Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Notes on Collapse

For the record: I believe we were closer to doom, gloom, political/social collapse, and general rioting in the streets in the 1970’s than we are today. For that matter, we were closer in the 1930’s than we are today. And while I don’t think we’re at the bottom of this economy yet, I don’t think we’re close to either of those economic, political, or social nadirs either

Designed for instability

Saw an interesting comment on an article at esr’s blog today

You want an industrial society, so you need:
- Insurance
- banks
- financial markets

All three require heavy regulations. Insurance companies and banks are insolvent by definition: The whole point of having them is to have short term liabilities and long term assets. So they can always get in a situation where they will have to pay out more than they can liquidate in cash.

I don’t agree with Winter’s conclusion (read the whole thing), or the “heavy regulation” bit. But there are useful things in there. He’s right about needing insurance, banks, and financial markets, and he’s also right about insurance companies and banks being insolvent by definition – and therefore unstable institutions. Some people say that a business that is insolvent and unstable by design is always and everywhere a bad thing. Instability, like fire, is an excellent servant, but a poor master. The trick is to light your fire in the fireplace, on the stovetop, and under the boiler, AND KEEP IT THERE.

“I'm above you, better than!”

Senator Lugar gets a puff piece from the NYTimes claiming in the first two paragraphs that “Mavericks are not in vogue these days” and that “Senator Richard G. Lugar, an Indiana Republican who played that role long before it had a brand name”, before launching in to the meat of the issue, that “[Senator] Lugar’s willingness to buck his party is leading to talk that he will face a primary challenge from a Tea Party candidate when he runs for re-election in 2012,” and ends with a quote from the Senator himself:

But in the end, he said, “I will continue to be Dick Lugar, and I will try to do the best job I can” in explaining his positions to the people of Indiana. “It’s not my nature to simply seek controversy.”

Which is fine – we live in a representative Republic, and one of the duties owed by the people’s representatives is to do the right thing, not necessarily the popular thing. But what struck in my craw was a quote not from Senator Lugar, but from a one-time colleague, John Danforth:

“If Dick Lugar,” said John C. Danforth, a former Republican senator from Missouri, “having served five terms in the U.S. Senate and being the most respected person in the Senate and the leading authority on foreign policy, is seriously challenged by anybody in the Republican Party, we have gone so far overboard that we are beyond redemption.”

No. You, sir, are 180 degrees away from the heading towards redemption and pouring on the steam. Every representative of the people ought to face a “serious” challenge to their office at each election cycle. They are free to take their positions as their conscience dictates, but they must explain themselves to those people that they represent. The attitude that a primary challenge could ever be a “symbol of symbolism” (NYTimes’ words, not mine. Yeesh) is repugnant to the core values of the US Constitution. No-one is above the law, or deserves to hold office. Not. One. Person. They must prove it with each vote, with each action, with each thought.

(h/t instapundit for the content, and another tip of the old bowler to Badger for the title)

Laws and Men

Jay G wrote this before I wrote my piece – I’ve been remiss in my reading. He focuses on the silliness of permit laws in preventing the Bad Folks from carrying directly, where I sort of glossed over it. He makes a good point, though; and one that trumpeting the lack of lawbreakers in the ranks of the people with concealed carry permits sort of misses. The harder the process to get a permit is, the less likely anyone is to get a permit. Sounds good, right? Well, except that (as I already noted here and here) the vast majority of people are perfectly safe to have and to hold firearms. Any generally applicable law to prevent, restrict, or infringe the right to keep and bear arms will fall disproportionally on people that society has no reason to expect need to have that right infringed upon. And the people that are anti-socially violent? A law isn’t going to stop them.

At best, a law stops the law-abiding from committing a crime by indicating that the legislature that passed it disapproves of the activity. More usually, it sets down how much that legislature disapproves of the activity (from “not very” in the case of traffic infractions to “quite a lot” in the case of Capital Murder), and remove a source of bias from a system that has humans running every facet of it. To be seen as “fair”, a law needs to “work”, in that most of society needs to agree that the activity is “bad” and that the mechanisms of law enforcement are brought to bear immediately and effectively on all violators. It’s that second part where laws against carriage of weapons (particularly concealed weapons) fails. It is simply impossible to enforce laws against concealed carry under the US Constitution. Not hard. Not expensive. Impossible.

This leads to the conclusion that such laws are bad laws. If we want to stop lawbreakers from carrying weapons, passing a law to do so is redundant. The lawbreakers will continue to carry, and the law-abiding will be disarmed victims.The only possible way such laws make a sliver of sense is if the vast majority of people are actually violently anti-social; and as I keep saying, that’s just not true. Gun Control != Criminal Control, at best they are orthogonal, at worst they are in opposition (a disarmed citizen cannot effectively control his interaction with any criminal, armed or unarmed; and the criminal may arm himself regardless of the law). It’s time to stop pretending they are parallel.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Man with a gun

Sebastian made light of a Man With A Gun, and longtime commentor Mikeb302000 went off on a rant because Sebastian (and Carl from Chicago) made light banter that not every gun owner is a crazed lunatic. Mikeb responded with the tired old lines of “We’re always talking about the smaller percentage who are not, about whom something should be done” and “The “good ones” are in the majority. And being good citizens they wouldn’t mind being inconvenienced for the Greater Good.” Finally, we have the most offensive (to me) line: “The message is not that ALL of you can go rogue at any moment.” This seems to be his rationale for restricting access to firearms on the law-abiding, that a certain small subgroup of the law-abiding may “go rogue at any moment” and this justifies restrictions on all the law-abiding “for the Greater Good”.

Here’s the thing – that’s not an argument for making each individual firearms purchase legally difficult, it’s an argument for preventing access to firearms at all. The “reasonable restrictions” Mikeb is for (background checks for any sale, waiting periods, &c) won’t stop a “rogue” firearms owner; and I believe he is in favor of rather strict restrictions on obtaining carry permits as well – constitutional carry a la VT, AK, or AZ is right out. Once the gun is out in the world, the owner can do anything with it. The law-abiding one will, of course, limit himself to the lawful activities. But not one of New Jersey’s many strict and serious firearms laws could stop me from loading up my legally-purchased and legally-owned limited-capacity magazines and my legally-purchased and legally-owned handgun, and going out to cause mischief. It’s worth noting, by the way, that, given my lifestyle and normal mode of dress, I could be carrying my handgun and a hundred rounds of ready ammo at any time I carry a pocketknife (which is most of the time) and had I been doing so there is essentially no chance I would have been discovered doing so.

Of course, I don’t do any such thing. For one thing, that much ammo is HEAVY. I could get by with probably 2 extra magazines. But, more seriously, I don’t carry because it is against the law, and I don’t have a pressing need to. If that second changed, how is any law going to stop me, assuming that the pressing need does not make me a prohibited person? If a “rogue” gun owner determine that one or more people, alone or in couples and groups, need an unjustified killing, what law will stop him beforehand? He’s already decided to break the law of man and God were he choose to kill. Regardless if he were in New Jersey, where possession of firearms outside of strictly defined exceptions and it can take upwards of 6 months to get permission to purchase each handgun, or in Vermont, where a gun in the pocket requires no permission from any man, and the waiting period is no longer than the NICS check, the “rogue” gun owner is going rogue, and already having the gun means no restriction on purchase will stop him.

The Supreme Court has determined that the Second Amendment to the United States Constitution recognizes a pre-existing right to own a functional handgun and to possess it in the home. There is no argument you can make any more that will justify banning firearms in the US; that’s simply barred by the US Constitution. Once that happened, restrictions on purchase and possession in the general case no longer make sense. There are specific people who should not possess firearms (I will even go so far as to admit that not all of them should be locked away from other people – others whom I respect will disagree). There are specific places that the general member of the public should not carry any weapon at all (though these places should provide, free of charge, safe and secure storage at the perimeter for the use of patrons who do not wish to be defenseless on their travels outside of that perimeter). To ban or infringe upon the right of the average citizen to carry a firearm while not actually intoxicated for any legal purpose in the vain expectation that doing so will prevent them from enacting a crime upon society or its members makes about as much sense as barring an average citizen not intoxicated from carrying keys to a car or any other object in the vain expectation that doing so will prevent them from enacting a crime upon society or its members with the car or with any other object. It makes as much sense as banning or infringing upon the average citizen’s right of free speech in the vain hope that doing so will prevent them from uttering a threat or slander. No law can prevent a person who desires breaking it from acting on that desire. The most it can do is punish them afterwards; and we already have laws against misusing a firearm, even unto the level of threatening someone with one or even displaying it inappropriately. Laws restricting or infringing upon the ability to purchase firearms serve no separate purpose on their own.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

NRA Range Report

As you might have gathered from my previous post, I made it out to NRA HQ and their range over the weekend with family. Just like the last time I was there (3 years ago to the day) it was packed – we waited about an hour for a lane. Which was fine, actually – I’ve waited as long at ranges not nearly so nice, and NRA has a well-appointed waiting room that looks in on the firing line.

They recently renovated – that renovation caused me to not be able to go over the July 4 weekend, actually, as it hadn’t completed then. The main difference I saw was that the target carriers were programmed by touchscreen now, which allowed them to have a (somewhat) more user-friendly interface. I didn’t do much with the advanced features of the carriers, since I was there (more or less) to plink with a couple of pistols and a .22 rifle. The other thing I notices was that the baffle material on the side walls hadn’t been too badly ripped up yet :) (We were in the far right lane, and had been advised to place our targets a little to the left on the carrier, so as to not hit the right wall)

As for the shooting, we shot a Glock 17L, a Walther P22, an early-make Ruger Mk.I (which I actually didn’t fire myself this trip, but had gotten to shoot on my previous trip), and a Marlin 980S. All were relatively well-behaved except for the Ruger, which would consistently have feed and extraction issues if the lone magazine we had was filled with more than 5 or 6 rounds. I had brought some Dirty Bird color-burst targets, which are pretty cool for casual plinking at, since you get immediate feedback of where you’re hitting. We set the pistol targets at anywhere from 15 to 30 feet, and I was able to get all my rounds onto the 6” bullseyes, though my grouping was a little erratic at the farther targets.With the rifle, I shot one magazine unsupported at 30 feet, and 2 seated at 50 feet, once using a rest and once just bracing my left elbow. With the rest, I had screwed up something, since I shot a nice tight group (fits under a nickel) … 5 inches up and slightly to the right. I know I didn’t place the target at eye level properly, that may have contributed. My brother shot at the same target using the same rest and walked his shots towards the bull after he noted that point of impact was not point of aim, so it wasn’t just me. When I shot with my left elbow braced, point of impact was MUCH closer to point of aim (though my group wasn’t so tight), and I was holding the rifle much higher than the rest was.

Stopped by Dick’s Sporting Goods to pick up some ammo on sale on Black Friday, and the Lodge was a little madhouse (though nothing like as bad as, say, Walmart…) – I heard one of the clerks tell a customer that NICS was down and to check back later, and another person was having issues providing ID acceptable to the more senior guy behind the counter. I’m not sure what that was all about, since the two events weren’t separated by more than 5 minutes and there had been discussion between the two about the NICS screwup, actually. I can’t imagine DSG was going to sell on a NICS “maybe” result or a NICS “down” result, so there must have been something else going on. I snuck in, got my ammo from the guy behind the counter, and beat feet just in time to get to the register while the sale was still valid. Very deliberately avoided going to a real gun store in case I saw a rifle or accessory that I wanted; t’is NOT the season to be buying spendy stuff, and anything other than ammo that I want AND that I could legally buy out of state is over $200. For that matter, any handgun I want is over $200 as well! This is not a cheap hobby by any means. Though I don’t suppose any adult-level hobby really is. I’m pretty sure I’ve spent more overall on 40K alone, not to mention my (now-kicked) CCG habit, and my sporadic RPG purchase sprees – though those have had longer to drain my wallet.

The legal hassles attendant on interstate transport will get a post of their own.

NRA range and class III weapons

The NRA allows Class III weapons at their HQ range. You have to show papers and let the RO know. While waiting for a lane I got to watch someone empty a couple of mags from something in 5.56mm (didn’t get a chance to see the weapon, only the brass). That looked like fun, albeit a tad expensive. There’s a place nearby that rents a couple of class III toys in pistol calibers; I may have to try that out one of these days

Thursday, November 25, 2010

A thanksgiving reminder from Sam da Man

A sluggy thanksgiving What he said.

Overall, we live in the most free nation in the world, and I wouldn't trade my citizenship in the USA for any other.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Random thought

If the possession of handguns is especially protected (see Helper language in re instruments of self defense); shouldn't it be as easy to acquire and possess a handgun as a longarm?
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Thursday, November 18, 2010

An idea for those opting out

I’m seriously considering buying a kilt and wearing it Regimental when I have to fly.

On the other hand, I also remember why Lazarus Long preferred the kilt as menswear…

Monday, November 15, 2010

The problem with hard money

This should be my last post on the topic for a while, BTW; as I’m out of the realm of facts and figures and into the realm of philosophy.

To put it bluntly, I believe any kind of attempt to base money on a “hard” commodity is a little bit immoral. First of all (as the argument I had with Elmo here shows), it’s price fixing. If a $100 coin is 1 oz of gold (for example); the government has essentially decreed that is the price of gold. If that’s not the market price of gold, you run into problems. If the “market” price of gold is, say $200/oz, no-one is going to spend those coins at face value, instead either hoarding them or melting them down (a problem seen today with coins whose intrinsic value exceeds their face value, incidentally). If, instead, the price of gold is $50/oz, we’re essentially in the same situation we are today, where the money isn’t “worth” it’s face value; and the government is making a profit of $50/coin… A basket of commodities has a worse problem, by the way – look up the history of bimetallism in the USA and other places; it’s not pretty and rarely ends well. In either case, the government is perpetuating a fantasy, that they can define the price of gold. This is a bigger problem than it used to be (pre-electronics age) since gold now has uses outside of decoration and money. There is a real market in gold to be used in industrial amounts (as there is for silver, platinum, etc). Gold was desirable for use as money because it’s impossible (effectively) to counterfeit, but there’s not much you need gold for prior to the electronics age other than money or money replacements (jewelry, decorations, and other forms of conspicuous consumption).

My second (and much larger problem) is that a “hard” currency results in an economy that is a zero-sum game; by necessity. In the pre-industrial era where “value” was created by tangible things, this (more or less) works out, in that value = wealth = stuff. To produce value, you have to make, take, or fake stuff (land, minerals, trade goods, etc); this gets you wealth. But as the industrial era gets moving, and especially now in the Information Age, value isn’t (necessarily) rooted in physical stuff. People create large amounts of value without associated physical objects. Take any of the Silicon Valley success stories, for example. At the smaller scale, look at the entire frigging RPG or computer gaming industry. For a microcosmic level, take a look at every blogger who makes beer money from AdSense. Every one, creating real value without an increase in hard “stuff”. How do we measure becoming richer via intangible value with a limited amount of tangible resources?

So – my two problems with “hard” money boil down to hard money requiring the government to set the price of a commodity (by declaring that their money, consisting of an amount of stuff X has a value of Y), and that it unduly limits the economy of ideas.

The floor is open

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Golden restraint

I touched on the … logistical difficulty … of returning to a gold standard just a while ago. I opened the piece with a quote from Megan McArdle on the subject before veering off. Here’s the relevant part of Megan’s post:

"In short, you don't get anything out of a gold standard that you didn't bring with you. If your government is a credible steward of the money supply, you don't need it; and if it isn't, it won't be able to stay on it long anyway. (See Argentina's dollar peg).

Read the whole thing, as they say. Then read the Wikipedia entry on Gresham’s Law. And read a little history. “Hard” money, that is to say, money that is commodity-backed, has never prevented debasement of the currency when politically convenient. This has been true since governments first started coining money. Debasement of the currency isn’t a new phenomenon; it’s happened throughout history.

I put it this way in a tweet on election day ”On the subject of politicians, I'm Confucian - the upright man needs no law but his own, and the crooked man will follow no law but his own.” Financial shenanigans are a symptom of governmental shenanigans, not a cause. Fighting the symptoms is like fighting the tide. WE need more upright politicians, and less crooked ones.

Having a Gold Standard won’t stop the government from making free with the economy – it won’t even necessarily make it (much) harder – because the government sets the value of money by taxation ANYWAY. Especially in today’s economy – you could (conceivably) live by barter; but you have to pay the taxman in dollars.

And that brings us to another problem with a gold standard  (or any other commodity-backed currency, by the way) – it’s governmental price fixing. By governmental fiat, the weight of a $1 gold coin is $1 worth of gold. Less seignorage and the discount for official purity, anyway. You may have a black or grey market in gold where the cost of gold fluctuate, but again, you have to pay the taxman his cut by selling him gold at the price he sets. Therefore, he has an interest in stamping out those markets where gold sells above or below its fiat value.

With the un-backed currency we have now, there is no commodity where the price is fixed – the only thing that the government can fix the price of is … its own money. Which, granted, really sucks if your wealth is stored only in that currency. But it doesn’t have to be. It is within the means of even the most modest investor to purchase non-dollar-denominated assets and instruments. Such as, yes, gold. Or lead, brass, and powder. Land. Multinational stocks and bonds. &c.

What I don’t have is a solution for those people who have a fixed income denominated in dollars; particularly those who believed the promises of every government since FDR (arguably, since Bismarck). I wish I did – I don’t like to see people suffer. But I don’t see hard currency helping them out any more than any other zany scheme is likely to.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Congressional Voting Accountability Amendment

I'll propose another constitutional amendment:

No bill shall pass either House of Congress save via acclamation or by the vote of each member being placed in the public and permanent record.

A Message to Kashykk

Tuesday night's event sent several messages, but one of them the Wookies need to pay particular attention to: Wookies do better as Elephant Cavalry than as lone bowcasters or Libertarian skirmishers.

See Rand Paul, Joe Miller, Christine O'Donnell, and Sharron Angle for people who would have been footnotes if the letter after their name had been L instead of R (much less I). I don't know enough about Sharron Angle's primary, but Ms. O'Donnell and Mr. Miller both knocked off some fairly powerful entrenched politicians in their primaries, and both had uphill fights both within their states' Republican organizations and with the media going all-out to smear them (Ms. Angle had to deal with the smear machine as well). There is no chance in hell any of these 4 would have gotten out of the teens at best in election results without being major-party candidates.

So, to all the wookies out there: you say you want a revolution? Start small, overthrow the dinosaurs of the GOP. Then work your way up. Because that Lone Bowcaster thing, it ain't working out as well as the elephant cavalry.

Side note: anyone who can 'shop me an image of Wookies as Elephant Cavalry, they will win one (1) internet (S&H extra).