Whereby I offend our Christian readers

My wife and I are both ex-Catholics, raising two young boys without giving them particularly strong opinions on religion one way or another. It’s simply not something that comes up. Anyhow, my five-year old (“D”) came inside and had the following conversation with his seven-year-old brother, “G”.

D: I’m a Christian. (pause) What does that mean?
G: It means you believe in Jesus… and the Tooth Fairy, and Santa Claus. You know, “spirit stuff.”
D: Oh, yeah, I believe in that. And the Easter Bunny, too.

I’m going to be done laughing later tonight.

Hey, we do the hazing ’round here

A young acquaintance of mine in the Marines just got busted down a rank, forfeited pay, and got punished in several other ways for suggesting, perhaps drunkenly, to a subordinate that he beat up one of his subordinates as a way of initiating him into a group. The Marines say that this was “hazing,” which is against the rules, and therefore dishonorable.

Of course, the Marines, and in fact all the branches of the armed forces, are not against hazing per se, at all. Rather, they just want to make sure that all the hazing is official and approved. They call it “boot camp.”

Ask anyone in the military what they went through at boot camp, and ask yourself, if a college Fraternity did the same thing to them, would it be considered “hazing?”

The Marines gave this young man a model of hazing when he first joined, and now they’re surprised he copied it.

On the upside, he was going to re-up his commission soon, and there is now “no way in hell” he’s doing that.

Cory Maye got lucky

Cory Maye got lucky. He may be on death row, but he didn’t die yet at the hands of the police (his “protectors”, you know) the day after Christmas, 2001. He’s on death row now, which makes him in far more dire straits than myself, but he’s better off than Anthony Diotaiuto, Ishmael Mena, Donald Scott, Annie Rae Dixon, Alberto Sepulveda (age 11,) Robert Adams, Mario Paz, the son of Bobby & Kathy Bowman (age 8,) Scott W. Bryant, Pedro Oregon Navarro, Delbert Bonar, Robert Lee Peters, Manuel Ramirez, Bruce Lavoie, or Ralph Garrison. All were shot dead, in their own homes, by the police. Some were in fact “guilty” of the non-crime of possessing drugs of which the state disapproves; some just happened to live with, next door to, or in a previous address of someone involved in the drug trade. Some were unarmed, some were defending themselves against what they thought were common criminals. Instead, they found themselves up against the uncommon kind. The kind that comes in force. The kind that has little fear of being prosecuted for murder if they shoot an innocent homeowner. The kind who almost always wears body armor.

These cases illustrate one obvious way that the state, which claims to protect us, actually makes us less safe. They might simply stop by your house in the middle of the night and shoot you. But there’s another, subtler consequence. How many people have been or will be killed, beaten, or raped because when a criminal broke into their home, they hesitated to grab for a gun or other weapon just in case it’s the cops? Most people who have a gun in the house for protection will consider themselves to face pretty good odds against the average criminal, after all. The cost vs. benefits analysis is pretty clear: there’s probably only one or two of them, and they’re out to do something nasty to you anyhow, so it’s wise to have a gun pointed at the bedroom door as they enter. The likely downside, most of the time, is that they carry out their original intentions. With the police making “tactical” entries, however, that analysis changes completely. Leaving the gun under the bed will result, most likely, in an arrest. If they have the wrong house, it may result in an apology. Having the gun in hand when the perpetrators come in… well, this time there are ten of them in body armor, guns drawn, and on a hair trigger. You do the math. Cory Maye got lucky.

An Uncommon Person

Brazilian President LulaBrazil’s President Luiz Inacio Lula da Silva is obviously an uncommon person. He is quoted as saying, “common people having guns won’t provide security” after casting his ballot in favor of the proposed gun and ammunition ban, which was rejected by 64% of Brazilian voters–perhaps just the common ones. Not that such things ought to be decided by voters, common or uncommon. Yet, I strongly suspect that Lula’s bodyguards, and perhaps even Lula himself, regularly carry guns and ammunition.

Some obvious questions are, of course: security for whom? Security from whom? Choose appropriate answers, and perhaps Lula, like all tyrants, is correct in this matter, after all.

Apparently, though, an uncommon person can still be a private citizen. Scroll to the bottom of the above linked article for this one:

Lula joined actors and musicians favoring the ban to say in a newspaper opinion article on Oct. 9 — written as a “private citizen” — that the 2003 gun control bill already helped reduce violence.

Yes, I’m sure the common criminals disarmed as quickly and thoroughly as the uncommon ones.

Dogs and Bikers

A few years ago, about a block from my apartment on the way to work, there were three dogs which chased me if I was on my motorcycle, several times a week. Two were good-sized — a golden retriever and an equally large mutt. The ringleader, however, was a yippy, 20-lb white short-haired mix. The other dogs were always about 10 yards behind him. These chases occurred right outside a mobile home, in a city with a leash law. See how the law protected me?

I ordered pricey “shoots 30 feet!” pepper spray just for them. Apparently, “shoots 30 feet!” only works downhill with the wind at your back, because it went out like 5 feet from the bike as I shot it sideways, before turning into a useless dribble.

One day, however, I came around the blind corner immediately before the dogs, and they were already standing in the road too close for me to stop. I straightened the bike up and gave it a little gas just like the MSF teaches, to lighten the front end. I wasn’t consciously aiming for the mutt, but there was a thump-bump that barely disturbed the bike, and the little bastard was rolling along the road in my rearviews.

I watched for a second, saw he was still, then noticed that the people I assumed “owned” these dogs were out in their trailer’s front yard–a man and a 8-10 year old kid. The man was walking towards the dog, and knew I would have to ride by every day so I did a U-turn, intending apologize. As I got closer, the guy nudged the dog with his toe, looked at me, shook his head, and waved me off.

I swear I didn’t do the happy dance until I got home.

Why do I relay this story? Well, I’ve killed a dog on my motorcycle, but not in the totally badass way that this guy did. Awesome. Like every sane man should, he took matters into your own hands, rather than waiting for the police to save him.

A side point, I would hazard a guess that, if the dog was dumped purposefully as the story describes, and didn’t just fall accidentally, the asshole who did it decided it was less risky to himself to do it this way than to shoot the dog and bury it in his backyard. Now, why would that be? Could it be… illegal?

P.S. to haters… I have nothing against dogs. I have a beautiful 70 lb shepherd mix that we rescued from a pound. However, I have no problems with killing animals that are trying to kill or injure me, or that I intend to eat.

Apathy, um, wins?

After a 19.7% voter turnout resulted in the incumbent mayor being on top in the local primaries, with 34% of that 19.7%, the local free paper ran the headline, “Apathy Wins”.

Um, no, folks, if you took notice of the fact that apathy won by a 4:1 landslide, there would be no mayor, nor city government for that matter. Those who vote for “please just leave me alone” are never permitted to just drink their own beer, and they never will be, as long as electoral politics allow the few to rule the many.

I’m Difficult

I took my sons to Cost Cutters for haircuts yesterday. The young lady behind the counter asked for our names, which makes sense, since we would have to wait for our turn and she would need to know who to call.

“Andy, Geoffrey, and Dylan,” I replied.
“Telephone number?” she asked, oh-so-casually.
“You don’t need that.”
“Last name?”
“You don’t need that, either.”
“Well,” she explained, “we need to know the name to call.”
“You can just call Andy, Geoffrey, and Dylan.”

She then entered three customers as “No Name” in the computer, as I watched, but I could tell from the look on her face: I was “difficult.” As we sat waiting, another employee came to the computer and said, loudly, “what’s with all these ‘no name’ entries?” I raised my hand, “that’s us.” The look on her face was a combination of confusion and disapproval.

About five more customers came in during the next ten minutes. All of them gave full names, telephone numbers, and addresses, without hesitation, even spelling out names and streets that gave the employees trouble. The same people are no doubt annoyed with the quantity of telemarketing calls and junk mail they receive, but are evidently unable to think enough to connect the two, or even to ask the obvious question: why do you need this information to cut my damn hair? The punch line is that every one of the stylists has prudently covered her address on her framed State Cosmetology License, which is displayed on the wall as required.

Best Buy and Toys-R-Us are two stores I occasionally buy from, where the cashiers ask for a telephone number from each and every customer at the checkout. I used to give random fake numbers, but a couple of years ago I decided that this didn’t properly communicate my disapproval of the process, so I started simply responding with a firm “no.” The first few times, I received dumbfounded expressions, protests that “well, it’s the computer that needs it,” (answer: “oh, the computer needs it, why didn’t you say so?… no,”) and semi-panicked calls to a manager because the cashier didn’t know what to do. Lately, though, they don’t do more than just look a little affronted, before going on with the transaction. I don’t shop at either store enough to fantasize that they remember me specifically, so they must be getting enough “difficult” people, who aren’t going along with this silliness, to have an official procedure now.

I’m not, by any means, trying to portray my refusal as some kind of protest against the state. It isn’t. However, I think that there is a relationship in the reverse direction. The state has, through its petty bureaucrats at the DMV, IRS, Social Security Administration, and similar pointless wastes of time, created a populace that simply doesn’t question requests for such information. Refuse one of these mini-tyrants a piece of information, and you know you won’t get your driver’s license, construction permit, or whatever piece of paper you’re trying to get today. They have no motivation to work with you (unless you’re bribing them appropriately, of course.) It simply never occurs to most people that, conversely, Best Buy will still sell you the printer, Toys-R-Us will still sell you the bicycle, and Cost Cutters will still cut your hair, even if you refuse to add yourself to their database. Sellers in a free market know that if they won’t, someone else surely will.

Fun in the Emergency Room

I did a dumb thing the Saturday before last. While sawing a rabbet in the edge of a board, my table saw kicked the board back at me. As the result of my instant, unthinking attempt to catch the flying board, I opened my left index finger up, down to the bone.

I initially called to my lovely wife for help, but then decided that she probably didn’t really need to see it. I wrapped it in a towel and baggie, and, since it was past 8:30 at night and the Prompt Care was closed, drove myself to the emergency room.

I spent the next three hours recieving a total of 20 minutes of medical care, in three different rooms. I don’t fault the doctors, of course, and I’m happy to have their expertise, but the sheer institutionalism and bureaucratic mindlessness of it all is worse every time I end up in a hospital.

  • An employee taking my information insisted that my insurance card, issued me by the major employer in town, was not right, that they were now a different color and design. I called my wife on the cell phone, and she described having a card identical to mine. I finally stonewalled her into accepting it. I have since discovered that the employee was right. For some reason, I never got the latest card. Apparently that doesn’t matter, though, as my claim is apparently being processed properly.
  • I was in two examination rooms, two treatment rooms, and two waiting rooms. They seem to have mastered the idea that you have to at least move someone every twenty minutes so they feel like they’re progressing.
  • I got asked at least five times whether the accident happened at work. Apparenty this must be reported to the Appropriate Authorities.
  • I had to give them my medical history from memory, despite having used this hospital’s services several times. Apparently, “that information got lost when we changed computer systems.”
  • The only really competent employee was the young doctor who sewed my finger up. It took her about fifteen minutes to put in seven stitches. She did a nice job, asked the right questions, and was quite pleasant to be with, under the circumstances. If anything, they had an overqualified person doing this job. Do you need years of medical training to sew a finger?
  • The height of incompetence was the young man sent in to dress my finger when she was done. He wanted to put a “frog splint” (seen on desk in picture linked below) on the finger, with its foam touching the fresh injury, and just tape it on with no dressing whatsoever. I talked him into putting some gauze on it, since he had no idea what I meant when I asked for a non-stick dressing. When I changed the dressing two days later, I of course spent ten painful minutes cutting and picking bits of gauze out of the dried scab. In retrospect, I should have sent him away as soon as my incompetence alarm went off.
  • I had to wait half an hour for my discharge instructions. There were several pages of instructions on “caring for your laceration” with fill-in-the-blanks left blank. Change the dressing after ___ days. Have stitches removed after ___ days. Very useful.
  • Total cost, mostly paid by my employer, is $1085. This is after a 50% plan discount negotiated with the hospital. That’s a very, very high burdened rate for less than an hour’s use of the facility and staff, and is no doubt due mostly to the layers of regulations and cost of liability insurance, as well as their legal requirement to treat those who have no intention of paying.
  • Even sutures and sterile wound cleaning kits are labeled that they are only to be sold to licensed physicians. That is, of course, to keep me safe.
  • Of course, I can only guess how this experience would have been different in a free market for health care, but I can make educated guesses based on industries that are similar in some way but are less regulated.

    Restaurants and tire stores, like emergency rooms, never really know how much business to expect. However, it is unusual to have to wait hours for a meal or new tires, whereas in emergency rooms it seems to be the norm to wait hours for treatment. They’re not full, either, they’re just woefully understaffed.

    A veterinarian has approximately the same amount of training as a physician (arguably more) at similar cost, yet a similar injury would have cost maybe a couple of hundred dollars to have treated on my dog–even at the after hours animal emergency clinic.

    On the subject of veterinarians, many seem able to afford separate waiting rooms for dogs, cats, and others, yet I had to share waiting rooms with people with whooping cough, pink eye, and strep throat, all lovely contagious diseases I might want to share with my family.

    Now, for the morbidly curious, click here to see the results. This picture was taken after about one week.

    Inventing a Contract?

    Shuji Nakamura is a smart guy. He is largely responsible for inventing the blue LED, while employed by Nichia Corp., an invention which was very, very lucrative for the company. However, Nakamura-san is a little bit disappointed. You see, he only managed to get the Japanese government to extort 844 million yen ($8.2 million) from his former employer, rather than the 20 billion yen ($194 million) he was hoping for. Extorted? I am assuming so, because in the most comprehensive article I can find on the story, there is no mention of a contract giving him any royalties from his invention.

    Look at the legal theory being put forth in the article linked above:

    In theory, the appropriate reward for an invention by a corporate employee can be easily calculated by multiplying the profit generated by the invention by the ratio of the employee’s contribution. The district court estimated Nakamura’s contribution at 50 percent, or 60 billion yen, of the profit his invention yielded for the company.

    Nakamura-san is obviously on board with this theory now, after all, he invented something that made his company billions. However, would he have been enthusiastic for it had he frittered away a few years in their labs and invented nothing? Then, instead of the salary he likely was paid, he would get nothing at all. Most likely, he would prefer the salary. That is the nature of the typical employer-employee relationship for scientists, like it or not. The employer provides the materials, lab equipment, lab space, assistants, salaries, and cool logos, all at the risk of getting nothing in return. The employee trades that risk of making no money for his efforts for a salary, and perhaps some nominal award should he invent, say, blue LED’s. Any profit-sharing would be negotiated in the employment contract up front.

    However, through the magic of the state, Nakamura-san can have it both ways. He simply got the Japanese government to retroactively add a profit-sharing clause to his contract. Remember, without the state, who would make sure our contracts got enforced as written? Oops.

    Gun Control: A Good Thing

    This story really strikes a nerve with me. A four-year-old boy, right between my boys’ ages, accidentally shot by his older brother, aged seven, in my city.

    I’m not one to shelter my boys from every danger, and there are likely seven-year-olds, even today, who have been taught to properly respect guns, and could be trusted to handle one without pointing it at anyone. This boy clearly wasn’t one. The article also mentions that one of the boys was playing with a lighter under his covers and set the house on fire to the tune of $20,000 damage just four years ago, at the age of five. Clearly, the parents and grandparents in this case are irresponsible to the point that I wonder how they get dressed in the morning without help.

    I’m not advocating protecting children from every possible danger. Responsibility and respect for dangerous objects and situations cannot be learned unless children are exposed to them. However, a child can learn valuable lessons from, say, a hot griddle, a sharp corner, a steak knife, or an electric drill, and survive the experience mostly intact. There’s very little chance that they, or someone else, will die in the process. Guns, on the other hand, along with other things you might own like cars and table saws, are deadly serious tools. Respect for them, and proper handling, must be taught, explained, and demonstrated to children, if they might get exposed to them. Guns are designed to kill. That’s what they do when working properly. An adult, or an already responsible child, can grasp this by having it explained to them once. Small children, who may not even understand the concept of death as a finality, cannot.

    Now, I’m not advocating for a law, of course. The article itself demonstrates the futility of that approach:

    An Illinois law, passed in 1999, makes it a misdemeanor for a person to store or leave a loaded firearm that a minor can gain access to without permission from a parent or guardian and use it to injure or kill. A firearm is properly stored if it is secured by a trigger lock, placed in a securely locked box or placed in some other location that a reasonable person would believe to be secured from a minor.

    The law did no one any good in this situation, as I would expect. Anyone who would leave a gun accessible to an irresponsible seven-year-old is unlikely to change his mind due to the law. ” Let’s see, if my kids find my gun and one gets shot, one of them will die. But wait, I’ll also face a fine and jail time… that settles it, I’m locking it up.”

    The guidelines in the law are overkill, in any case, but might be a good starting point for those incapable of thinking, who need a law to tell them what to do, who probably shouldn’t have guns in any case. People even dumber than politicians. A gun in a locked box, or with a trigger lock, is less useful for its intended purpose, which is keeping your young charges from being killed or kidnapped by criminals. No, the only thing required here is basic responsibility on the part of the “adults” in charge. If you have a gun, and you have children in the house, you should know where it is with certainty at all times. You should know that those who can’t handle one properly and responsibly can’t pick it up and play with it. You should be able to get it immediately if you need it–otherwise, why bother having it? You should know how many cartridges are in it. This is the essence of proper gun control.

    You can take your children shooting when you judge them responsible enough. They can probably learn respect or at least some understanding of the kind of damage they can do by seeing milk jugs or watermelons shot with hollowpoints (plus, that’s just plain fun for grownups.) You could try a book, like Massad Ayoob’s Gun-Proof Your Children, which I don’t have myself but about which I have heard good things.

    Just don’t go through life like a brain-dead moron who thinks that bad things won’t happen since they haven’t so far.