Nihilist” but never one who described himself as an atheist alone. So I know that you call yourself an atheist, but drop you down in Riyahd and get you to go on in detail about what you believe to be right and wrong, and the listeners will pronounce you “A Christian”. The same will happen in Tokyo, or Delhi or Katmandu. I’m speaking from some experience here. Your endogenous description of yourself will be as an Atheist. But when asked to provide you with an exogenous description of yourself, most of the people in the world won’t buy that for a minute. They will tell you in no uncertain terms that you’re far more a Christian than you think.

If you need the label of Atheist really badly that’s OK with me. I understand how that kind of thing can become a part of someone’s identity. But it seems to me that if a couple of billion people would look at you and describe you as a Christian based upon what you believe, then it’s probably not that big a deal to let them. Of course, in 21st century America, the label of Christian has its own societal baggage too, and I’m certain that none of that suits you. So you might be more comfortable rejecting the second label for its own reasons. That’s fair I think. But hopefully you can at least see where I was coming from now regarding the first.

Anyway right or wrong, that’s my “no, you’re not really an Atheist” speech.

I still owe you a bunch of Catholic stuff so if I could beg one more small favor, please wait until I post my response to your Catholic comments before you respond to this stuff otherwise I’m afraid I’ll never get to it. I promise to be as timely as I can with it. (Hopefully later this evening)


Thursday, April 17, 2008

- Bashing The Catholics

Since the Pope is coming to town, I’m going to use this opportunity to dust off one of my favorite gripes with modern culture. In 21st century America, there is no organization which serves as the wholly unjustified villain for the left as well the Roman Catholic Church. And although that’s been the case since the 60’s, the recent scandal’s has elevated that criticism to new heights. Hollywood and the comedy club circuit wouldn’t be complete without taking a whack at the Catholic Church.

There is an element of juvenile contempt for authority in the positions of the left and its greatly amplified when discussing the church. It’s really just that “I totally hate my parents!” mood that arrives with the pubescent struggle for independence and never goes away for the left. Eventually it becomes a defacto justification for all sorts of thinly reasoned opinions and passes as the underpinning of their very philosophy. So whether it matches reality or not, they have this idea that the Catholic Church represents a source of authority, and since that’s so, they can swipe at with impunity regardless of the facts. A crack about a priest of nun will always get a laugh.

Serious thinkers will feel differently of course, as will anyone who actually knows something about the realities of the contemporary Catholic Church. But on the left, serious thinkers are a much more rare commodity than post pubescent empty headed comic-cum policy wonks that have their own cable talk shows. The latter will talk in sounds bites berating the church for its every misstep over the last 1,500 years, while completely discounting the endless benefits that western civilization has received via Rome. They’re trying to paint a picture that depicts the problems as the standard practice, and the standard practice as creating problems, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The issue of the church most frequently misunderstood on the left, is that Rome represents an exclusively moral authority while the left recognizes only secular authority. In fact, they not only don’t recognize moral authority, but they don’t understand it either. Morality should be subjective to them… it should all be bound by the circumstance at hand and they should be free to make it up as they go. They can’t understand how a society can have rules which are not only fixed and the same for everyone, but are also only enforced by conscience. But the church doesn’t define what’s legal in western society, only what’s “right”. That is what the church really is… it’s the moral guidepost of western civilization. It’s the place you look if you want to know whether something is right or wrong. It has no secular power to speak of. If you commit a sin like envy, the police don’t show up at your door and drag you off to jail. You are left to deal with the results of your actions in your own conscience.

This is really the biggest issue with Liberals and the church. Members of the left simply don’t want to acknowledge that society works better with fixed rules about morality. I’m sure I’ll be criticized for this simplification but at its most abstract, stripping away dogma and even tradition, we can think of Christianity as the game theory for western civilization. Over the last 2 millennia the church has identified acts which are “right” and acts which are “wrong”. Those acts which it deems to be “right” are the ones which not only have direct positive effects on the person who is acting as well as the person being acted upon, but also set up conditions that make it easier to do the right thing again. And that’s all the Catholic Church is trying to do… to make everyone’s life better, fuller and happier. They call it “closer to god” but if you’re a hard core atheist, I don’t see any reason why you can’t look at it exclusively from a game theory standpoint and recognize that the mathematics of Christian morality simply make it work better as a rule set for a civilization.

So in the interest of public service, I’d like to explain it for those atheists in terms they can get their brains around. Here then is an explanation of the role of the Roman Catholic Church in modern western society in point/counterpoint form. All of the “comments of the left” are things that people have actually said to me, although to be fair, not all of the comments come from the same person.

The Catholic Church is nothing but a bunch of pedophiles and the pope rapes little boys.

This is ridiculous and to depict this as a policy of the church is childish and you should be embarrassed for saying it. There was a serious problem with the Catholic clergy, but the church is now going to extreme lengths to resolve the issue and prevent it from happening in the future. And that’s far more than some other organizations with similar problems.

For instance, far more public schoolteachers have molested their students than members of the catholic clergy have. But while the church is publicly deploring the issue, the NEA is taking the opposite tack and putting together a legal defense fund. I don’t want to reduce my point to an episode of “I know you are but what am I” childishness that the left is always quick to embrace. But I think it’s fair to wonder why the left is only upset about homosexual pedophiles when the church is involved.

The fact is, this is just more of the same old “I hate my parents” adolescent rationalization by the left. They view this issue not as a crisis for a revered institution that needs to carefully clean house, (something the church has clearly done) but as a “gotcha” moment that they can use to justify their pre-existing biases. The fact that they deplore an act in priests that they sue to make legal in other venues is evidence of that fact. The church has admitted it’s faults and is working to correct them. I wish we could say as much for the people who attack it from the left.

The church is against sex.

Nonsense. The Church is strongly in favor of sex and does all it can to encourage it. Under Catholicism, the pleasure that we get from sex is considered one of god’s greatest gifts. And so long as the participants have met their moral obligations, (that is to say, they are a man and a woman and are married to each other) the church thinks they should have sex as often as they like and as is healthy for them.

More to the point, modern psychology supports the churches view. Sex for a married couple reinforces the intimacy and stability of the relationship. It provides lots of positive reinforcement to what is the societal cornerstone of the west, the nuclear family. It’s even better for their children to see the kind of intimacy between their parents that this fosters, and provides an excellent model upon which to base their own relationships when they are ready. Only good things come from sex for married couples. It’s even good exercise.

Meanwhile, many recent studies have shown that sex outside of marriage does not come with the same psychological benefits that it does when done in marriage. For young unmarried girls, premarital sex produces all sorts of ancillary psychological risks and problems. Of course there is the issue of sexually transmitted disease which is irrelevant among a monogamous couple, but these are known issues and not the worst of it if you ask me. What’s worse is that once sex outside of marriage is considered “OK”, the culture quickly cheapens it. What used to be seen only in a porno movie quickly becomes “just another Saturday night”.

Remember, the discussion here is not about what’s legal or illegal. As a libertarian, I’m strongly against any law being written that interferes with what any consenting adults do in the privacy of their own home. But that doesn’t mean our culture shouldn’t believe those acts to be “wrong”. From a game theory perspective about its cumulative effect on our culture as a whole, the results are pretty clear, and the Catholic Church is right. It would be wrong in my opinion to have you arrested for it, but I think it’s perfectly OK to make you feel guilty about it.

People give in to temptation all the time. And the church has a means of dealing with the people that give in to that temptation. You confess your sins (to yourself and god, but with the priest as a witness) you repent, and you are forgiven. That’s it. And members of the political left should try to grow up a little and face that idea.

The church is against birth control.

Again, this is nonsense. They are not against birth control at all, they are only against “unnatural” means of birth control, and even that isn’t because they are opposed to modern medicine or anything like that. What they are opposed to, is the cheapening of the sex act and the church views that as inevitable if artificial means of birth control are widely used and the meaning of sex is minimized.

What actually bears greater examination is the way the left has turned the orgasm into a sort of religious event in itself. They support the orgasm at all times in all circumstances, with all people (or animals…or devices) and will broach no discussion of anything that even holds the potential of coming between them and it. They stand firmly by their pro-abortion argument, not because of some discussion of the science, but for the purely philosophical reason that if there are consequences to increased sexual activity, then it might reduce the frequency of sex. It’s the sex act they deem important, not the effects of it.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m hardly a good Christian in this respect myself either. I’ve engaged in premarital sex before I was married, and if my wife divorced me tomorrow I’d almost certainly hope to do so again. I don’t claim to be any better than anyone else in this regard. But when we’re talking about the moral guidepost of western civilization, I think the Catholic Church makes a better argument than the feminist, free love, abortion on demand flower children over at the New York Times editorial board.

The church is against gays.

The Roman Catholic Church believes that engaging in homosexual sex is a sin. As the guardians of right and wrong, they believe that the act is wrong. They do not however feel that it is a question of identity. To them it isn’t that someone is “gay” it’s that they have had gay sex. And under the church, the rules for them are the same for all other sinners. Confess, repent, and be forgiven. That’s it. All men (and women for that matter) sin, and that’s how the church views the issue. They hold no special penalty for those who view themselves as part of a sub culture. They aren’t going to change the rules because a group of people, who engage in an act they view as sinful, feel so politically empowered as to make it that sin a part of their identity.

According to the Catholic Church the rules for redemption are exactly the same for everyone. They are fully egalitarian in that respect. And they aren’t “against” anyone.

The church is against science.

This is one of my personal all time favorite fictions. In point of fact the Catholic Church and members of the church are probably directly responsible for more scientific discoveries than any other organization in all of western history. To this day the Catholic Church is the largest financer of archeological research in the Middle East. Central to the concept of Christianity is the idea that reason can be used to derive the truth, that is to say, “the will of god.” The very idea of science is an offshoot of Christian thinking handed down from Augustine of Hippo. The church has never been against science, quite the contrary.

Of course, the church is a conservative organization. As is appropriate for an organization like theirs, they are slow to adopt change. And since that’s so, they are somewhat slower than average to embrace whatever fashion of thinking that might become popular with the self indulgent academics of the far left. And that has allowed the criticism to creep forth that they stand against new ideas. But any realistic examination of the kind of rubbish produced in bulk by much of academia should reflect only wisdom on the church’s prudence.

The church takes a longer view than some ego driven professor doing research. And from their perspective, it’s better to move slowly and be right than embrace the latest fashion of thought and be wrong. But make no mistake about it. The church is a big supporter of science, and always will be, because it leads to the discovery of truth. And to the church that truth will inevitably lead to god, so they will always be in favor of it.

What about the crusades?

What about them? If you seriously are concerned about this question, read about Charles (the hammer) Martel first. Islam had it coming if you ask me.

There are a host of other issues that the petulant children from academia will call up as criticisms too. They’ll dredge up all sorts of 800 year old medieval nonsense and use it to describe the church today, but no fair minded person would support that argument.

On balance it’s really no contest. For all its occasional temporal faults, the Church of Rome has on the whole been simply fantastic for the people it’s tried to bring closer to god. It has educated millions through the millennia, and has fed and clothed billions. Its representatives have brought a message of peace and civility to every dark corner of the world, and with it the light of western civilization. That it is so readily attacked by so many screenwriters, journalists, academics, and other adolescents of dubious character themselves, should be a testimony for the church not against it.

I’ve long thought that the church really just needs a good press agent, because the reality of the church is very different from the image that’s presented in the media. But I guess in the long run it won’t matter. The New York Times will be gone and forgotten forever but the Church of Rome will continue on. And since it’s the long term view that they’re worried about, I guess I shouldn’t fret.

- Obama's Pennsylvania Petri Dish

Barak Obama thinks that Pennsylvania’s small town people are bitter about jobs, and are clinging desperately to their religion, their xenophobia and their guns as a reaction to that. Much has been written about his detachment, elitism and arrogance in recent days, and I see no reason why I shouldn’t pile on as well. But to be honest about it, I find a different element of his comments disturbing; one that has as far as I can tell been accepted by the mainstream media as the only “fact” in his comments.

As frequent readers know, I have some limited experience in Pennsylvania. I go to a few gun shows there per year, since that particular freedom is illegal in New Jersey, and I also do some pheasant hunting there. But PA and I actually have a much longer history than that. You see, my dad was born in Ashley Pennsylvania, one of Senator Obama’s small bitter towns in the central Pennsylvania coal belt. His mother, my grandmother was also born there, and although she eventually relocated to distant parts, her sisters stayed and raised large families. My kin are dug in like ticks in all the little valleys around the coal belt from Jim Thorpe to Oil City.

Anyway my point is that unlike Senators Clinton and Obama, I really do know something about those small town people in Pennsylvania because I’m related to them. In spite of my job, the Ivy League elites who spend their time whispering policy into the Senator’s ear and condescending to normal Americans are not who I run with at all. More people in my family drive pickup trucks than Volvos, and in many ways I’m considered the family black sheep for working on Wall Street. (To this day I think my mom would prefer I get an “honest job”, even if it pays less.) And it’s because of that small town culture that my family feels that way.

Anyway, Senator Obama has made it clear that he doesn’t understand small town life at all. The event that sparked the discussion was a single “closed door” speech of his. While chatting it up, with his like minded elites at a Democratic fundraiser held in a San Francisco mansion where the press was excluded, he peered into the Petri dish that is small town America and pronounced the people bitter. But is that what he said exactly? Here, for the record, is his exact quote:

When I listen to that, I think the media has missed the point. What Obama really meant was that small town people are bitter because the government has failed to solve their problems for them. Obama is describing a world view where poor people in America are a kind of serfdom which relies on the government to fix things for them. He says that its government’s lack of responsiveness that is the cause of their bitterness that he’s going to fix that with a wealth of new government solutions to the problems that small town people are too stupid to solve on their own. Based on my experience, that doesn’t reflect a thing about how small town folks feel.

The fact is, if the people in my family had to identify a single thing that was the cause of more of their problems than anything else it would be taxes. Those who are self employed go to the usual set of tricks to avoid taxes, and those who work for a salary are usually thrilled to have an “under the table” job that pays cash and cuts the government out of the loop. They want to solve their own problems you see, and they look at government as a cause of problems, not a solution to them.

The small town people I’m related to would be deeply ashamed to be taking anything from the government. They would be humiliated and embarrassed to be getting free food, or free housing or free medical care. If one of my cousins were forced to do that, it would make him feel like less of a man… like he couldn’t hold his head up around his neighbors and friends. In fact, the family would probably kick in on our own and help out just to keep him from having to face the shame of doing it. A man can rely on his family when things get hard and there is no loss of face, but only a slave goes to the government for help. If he had to do that, he wouldn’t be a free citizen anymore. In my family’s world, honest people don’t take things from the government; they do for themselves even if it means getting by with less.

That’s what Obama doesn’t get about small towns. He can go ahead an implement all that the government plans he likes. He can turn Hazleton into Cabrini Green and no one in my family will take any of it. We’d be too ashamed to be getting by on the patronage of someone like Barak Obama. We’re not going to be his serfs... that’s my family. And we may all be worse off financially than those who take the government’s stuff, but we would still have the self respect we started with. And we’d be embarrassed for those who do go to the government because they’re trading their freedom to become a politician’s whore. We’d rather live in the woods in a one room shack, than take our assigned place in the government housing project.

The fact that Senator Obama will never get about those people he so easily condescends to is that although he clearly feels differently about it, the people he is talking down to all believe themselves to be his equals. They don’t want to be the kept property of the government. If they are bitter at all it isn’t because government won’t solve their problems it’s because government won’t leave them alone. They have too much pride and self respect to ever let the government run their lives the way it would in Obama’s fantasies. And speaking for those who are related to me, when the new Obama government comes to town with its new higher taxes and new government giveaways, they’ll probably just burn the new welfare office to the ground first.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

- More Liberal Fascism

An excellent discussion of the issues around "Liberal Fascism"

Saturday, April 12, 2008

- Two New Jerseys

The governor has it in his head that we’ll all be able to save money if we gang up on each other. His most recent foray into creating the perfect world is to do away with all of the smallest towns and “consolidate” government at higher levels. Carried to it’s natural conclusion, this idea will eventually provide justification for the governor to disband all local government and have all government services delivered by the state.

Coming from a business environment, consolidation can be appealing, but when it comes to government it doesn’t work. Yes, there is a level of redundancy in local government. Two mayors will sit at two desk in two offices dictating to two secretaries, and under the current government eventually collect five or six pensions each. When you add in the cost of lifetime free healthcare for them and their families, the total bill grows quickly so I can see why someone might think it would be a good thing to eliminate duplication.

But the fact is government isn’t a business. Government doesn’t just meet customer demand like a business does. Because there is some level of competition in business, all transactions with a business are voluntary. You only do things with them if you want to. And if you don't want to... don't... it's up to you. But with government the relationship isn’t voluntary, it’s involuntary. The state takes our money in the form of taxes whether we like it or not. They pass regulations to limit our behavior without our approval, and they spend our money on what they feel is important whether we agree or don’t.

In fact given recent voting trends, something just a little less than 50% of the population is disappointed with every decision that government makes. When the legislature approves another multi-billion giveaway plan for whatever, the Democrats are happy but the Republicans are aggrieved. But when they buckle under pressure and don’t ban hunting and fishing in the State, the Pro-animal rights Democrats get all huffy. And consolidation wouldn’t help that division; it would amplify it. It would mean that more of the government’s decisions are unlikely to please everyone.

It is a basic belief in America, that we are all entitled to a government which does what we want it to. But under the governor’s plan to consolidate towns, that’s less likely to be true. What would actually be better and more likely to get us exactly the government we all deserve, is to disband the State government and cede all that authority to the townships. The governor can keep the State police and the National Guard as well as the court system. And he can even have the department of motor vehicles. But everything else should be pushed down to the local level. In this way you give each citizen of New Jersey far greater control.

We can even take that idea one step further and break New Jersey into two seperate states. The first, Blue Jersey, will be all of northern New Jersey south to the Rt. 1 corridor, and then south along the Delaware to include the reliably Blue Philadelphia suburbs. While the other state, South Jersey, can begin in the Republican portions of Monmouth County… Holmdel, Marlboro and Colts Neck, and then extend south to include the pine barrens and the reliably Republican parts of the State through to Cape May. “Blue Jersey” would get all the Industry but “South Jersey” will get the tourism.

Then once we make the change, the people in “Blue Jersey” can finally implement the Democratic dream without fear of opposition. They’ll finally have the “unity” that Obama keeps taking about. They can seize all the civilian firearms and therby put an end to violence, they can implement much higher taxes (especially on "the rich") to help their economy, and expand government run healthcare to make everyone feel better. Basically they can make everything mandatory that isn’t already prohibited, and without those inbred evil Republicans from the south, they will be able to do it all without dissent. There will be no non-believers to stand in the way of a true "perfect world".

In the meanwhile, we in the south can slash (or maybe even eliminate) taxes. We can then implement things like school vouchers and pass a ban on the confiscation of real estate undoing Kelo v. New London. We can even do silly things no one has considered like issuing a concealed carry permit to every adult woman, or making a passing grade on a hunter certification course a requirement for a high school diploma. But one thing is for sure, we can undo the way that the state intrudes in our lives and finally get the freedom, independence and self reliance we’ve always wanted.

So you see, if we break the state in two then we can all have a government that does exactly what we want it to, and no more. That’s the beauty of living in a Republic. It really is the form of government most likely to give people exactly what they want, and it works best when you break it down to the smallest possible portions. But consolidation undoes all that. It makes division more likely… in fact it makes it inevitable. And since the differences between people will be greater, it makes those division more hostile and filled with vitriol. So the governor isn’t working toward “bringing people together” he’s actually working toward dividing us even more.

In spite of the fact that I think John Edwards is nothing more than a slip and fall lawyer with nice hair it seems to me that there really is two Americas. There certainly is in New Jersey anyway. One, wants the government to do as much, and to take on as many responsibilities as possible, and the other wants the exact opposite. It’s possible for us to all get what we want, but the governor is leading us away from it not toward it. He’s setting up a world where half the people in the state are doing something they don’t want to, because they have the gun of state authority being held to their head.

They say all politics is local. And it would be a better world if we have our government the same way.

Friday, April 11, 2008

- Nutter Breaks the Law To Ban Guns

In a move of stunning idiocy even for a liberal Democrat, appropriately named Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter (yes really) decided to break Pennsylvania State law this week and approve a number of anti-gun laws recently voted on by the city council. None of these is a new law or an untried idea, but are all just the same old collection of bans and prohibitions which have been shown to hurt law abiding citizens while doing little or nothing to effect crime. The restrictions he was willing to commit a crime to see implemented are:

1. Limiting legal handgun purchases to one per month.
2. Requiring lost or stolen weapons to be reported within 24 hours.
3. Prohibiting individuals under protection-from-abuse orders from possessing guns if ordered by the court.
4. Allowing removal of firearms from "persons posing a risk of imminent personal injury" to themselves or others.
5. Outlawing the possession and sale of certain assault weapons.

The first law regarding the “1 gun a month” rule doesn’t affect criminals at all because they buy their guns illegally. And since they don’t buy their guns legally but law abiding citizens do, the law abiding citizen is the only one affected by the prohibition. But statistics show that legal firearms owners are also less likely than average to commit crimes. So this new ban, in effect restricts people who are unlikely to break the law, while doing nothing to those who will break it. And Mayor Nutter was willing to break the law to see this happen even though it does the opposite of what he intends.

The second law, requiring that a stolen weapon be reported within 24 hours, is similar to a recently enacted NJ law, which is clearly being used as a guide. This means that any law abiding citizen who gets their legally purchased firearm stolen and fails (for whatever reason) to report it immediately is no longer considered the victim of a crime but the perpetrator of one. It’s really just another way of assuming that if someone owns a gun they must be guilty of something. Imagine my shock that Mayor Nutter hold this one close to his heart as well.

People convicted of felonies already lose their right to own a firearm, but thanks to the third law, the government will no longer have to wait for a conviction before infringing your rights. Now all you have to do is be accused of the crime of spousal or home abuse, and a judge will be able to throw the US constitution out the window. But even that doesn’t go as far as the fourth law which places your constitutional rights at the discretion of the police in the field without even getting a judge involved. If they determine that you are a posing "a risk of imminent personal injury", they your firearms can be confiscated, no questions asked.

The final law is a rehash of the so called “assault weapons ban” that doesn’t actually apply to assault weapons. In fact, the law doesn’t actually mention any “assault weapons” at all because they’re all covered under a different law which has been on the books for 80 years. But what it does do is ban otherwise perfectly legal semi-automatic firearms which are widely used for hunting, but which have an appearance similar to actual assault weapons.

That Mayor Nutter is willing to break the law to infringe on the constitutionally protected rights of the citizens of Philadelphia should send an important message to the people who voted for him. And the fact that the laws he's proposed have been shown to have little or no effect on crime should send a signal as well. It should say that the Mayor doesn’t feel limited by the law of the land. He’s prepared to do what he feels like doing whether it’s legal or not. The rights of the citizens of Philadelphia are just one more irrelevancy to him and the US and Pennsylvania State Constitutions are just rags.

He’s quoted as saying: "Almost 232 years ago, a group of concerned Americans took matters in their own hands and did what they needed to do by declaring that the time had come for a change," so the Mayor is not only ignorant of the law he’s also ignorant of history. The people he refers, our founding fathers, did what they did to increase the power of the citizenry over the government. Mayor Nutter on the other hand is doing the exact opposite. He’s specifically increasing the power of the government over the citizenry, even though it’s against the law for him to do so. Hitler and the Reichstag fire would probably be a better comparison. Hitler claimed that the emergency was so great that he now had to ignore the law for the good of all. Nutter is basically saying the same thing.

"If we all sat around bemoaning what the law was on a regular basis," Nutter said. "I'd probably still be picking cotton somewhere as opposed to being mayor of the city of Philadelphia." Those are the shameful words of an elected official currently holding office in the state of Pennsylvania. A better example of the fascism of the liberal view I suspect would be hard to come by. Liberals believe that breaking the law is a small price to pay in their quest for self congratulation. I wonder if he has the same concerns about the law when it comes to things like government corruption, or campaign finance, or misuse of government resources. So long as he has an excuse which he feels strongly about, my guess would be no. And if he’s perfectly willing to break the law to get rid of the second amendment, how long before he decides that we don’t need the first amendment either? Even devout anti-gun liberals should be concerned by something like this.

He doesn’t live in New Jersey, but he’s clearly using New Jersey’s gun laws as a guideline so I guess we on this side of the river should still bear at least some of the blame. I guess he doesn’t like the fact that the “little people” still have some say in Pennsylvania, and he’s envious of the party members from New Jersey who no longer have to deal with a restriction like that. Personally I’m both amazed and disappointed that New Jersey’s awful gun laws are being used as a model to illegally infringe on the rights of people who don’t even live in the state.

In the meantime, the NRA is going to sue, and even the anti-gun members of the city council don’t believe this will have teeth or manage to survive the legal challenges. But I hope they arrest this Nutter Mayor all the same. At the very least they should have him impeached, or recalled or whatever they do to elected officials when they lose their mind in Pennsylvania. And one thing is for sure, the guy is definitely a Nutter.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

- Americans For Prosperity Ad

Given the level of economic illiteracy in the state, (thanks public schools) I would imagine that the New Jersey chapter of Americans for Prosperity is one of the smallest organizations in the world. But as can be seen from this Ad of theirs, it's none the less a worthwhile organization with a clever bunch of people involved.

When Jon Corzine looked for the path of least resistance for the new budget, he decided it was easier to convince the voters to let him tax their great grand kids than it was to confront the entrenched civil servants and unions that run Trenton.
It turns out that he's not exactly a courageous, business savvy visionary like the Democrats made him out to be. He's really just one more arrogant power hungry elitist who thinks he should be able to decide everything for everyone and who cares not at all what the "little people" might have to say about it. As far as he's concerned the best thing that could happen to all of our hard earned money is that he gets to decide where it goes and what it's spent on. Like most Democrats, he thinks we're all too stupid to spend it ourselves. Nice to see him being portrayed accurately. Lord knows we can't count on the media to do it.

Here's something else from them with slightly less stunning production value, but still has lots of good information.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

- A Personal Note

I don’t write about my personal life very much because I think most people would find it boring. That’s OK with me, I’ve had plenty of times in my youth where people were betting against me seeing the sunrise, so I’ve had more than enough excitement to last me. And although the last few months haven’t been all that different in terms of the thrill level, I’m going to have to bore you a little and relate a little personal stuff all the same.

For starters, I’ve switched jobs. I no longer work at one of the largest hedge funds in the world. I had been looking for a new job for ages, but in January management finally helped me make up my mind. By any objective measure I had done well by that firm, but investment firms are run by people, and people are rarely objective. Even though I had done nothing but make money for them, the people running the firm felt that there were things more important than money. In this case, that important thing was to make sure I “knew my place”. So in the end they got what they wanted and I got three other offers in six weeks. I guess it turned out that I knew my place a little better than they did after all.

I weighed them all carefully and took the one that not only gave me the most money but was also with the team that I like the best. My new boss and I get on very well, and that’s important to me. Particularly so because I’ve spent the last 7 years working for people who can’t stand me or the thing they think I represent. It can make things difficult in lots of subtle ways and I’ve had enough of that kind of pettiness. I’ll be doing the same job at the new place, but for more money and with a team that’s focused on goals and not processes. If you don’t know what I mean by that, then you should check back to this piece.

I’m also leaving a ton of really great people at the old place, but by the way its being run you’d never know it. If you ask me the place has been so mismanaged for so long that the wheels are really starting to come off the wagon. And it’s happening in full sight of the industry too. Many of my interviews I had, started with some industry insiders asking me “What the hell is going on over there anyway… you wouldn’t believe the rumors we’re hearing!” (They all turned out to be true.)

Anyway, many of the best people have left already and almost all the rest who are worth a damn are looking. Some are looking really hard and some a little less so, but the only people who don’t have their resumes sharpened are the people who put the place in such horrible shape in the first place. I don’t know first hand anymore but the information I still get makes it sound a lot like the fall of Rome. The place is on fire but the “important people” are still fiddling. So be it. I’m confident that in the end they’ll get exactly what they deserve.

Meanwhile I’ve had a little time off the last few weeks, and since that’s coincided with my desire to provide my wife with a new 20 gauge, I spent some of the time turning this:

Into this:

The firearm in question is a Stevens 311D which I bought for about $100 plus the transfer fee. When I got it, it had significant pitting over the receiver, only one cylinder was firing, and the stock was a cracked ugly mess. The new stock is a piece of presentation grade Claro walnut that I got from a guy in California. He’d had a fire and it was smoke damaged, so he sold it to me for $150. The walnut buttplate I bought for $10 bucks as a straight knife scale on ebay, which I then shaped and polished myself. If I include the cost of the new mainspring I needed to fix the cylinder and the tools and materials to finish the stock, I now have just a little less than $300 dollars sunk into the gun. It may just be me, but I think it looks like it cost over $1,000. She’s already very happy with it, and I haven’t added the checkering yet. It's going to be a simple elegant pattern with a thin ribbon in the forend, done at 24 lines per inch. It will look a lot better than that impressed garbage that was in the original stock.

And if you’re wondering; no this isn’t me being like Homer Simpson. (You know… buying his wife a bowling ball with the name Homer etched into it?) It’s sized for her and there is nearly a foot in height difference between us. Besides it was so much fun that I’m now in the market for a slightly nicer gun to restore for myself. I’m only interested in a side by side 20 gauge; Maybe a Spanish or English gun… something that could come back to be a real beauty if it gets some cosmetic TLC. I’ll be going to the gun shows and keeping an eye open.

Anyway the new job is going to be cutting into my schedule. And what’s worse, because of my start date it looks very much like I’m going to miss turkey hunting season entirely. I really like turkey hunting… in many ways I think it’s more fun than hunting deer. It’s certainly warmer. You can (and should) wear head to toe camo… no blaze orange and that’s pretty cool. And it’s a lot more active than deer hunting too. I mean there is a lot of pre-season stuff to do for deer but once the season actually starts, most of Deer hunting is staying as still as you can stand in the freezing cold. But that’s not so with Turkeys. With them you’re engaging in “conversation” with the birds in question.

And don’t think it can’t be exciting. When I was still living up in Westchester I had a Tom silently creep up on me just outside my field of vision. I was sitting with my back to a tree, but a fallen log was on my left and blocked a lot of my view…. and of course, he couldn’t see me either. I was clucking away but the little SOB never made a sound. When he got close enough, he hopped right up onto the log about 20 inches from my face. My heart rate shot up into the exponential notation range and I swung the barrel of my 12 gauge around and whacked it in the legs. It sort of hopped and fluttered off the way it came and I stood up and shot it at about 15 feet. My hands were still shaking when I got the thing home.

But there won’t be any of that this year.

Anyway that’s what’s up with me... all work and no play for the next few months at least. In the meantime I expect to keep complaining about politicians regularly, but I might be doing more writing on the weekends for the next few months. Lord knows I won’t have the down time during the week that used to, but that’s just as well. It was horribly boring sitting around that place waiting for the Huns and Vandals to show up. And if that isn't enough I'm also working on a book based on my experience. The two hedge funds I worked for seem the same to most people but going by the way they were run they couln't have been more different. And believe me it will make for interesting reading. Even if it's being thrown together by a hack like me.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

- When Parody Equals Reality

Victor David Hanson has penned yet another brilliant essay for National Review Online titled:

Back to the Good Ole Days Before Dubya?
How Obama will restore America's standing in the world.

To the conservative eye it’s a masterful account of the silliness of the current stated positions of Barak Obama pertaining to US foreign policy, and a testament to its impending failure. He lampoons them by illustrating how unlikely it is that any of the things he intends will be accomplished by the processes he intends to follow. But there is a serious problem with this essay and that is that he never comes right out and says that it’s a put on.

He relies on the critical thinking of the reader to come to the only reasonable and obvious conclusion that he’s being cynical about the future outcome of the new Barak Administration’s. But he’s forgotten how little the far left has to do with critical thinking these days. To the eyes of a regular reader of DailyKos or DemocraticUnderground, this essay will look very much like a sincere endorsement of Obama and his proposals.

To them, it seems the best way to improve things is to choose the most self congratulatory policy and hope for the best. And since that’s what Obama is all about, he looks like a savior to them. He’s the great black hope… a politician who will implement policies that focus only on intent, and actual outcome be damned. There is little doubt that people for whom this passes as critical thinking, will not get VDH’s joke.

Of course that could be the very thing he intends. I’m certain that someone over at NRO (maybe some young staffer with a stronger stomach than mine or even VDH himself) will be trolling the online fever swamps of the far left looking to documented signs of confusion. They’ll come back with lengthy reports about threads gone awry where people actively debate whether Victor David Hanson has finally gotten a soul, or whether it’s all just a Rovian attempt to lure the faithful into some later trap. There will no doubt be sincere discussions about his intent because it will never occur to them how silly their ideas are at the outset. They live in a black is white, up is down, left is right world and will never get the joke.

But I will. And hopefully so will you. He’s one sharp cookie that VDH. And they won’t get him because they don’t speak his language. But if you do, then I highly recommend the piece.

Sunday, April 6, 2008

- My President: R.I.P.

The venerable Charlton Heston 1924 - 2008

One of his best speeches:

Winning the Culture War

And an Update:

One of the folks over at FreeRepublic pointed me to these as well:

Saturday, April 5, 2008

- A Free Market Solution To Further Market Crises

The concern with excesses in the credit market was a known problem for industry professionals for years before it finally became a crisis. Just like the Dot.Com bubble that came before it, the problem more than anything else was simply an asset bubble, or as we sometimes say in the trade, an “Information Cascade”. It was caused by people buying paper for a price that they knew was more than it’s actual value, but they would be willing to pay that inflated price anyway because they knew that the odds were good that someone else would be willing to further suspend disbelief and buy it from them at an even higher price. In short, they would only be willing to pay the current price because everyone else was too. The question of value was no longer relevant.

But this financial crisis was more severe than the “” boom and bust because it was so much larger. The US mortgage market is one of the largest markets in the world and to have it collapse as completely as the value of companies did, would have potentially severe consequences to the rest of the economy. Seeing this, the US Federal Reserve stepped in and issued a guarantee for one of the companies who were most at risk in this game of financial chicken. Bear Stearns had enjoyed many of the excesses of the credit boom, but were now all but insolvent. And to prevent further contagion through the collapse of assets held by them, the Federal Reserve has offered a surety to JPMorgan, to purchase the troubled Bank and deal with its portfolio’s issues. This move is designed to give market participants greater confidence in the minimum value of the paper being transferred during the sale, and keep further “bailouts” unnecessary.

And now we’ve all been presented with the question “How do we prevent issues like this one in the future?” Naturally the government is proposing one solution and that is more control of our economy by the government. Both the house Financial Services Committee, chaired by Rep Barney Frank, and its Senate counterpart, chaired by Charles Schumer, are working through proposals to dramatically increase the government’s control of our financial markets through increased regulation and oversight. But government control of the economy has proved to be a poor solution to market crisis in the past because it reacts too slowly, or costs too much. In the case of Roosevelt’s “New Deal”, the reference most often cited for past action, the policies approved by the government greatly extended the financial emergency of 20’s and 30’s and turned an economic crisis into an unprecedented economic catastrophe.

And the reason this is so, is really an issue of information cost. A free western economy is a highly complex thing, with millions of participants, each of them acting in their own interest. They each decide for themselves what they want, and what they’re willing to give up to get it. And no expert, however intelligent or well informed can possibly know all the desires and corresponding sacrifices that each market participant is willing to make. Mr.’s Frank and Schumer are hardly financial experts, but even if they were, there simply wouldn’t be a way for them to be so well informed as to give them the insight to decide for everyone what financial transactions should and shouldn’t be allowed. And if they draw some arbitrary line that they believe separates “good” financial transaction from “bad” transaction, then in short order, the highly motivated industry insiders will certainly find a way around the new rules, and the crisis will occur again. A better solution is to use the Federal Reserve’s analogy of “Letting the market do its own heavy lifting.

These market crisis or “Information cascades” only occur when the buyers outnumber the sellers by a large enough percentage as to make their outlook into a self-fulfilling prophecy. When “everyone is buying” as in the or credit booms, it becomes a risky proposition to be on the opposing side of the trend because the information necessary to determine when the market frenzy will be over is unavailable. But if the information were to be made available to market participants, then the prospect of taking the opposing position (betting against the trend) would become more cost effective, so investors will do so of their own choice. This would mean that buyers would never outnumber sellers by the necessary margin for the self fulfilling “information Cascade” threshold to be reached, and the crisis created by its collapse would be avoided. In short, if the government were to do nothing more than insist that some necessary information be made available to the broader market, the problems would be prevented permanently through free market means that use financial incentives to provide liquidity during a crisis.

So what information would need to be made public to prevent future crisis? Well in his recent book A Demon of Our Own Design, Rick Bookstaber, attempted to describe the causes of such moments of extreme market volatility. Mr. Bookstaber holds a PHD in Economics from MIT and has been a Wall Street insider for more than 25 years. He describes the problem as being created through a combination of innovation and leverage. Financial innovation which creates complex instruments which only a few people have the knowledge to accurately value, and additional leverage where the consequences of mistakes in that valuation are amplified, join hands to turn what might otherwise be a local error into a global catastrophe. And there is a great deal of empirical data available to support that view. The failure of Long Term Capital Management is an excellent example where the real-life circumstances match the Bookstaber theory quite well. So assuming that’s true, how can we use that information to prevent further economic collapse?

Financial innovation is a product of entrepreneurial effort and is therefore not a good candidate for mandatory disclosure, but the degree of leverage currently available in each market is another story. If regulations were passed that changed that simple piece of information from private data to a public statistic, it would provide all the data necessary for market participants to forecast the likelihood of an additional financial collapse. And since they could forecast its likelihood, they could also take the opposing side of the “at risk” market when it becomes economical to do so. Then as we said, buyers would never so outnumber sellers to the necessary degree. In short, all further financial collapses would be prevented through a free market means.

There would still be market volatility of course. Information isn’t costless, so markets will never be fully efficient. But we don’t really need them to be. All we need to do is avoid those moments when the there is such a strong consensus in a particular market, as to make its collapse both inevitable and disastrous. We don’t need to prevent people from making foolish investments we only need provide enough information so that not everyone joins them in their foolishness. Disclosure of cumulative leverage will accomplish that goal without the negative consequences of otherwise restricting investor behavior.

There have been other hedge fund crises which demonstrate what we can expect in such a regulatory environment. In 2006, “Amaranth Advisors LLC” had taken on a risk position in the energy markets which proved to be unsustainable by them. This was a similar balance sheet condition which caused the crisis at “Long Term Capital Management” in prior years. In fact, the LTCM loss was approximately $4.6 billion while the Amaranth Advisors loss was closer to $6 billion. But unlike LTCM, when Amaranth failed, there was no further market contagion; no need for the FED to step in and stabilize markets, and the reason was that when LTCM failed there was no counterparty on the opposing side of the trade, so the loss was transferred to a reduction in value for their assets. But during the Amaranth collapse there was an opposing counterparty so instead of the capital loss deflating the market instruments like LTCM, the Amaranth loss was simply a transfer of value from one investor to another. So there was no further issue to be born by the Fed or the taxpayers.

Prime brokers for hedge funds track the leverage they have offered on a daily basis. If we have them report this information in a summary way, it will fully obfuscate the activity of individual investors putting no one at a disadvantage. The total data for all investors and markets could then be accumulated and released on a daily basis, and would then be available to allow investors to stabilize world markets on their own. As always, market problems are really a problem of information, and should be solved in that way.

- In the interest of complete disclosure, Rick Bookstaber is a friend and former co-worker of mine whose view greatly influences my own. I saw him last year at a quantitive conference hosted by Nomura, and discussed these ideas with him over lunch at that time. This was all before the collpase of the credit market or the Bear Stearns buyout. I'm quite sure he justifiably feels the events have continued to support his view. In my opinion, the only real difference between our prespectives is that while he falls just short of offering a solution, I take that additional step. But I don't mean to imply that he has endorsed my potential solution... the last we spoke, he was prudently still considering it.