Tuesday, October 1, 2013

Of Minimum Wage Laws

I'm a small business owner.  Now, since I have no employees, I'm the smallest of small business owners.  In the past I have owned a business with employees.  I've also gone through periods where I was an employee.

Increases in the minimum wage are touted as ensuring that workers are paid a "living wage."  They are presented as insurance against the tendency of employers (especially "big corporations") to pay workers a pittance for back breaking labor.  We are told they will raise the standard of living of the poor, increase spending and employment and be good for the economic health of the country.  I submit that all of these are lies.  Here's why:

  • I've yet to hear a really good definition of "living wage."  Merriam-Webster defines it as "a subsistence wage" and as "a wage sufficient to provide the necessities and comforts essential to an acceptable standard of living."  These and similar definitions don't take into account that the average person living below the poverty line in this country has a standard of living higher than that of the average person (not the average poor person) on every continent in the world (with the possible exception of Australia).  Specifically, the average poor person (using the government's definition) in this country has
    • enough to eat
    • at least one car that runs
    • heating and air conditioning
    • at least one TV
    • a computer
    • a cell phone
    • a place to live
    • clothes to wear
    • a washer/dryer
  • "How can this be if they are poor?' is a reasonable question.  The answer is that our government's definition of poverty does not define a poor person as one who lacks the necessities of life.  Rather, it uses a rather arbitrary income as its definition.
  • The people who push hardest for an increase in minimum wage laws demonstrate a dramatic misunderstanding of the nature of business and business owners.  Contrary to what some people suggest, most workers are not employed by large corporations.  The most recent year for which I have data is 2008.  According to the Department of Labor, in that year there were 27,281,452 businesses in the US.  That's a lot!  So, if we increase the minimum wage, it might seem reasonable to say that a lot of people would be making more money.  Let's look a little deeper.
    • Of those 27 million plus businesses, 21,351,320 (about 78%) had no employees.  Like me, the business owner was the only person working in the business.  This leaves 5,930,132 businesses that had employees.
      • Of those, just over 3.6 million of them had 1-4 employees.
      • Just over 1 million had 5-9 employees
      • 633,000+ had 10-19 employees
      • 526,000+ had 20-99 employees.
      • From this we learn that of those businesses with employees, approximately 98.16% of them employee fewer than 100 people. 61% of them have 1-4 employees.
      • In virtually any given town, the vast majority of the businesses will be
        • small and locally owned
        • have few if any employees
        • Those that do have employees are, statistically, likely to have not only fewer than 100, but fewer than 20 or 10 or even 5.
        • Therefore, in terms of business owners, the greatest impact of an increased minimum wage will be on the small, locally owned independent business which is often barely making payroll as it is.
    • As items become more expensive, individuals tend to buy less of them and to be more focused on the value they get for what they spend.  The same is true of business owners.  As the cost of anything goes up, business owners become increasingly focused on getting the maximum possible value for each dollar spent, including that spent on labor.  If forced to increase pay from $7.25/hr to $10.00/hr as some have suggested, history teaches us the following will happen:
      • Teenage and minority unemployment will increase as will poverty among these groups.
      • Those with fewer or no skills will be passed over for hire into entry level jobs in favor of those with more skills.
None of this is to suggest that there are not people in this country living in abject poverty.  There are and they need help.  
  • That help, if the cycle of generational poverty is to be broken, must not focus on "feel good" measures that have no basis in reality but on permanent, long-term solutions. 
  • Short term help may well be needed, but the real focus must be on education and skills so that individuals can not only earn more but see the very real possibility of significantly altering their circumstances and those of their families.  
  • We must change our definition of poverty to include only those who lack the necessities of life (food, clothing and shelter) rather than those who live below a certain income level.
  • We must stop incentivizing dependence.  If the possibility of increasing income by $10,000.00 per year comes at the cost of losing $15,000.00 per year in benefits, is it reasonable to believe many are going to take advantage of that?
  • We must find a way to distinguish between those who can't work for whatever reason and those who won't work.  A long time ago, there was a man named Paul who said "If a man won't work, don't feed him."  The obvious point?  If he gets hungry enough, he'll work.
  • We need to leave our kids with a legacy of a strong work ethic.  My dad used to say "hard work won't kill you."  Included in this work ethic must be a real sense of gratitude that they have the opportunity to work and earn an income.
  • We must extinguish in our kids this sense of entitlement so many of them seem to have.  Contrary to what many would suggest, the world does not owe them or anyone else a living.
Note: Some have criticized me in other places for what I've said here by suggesting "that's easy for a person to say who has never been unemployed or had to go on public assistance."  Let me be clear.  I have been both unemployed and on public assistance.  I hated it.  I didn't like the way I felt when I was in those circumstances or the amount of control it gave others over my life.  As a result, my goals were really simple; to get a job and get off public assistance as quickly as I could. 

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Why now?


Yesterday was an important day.  It was, after all, 9/11.  So why wait until now to blog about it?  Because as important as I believe it is to remember the day and its significance, I believe it is equally important to maintain our resolve to protect our country and liberty the remaining 364 days of the year.  We have many nominal Christians who remember their faith on Christmas and Easter (in a good year).  I'm sure other religions have their own nominal adherents.  We really don't need any more nominal Americans.  We need Americans who are devoted to our country, to keeping it free and to making it better than it has ever been.

The Colorado recall

Like many pro-rights people I giggled at the results of the Colorado recall elections.  I also shook my head at two things.  First, I shook my head in disbelief at those on the anti-rights side who had spoken of the significance of the recall before the election but who now declared it irrelevant.  We can disagree as to its significance, but recall elections are hardly irrelevant.  Contrary to what some have suggested, disagreement with the way an elected representative votes is a perfectly valid reason for a recall, if the disagreement is strong enough and if the disagreement is over something the voters view as fundamentally important.  To me, it seems simple.  You either represent your constituents and their will or you get to go home.  Second, I shook my head at the pro-rights people who seem to think the recall has put the final nail in the coffin of anti-rights groups.  It did not.  They aren't going away and if any of them do, it's almost a guarantee they'll come back under another name, but with many of the same players (remember the National Council to Control Handguns, I mean Handgun Control, Inc...er, The Brady Campaign to Prevent Gun Violence?)  It is the nature of anti-rights people and groups to concern themselves with the activities of others.  That's what they do.  They aren't going to change their nature simply because they've lost a battle.  They will never go away. Rather than celebrating too much, we need to take the momentum gained and use it for the next battle. Trust me, if they had won the recall they would capitalize on their momentum.  We must do the same.  It's going to be a long battle and it is far from over.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

On freedom

Fellow blogger Greg Camp recently posted an insightful piece on the Constitution.  While I'm reproducing one of my comments here, I suggest you take the time to read the original posting and the comments that followed.  WARNING: If you have no Scottish, Irish or Danish ancestors the last few comments may be lost on you.

I tell all my clients that there are two things that lead to freedom. Those are choice and accountability. Many people “shy away” from both, but especially accountability. Together, they make it clear that I, and only I, am responsible for my life. My life has turned out the way it has because of the choices I’ve made. Thus, if I want things to be different, I must learn to make different choices. I must also be willing to “pay the price” for the choices I make. If things turn out well as a result of my choices, that’s great! If things turn out otherwise, that’s also great because they were my choices and I can still change things…by changing my choices. This is freedom.
Just as choice and accountability lead to freedom, freedom requires those who would enjoy it to exercise those two things. It may be that it’s here we find the problem for those who favor group rights over individual liberty. I’m beginning to believe they fear the implications of individual responsibility and accountability, for both themselves and others. A fear that some others are unfit to exercise choice and accountability and that to allow them to do so will result in widespread chaos and social collapse. The way to deal with that? Limit choice and disperse accountability. Fewer choices means a person is less likely to make a bad one (though there is the regrettable but unavoidable result of limiting the benefit of making good choices). The dispersion of accountability keeps people from “paying the price” for bad choices (note: I’m not discussing criminal activity here) thus, their situation is more likely to be about the same as that of everyone else.
My point is this: Freedom scares some people. They are terrified of the idea that they and those around them are solely responsible for how their lives turn out. They seek the security provided by an ever increasing house of rules, laws and regulations. If others are less fortunate, then the cure is even more laws, more rules and more intrusion into the lives of others. This, too, provides security. After all, if a person born in less fortunate circumstances achieves success all or largely on his own, it asks the question “why didn’t I, born into more favorable circumstances, achieve far more than I have?” However, with a massive set of laws, rules and regulations in place, the other person’s success can be attributed largely to those rules. This may be the most subtle form of prejudice the world has yet seen.
Which brings us back to the Constitution. It serves to both define a government and to limit its power to intrude upon the rights of individuals. The point of this, I am convinced, was to maximize the opportunity of individuals to make their own choices and enjoy the benefits of good ones (and pay the price of bad ones). Certainly, this was tied to economics and finances (“property”…after all, we grew out of the Enlightenment, especially the Scottish Enlightenment), but the results were far reaching. Great Britain, with whom the United States has long enjoyed a special relationship (since the Great Rapprochement) has never been as free as the U.S. The British government started its move toward ever increasing control over its citizens (as all governments do) earlier than ours. It also started from a position of greater control, because there were in place far fewer limits on its power. This is helpful to those who will learn. Our mutual language, shared history and related cultures allow us to see what happens when those limitations are not in place…and to foresee what is likely should those limitations be removed. This is why I am so opposed to any efforts to restrict the freedoms protected by the document, particularly those found in the first ten amendments. They were written so as to place profound, some might even say severe, restrictions upon the power of government and to allow individuals to fully experience the benefits and consequences of making their own decisions.
The more I think about it, the more convinced I become that I'm correct.  Freedom doesn't just scare some people.  It terrifies them.  Contemplating a society that values, embraces and promotes true liberty produces within them a psychological discomfort that is completely unacceptable.  It leaves them with the feeling that they are "just hanging out there, all alone." The only way they see to combat this fear is to place ever increasing limits on freedom. Encompassed by walls of rules, regulations and laws, they feel safer and their psychological comfort increases.  Seldom does it occur to such people to acknowledge their fear and work through it so they can experience greater freedom.  That freedom could be worth the risk and uncertainty it carries is never seriously contemplated.  Freedom is, instead, an abstract concept, talked about and touted as desirable for groups of people, but not considered something to be truly experienced in very real and concrete ways.
Allow me to give an example from religion.  As a person from a conservative Christian background, I've seen this in the way many people view Christianity.  Uncomfortable with the idea that Christianity might be more about a relationship based upon a few simple principles (and even fewer rules) than it is about laws, people (both Christians and non-Christians) erect elaborate regulatory and theological structures to decrease their psychological discomfort. Suggesting that these folks, and their elaborate schemes, are wrong frequently brings their wrath down on your head because you've greatly increased their psychological discomfort. Whether branded a heretic by one group or ignorant and intolerant by another (or both, on a good day) the reason has less to do with the nature of your belief than it does the threat perceived by the other person's subconscious.  For the believer, specifically, he finds himself surrounded by an ever increasing wall of rules that he not only cannot keep perfectly, but that he frequently finds himself tempted to break.  This produces its own psychological discomfort, but it's not as great as the one produced by contemplating freedom.  Please note, I'm not arguing for the truth of Christianity here.  Rather, I'm addressing a mindset regarding freedom.  
When we turn back to the secular realm we see the same thing.  A huge mass of laws provides a feeling of security for some people, but they are accompanied by this urge to violate them at times.  "I know the sign says 65 mph.  Still, I bet I can get away with driving just a little bit faster" is a normal human response to rules.  "I wonder if I can get away with not reporting this $100.00 in income?" is equally normal.  The number of examples is endless, but the point remains the same.  Laws produce within us the urge to break them.  So, here I am, surrounded by laws which I sometimes want to break for no good reason (on a 10 mile trip 75 mph doesn't get me there significantly faster than 65 mph and for most people $100.00 doesn't make a huge difference in taxes), uncomfortable and sometimes irritated by the intrusion of government into my life, but willing to put up with it to avoid the greater discomfort of freedom.
The people who truly have the opportunity to experience freedom and the benefits it can bring usually come to love it.  In fact, they get really annoyed when someone suggests they should accept more externally imposed restrictions on their freedom.  Instead of being willing to tolerate less freedom, they actually want more.  They don't want it just for themselves.  This is my experience: The people I know who enjoy the greatest amounts of personal freedom desperately want the same for other people.  I've noticed that they frequently want it for others more than others want it for themselves.  They don't want to take advantage of other people or abuse them.  They don't want to violate the rights of others.  They want to be free and they want others to at least have the opportunity to do the same.  Sometimes they are viewed as cold, heartless and uncaring because they frequently refuse to do things that enable others to continue to live in bondage.  That's not the case.  It's just that they're willing for others to experience some hardship if it offers any hope of moving them even a tiny bit toward freedom and independence.
Freedom is real.  It's not simply an abstract idea.  It's something that can be experienced in the "real world" of everyday life by those who want it badly enough.  The question, of course, is how badly do you want it?
I'm interested in hearing your thoughts.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

A long time...

I haven't posted anything here in weeks. In fact, it's been over a month.  There are some reasons for that.

  • Running a business takes a lot of time.  I spent decades working for other people.  Now that I have my own business, doing what I love to do, I have to work harder on it than I ever did at my military or civilian jobs.  Hey, I like to eat, okay?
  • Disgust was, and remains, a factor.  As much as I like to discuss a lot of social, economic, political and religious issues, I've rediscovered something I learned long ago.  There are people, including some who agree with me and some who disagree, who are toxic.  After a while I become weary of debating instead of discussing, arguing instead of debating and fighting instead of arguing.  I also noticed that the nasty and negative attitudes of some others were beginning to affect me in a negative way.  As a result, there are sites I just refuse to visit, anymore.  Some of you may still go to some of those places.  I wish you well.  I simply do not have the time or energy to spend debating those who to all appearances, lie, deceive and malign.  My time and energy are far better spent, I believe, educating and helping those who wish to be educated.  As I've said before, I don't insist you agree with me, but I do insist that you be honest if we're going to talk.
I'll be back.  I'm not done.  To those who have taken the time to read this blog and to comment both publicly and privately I say "thank you."  Stand by, there's more to come.

Sunday, July 21, 2013

I can't stand it, anymore!

Where shall I begin with this rant?

Civil liberties

 I don't care if  you are a pro-rights person or an anti-rights person. Okay. That's a little unfair. I don't care if you advocate for more and increasing freedom or if you think current and increasing restrictions on liberty are okay, I am pretty much done discussing things with people who lie, impugn the motives of others and call names in the name of "truth."  Here's a newsflash: The truth does not need that kind of help. It has always done quite well on its own and there is every reason to believe it will continue to do so. It might take a while, but that's okay. If you believe, that since truth is found in the encounter between a hearer/reader and the narrative, it's okay to twist the facts in the interest of a "greater truth" (the one endorsed by your narrative), it doesn't matter what position you occupy on any issue. You are a liar. It doesn't matter if I agree with your basic position or not. You're still a liar. Got that? You...are...a...liar. Calling other people liars does not make you less of one. If you are convinced someone else is a liar, though your only evidence is that he or she doesn't agree with your position or analysis, you are also an idiot appear to be frightfully unaware of what constitutes evidence, proof, sound logic or awareness of your own bias.

It's a conspiracy/plot

Chem trails. Stop. Please, just stop. You make my head hurt. We have ample evidence that wing tip vortices and other contrails are not only naturally occurring events, but that they also do last longer than a few seconds or minutes in the absence of any scheme or plot.

No. There is no individual or organization that has the ability to control your mind and thoughts with nanotechnology. Nor can they see through your eyes and hear through your ears. They cannot retrieve your thoughts.

Yes, we did (successfully) send men to the moon...and brought them home. I know it offends you. It happens to be true.

The world is not flat. Feel free to ignore the pictures taken from space. Ask the ancient Greeks. Ask the royal navigators of Columbus' day. Consider the Viking hoards that contain items from China.

The world, financial or otherwise, is not controlled by: the "Illuminati", Jews, Nazis, Skull and Bones, Scroll and Key, space aliens, George Soros, George Bush or any combination thereof. Incidentally, every American President has not been a member of Skull and Bones

Now, some people only embrace a few of these ideas. Some, however, because we know governments do lie, cheat and deceive citizens, seem to feel compelled to believe everything is evidence of one conspiracy or another. If that describes you, please try to remember that if all the things of which you accuse our government/business/religious institutions were true, there would be no need to hide them.


In spite of frequent comments to the contrary, you actually can prove a negative, universal or otherwise. People make a mistake and confuse data with logic. The scientific idea of functionality and the philosophical ability to prove something are not the same thing. Some things may be functionally difficult to prove but philosophically far easier. For instance, I can say there are no fish with fur. If your objection is that I can't prove it because I haven't collected every fish in the world, that's a functional difficulty. Philosophically, I can say there is no evidence of currently living fish with fur and that, therefore, fish do not have fur. In some cases, that is as close to proof as we can come. It's dependent, in part, upon the size of your universe.There are a lot of fish in the world, but relatively few people living in most houses. So, let me give another example. There are five people living in my house. No one in living in my house is a Muslim. Therefore, there are no Muslims living in my house. In this case, it is far easier to test all the members of the set.  However, the philosophical argument remains the same. To insist that for something to be proven we must know everything about every member of a set is to be content knowing and accepting very little at all.

"Common sense" is an adequate substitute for neither logic nor research. Is it easier? Much easier. Is it faster? It is faster by far, especially if we are talking about research that uses the scientific method. It's also far more prone to being influenced by our individual experiences and beliefs. For instance, as an RN I know a lot of other RNs, many of whom work in Labor and Delivery (L&D). Virtually every L&D nurse I know insists more babies are born on the full moon than on any other single day. The weight of the research, though, does not support such a belief. There are a number of reasons given for the persistence of the idea, but most of them come down to experience and belief. The same thing is true in other areas. A person who insists that he or she prefers common sense to logic and research is far more likely to be influenced by his experiences and pre-existing beliefs than he might be if he used logic and research. I am the last person to deny that research can be tedious, or that it can be biased or misinterpreted. But to reject research because all research isn't perfect, or because it is slow, painfully detailed and lumbering,  is silly. Such an attitude denies us the benefits of research and the possibility of learning something new (and possibly challenging, which I suspect gets to the heart of the matter).

"You can prove anything with statistics." Actually, not true. I've spoken with a number of statisticians. Every one of them has said statistics prove nothing. In fact, when used in properly designed research, they are designed to disprove the hypothesis being tested (the "null" hypothesis). What people often mean is "since statistics can be misused I don't like them and refuse to have anything to do with them." Statistics are a tool. Like any other tool they can be used properly and they can be misused. So can research. So can logic. And, yes, so too can common sense. If I am to be consistent, if I reject statistics because it can be misused, I must reject these other three as well.

"I don't care what you say." That may be true. If you spend a significant amount of time and energy reminding me of how little you care about what I say, allow me to suggest that Shakespeare was correct about someone protesting too much. Likewise, if you publish a blog and insist that you don't care if anyone reads it, your veracity is...suspect. If you don't care if anyone reads it, why not simply write a private journal?

"You're too stupid/foolish/uneducated/blind to understand the truth of my arguments and the foolishness of  yours." Socrates would have had this person for lunch. "You are correct" he might say. "How shall an old man such as I learn or see my way out of this darkness if one such as you will not teach me?" It's still a valid response. I like Socrates, at least when he argued. He played to win.

This concludes this rant.

Friday, July 12, 2013

Trial by jury

I have no idea how the trial of George Zimmerman will turn out.  Meaning,  I don't know what the jury will decide.  I haven't been watching it that closely, but I have been somewhat deluged by comments from several people who have strong opinions regarding both Zimmerman and the trial.  It's those comments and the beliefs they seem to reflect that interest me far more than the Zimmerman trial.

At the start, let me be clear.  I don't know or pretend to know what happened the night Zimmerman killed Martin.  Nothing I say here should be construed as indicating my opinion as to whether Zimmerman is guilty or not guilty. The only living person who knows is Zimmerman.  The rest of us can only, at best, form opinions based on the facts.  For those of us not in the courtroom, those facts are, by definition, filtered and received secondhand if we're fortunate, or after passing through even more people and more individual filters if we're less fortunate.  This means that a majority of us, or a sizable minority of us, may form an opinion of Zimmerman's guilt or innocence that differs significantly from that of the jury.

I've read a lot lately about the right to a "trial by a jury of your peers."  This is a phrase found nowhere in the Constitution.  We do have a right to trial by jury.  We do not have a right, as expressed in the Constitution, to a trial by a jury of our peers. Article 3, Section 2 of the Constitution requires all criminal trials be heard by a jury and that the trial be heard in the state where the crime was committed.  The 6th Amendment adds the requirement that the jury be impartial.  The 7th Amendment requires that certain Federal civil trials be heard by a jury if the amount exceeds twenty dollars.

The right to a trial by a jury of one's peers comes from the Magna Carta, which gave nobles the right to be judged by their peers (the "peerage" referring to the nobility) rather than by the king.  A trial by a jury of one's peers, then, requires that there be a peerage.  Since we don't have a nobility, we have no peerage, at least not in the truest sense of the word.  The American ideal is that we are all equals regardless of our differences.  So, then, any voting citizen is my peer.  I say voting citizen because suffrage and jury service have always been closely tied.  The point of this is that a person need not be judged by a jury of people who are as much like him or her as possible for the jury to be impartial.

The right against self-incrimination is found in the 5th Amendment.  It's importance can't be overstated.  We cannot be compelled to incriminate ourselves.  Following from this basic civil liberty, we get the idea that refusing to incriminate oneself is not an admission of guilt and that it should not be viewed as an indicator of guilt.  It's disturbing to hear and read comments from people who clearly view the refusal to speak as evidence of guilt.  Frequently, the comments suggest that "an innocent person would have nothing to fear if he or she spoke."  This might be true, if history didn't provide us with examples of people wrongfully convicted based, in part, on their decision to speak.  Also, the burden of proof is placed squarely upon the shoulders of the prosecution.  It is their job to prove the defendant guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.  It is not the job of the defendant to prove otherwise.

Related to the above is a concept that we sometimes fail to understand.  When a jury finds a person "not guilty" that is not the same as "innocent."  It means that person's guilt has not been proven beyond a reasonable doubt.  The prosecution has not made it's case.  In most cases we are simply unable to have access to nothing but perfectly clear, complete and unequivocal fact.  This means that juries must make a decision as to whether the prosecution has met its burden of proof based on the facts as they are presented.  As a result, "not guilty" is the best they can do.  Now, "not guilty" may mean the jury thinks the defendant is innocent, but remember, at some point a grand jury found sufficient cause to believe the same person was likely guilty.  A good example is the first OJ Simpson trial.  I had one defense attorney, two prosecutors and one LEO of almost twenty years experience all tell me, early on in the trial that (in the words of one of the prosecutors) "if that's the best the state can do, he will walk."  After the verdict I saw an interview with some of the jurors.  Each of them said they were concerned that they had released a murderer but that the state had not met its burden of proof.  Things were not made better by having the lead prosecutor disagree using the "I did too!' defense.  In the case of Zimmerman, if the jury finds him not guilty, that will not mean he is innocent.  Harvard Law professor and defense attorney Alan Dershowitz had this to say about both Zimmerman and the concept of "not guilty."

I think it likely, regardless of the verdict in the Zimmerman case, that there will be a significant number of people who find the verdict an example of a gross miscarriage of justice or even some sort of right wing/left wing plot.  You can, of course, believe whatever you want.  I prefer to believe juries really do the best job they can, often in difficult cases in which the evidence is less than clear.  While I may agree or disagree with the decision handed down by the jury, I think I'll stick with that belief.

Thursday, July 4, 2013

Cling to this day...

Happy Independence Day!

One of the best quotes I've found regarding American Independence Day is this one, taken from a powerful speech by Frederick Douglass.  All Americans would do well, I believe, to become familiar with this speech and the story of the man who delivered it.  And now, the quote:

"I have said that the Declaration of Independence is the ring-bolt to the chain of your nation’s destiny; so, indeed, I regard it. The principles contained in that instrument are saving principles. Stand by those principles, be true to them on all occasions, in all places, against all foes, and at whatever cost.

From the round top of your ship of state, dark and threatening clouds may be seen. Heavy billows, like mountains in the distance, disclose to the leeward huge forms of flinty rocks! That bolt drawn, that chain broken, and all is lost. Cling to this day—cling to it, and to its principles, with the grasp of a storm-tossed mariner to a spar at midnight."
-Frederick Douglass

I fear that we have now reached the point at which many Americans, perhaps even most Americans, no longer cling to this day and its principles.  Years ago, a term was coined for a morality that has been separated from religion.  The term is "cut flower morality."  Some readers of this blog may disagree with the premise behind the term and I'm not planning on discussing that today.  Instead, I want to take the term and modify it for my own use, here.

I've spent time reading and commenting on some other blogs.  It amazes me to find people, especially Americans, who profess a disdain for the Enlightenment.  Presumably, they find the Scottish Enlightenment worthy of particular scorn.  What I find even more amazing are those who dismiss Enlightenment principals as valid or valuable, but who insist they love liberty.  Liberty, at least in the sense that it has long been experienced (albeit imperfectly) in this country, cannot be separated from Enlightenment principles.  What is not surprising is to learn that someone who denies the Enlightenment's positive influence on freedom is not all that supportive of liberty in general but is, instead, willing to dispense with one individual right after another in the interest of statism and social utility.

We still call America "the land of the free and the home of the brave."  Sadly, I believe that in many cases that is no longer as true as it once was.  The reason for that I want to lay at the feet of "cut flower freedom."  That is, a freedom that has had its ties to the basic principles, ideals and philosophies that made it possible, severed.  What we are left with is a freedom that looks pretty...for a while.  It provides the benefits of liberty...for a while and in ever lessening amounts.  But, with each successive assault, with every casual (or studied) disregard for its underlying principles, it dies a little more and bears increasingly little resemblance to the living and vibrant freedom that preceded it.  

So, too, with bravery.  Regardless of their failings (and being human, they had many) the Founding Fathers had a love of liberty that many people today simply do not share.  We can weasel about on the particulars, but history is clear, I believe, that they found freedom to be alluring enough to risk all they had and all they were in its pursuit.  They knew, beyond doubt, that they were traitors to the English Crown.  They knew of England's overwhelming power compared to theirs.  Yet they were convinced that their cause was just and because of that they were willing to risk all.  One does not stand and defy the world's greatest military power of the age for no good reason...or with impunity.  There was good reason to believe that one or more of them or their co-conspirators would pay for his defiance with his life.  And, still, they revolted.  Still, they insisted that freedom was that important and that the right of the individual to be free was of greater significance than any "right" of government.

We have, sadly, lost much of that.  Instead, we cling to the remnants of our liberty as if these tattered rags are the things for which so many have "stood in the gap."  We embrace the concept of group identity as the basis for liberty, leave individual freedom wanting for support and then are surprised when we see another erosion of our rights.  Where is the will to declare "no more?"  Where is the courage and the moral outrage to inform our servant, the government, and its agents that we will no longer surrender our rights, no longer accept another disregard for our liberty?  When will we tell our elected representatives that they have one chance, and only one chance, to do our will or we will send them packing?

As I've noted before, there are those who see this as proof of a need for armed rebellion.  Regular readers of this blog know I oppose such a thing and think little of those who promote it, for we are still far better off than the rest of the world and armed conflict is a terrible thing.  So, if you think I am promoting such a thing, you are wrong.  If you read this blog on anything approaching a regular basis and suggest I am promoting such a thing, allow me to suggest that you are, quite simply, a liar.  Instead, I suggest we simply do the easiest thing that can be done by a free people.  We hold our government, more specifically its agents, accountable.  If they won't do what we elected them to do, we fire them.  Further, we should teach every generation to do the same.  Many of them may be arrogant, they may think they are beyond reach, they may view themselves as a ruling elite, but I promise you, if we send enough of them home quickly and decisively the others will get the idea and fall in line.

Douglass would end his speech on a hopeful note.  I will do the same, for I can hardly presume to compare my circumstances and experiences with his.  The principles in both our Declaration of Independence and our Constitution are powerful and ennobling.  If we will re-embrace them I am convinced we can experience a rebirth of both individual liberty and individual responsibility.  The American Experiment will always be incomplete.  That's okay because it means we will always find ways to expand liberty and freedom if we will but look.

Now, if  you'll excuse me, I have to go read my kids a short document that begins "When in the course of human events..."

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Some questions

I think I've asked some of these questions before, but I'm feeling too lazy to double check.  When did name calling become a legitimate substitute for reasoned and polite discourse?  When did it become acceptable to label your opponents liars because you disagree with the positions they take?  When did it become okay to question another person's integrity because the evidence provided and the conclusions drawn differ from yours?  When did rational discussion become defined by ignoring another person's arguments, impugning their motives and, apparently, knowingly attacking straw men?  Allow me to continue...

When did we, as a society, decide inconsistency was the height of argumentation?  At what point did we decide that wanting something to be true desperately enough makes it true?  When did we agree that in practical terms, objective reality has no meaning?  Finally, when did we decide that it was impossible for two equally honest people to look at the same data and honestly draw different conclusions?

I ask these questions as the result of several months spent reading and occasionally commenting on another blog, with whose owner I tend to disagree.  The truth, of course, is that these aren't simply "when" type questions.  They are all more properly viewed as "what is going on here?" questions.  While I think I know parts of the answer (the impact of post-modern thought on the use of narrative combined with some normal human defense mechanisms) it seems there must be something else there.  I have a suspicion as to what it is, but I don't want to put a label on it, yet.  So, if you have any thoughts, I'm all ears.

Sunday, May 26, 2013


In addition to your barbecue this weekend, watch this. 'Nuff said.

A lack of honor?

Fellow blogger Chris Hernandez has posted this. I don't care who you are or what your political leanings may be. Chances are, if  you served, you understand his anger and frustration at the apparent lack of honor on the part of someone who perhaps still hopes to be in the position of being able to order troops into harm's way. It's disgusting. Given that I'm subject to recall for the rest of my life, I'll shut up now.

Thursday, May 16, 2013

Check this out!

Congratulations are in order! Bayou Renaissance Man has published his first book on Amazon. Go take a look. If the genre is one you like...buy it. If you have your own blog, buy it and help out a fellow blogger and new author. Even more important, share the information. Let's make him a successful author.

Click here to see the announcement on his blog and here to go to the Amazon page so you can purchase the book.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

How do the good guys win?

It's been a while since I posted anything new here. I've been busy with life type stuff and a lot of readin' and thinkin'. Now it's time to burden others with the results of all that readin' and thinkin'.


I own a small business (by my definition any sole proprietorship is a small business). I'm not as busy as I would like to be and while there may be multiple factors contributing to that there is one that stands out above all the others. I'm not marketing enough. So, clearly, I must: Market more and market more effectively. There's more to it than that, though. I've come to realize that what other, far more successful, small business owners have been trying to get me to understand is true. If you own a small business you must understand that you are, first and foremost, a marketer! It doesn't matter what kind of business it is. You are a marketer who happens to deliver a specific set of goods and/or services to your customers/clients. You are most emphatically not a mechanic/plumber/welder/hypnotist/chiropractor/life coach/contractor/etc who also happens to do his or her own marketing. This will be true for as long as you are a small business owner. You get to stop marketing the day you "close up shop" permanently. Until then, you simply must market or that day will come much more quickly than you want.

Gun control and narrative

I've been debating gun rights vs gun control for decades, though only recently online. Over the past few years I've become increasingly frustrated with the anti-rights folks...and many of the pro-rights people as well. My frustration with the anti-rights people is related to their tactics. My frustration with the pro-rights folks is due to our relative inability to capitalize on a victory. I've come to some conclusions that, while not original with me and perhaps not as profound as I like to think, seem to get to the heart of our difficulty in successfully defending our rights.

First, many gun owners seem to tend toward a "people just need to mind their own business" mindset. I know I certainly do. The problem with this is that once a battle is over, especially if we win, we tend to go back to minding our own business. This is a mistake! Those on the other side never go back to minding their own business. That's simply because minding other people's business is what they do. So, they don't go back to something they were never doing. Instead, they keep on, always looking for a way to mind the business of others. This gives a clue as to why it is so hard to get a straight, honest answer to the question "how much restriction of gun rights is enough?" Many (though not all) of them are unwilling to admit the truth that to those who seek to deprive others of their rights, there will never be enough restriction of a given civil liberty as long as that liberty continues to exist in any form. 

For pro-rights people this means that regardless of the outcome of the current debate, even if we ultimately win big (which is far from guaranteed) we cannot let up. We must not simply go back to minding our own business while allowing ourselves to die a death of a thousand cuts. We must continue to work, continue to raise money and continue to grow and build.

In nature, there are two states. One is growth. The other is decline. The same is true of human endeavor and interaction. We grow or we decline. The idea of stasis is a lie. If we do not grow we decline. If we decline long enough, we simply wither away and die. The other side understands this very well. It's past time for us to do the same.

Second, we simply must understand the concept of "narrative", especially as it relates to post-modern thought. We can rail against post-modernism all we want. We can denounce it as fundamentally self-defeating and illogical. None of that will make it go away. 

I'm fifty years old. There's a tendency for people my age and older to look at post-modern thought as a new thing, because so many of us were raised under a different world view. As a result, we fail to recognize that even in my generation there were a significant number of post-modernists. In successive generations that number has increased to the point that I believe post-modernists comprise a majority of the population. If we want to win this war, we must find a way to reach post-modernists!

This is where the idea of narrative comes into play. When we talk about the Second Amendment, the right to keep and bear arms, self-defense and opposing tyranny we are engaging in narrative. We are, in a very real sense, telling a story. This next part is vital, so pay attention. The narrative is not the story! The narrative is the telling of the story.The way we tell the story is vital. It's easy to read this and think "yeah, okay, we have to tell the story well and frame our arguments correctly. Maybe we need some catchier ads..." That's not the point and if we continue to think that way, I promise you, we will lose our Second Amendment rights, probably within my lifetime. Why do I say that? Because of the relationship between narrative and post-modern thought.

You see, for a post-modernist (or someone largely influenced by post-modern thought), truth is not found simply in the relating of facts. Truth is found in the encounter the audience has with the narrative. This explains, in part, why some anti-rights folks seem so willing to "make free and easy" with facts. It's not simply that they are setting out to deceive. Rather, they are setting out to ensure their audience derives what they see as truth in their encounter with the narrative. Thus, they tell the story the way they do. Most of the anti-rights people I debate are honest folks. They don't see themselves as lying when they distort or deny facts. They are simply telling the story to convey what they believe to be true. Many times they do so without even being aware of it. Remember, truth is found in the encounter between the audience and the narrative.

For pro-rights people this is a problem. Not simply because we don't want to lie. That's not the point. We don't have to lie to change the narrative, nor should we. The problem is related to our failure to understand that the majority of the greater audience does not think the way most of those in positions of leadership in our major pro-rights groups do. These same leaders don't understand this...largely due to age and training. As a result, we are preparing to fight the last war. Let's look at the NRA (please note, I'm not bashing the NRA. I believe we go to war with what we have, not what we want and the current NRA/GOA/SAF is what we have. I'm just using the NRA because they are the biggest example of a problem I see in all our pro-rights groups). Does anyone really believe the majority of board members of the NRA, or even a sizable minority of them, truly understand how people from 18-35 (or even 40) think? Not to mention Wayne LaPierre and David Keene, both of whom deserve, I believe, our thanks for their efforts over the years. I just doubt they understand this relationship.

So, we need leaders who understand narrative, post-modern thought and the relationship between the two. I think the addition to the NRA of Colion Noir, Natalie Foster and Dom Raso is a good thing. It's just not enough. We need visionaries as pro-rights leaders who are willing and able to change, not the story, but the narrative, the telling of the story. We need people who understand, in a fundamental way, how the majority of the audience thinks, perceives and understands. We need people who will never let up and who will lead others into never letting up, because our opponents will never go away and they will never quit.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

"You gotta do what's important"

My motorcycle sits in the garage, awaiting a new stator. It's been there for several months. Every time I walk in I swear it glares at me. There's this guy I know (not because I want to), who quits jobs on a regular basis. Yesterday, he came by the house and we had a conversation out by the garage:

Him: When you gonna get the scooter running?

Me: I don't really know. It's not a priority, right now.

Him: Yeah, it is, man. Summer's comin'! It's ridin' season!

Me: I know. Right now I'm focused on the business I started about a year ago. That's where my time and energy are going these days. Once it's solid I'll have time to ride a lot.

Him: *shaking his head* You gotta do what's important.

Me: I am

Him: *walks off, laughing and still shaking his head*

So, why is it that so many people:
  1. Say they are unhappy in their jobs
  2. Say they would like to own their own business, and
  3. Treat you like you're stupid when you do what owning a business requires?

Monday, March 18, 2013

Some people are truly annoying

To The Military Wannabe,

Yesterday I had the distinct displeasure of sitting in front of you during the CHL class we both attended. I found your comments to be asinine and reminiscent of those an adolescent boy makes when trying to sound “all grown up”. The difference is, an adolescent boy will grow out of such things as he becomes a man. You are many things. A man is not one of them. Allow me to touch on just a few of your comments to illustrate my point.

  • Your insistence that when forced to use deadly force, specifically a firearm, the goal should be to “shoot to kill” was, well, stupid. We live in a society that has laws and concepts designed to ensure relative peace and tranquility (that all of our laws don't successfully contribute to that is irrelevant). Among these is the idea that if a life is to be willfully and deliberately taken from a criminal, such a decision will be decided by courts and juries and carried out by an appointed agent of the state. Neither you nor I get to be vigilantes, regardless of the temptation to do so. If you do so, you will very likely go to prison for a long time...as well you should. Because, contrary to your assertion that you can “sway a jury” you are far more likely to be tried and convicted for the crime of which you'll stand accused when you do what you said and admit under oath “you bet I shot to kill cause he had it coming” (an admission you said you would make). We shoot to STOP. Whether the threat is to us or someone else, that is our goal. Once the threat has been stopped, we stop shooting.
  • I feel compelled to point out two things regarding Tom Clancy novels. First, they are fiction. This means that while Mr. Clancy may have done extensive research for his novels, they are not true and the US military does not base it's SOP on his writings, your suggestions otherwise notwithstanding. Second, you are not “the closest thing there is to a real life John Clark”!
  • Continuing with the Clancy comparison, your claim to have been part of the SOG is, shall we say, dubious, since it was disbanded in 1972, almost 20 years before you claim to have been born.
  • Enlisted personnel in the United States Navy, Coast Guard and Marine Corps do not go to basic training. We go to boot camp.

The reason the real military people in the room, whether active duty, those who served a few tours or those who retired wouldn't talk with you is not that they were “intimidated by a real warrior”. It's because they recognized you for the fraud and liar you are. You, sir, disgust those of us who have served.

Good day.

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Why deal with my problems when I can focus on yours?

I was thinking about this as a result of comments on another blog. I've been struggling with trying to understand why some people seem so willing to limit the rights of others. Not just gun rights, but other civil liberties as well. It also happens in religion. Recently, I realized I was over-complicating this thing. The answer is not complicated, at all. It's this: Some people are afraid of freedom. While they may give verbal support to the idea of freedom, the thought of people actually enjoying and exercising freedom scares them. It scares them beyond what they can handle and far more than they will admit. In order to deal with that fear, they tend to do one or more of three things.

  1. They point to prior undesirable or even horrific events to demonstrate what happens when people exercise their rights. That it's only a relatively few who abuse their freedom to do wrong, is irrelevant. The fact that it has happened at all is proof of the danger of freedom. If freedom is to exist, it must be restrained or limited, is their cry. Interestingly, these folks may be in situations or live in places where they claim such things seldom or even “can't” happen. More denial.

  1. They raise the specter of vast chaos if more people were to exercise freedom. The horrors of the past are nothing compared to what will happen if there are fewer restraints on freedom or if more people choose to exercise it. Surely we are facing unprecedented mass confusion, at best and an explosion of abuses at worst. So, this "unfortunate" and "ill-informed" focus on freedom must clearly be opposed.

  1. They paint the proponents of freedom with a very ugly brush. Said proponents are accused of advocating anything from the mildest of offenses to the most despicable of behaviors. Only social pressure or lack of the proper incentive, trigger or set of circumstances has kept them from acting out on their most base urges themselves. Fortunately, our control advocates are there to oppose them and provide a solution.

But wait, there's more. See, this fear of freedom looks, on the surface, as if it's concerned with what will happen if a large number of people who lack restraint are suddenly empowered by freedom. That's not the way it really is. It has far more to do with the one advocating more control over others than it does anyone else. He or she is afraid. Afraid of a perceived threat? Often so, but also afraid of his or her own urges and issues. It's not simply about what others will do. It's what I (the control advocate) might do if allowed to be too free. And so, three things are done:

  1. The relatively small number of incidents is ignored or called irrelevant. The “controller's” neighborhood/social class/professional association/doctrinal group is declared free of the objectionable behavior(s). Objective reality is denied.

  1. The fears and insecurities of the control advocate are projected onto others.

  1. The person in favor of more control over others and more restrictions on freedom rushes to take up the cause as a way of countering his or her own issues.

There we have 3 classic, and common, defense mechanisms. Denial, projection and reaction formation. All as a way of dealing with their own fears, anger, rage and urges. Defense mechanisms are designed to protect us from psychological or emotional harm. We all use different ones at different times to protect us from both external and internal things. That's normal. External things might be something like the death of a loved one. Internal factors are often those things about myself that I find unacceptable, but that I'm not willing to consciously face and admit to.
The control advocate who fears freedom doesn't simply fear what will happen if you or I exercise our freedom. He fears what he might do if allowed to exercise his freedom. He fears his own issues, his own anger, his own rage and his own urges. And so, he denies his fear, he projects his issues onto others and he endorses something that opposes in some way the things he fears in himself.

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Important decisions

The ancient Greek city-states had the Battle of Thermopylae and the Battle of Marathon, Rome had Horatius on the Bridge.  In spite of some debate among historians, all justifiably stand as testaments to what a relatively small but determined group (or an individual) can do when facing seemingly overwhelming odds. Everyone with an interest in character should read about them. My adopted "home state" has its own equally compelling story (more on that, later).

There is a lesson to be learned from these events. Contrary to what some suggest, the primary lesson goes far beyond military operations and armed encounters. The lesson is independent of the times, places and cultures in which the participants lived. The lesson is about duty, character and honor. There are times when those who declare themselves to be honorable men and women must make a decision. That such a decision will, for most of us, thankfully seldom involve arms or violence makes it no less important. Will we oppose the thing that proposes to take from us that which we claim to value most (e.g. home, family, liberty, security, life, faith, dignity, honor) or will we decline to do what must be done? Will we decide to disgrace ourselves and all we claim to hold dear, or will we stand in the gap? Will we do what is right, or what is convenient? Are we willing to face the fact that we might not win and do what we must anyway, or will we use the possibility of loss as an excuse for cowardice?

If you decline or refuse to resist tyranny, speak out against injustice or protect your home and family, how will you call yourself a man or woman? If you suggest to others that they, too, embrace cowardice how will you look yourself in the mirror or your family members in their eyes?

Listen to the words of Samuel Adams and try, really hard, to look beyond the current debate over gun rights.  Look instead for an attitude toward what is right and just.

  • "If ye love wealth better than liberty, the tranquility of servitude better than the animating contest of freedom, go home from us in peace. We ask not your counsel or arms. Crouch down and lick the hands which feed you. May your chains set lightly upon you, and may posterity forget that you were our countrymen."

As for my adopted "home state"...

177 years ago, today, a group of 189 Texans fought a desperate battle against a force of 1800 Mexican soldiers led by General Santa Anna. In the end, the defenders were all killed. And they took fully 1/3 of the attackers with them. Six weeks later, Mexican forces were curb stomped at the Battle of San Jacinto and General Santa Anna was captured. Remember the Alamo.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Huh...go figure

I've learned something truly amazing! If you choose to post a note letting everyone know of a change in the moderation of comments, you have to actually change that in settings. Oddly enough, the blog settings don't immediately change themselves in response to my thoughts or my writing. Weird...

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Have we become cowards

It's been almost 20 years since "A Nation of Cowards" by Jeffrey Snyder, was published. A .pdf copy can be downloaded here.

Much more recently, Chris Hernandez, published a posting to his blog entitled "A Culture of Entrenched Cowardice".

I recommend both of these. They make some points that I think those of us on the pro-gun side need to understand as the ongoing debate over gun rights vs gun control continues. Read them. Then read them again, over and over.

Now, I think both of these sources point to the single biggest obstacle we face as we make the case for widespread ownership of firearms by law abiding citizens. Many people who favor increased gun control do not believe the average citizen has the capacity to appropriately and effectively defend himself or herself and others. More than that, they reject the idea that self-defense is even justifiable, especially if it involves the use of deadly force. Rather, they believe that the best response to violence or the threat of violence is passive submission. To them, life is not a gift from God to be guarded jealously. They are convinced, regardless of beliefs about God, that you should not value yourself, your life or your dignity (or that of those who depend on you) so much that you are willing to take whatever steps are necessary to protect them.

To the true believers in gun control, the life of a person who would deprive you of your life, your safety, your dignity and that of your children or spouse, is as valuable as yours. They view your belief in the right, and even obligation, to self-defense as a sign of uncivilized barbarism. It is a thing to be not only avoided, but wiped out, replaced by a trust in and dependence on the state to take care of you. Forget the fact that the courts have ruled the police have no obligation to protect the individual citizen. Forget the fact that the police are almost never present until after some outrage has been committed. Forget the fact that you may have a spouse, children or elderly parent depending on you for protection. Forget even that ensuring only the state and criminals have access to instruments of deadly force ensures that most citizens (except for the well-connected) will be always at the mercy of those who possess those instruments and that this is barbarism. These are irrelevant to those who believe rights arise from the largesse of the state rather than from the fact that you are human. If you are to be free, it will be because the state permits it. If you are to be protected, it will be by the state. Any independence or self-reliance you have is that allowed by the state.

This, then, is the struggle we face. How do we discuss gun rights with those who not only have a different view of guns than we do, but who have a fundamentally different view of self-defense and the source of our rights? It does no good to remind them of what the Constitution says. They respond that the 2nd Amendment (or even the Constitution itself) is hopelessly outdated and/or doesn't mean what it says. It doesn't help to speak of self-defense as a human right, because to them most rights arise from the state rather than being independent of the state. And, since rights arise from the state, it simply makes no sense to them that a purpose of the 2nd Amendment even contemplates citizens holding the threat of force over the head of the state as a reminder of their ultimate sovereignty. It must, of necessity, mean something else. So, then, what will work?

First, as much as possible, we have to choose our battles. While I go a blog owned by a fervent believer in gun control, I don't tell myself I'm going to get him to change his mind. It's not going to happen and it's not going to happen with most of those who have gone to the trouble of running a blog or starting a Facebook group. I go there for practice and to keep abreast of what the opposition is saying and doing. And, I go there for the "on the fence" person who might also go there. Most of my efforts go into talking with those who have not made up their minds on gun ownership and use. These are the ones we need to reach.

Second, when we're talking with the undecided, we need to avoid blowing them out of the water. We need to be calm, polite and well-informed. We need to recognize their concerns. There's no need to call them, or the more extreme elements in gun control circles, names. Character assassination is no more acceptable from us, than it is from the gun control side.

Third, regardless of how good the quote sounds, if it can't be verified, we must not use it. The same is true for statistics. There's enough valid information out there to counter all the anti-gun arguments. Besides, it's far easier to point out inconsistencies and lies from the other side if we don't engage in the same things. 

Perhaps the hardest part of this is that we need to hold each other to these standards. How you do such a thing is, of course, up to you. I tend to do so privately, as I see no reason to air our "dirty laundry" when it can be avoided. Even then, not everyone is going to thank you for pointing out their (hopefully unintentional) error. It's not any fun to have another gun owner accuse you of being in "cahoots" with the anti-gun forces because you call him on the same sorts of things some anti-gun folks do. Our 2nd Amendment rights are far too valuable to have them derailed because of the behavior of some pro-gun folks. I've told would be hunters (whose families weren't in danger of starving) who brag of shooting deer out of season that if I become aware of them doing it I will report them. I have no patience with poachers and even less with those who would willingly endanger my right to keep and bear arms.

Many anti-gun folks occupy a position on the nature of rights and the relationship of citizens to government and society that is fundamentally opposed to that of pro-gun people. A bizillion years ago, Socrates and the Sophists were engaged in a pretty ugly verbal fight. It's easy to ignore because 1) it's philosophy and 2) it happened so long ago. It's relevant here because it wasn't just a battle over philosophy. It was, at its heart, a battle over the direction society would take. It determined, arguably, how what we now call Western culture developed. I submit that we are engaged in such a battle. This is not just about the 2nd Amendment, though that would be enough cause for us to fight. This is, at its heart, a fight over what sort of society and culture we will leave future generations. If we want them to be truly free, we cannot retreat. We must understand where our opponents come from, we must oppose lies with the truth and we must win. This in not a battle for the faint of heart or the cowardly.

Have we become a largely cowardly nation? To the extent we accept that the state must provide for and protect us, yes. If we choose to not oppose the evil people who would take from us life, dignity and safety because protection is the role of the state, because others might object or simply because we are scared, then yes, we have become cowards. To be otherwise is to accept that it is incumbent upon us to take primary responsibility for our own safety. To be otherwise is to accept that others may object to our decision and independence. To be otherwise is to accept that being scared is not sufficient cause to not act when necessary. To be otherwise is to be free. 

Sunday, February 24, 2013

Bayou Renaissance Man: Remembering the late, great Jeff Cooper

If you've trained with a firearm, especially in the military, Jeff Cooper influenced how you were taught.

Bayou Renaissance Man: Remembering the late, great Jeff Cooper

Education reform

addendum: I should point out that it's not just people the age of my kids and a little older who sometimes can't write or speak effectively. I run into the same problem on other blogs. Frequently it involves people my age or older.

This is long and rambling. You have been warned.

I do not have a degree in education. I've never taught a single class in elementary school, middle school, or college. I've attended a lot of those through the years and, as a parent, I've sent my kids off to them, year after year. So, what follows is my view of education. Specifically, I'll talk about what an educational system should be designed to do, what I see as current weaknesses in our system and ways to address them.

Culture is vital

One of the primary purposes of education is, or should be, to promote the national culture. To me, this means teaching

  • who we are
  • how we got here
  • both are taught, warts and all, at age appropriate levels
It most specifically does not mean imparting to our children the idea that we should feel guilty for the actions of those who preceded us. Nor does it mean we must set about to dismantle or necessarily fundamentally change the institutions and philosophies that have brought us to where we are. Our culture must be guarded jealously and passed on to each subsequent generation. That doesn't mean we don't change over time to meet the changing realities of the world. It does, however, mean that the basic beliefs that produced our nation must be cherished.

History needs to be taught. A person who doesn't understand how we arrived where we are really has little understanding of our current condition, or what might be done to change things. Likewise, a good knowledge of history helps us steer a better course for the future. It allows us to know what prior generations have done, or tried to do, and gives us an idea of what we can expect from things we might consider as a nation.

Values are important. This is true for both individuals and nations. I suggest any nation that chooses to abandon the values and principles that led to greatness is very likely on the "road to ruin". I will not suggest the United States was founded as a specifically Christian nation. History doesn't support such a view, regardless of the insistence on the part of some that it does. What I will suggest is that some very basic principles of the Judeo-Christian ethic were a fundamental part of the beliefs of the Founding Fathers, regardless of their particular religious or philosophical beliefs...or their relative inability to always live up to them. It's important to remember that not only is this country, in many ways, a product of the Enlightenment, it is very much a product of the Scottish Enlightenment. We could do much worse than to ensure our children are well read in the ethics, morals and philosophies that produced this nation.

Critical thinking is invaluable

Education that doesn't go beyond what my father called "read, memorize and regurgitate" doesn't really have much value. On the other hand, the ability to think, to reason clearly is priceless. Unfortunately, the development of this skill, and it is a learned skill, is given short shrift by most people whose writings on education reform I've read. It seems to be that people believe one of two things. Either we require our children to learn things by rote, year after year, and hope they'll somehow magically learn to think clearly or we focus on critical thinking without requiring a mastery of the underlying disciplines. And I suggest that critical thinking, and the knowledge and understanding that makes it possible, is a discipline.

It amazes me that so many people think the "dead Greek guys" from thousands of years ago have nothing to teach that is of relevance today. Other than the fact that western civilization is largely founded on the thoughts and ideas of Socrates, Plato and Aristotle, I guess they're right. Logic, rhetoric, argumentation...these are so much a part of our heritage that failure to teach them to our children constitutes a failure of leadership on the part of teachers and parents. The ability to argue strongly for a position without depending on personal attacks is almost impossible without critical thinking.

Are there other sources of critical thinking? Of course. And they should be taught, also.  But it's important, I believe, that at the very least we teach those that contributed directly to the formation of our nation and western society and culture. And that we use those as the foundation for our other teaching.

Some things kids just have to learn

Look, I did not like algebra. I really didn't like geometry. I actively disliked trig and I despised calculus (and still do). I had to learn them anyway. It didn't kill me, though there were times I thought it would. But, it forced me to learn to think more clearly, regardless of how happy I was without that ability. Some people don't like history, others hate literature or composition, or music, or art, or PE...the list is endless. At some point parents and teachers need to tell kids that it's okay to not like something...and that they have to learn it anyway.

While I'm on the subject, let's talk about art, music and PE. They are, in my view, invaluable parts of an adequate education. They enrich our lives. They remind us that life can be more than a struggle for survival and pursuit of self-gain. Not to mention that there are studies suggesting these all contribute to better performance in the more academic classes. Which suggests we do a disservice to our children whom we allow to develop into almost one dimensional people...

Financial education

This is an area that seems to be seldom addressed when educational reform is discussed. Parent's and teachers both fall down here. I know a man who was for years the director for a team of "hot shots", firefighters for the National Forest Service. He was very good and his teams were considered some of the best in the world. He led the teams, planned and coordinated their activities when they were on scene, negotiated their contracts for equipment, coordinated their activities with other firefighters from other agencies, and over say their budgets. And he did not know how to write a check until he was about 50 years old.

I see kids every day who have no idea where money comes from or what to do with it other than spend it. Their parents live every day with an overwhelming load of debt, especially unsecured consumer debt, and the children are learning to live the same way. We simply must do a better job of teaching our children that money is a limited resource and, as the old economic principle puts it, "There Ain't No Such Thing As A Free Lunch" (TANSTAAFL). It's illustrative that in 1910 the Sears catalog called buying on credit "folly". Or that Henry Ford was so opposed to credit that Ford didn't sell cars that way until 10 years after General Motors started. Over the years I've had the opportunity to talk with several millionaires and so far not one of them has called buying on credit a good thing. To the very last person, every one of them has said that if they had to choose between buying on credit or not having something, they would do without it. What's really interesting is that each and every one of them adopted this philosophy before becoming wealthy.

I am convinced that part of the reason we are willing to accept our nation's staggering debt is because we've come to believe this is an acceptable way to live, ourselves. It's not. Not only is it not acceptable, it's just plain foolish...stupid, if you will. We owe it to our children and all future generations, to get our financial houses in order so we can teach and model financial discipline for them.

Prussian influence

The Prussian model has had a great influence on our education system in the US. The purpose of the Prussian model, was to provide the King of Prussia with good, loyal subjects who were incapable of even thinking ill of the King or his policies. This runs counter to the critical thinking skills necessary to an enduring republic. In our efforts to pass on to each successive generation the values and philosophies of the nation, we must not allow ourselves to engage in simple indoctrination. Critical thinking and an appreciation of our history and culture can coexist.


There was a time when a college degree was a rare thing. Part of that was because college education was largely viewed as being almost exclusively for the well-to-do. It's silly, at best, to suggest a person must come from wealth in order to be fit for college. One reason to have  more rigorous academic requirements in elementary, middle and high school is to ensure we have a greater number of students adequately prepared for college. It's shameful that we have high school graduates accepted into college who have to take watered down courses as they start their college years because they received an inadequate education beforehand.  I've known college graduates who cannot write or speak as clearly and logically as high school graduates from my parents' generation.

It is my belief that college courses should be challenging. I can remember both Freshman Math and Freshman English as "weed out" courses. Part of their purpose was to ensure that if a student remained at the  university or college, he or she belonged there. That is, he or she had demonstrated the basic skills that were likely to allow academic success.

I've had people tell me "everyone deserves to go to college". Nonsense. Everyone does not "deserve" to go to college. Not everyone wants to go, nor is everyone qualified to go. I'm not suggesting we pigeonhole people. I am suggesting we abandon the nonsensical idea that the rigorous academic environment that college should be is for everyone. Not being suited for college has nothing to do with a person's worth or value. Nor does it, necessarily, have anything to do with intelligence. 

I've read the studies suggesting a college degree has a significant positive impact on a person's income. Okay. It probably does tend to make you a better employee. After all, in spite of the availability of easy courses in college, it does require some discipline to graduate. The discipline that allows a person to complete 4 or more years of college education alone will, I suspect, lead to a greater income. In spite of that, I contend it makes no sense to produce college graduates who cannot write or speak clearly or who cannot frame a sound argument for a position they hold. Besides, there are many people without degrees who earn more than some with degrees. I know a man who took 6 years to finish high school, and several people who never completed college, who are millionaires several times over, suggesting academic success are financial success are not inherently tied together.

"Oh, no. I don't want my son or daughter to go to a junior college, or worse yet, a technical school!" Really? Why not? Suppose it allows them to learn and ultimately do the thing that really contributes to their happiness. Suppose it allows them to actually look forward to going to work. Suppose it leads them to starting a successful business. Suppose, because of the financial discipline you taught them, it allows them to do what they really enjoy. Suppose, in addition, that because of the financial discipline you taught them, they never live beyond their means and when it becomes time to retire they are able to do so and live out the next 2, 3 or even 4 decades with dignity in financial security and independence. Now, is that decision to go to a junior college or technical school such a bad idea? I'd suggest it's not.


I'm afraid I've done a poor job of expressing what I think about what needs to happen in American education. I'm fifty years old and while my education was much better than that received by many, it was still lacking. There were attempts by some teachers and my parents to teach me a lot of things I talked about here, but it wasn't done uniformly and regularly. Consequently, so much of this I've had to learn in the past to to fifteen years. Learning it wasn't really all that hard. The real struggle was in unlearning the things I'd been taught instead. It frustrates me that subsequent generations are in the position of potentially learning it even later than I did and it frightens me for the future of our nation.

Please, let me know what you think.

Friday, February 22, 2013

The "gun culture"

The impetus for this was a posting on another blog that contained a link to a video wherein a very condescending professor talks about changing the American "gun culture". I don't like condescension or paternalism, nor do I care for those who make broad statements with no evidence or logic to support their claims. I like them even less when they have access to a bully pulpit that lends their baseless claims and silly ideas some air of legitimacy.

Let me preface this by saying I cannot lay any claim to having fired as many rounds as Larry Correia. I don't know how many thousands of rounds I've fired, I'm sure it hasn't been as many as he. Likewise, I've never owned a gun store, I've never taught a gun safety class, I've never owned a gun shop and I've never written for any national publications regarding gun laws or use of force. If you want to read about the gun culture from his perspective, I'd encourage you to read here.

My experience with guns is a little different. I grew up around them. We used them to hunt, for target shooting and kept them for defense (and never had to use them for such, thankfully). We didn't really talk about the 2nd Amendment that much. As a, mostly small town, newspaper family we were far more likely to discuss the 1st. I would eventually join the United States Coast Guard (where I enjoyed a blessedly brief flirtation with gun control advocacy) and, after returning to college, become a commissioned officer in the US Navy. Throughout all this time I used and trained with firearms, maintaining my "weapons quals" while on active duty and firing thousands of rounds. I've carried and used weapons in lots of places around the world up to today. And I still don't have the experience of Larry Correia. That's okay. Mine is sufficient for me.

While there are exceptions, virtually all the men and women I've met who I'd consider part of the American "gun culture" (geeky sociology note: it should probably be referred to as a subculture) are current or past members of the law enforcement or military communities, or friends/family members of those who are. This is important. These are the people who understand guns, practice and train with them regularly, like them and generally spend a fair amount of time working with them and thinking about them and their uses. Likewise, these are the people who train other law enforcement and military personnel on the proper function, use and care of guns. That's the way we want it, really. I can think of little that is more disturbing than the idea of someone who lacks that experience, knowledge and familiarity trying to instruct someone else in the use of a gun.

While I lack Correia's experience of talking with those who have knowledge of what happened in Mumbai (the 4th most populous city in the world) I can relate what I've experienced and had corroborated by others regarding a coalition military unit from a Eastern European country that lacks a significant gun culture. If they heard, or thought they heard, "something" outside the compound they would open fire. Period. In fact, when they took their turns standing guard, it was accepted that the rest of us would be awakened in the middle of the night by gunfire. Get this next part, because it's important. Nothing was ever found, afterward! Don't get me wrong. They were, to the man, very nice, intelligent, friendly and always willing to help with anything and everything. And absolutely incompetent with guns. I've spoken to LEOs who report widespread firearms incompetence in their departments among officers whose only training/practice with guns comes during their mandated qualification periods. The ones who know what they're doing train all year long, paying for the majority of that training themselves because it's not a priority for their various departments. When we hear talk about "changing" or "eliminating" the gun culture in America, this is the end result of such a thing.

So, when people talk about the gun culture and its harmful effects, they're either ignorant of the reality or willing to sacrifice public safety, national security and the lives of the men and women who work to preserve both in the interest of achieving the gun control measures they want. But this is what we will get with severe gun restrictions that differ only marginally from outright bans or that lead to them: A nation that lacks the ability to defend itself or deal with violent criminals. And, if you are insistent that "no one wants to ban guns", then please, look at two recent examples of that idea.

The first is an article from that shining example of unbiased journalism, The Huffington Post, as is the second. I thought these were good choices because so many of the gun control advocates with whom I talk like The Huffington Post.

There are some things we can do to combat violent crime in America. Further restrictions on the rights of the law abiding, leading to the virtual destruction of the real gun culture isn't the answer. It's a recipe for disaster.