Sunday, May 25, 2008

- Government Imbeciles

It’s a hard fact that no matter their political affiliation, the people that go into government work as a career are not our best and brightest. In a free society, those people will likely go to where they can get the most for their considerable skills. Very often that involves advanced degrees in medicine, the law or business. But just because someone has also followed that path to an advanced degree doesn’t necessarily mean that they're among the best and brightest. Being in the latter group doesn’t automatically put you in the former.

But one thing they will almost never do is go into government. If you really are brighter than average and you expect to do be able to use that talent to do better than others, government work is really your last choice. And as a result the people in elected office tend to be a thin gruel. They are a confident bunch, but on average they are usually a little dimmer than the general public. That was made painfully obvious this past week when the US House of Representatives summoned the heads of the US oil companies to their kangaroo court, to talk about their ideas on how to relieve the high cost of oil. The banality, foolishness, elitism, naivety and out and out stupidity demonstrated by our elected officials was truly embarrassing.

By far the worst was when representative Maxine Waters was trying to threaten to nationalize the oil industry, probably to strike fear into the hearts of the business leaders, but the fangs were largely removed from her threat because she couldn’t remember the word “nationalize”. Someone would probably do well to remind Ms Waters that if she wants to talk about stealing billions of dollars in assets belonging to US citizens and shareholders, she might want to look up the word for it ahead of time.

That’s what “nationalizing” an industry is of course; it’s the government stealing the company which belongs to the shareholders. The CEO’s don’t own their oil companies… not all of them anyway. They may have a piece, and it may even be bigger than the average shareholder, but if Maxine Waters got to implement her plan then it would be the common US citizen who would be hurt. What’s that? You say that you don’t own any stock in oil companies? Well do you own any mutual funds or have a 401K? Do you have money in a defined benefit pension plan? Well where do you imagine they put their money? Exxon-Mobile is the most profitable company in US history, and a large number of US citizens have an piece of it, either directly or indirectly.

Of course that was just the worst of it. There was more than enough other stupidity to go around. In another astounding exchange Rep Debbie Wasserman Schultz said to the Execs: "I can't say that there is evidence that you are manipulating the price, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not."

I’d like to tell you how I would have responded to an accusation like that but conservative writer Mark Steyn came up with something better. His response, which he wrote about for his syndicated column went:

Had I been in the hapless oil man's expensive shoes, I'd have answered, "Hey, you first. I can't say that there is evidence that you're sleeping with barnyard animals, but I believe that you probably are. So prove to me that you are not. Whatever happened to the presumption of innocence and prima facie evidence, lady? Do I have to file a U.N. complaint in Geneva that the House of Representatives is in breach of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights?"

The truth is that by letting environmental and global warming groups set policy, it’s congress who is responsible for high prices of oil. They keep us out of nuclear power which is both clean and safe. The prohibit the drilling of the VERY substantial oil reserves that the US controls domestically, and they allow frivolous lawsuits prevent the development of new refining capacity. They had a choice between a policy which would keep oil costs low and one which will put a bunch of wacko environmental zealots in charge of our domestic energy policy, and they chose the latter.

And it’s going to get a lot worse before it gets better. John McCain is already giving lip service to the same bunch of empty headed neophytes who believe in environmentalism as a religion, and Barak Obama is letting them drive his plans. If we get McCain in office next term then I think we can expect gasoline prices in the $10 to $12 dollar range in the next 5 years, and if Obama is elected it will be even higher. In fact I wouldn’t be surprised to hear him consider the more extreme position of price controls and rationing which will cause massive shortages and utter economic collapse of many areas of the country.

And I’ve got to tell you, the truth is, I’m not all that upset about it. My wife and I drive very little, less than 12K miles per year combined. We’ve always driven cars that get fairly good mileage, and I make a pretty good living so I will be able to afford all the gas we need. Our house is heated exclusively with a pellet stove which we bought a few years ago to save money. If natural gas costs multiply by 10 or even 20 our annual heating bill will still only be about $800 per year. We have a 25K Watt generator wired into our house for those rolling blackouts which will come with the Obama administration’s new rules to deal with the “energy emergency”. And the gas we need for it will be available to us on the black market that springs up around his 'command and control' economic restrictions.

Will it be a hassle for us? Sure. But thanks to my "always be prepared" wife, the truth is, we’ll be fine. but in the meantime an entire generation of Americans will be learning how effective modern liberalism is at actually solving people’s problems. They’ll be seeing first hand what fools they were to let the government take control of so much of their lives. And they’ll realize that all the people they’ve been listening to in the Democratic Party, who were promising them the moon and swearing to give the bill for it to “the rich”, were actually lying to them. They've never known hardship so they made foolish political decisions. so now I suppose, they're going to learn the hard way.

And speaking of learnign things the hard way, maybe the Republicans in office will be learning something too. Maybe they’ll be learning that the liberal’s SOP of using other people’s money to buy votes doesn’t work for a party that's supposed to support small government. They’ll learn that contrary to what David Frum and other's say, “limited government” really will get them popular support. And if we’re really lucky then maybe another Reagan will rise from the ashes of what many are saying will probably look like Jimmy Carter’s second term.

Then again, they are elected officials; and since that says something about their intelligence, maybe I give them too much credit.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

- Mad Max 7: Beyond the Pulaski Skyway

This memorial day my wife is doing a little local political organizing. We've invited over a few families that we've met in our town who have political convictions similar to ours, in the hope that if we’re all on the same page, we might be able to have a little more influence over the local political issues. We’re not trying to save the Republican Party; that’s been a lost cause in New Jersey for decades. But hopefully we can do a few smaller things.

The State officials from our district, state Senator Jennifer Beck and Assemblyman Declan O’Scanlon are both the kind of Republicans that most conservatives would be embarrassed about. In my experience they are thoroughly elitist, and firmly in favor of the government making as many decisions for the citizenry as possible. To my eyes they are really just Democrats with an R next to their name. I’m giving freshman assemblywoman Caroline Casagrande a pass because I liked her when I met her, and I think she should get the chance to do something that offends me before I start complaining about her. But the other two are hardly Ron Paul fans, so my wife figured that we should probably start our political associations at a somewhat lower level that the republican party.

We live in one of New Jersey’s most conservative towns, about 20 drive minutes from the beach, and 45 minutes south of New York City. Demographically the bulk of the town is either Jewish with strong ties to Israel, Italian with a profound commitment to family, or one of the Asian sub-groups who because of their above average intelligence and education, all tend to vote Republican. Indians, Koreans, Chinese, and a few others dominate. In truth, it has about the same ethnic makeup as any Wall Street trading floor, and that’s probably not an accident.

Still, although Republicans occasionally win elections here, it isn’t because the right is strong politically, but because in New Jersey, the political left is so hyperbolically frivolous and childish. It’s their weakness on issues that settles things and the Republicans have been winning by default for years. The local Democratic Party has a long history of putting up spoiled rich kids who think they’re smarter than everyone else. And people like that, who think things like Animal Rights and Trans-Fats bans are a profoundly important issues, just don’t win over blue dog Democrats.

And don’t think for a minute the irony of seeing the national election turn out just like our little town in New Jersey is wasted on us.

Anyway, the truth is, we’re thoroughly surrounded here. Our town is probably about 50% Republican, but in New Jersey that means that they’re no more “conservative” than… Well no more conservative than your average Republican Congressman in Washington. They are perfectly content to stand by and “not make waves” because they are afraid that the gang of liberals who drive the political discussion around here will turn into an angry mob the minute their base assumptions are challenged.

And to be perfectly honest, they may have a point. My wife needed a police escort to her car after the school board meeting where she spoke in favor of subcontract the janitors for a fraction of the price they would have paid for fully unionized employees. The board rationally approved the measure and saved the town a couple of million bucks a year, but my wife was the only person to speak in its favor. That was partially because she’s so fantastically brave, but also because the other people who agree with us were simply intimidated by the size of the opposition.

Since self reliance is a basic part of our character, conservatives tend to keep to themselves. Small L libertarians tend to be even more independent as matter of principle. So when it comes time for political discourse, there are huge, empty headed, self congratulatory mobs on the liberal side, and a bunch of people who believe they are all by themselves (although they actually aren’t) on the other. This has increasingly been the political dynamic, so my wife thought it might be a good idea to do a little networking.

Nationally the Republicans are a real let down this year. The political discussion has shifted left and the few conservatives out there feel they have been abandoned by their party and are all alone in the wilderness. Welcome to our world. So my wife and I are going to circle our little wagon here in the liberal wilderness of New Jersey, pass out some ammunition, and try to be ready for what comes. Surviving a McCain administration will be tough and an Obama administration may well be impossible. But we figure have a slightly better shot if we pull together.

All this conjures images of an essay of mine which I think was the most fun to write, so I’ll leave you with that thought as I wish you and yours well this Memorial Day. For your reading pleasure here is: New Jersey's Image Problem or Mad Max 7: Beyond the Pulaski Skyway.

Sunday, May 18, 2008

- Blame The Speculators

I don’t know much about how the record industry works. Oh I’ve bought a record or two over the years and gone to the occasional concert, but that doesn’t make me an expert. So if someone were to come and tell me that the reason that the entire recording industry is doing so poorly was because of “record promoters” then I wouldn’t be in a position to argue very much. I’d find it hard to believe, but you never know… someone may have a point so I’d owe it to them to allow them to make it.

It’s the same thing with speculators in the energy market. Most people don’t understand what it is the speculators are doing so they believe politicians when they tell them that it’s the speculators that are ruining everything for the rest of us. That isn’t really what’s happening, and the politicians probably know better, but the left leaning major media is more than happy to carry water for them on something like this. Take this specious bit of blithering idiocy from the MSNBC “AnswerDesk” website:

With oil prices racing toward $70 a barrel, Answer Desk readers want to know what it will take to send prices lower again. Wyatt in Florida wants to know just how much more oil is out there. And Mark in San Francisco can't see why oil speculators are allowed to bid up prices -- and ruin life for the rest of us.

Take a look at this Google search and you’ll find dozens of others that are equally vacuous and lacking in anything resembling facts or reason. They’re all ready to point an accusing finger at the speculator because to them, a speculator isn’t someone that can garner a lot of sympathy. They can depicted as rich, greedy, and out only for themselves. And in this age where more and more we’re forgetting the lessons of eastern Europe and collectivism is becoming more fashionable again among the elite, there is nothing the mainstream media considers worse.

But what is a speculator and what is it that they actually do? What role do they play in the marketplace? Well since that’s what I do for a living, let me tell you. A speculator’s job is in some sense, to predict the future. It’s their job to look at the news, the public economic statistics, the various wars, and other public political events and decide what they think an asset is going to be worth tomorrow, compared to what it’s worth right now. In fact in a very real sense, the behavior of speculators in the market can be considered an early warning system for the policy decisions of government.

When government does something smart like spend less of the taxpayers money, the speculators in the market react to that and drive stock prices up. When they do something stupid like increase economic regulation for no reason, the market goes down. There are no conspiracies or other cooperation between speculators, in fact in most markets they usually work directly against one another. But the results of their collective decisions tell us a great deal. When they see good news for a company or other smart decision making the stock goes up, and the premium on their bonds go down (which means that they can then borrow for less). So that’s what speculators actually do. They communicate information to the rest of us through their buying and selling. They provide feedback to people who are interested in how their decisions will effect the future of a company, or an industry or a government. Their buying and sell tells us all whether people are acting smartly or stupidly in their expert opinions. You’ve heard of the “wisdom of crowds” … well this is it.

But when it comes to energy policy, the government isn't interested in hearing anything like that. That human monument to unjustified ambition, Senator Chuck Schumer, has come up with a cute catch phrase to try and rally the uninformed masses into letting government step in to prevent speculators from showing us how badly the government is doing with regard to energy policy. He, and some other left leaning politicians have invented something they’re calling "The Enron Loophole". They’ve never been really clear about what this loophole is, but their thinking is that if it has the word "Enron" in it, then it must be really bad. They’re using this so called loophole to try and shove their further into the energy markets, and use government to prevent people from buying and selling oil futures. There isn't really any loophole, and thankfully, no one seems to be taking them all that seriously.

But I suppose it's right for the government to be concerned about what the speculators are telling us. Right now, They are trying very hard to let us all know that with regard to energy policy, this country is about to go off a cliff. Thanks to lawsuits from leftwing environmental groups and global warming alarmists, we have all but banned new domestic drilling and exploration for oil. Lawsuits citing the clean air and endangered species acts have been extensively used to prevent the construction of additional refineries, and to prevent the implementation of nuclear power plants. Global warming has gained so much momentum, that politicians feel like they can't say no, regardless of the lack of evidence. So they've bene shutting off every reasonable chance to make energy any cheaper in any way.

Left leaning politicians want to blame the speculators, but all the speculators are doing is reacting to the way the world looks to them. They look at the state of american politics and realize that we have apparently lost our minds with regard to environmental causes. That’s what’s prompting speculators to push oil prices higher. It’s the fact that there are so few voices of reason anymore when it comes to global warming. And since it's a requirement of the global warming movement for oil to be much higher in price in order to discourage others from using it, they are just "going with the flow". They aren't judging whether it's good or bad for America, only whether it's a smart thing economically. And the obvious answer is no.

Did you know that the homeless population of New York City each has a carbon footprint too big for the goals set by the global warming movement? It’s true. In order to give them everything they want with regard to their environmental goals, we need to each be consuming the amount of energy per person that was being used by your average American in 1690. And that makes our modern industrial society and our modern economy totally unsustainable. Energy speculators know that, and they’re just backing out the math.

So don’t blame the speculators for putting their money where they think it’s going to work for them. They’re just fulfilling their role in society, and doing what the market asks them to. Instead, blame the global warming movement for making the bet such a sure thing, and our politicians, for believing them when there is so little evidence. Speculators are just the canary in the coal mine. And if you’re upset about the noise they make, the right solution isn’t to kill the canary.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

- Buying a First Shotgun

A friend recently got a larger than expected royalty check from his publisher, and in passing asked me if I had any suggestions about the kind of shotgun he should consider buying as his first. opinion about shotguns?

I guess he doesn’t read my stuff much.

[If you're looking for a description of the legal process in NJ for buying a firearm - then you should probably start here. If you're looking for suggestion on the kind of shotgun to buy as your first, then by all means please continue.]

Deciding on a first shotgun is a straightforward process, and the first step is the same as any other firearm purchase. A liberal once asked me if I thought I had enough guns, and to his supreme annoyance I responded “enough for what?” That’s not a joke, it’s the first concern when choosing a firearm… what exactly are you going to be using it for? If you’re going to leave it under your bed as a home defense insurance policy that means one set of priorities, but if you plan on shooting skeet with it once a month or using it to hunt deer and turkeys, that’s probably another. You may want to do both things with it and that’s perfectly reasonable, but you should be aware that multitasking will come with compromises. But before I get to that, there are a few things you should know about all shotguns.

Selecting a Gauge

The gauge of a shotgun is defined as “the number of lead balls you would need in that diameter in order to have one pound of lead”. So a 12 gauge gun, by far the most common, is the largest (standard) bore, and the .410 is the smallest. There are 10 gauge guns out there too, and even guns that sport custom “super large” bores, but none of these should be considered as a first shotgun. All you really need to worry about when choosing a bore size is your physical size and your strength.

In my opinion, if you’re a man of more or less normal size then you should almost certainly buy a 12 gauge as your first gun. In fact when it comes to the fairer sex, I would only recommend a smaller gauge for particularly petite women. As an example, my wife is tiny. She’s a pretty little Hungarian brunette who is 5’1” and weighs about 105 lbs. when dripping wet, and she can still shoot my 12 gauge semi just fine. The only issue is that it’s a little heavy for her so if she shoots it all day her arms are tired afterward. So I did recently break down and get her a 20 gauge gun so she can shoot it a little more.

Recoil is a big concern for the new shotgun purchaser, but it isn't as great an issue with shotguns as Hollywood would have you believe. Guns with larger bores are typically heavier which cuts down dramatically on their felt recoil, and the 'semi automatic' design shotguns can diminish it even more. Besides, you don't aim a shotgun like a rifle anyway, so if you get a little push from your gun it won't necessarily effect your performance. And even if you turn out to be REALLY sensitive, there are other options like low recoil ammo, and add-on pads that can make a big difference.

I can quote you numbers about ft-lbs of thrust etc, but it won't mean anything to you - so let me explain it this way. Whoever you are, you aren't so far away from 'average' that recoil will be different for you than it is for everyone else. Virtually all men, and all but the smallest American women can 'handle' the recoil delivered by a 12 gauge gun. If you're petite, consider a 20 gauge, but don't buy one that's too light, or it might shove you even more than some 12 gauges. And for children or child sized adults, the 28 gauge, is the 'really low recoil' option. But you should be aware that the ammunition costs a fortune, and it's really quite difficult to shoot well when compared to a 20, or 12 gauge.

Some people think starting with a smaller gauge like a 28 gauge, is always a good idea but I disagree. Shotguns are designed to throw a spray of pellets, and the smaller the bore the smaller the pattern. So with a 20 gauge gun it’s harder to hit what you’re shooting than with a 12 gauge, no matter how skilled you are. A 28 gauge is also harder than a 20, and a 410 harder than a 28, and so on. Making it easy to hit what you point your first gun at is a good first concern if you ask me. So for anyone who weighs more than say, 130 lbs or so, I’d strongly recommend a 12 gauge as a first gun. If you’re under that then consider a 20 gauge, but remember that you’re starting with a small disadvantage.

Shotgun Price

As I told my friend, I’m a value for the dollar guy. I don’t think anyone should ever spend a nickel more than they have to when buying a gun. There are manufacturers out there who will build you a custom fitted shotgun to your body measurements and artistic specification and it will run you $75,000. To consider something like that for a first gun is stupid, even if you have the money. Even to think about one of the higher end factory guns seems a little silly to me when you’re still new at shooting. If you consider a Perazzi, or a Krieghoff, or even one of the nicer Beretta’s or Browning’s, you could easily drop $10,000. That makes no sense to me.

The design of gun you buy will affect the price. There are single shot shotguns out there for about $100, but there are many things you can’t do with them (including all the clay shooting sports) so I’d stay away from them if you can afford to. Pump guns are generally the cheapest repeating shotguns out there and can be had brand new from reputable manufacturers for as little as $250. Next are semi-automatic guns, and then the double barrel guns which are the most expensive in comparison. That isn’t to say they are pricey in dollar terms. I commonly shoot a Mossberg Over/Under Double barrel that I paid $400 bucks for. It’s a solid gun that I’ve put 10,000 rounds through without a hiccup. And just this morning I shot with a friend who was shooting a pump gun that cost twice that. In some ways, you’ll get what you pay for. You just want to make sure you’re not paying for features you don’t really want or need.

A Shotgun for Home Defense

In my opinion, the two biggest issues for a home defense shotgun are a short barrel, and a low price. Statistically, it’s unlikely you’ll ever fire a shot in your own home. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t keep a gun in your home if you feel the need, but it does mean that if you do, you probably won’t be using it all that much. If it were me, I wouldn’t want to have a several thousand dollar investment collecting dust under my bed. As for the short barrel, you don’t realize how small your house really is until you’re trying to swing a shotgun in your living room with a 32 inch competition barrel. In close quarters small is always a help.

If you’re buying a gun for home defense alone I’d recommend a Mossberg pump gun. Mossberg doesn’t make a pretty gun, but they have legendary reliability, and the click-clack of the pump is often more than enough to put fear in the hearts of most men. Remington also makes a pump gun with first rate reliability but a slightly higher price. For my money, Mossberg will do everything you need. The US Army loves the Mossberg 500. And if there is one thing the army knows, its how best to go about shooting people. You’re unlikely to use a shotgun for just this purpose, but if you think you will, then I can’t say enough about the Mossberg. No one will ever look down on it.

A Shotgun For Multiple Uses

A single shotgun used for multiple purposes is a tricky business. In fact hunting alone could turn out to be more than one purpose because there’s a big difference between hunting pheasant and hunting deer. Lots of people have just one gun to do all of the above and for use to defend their homes, but there are a number of issues to consider.

The people I know who try to use one gun for everything usually end up buying a semi-automatic shotgun with a medium length barrel - usually in the 26 to 28 inch range. A pump gun is cheaper than a semi, but the semi will give you a second shot just a bit more effortlessly. In that way its better suited to wing shooting where you should be concentrating on your target instead of worrying about short-stroking your pump. A pump can do it, but for the difference in price I think most people find it’s worth it to go with a semi.

When it comes to a semi automatic gun, I’m one of those people who is of a very strong opinion. I can only recommend one design… the recoil actuated semi-automatic shotgun designed by Benelli. There are a great many semi’s out there that use a gas actuated piston to reset the action after each shot. That design, produced by a half dozen manufacturers from Remington and Beretta, to Browning and others, has historically shown wonderful reliability when produced by a manufacturer with a good reputation. But as good as that design may be, it’s a bear to clean and it must be cleaned well in order to remain in good working order.

The Benelli design on the other hand has only 4 moving parts which drop out of the receiver frame without the use of tools. That design is so reliable that I know several guys who own them and have never cleaned theirs. But if they ever decide to, those few parts make it an easy task. It’s a lighting fast system that can handle any size of load, and makes a great all around design for a first shotgun. When the US Marines are issued shotguns, they are Remington or Mossberg pumps. When they buy their own shotguns they buy Benelli semi’s.

Of course brilliance doesn’t come cheap. The top of the line Benelli Semi-Automatic is not inexpensive, but I have a great way around that. A few years back a Turkish company hijacked the Benelli design, and starting building what probably amounted to illegal copies of it. When Benelli heard about it, they didn’t take them to international court; they bought them, and started offering the Turkish gun as a low priced model.

The Stoeger model 2000 has the same fantastically fast and reliable Benelli recoil action, but at a fraction of the Benelli price. It’s not as pretty and slick as the Italian styling of the new Benelli SBE, but it does look exactly like some older Benelli models, and is not unattractive. And in spite of it’s more traditional look, it has the same high performance works under the hood, and it shoots that way. The Stoeger 2000 will typically run you about ½ the price of the Benelli and offer the same functionality. You can find them here for as little as $450 or so. It’s a great buy, maybe the best in the shotgun industry. As a combination hunting and home defense gun I highly recommend it.

Its only weakness is that Benelli has yet to find a manufacturer for the “rifled slug barrel” they’ve been promising for a few years now. A rifled barrel will let you shoot slugs with a shotgun out to about 100 yards with dead shot accuracy. But since Benelli hasn’t gotten their act together, if you go with a Stoeger, then you’ll be forced to shoot slugs through your smoothbore giving you a best case accuracy of about 75 yards.

A Shotgun For Clay Shooting

I’ve never fired a shotgun in a home defense situation. If I exclude the high fence pheasant hunt I do with my friends every year then in the last 7 hunting seasons I’ve fired my shotgun at animals exactly twice. Even if I include it, I’ve probably only fired the gun 35 or 40 times. When hunting you don’t exactly burn through cases of ammo, there’s really no need. But last year on the skeet field at my club, I think I went through about 4,500 rounds of ammo, plus whatever my friends and other guests shot. And that’s the issue that defines the clay shooting sports; there is a lot of actual shooting going on. It’s high volume, over and over and over again. So the gun you select for that purpose should keep that in mind as a first concern.

If you try shooting that kind of volume through a pump gun or a gas driven semi, you’ll spend as much time cleaning that gun as you do shooting it. Even a Benelli or Stoeger Semi will require some careful attention after a while when it’s used that heavily. And while I personally have always felt that cleaning my guns was a zen like experience, sometimes you just have other places to be. So if you want a gun that cleans up quickly and easily, then there are really no bones about it, you want a double barrel gun.

The over under is the slightly more popular double barrel design these days, But in fact the finest grade guns available are almost all side by sides. I think the thing that makes them popular is that with an over under gun you can only see one barrel when you mount it to your shoulder, so it takes less time to get used to the view. In my house we have both. And they can both be used to great effect. No one will ever look down on your for showing up with one or the other. The gun I shoot most often is a Mossberg Silver Reserve Over Under, and my wife’s gun is a Stevens 311 Side by Side.

Double barrel guns cost more than pump guns or semi-automatics. But these days there are imports which are simple, reliable and inexpensive. My Mossberg was made in Turkey (Are you noticing a pattern here”) and Remington imports an over under from Russia which they sell under the Spartan label that I’ve heard people speak well of. Both are sturdy Boxlock designs with shell extractors instead of ejectors. An extractor is a simple device which lifts the shell from the chamber when the gun is opened, but you have to reach down there and remove them yourself. Ejectors are spring loaded mechanical devices that automatically kick the shells free for you. If you’re buying an inexpensive import, I’d stay away from a gun with ejectors since they can sometimes be subject to failure on inexpensive guns. I wouldn’t recommend them unless you’re prepared to pay up.

The triggers on double barrel guns also have several options. Many side by side guns have 2 triggers, one for each barrel. This takes some getting used to, but it works perfectly well. If you decide to go with a double trigger gun I’d recommend getting one that has a straight “English style stock”. It makes it slightly easier to adjust your finger for the second trigger. The Steven’s 311 my wife shoots came with double triggers and a pistol grip stock standard, but I replaced it with a straight style stock as a project.

As for the single triggers typical on over under guns, some are what’s called “mechanical” and others are designed to reset on recoil. Mechanical triggers are supposed to be stiffer and therefore less appealing, but I’ve found them to be more reliable in all circumstances so I still prefer them. You aren’t aiming a shotgun, you’re pointing it, so a stiff trigger isn’t so much of a hindrance in my mind. And if you have a gun with recoil triggers and for some reason the first shell doesn’t fire, the second one won’t be able to. With mechanical triggers at least you’ll get off one.

As for where to buy a gun - I do most of my firearm shopping online. In fairness, that might be at least partly because the State of New Jersey has been on a legislative war against legal gun dealers, so there are few left in the state. But even if you live in a state with lots of gun dealers, these online sites can probably save you some scratch.

Your local laws must all be obeyed of course, buying online won't let you get around the law. But if I can do it in NJ, then I'm quite sure that you can buy online as well. And even with the shipping and transfer fees, I find it cheaper. Basically the process is that your online 'seller' will transfer the gun to a dealer in your state for sale to you. That dealer will complete the paperwork for a fee, and you have your gun. The online auctions will even help you find a dealer near your home - have a look under 'finding an FFL' on the site above.

With that said though, a shotgun still needs to fit you well. So I would highly recommend that before you buy anything, you go to a local firearms dealer and try them on. Stocks for factory guns all come in slightly differing lengths and sometimes come with space holders which can be added or removed to change the fit. If you need a shorter stock it can usually be cut down to suit you, but extending it is trickier, so the default factory stocks tend to be a little on the longer side. that's usually fine if you're about average size - only the very small or very tall will need much in stock reworking. But I find that most people's tolerance for a poor fit will decrease as their skill with a shotgun increases.

So it's of paramount importance that you go to a local store... pick one up, hold it, mount it, see how it feels tracking an invisible pheasant through the air. It’s really one of the most important aspects of a shotgun purchase. We aren't all built alike, and what suits me perfectly might not work for you. And in the meantime I’ve also had my local dealers agree to match prices that I showed them from the internet, so it might wind up saving you a trip as well.

The shotgun sports are my principle hobby so naturally I have a lot more to say, but unfortunately I lack the time to say it. If you have any other questions, please leave them on the blog and I’ll answer them as soon as I can. After all, it's not exactly tough to get me to offer an opinion on shotguns.

Good Shooting.

%%%% UPDATE - 4/15/2010 %%%%

It's been a while since I wrote this piece and in the intervening 2 years it's been read by tens of thousands of people. I've had plenty of time to think about it and with the exception of cringing at the mis-spellings and the few awkward turns of phrase, I wouldn't change a word. My 'go to' gun is still a Stoeger M2000 for every task except clay shooting, where I reach for my Mossberg Silver Reserve. The one thing I'd like to add though is that in those states that don't allow hunting with rifles (a foolish law which when the data is examined, does not actually add to hunting safety like it's supposed to) you really do have to go with a shotgun with a rifled barrel.

I had an unfortunate incident where in spite of my months of planning, a NJ Black Bear was spooked by another hunter just before before he entered the safe range of my Stoeger. Had I had a rifled barrel gun I'd have had another 20 yards of effective range, and that 400 plus pound Bear would be a carpet in my office right now. That's hunting I suppose. But now that NJ Governor Chris Chistie has ended the psychotically foolish Bear hunting ban that was put in place by ex governor Corzine, I'm going to go buy myself a Mossberg 500 with a rifled barrel.

That's a specialty item... you can't shoot clays or hunt ducks or pheasant with a rifled barrel gun unless you change the barrel. Bird shot fired through a rifled barrel forms a patters with a big donut hole in the middle and in extreme cases can damage the performance of your gun. So it's not nearly as adaptable as a shotgun should be. Hopefully it won't matter to you. In my opinion a rifle is a better hunting tool for virtually all situations, and a rifled barrel shotgun is really just an invention of politics. But if you are forced to cope like I am... you can't go wrong with a Mossberg 500.

%%%%%%%%%%%%UPDATE - 10/18/10%%%%%%%%%%%%%%%

Ok one last update. For those of you trying to decide on an over under, I've had great luck with my Mossberg Silver Reserve. It's held up very well for 20,000 rounds or so, and it's still in excellent condition. It should be good for another 20,000 rounds at least... however....

I was going shooting with a few friends recently and thanks to an unusual turn of events, we found ourselves a little short of firearms. I have an old H&R pump which was given to me by a friend, and it can usually fill the bill as a loaner at times like that. But the last time I lent it to my buddy Vinny he accidentally broke the carrier release spring, and no one makes the parts for that gun anymore. I tried making the spring myself a few times by reverse engineering it. But it’s an odd shape and without a sample to work from I never seemed to manage.

So I did the thing that most men do when they have a friend who wants to borrow a gun and they don’t have one to lend – I used that as an excuse to go and buy myself a new one. This may seem like convoluted logic to everyone who isn't a gun owner. But as strange as it may sound to you non-firearm folk, believe me when I tell you that to us, we people of the gun, a decision like that is not only perfectly natural but absolutely expected. In many case even our wives are conditioned to expect that from us as well.

So last week I got myself a brand new Lanber 2097 12 gauge Sporting shotgun. I’ve fired it exactly twice… that is…I fired it at one outing to break it in, and another a week later. I couldn't be happier with it. Lanber has a reputation for making incredibly durable guns for the price, and for the $700 it cost me, I couldn't be happier with it. It's one step up from the Mossberg, but it's an excellent 'value for the dollar gun.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

- Marched Into Boxcars On The Obama Train

This year’s word for the American left seems to be "unity". According to them, Barak Obama is the candidate who will finally heal the wounds of political partisanship, and bring us all together under one banner. Of course to me and people like me, it seems like that banner is going to have the liberal left’s version of a swastika on it. I think this image is one which suits the future Obama administration quite well:

Certainly looks unified huh?

In reality it’s the same old talking point for the political left, and the kind of unity they’re talking about is one where everyone who disagrees with them finally just shuts up and does what they tell them to do. The only difference now is that they think Barak Obama will finally deliver the message of their intent with such eloquence that no one would dare disagree. (And if they do... then obviously they’re a racist) But if there are still a few holdouts after the Obamas move to the Whitehouse, I don’t imagine they’ll have any problem using force to make sure those last few dissenters get with the collective program. Don’t think so? Well that is what government is about after all. Next April 15th, try sending a note explaining your disagreement with the government’s tax policy and see what happens to you.

The thing is, conservatives don’t really have a problem with liberal’s intent. At their core, liberals want a peaceful world where no one goes hungry; disease, poverty, pollution any other hardship are eliminated; and everyone can work as much or as little as they like and still have as much wealth as they’ve ever dreamed. They have a noble egalitarian streak that I believe to be genuine, and for the most part focus on what “should be true” instead of what must be. But the problem isn’t their goals, it’s the things they do to achieve them. They so gloss over the mechanics of how someone actually goes about achieving a noble goal that they invariably flub it. There hasn’t been a single leftist policy since the Roosevelt administration which achieved what it set out to without costing many times what other solutions to the same problem would have. And in fact since the rise of socialism, most leftists policies actually achieved the dead opposite of what those liberals supporting them intended.

The mad rush of government into the Ethanol subsidizing business is an excellent example. They wanted to make energy more affordable for everyone, and instead they ended up making food so expensive that poor people all over the world now have to go hungry. Good job leftist. They also do things like continually argue for greater barriers to free trade to "protect manufacturing jobs". But the results of a policy like that are well known too. The Smoot Hawley tariff act was implemented by leftists for precisely the same reason, but instead it caused a chain reaction which decimated global trade and the resulting slowdown in business put 1/4 the country out of work during the great depression. It's almost always like that with liberals. If they wanted to protect puppies I'll bet you dollars to donuts that they'd enact something the "canine whirling meat cleaver" act, and protect them right to death.

And the thing that leftists keep missing these days is that the very thing they decry, our lack of unity, is not only “not such a bad thing in the first place”, but it too is also caused by them. The current breadth of political division hasn’t been caused by a change in the political right, but a change in the political left.

Less than a generation ago many Democrats enthusiastically supported a president who was unrepentant about his willingness to use the military as a tool of US foreign policy. Now the only Democrat who feels that way is all but an outcast. The “Reagan Democrats” wouldn’t bat an eye at a thing like the prison at Gitmo, or water boarding, but these days it’s a major discussion. When the Carter administration raised the concept of a “windfall profits tax” for oil companies it was never taken as seriously as it is today, and raising the concept of “rights for animals” in the 80’s would have gotten you a trip to a mental institution. So what’s changed in the Democratic party to make such demonstrably ridiculous ideas, which are to a fault contrary to the interest of the American people, seem like such hot stuff these days?

Well it seems to me that the change has come predominantly from the universities. Sealed off from the rationalizing effects of the outside world, the hothouse flowers of the academy have gone from superfluous, to irrelevant, to silly to utterly ridiculous. There are still many academics doing their best at clear eyed thinking, but they are increasingly rare and are usually eyed by their peers with suspicion. These days the tone is set not by critical thinkers but by relativists, experts in victim studies, and a slew of third rate thinkers who are all pushing post deconstructionist nonsense. It’s become a place where logical contradictions are the order of the day. And as for the “free exchange of ideas”, the constitutional right of free speech on college campuses has been largely subjugated to university speech codes which dominate most campuses, and are used by leftists to mainly to stifle dissent.

The sublimely ridiculous nature of 21st century American higher education reached a new height recently when an English professor at Dartmouth threatened to sue her students. It was her claim that their disagreement with her theory that "Scientific facts do not correspond to a natural reality but conform to a social construct." was creating a hostile work environment for her. "They'd argue with your ideas." She said as justification. Quelle Dommage! Arguing with my professors was sort of a hobby of mine in my days as a student. Had this woman been a professor of mine she probably would have insisted that I be burned at the stake. I don’t doubt for a minute that she’s an enthusiastic Obama supporter.

This descent from the search for truth into utterly irrelevant vanity and useless thought has always been a risk of the university system. As early as the 13th century, scholars like John of Salisbury and Robert of Sorbonne called attention to the plight of the intellectual to tangentially wander off into continued debate of the pointless. But I think it's pretty clear that the bar has been raised on that front. I'm pretty sure this is the first time in history when a member of the academy turned out to be so threatened by a challenge to her view that she actually threatened legal action if someone disagreed with her.

And while the universities decay into farce, The effect of post-modernism can be seen in the real world as well. For example, both Obama and Clinton have declared the Bush economic policies an utter failure, even though there’s almost no objective measures against which that can be described true. It’s as if their saying it over and over again will provide the “social construct” necessary for it to become a fact, or that because it's “so true” to them, they're feelings will somehow make it objectively true of the rest of us. Personally, I don’t think the truth works that way so to me they just sound ridiculous, but who knows how they sound to the “true believers” of the delusional left.

There are a great many of them who desperately need things like that to be true in spite of whatever evidence there may be, so that it can validate the rest of their world view. Their ego, you see, is what drives their ideology, so to admit that they’ve been wrong about anything is to shake them at their core. Better to call a success a failure than to upset the wobbly applecart and have the entire philosophy of the left fall apart. They need to keep believing that government can provide efficient solutions, that socialism and collectivism will eventually work, and that good intentions will solve all of our problems. They can't look at the reality of the situation or their very existence will be shaken.

To them it doesn’t matter how ridiculous the discussion gets, or how far they deviate from what you and I might call “reality”. It’s not about that… they can’t let it be. It can’t be a discussion about the world as it is; it must be about the world as they wish it. That way if the “actual” results don’t work out well… they can hardly be blamed for that. After all "they had only the noblest intentions". And because of their increasingly frail emotional position, they also need all the things that we would call “conservative” to be for “evil” so that their “intent” can be enough to make them see themselves as good people. This is why a friend's wife recently told me that she thought that Dick Cheney was the devil, even though she couldn't tell me why.

But don’t be fooled. No matter how noble their intent may be or how beautiful the world they wish for is, the results of policy decisions all come due in reality. And even if liberals intend us all to be riding the Obama train in comfort and luxury, when that intent hits the real world a great many of us are going to end up having to ride in boxcars. I don’t know where we’re going, but I do know where the last fascist's sent theirs. And even if it works out better this time, one thing is for sure, we certainly won’t be going to the place he says he’s going to take us.

Liberals may genuinely intend to take us to Shangri la, but at best we’re going to end up in East Berlin. And when it happens, I'll bet you my bread rations that they’ll be blaming others for it.

- The World Is Just Awesome!

Sunday, May 4, 2008

- UZI Used In Newark Shooting

According to CBS TV, gunfire broke out in Newark about 2PM yesterday in a fight over “turf”. Whose “turf" it actually was or why they considered any of it their “turf” in the first place is left unexplained. I'm guessing the reporter didn't want to be knocking around the streets of Newark long enough to find out any of the actual facts. See for yourself here. In a typically thin story, the reporter from WCBS has also alleged that an UZI was one of the firearms used in the shooting.

CBS News has never hidden the almost complete lack of firearms knowledge of their editorial and reporting staff. In fact given its prevalence, they seem to take some measure of pride in it. So although the reporter on the scenes has declared it so, I can’t imagine that is was an actual UZI being used. More than likely he’s simply repeating the claims of some other observer who didn’t know the difference either.

An UZI is a small caliber fully automatic machine gun that fires a pistol sized cartridge. It’s considered inaccurate by today’s standards but is generally well thought of because of its reliability. It isn’t covered by New Jersey’s draconian “assault weapons ban” because in spite of its name, the “assault Weapons Ban” doesn’t actually apply to “assault weapons” only to semi automatic weapons which look similar to them. Weapons which meet the actual description of “assault weapons” like the UZI, the AK47 and the M16 had their ownership restricted by an earlier federal law enacted in 1934, and had already been largely illegal in New Jersey for 56 years when the “assault weapons ban” was adopted.

And since that federal law has now been in effect for 74 years, it’s absolutely certain that if it was an UZI used in the shooting, then it was an UZI which was purchased illegally. In spite of multiple laws and restrictions, and arguably the most draconian firearms licensing rules in the country, this was a firearms sale and subsequent shooting which was not prevented. It stands as a tragic monument to the ineffectiveness of punishing law abiding firearms owners in an attempt to restrict the actions of criminals.

But New Jersey’s liberal politicians will almost certainly use this incident to restrict the rights of honest firearms owners instead of using those resources to punish those who commit these crimes. The state has long claimed that “assault weapons” were a favorite for use by drug dealers and gang members, but has failed to produce any evidence to support that claim. In the years prior to the ban they were used for almost no crime in New Jersey and are only used for about .2% (two tenths of one percent) of all violent crimes. The introduction of more laws and bans hasn't effected that statistic. But New Jersey has a long and ignoble history of punishing the innocent and law abiding whenever a criminal act is committed, and unfortunately this incident will probably be no different.

To New Jersey’s politicians it isn’t that there are criminals who purchase firearms illegally that’s the problem here, but the fact that anyone in New Jersey is allowed to own a firearm at all. There is a presumption of guilt where firearms owners are concerned, and it doesn’t matter if it’s a weapon covered by the “assault weapons ban” or an actual assault weapon”, or a hunting rifle. In fact, I say that with special irony because all big game hunting with a rifle in New Jersey is also banned, and every year hunters are required to use shotguns only, in spite of recent studies which show that rifle hunting is actually safer.

We can expect his majesty the governor and a variety of other liberal politicians to slither up in front of the news cameras to declare a new “emergency” and then to use that emergency to impose greater restriction of our rights. It’s political water that CBS News will almost certainly be happy to carry, since their position on civilian firearms ownership has always been quite clear. To them it serves the greater good of giving the government more power over the people instead of the other way around. The last thing anyone at WCBS News wants to see, is the peasantry being in charge of their own affairs.

Friday, May 2, 2008

- The Hollywood Left and Atlas Shrugged

“Lion’s Gate Pictures” is going to make a film out of Atlas Shrugged. To those of us who are sometimes frustrated with the political myopia that comes from Hollywood this seems like an astounding contradiction in terms. It’s not that it looks like hypocrisy exactly. Hollywood as an institution is about playing “dress up and pretend” so there are lots of times that the people there will tell stories which they don’t actually endorse. Actors play serial killers without being serial killers, and although it seems to be the limit of their political depth, not everything from Hollywood is an anti- Iraq war movie. But the problem for those of us who are fans of Rand’s work is that we think it’s very likely beyond the capacity of most of the people in Hollywood to understand.

Liberals, and that includes all but a few notable exceptions in Hollywood, are astoundingly self deluding when it comes to how the world works. Describing the difference between a conservative and a liberal is kind of like comparing a quantum physicist to a devoted star wars fan. For the physicist, the universe is a place that has very specific rules. And those rules affect the way the world works with pre-defined probability of outcomes. The physicist sets about trying to understand the world by examining empirical evidence. And every time they want to describe a new idea, that idea must be consistent with all the old rules that are a part of the sum total of the understanding of physics; there are no “new forms of energy” in physics, only new ways to describe the old ones. For both the conservative and the physicist, there is a massive difference between an unproven theory and empirically observed facts.

But to the liberal with regard to policy and the star trek fan with regard to science, they are less “restricted by conventional wisdom”, so the sky is the limit. The only thing a liberal needs to solve any problem in their understanding of the world is to imagine it. Need to be able to travel to another star in just a few hours? Just dream up warp drive and the problem is solved. Can’t figure out how to feed everyone as much as they want at anytime? Just conceive of a matter replicator and all hunger goes away. The universe of a liberal is one where the rules don’t necessarily apply, and “a change you can believe in” will be flawlessly effective and can be anything you want it to be. They don’t have to be disappointed by reality because their ideas so rarely touch it. It’s the dream that’s important to them. And just like with a liberal, for the star trek fan, intentions matter more far than results.

Of course, when Hollywood liberals are engaged in the political equivalent of sitting in their cardboard spaceship trying to explain why it’s failing to fly, they’ll need to have some reason for the rest of us. But luckily the philosophies of the left come with ready made villains who can be blamed for most everything. It didn’t work because “rich racist white guys” prevented it, or “big oil, worried about how some new idea might weaken their global domination, buried the technology”. “The religious right pressured government because they’re afraid of science”. Or whatever… the one thing the left never has a shortage of is excuses why it’s someone else’s fault that their dreams didn’t work in real life.

And just like devoted star trek fans, when the left talks about the things they want to see, it’s almost never describing the real world, only some “future world” where all the little details about how things actually work are already solved. To fans of Rand’s work it doesn’t look like a group of people who are so utterly delusional about life will understand the ideas behind a book like Atlas Shrugged. We imagine that they’ll read the book carefully and decide that the main theme of the story is how sexism destroyed a brave woman industrialist.

Of course they’ll have to change a few things to make it work for the silver screen. The government bureaucrats will have to be made more likeable to be consistent with the view that government regulation helps the little guy. And the capitalists like Wyatt and Reardon will have to be depicted as being nothing but evil so that the audience will understand who the real villains are. Francisco D’Anconia, the heartthrob, can be depicted as leader of a Columbian drug cartel. And Ragnar Daneskold can be shown as a renegade NATO officer who turned pirate because of his frustration with the bush administration and the Iraq war. And then of course there is Galt, who can be changed into a union organizer who helps the working class strike back at the evil capitalists by seizing the means of production. I know that requires a few little story changes, but hey … that’s Hollywood. Just think of what it will gross internationally if it plays that way.

That’s not only the opposite theme of Atlas Shrugged, but to produce a movie like that would be the undoing of Rand’s work on many levels. It would be confirming that the people who Rand would have depicted as villains in the book control Hollywood utterly. And since that seems to be the case in real life anyway, that description may seem a little hyperbolic, but is at least as believable for fans as the film being produced with anything close to the original themes in the book. In truth, it’s difficult to believe that Hollywood could understand the book any better than quantum physics can be understood by star wars fans. And the fear is that if they can’t understand it then it can’t be depicted accurately.

As I’m sure you can imagine, I hope that’s not the case. You get a big dose of collectivist propaganda every time you turn on your TV, radio, or open a newspaper, but propaganda for individualist views is sorely lacking. And those of us, who have read Rand’s work and appreciated it, can imagine the power that a movie which was true to the original story would have. It has all the potential of being one of the most powerful films ever made. It could be the beginning of a dialog which inevitably undoes several generations of fascism in America which have been layered onto our lives since the Roosevelt Administration, the 60’s and the 70’s. It could be the turning of the tide. It could finally explain to all those people who won’t read a 1000 page book why making the government more powerful will only hurt them.

But the truth is, I don’t expect that, and I don’t think anyone else does either. I think the most likely thing will be a half hearted movie which waters down Rand’s ideas in the interest of “getting along”. To get the film made leftist egos will have to be indulged and political water must be carried. The government in the film will have to look less like the Roosevelt administration and more like the Bush administration. There will be some subtle references to current events thrown in to support the leftist cause. Jimmy Carter will be brought in to do a cameo and be depicted as Taggart’s noble father who could have saved the world if they had only given him the chance. You know… typical Hollywood idiocy.

When the science of your world includes things like warp drive and phasers, real science looks pretty dull and you think everything needs to be “punched up”. But there are a few star trek fans who are also quantum physicist, so if we’re lucky, maybe a few of Rand’s ideas will slip through the cracks by accident. And hopefully it will be enough for those of us who know better to keep on fighting. It won’t live up to the hype, and it won’t live up to the book, but it might not be a total sell out either. The villains in Rand’s book are crafty, but in the end they aren’t the sharpest people so maybe they won’t notice. With luck the parasites aren’t ready to kill this host entirely.