Because most philosophies that frown on reproduction don't survive.

Thursday, January 31, 2013

"There is no excuse"

Here is Archbishop Gomez's letter:
My brothers and sisters in Christ,
This week we are releasing the files of priests who sexually abused children while they were serving in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles.
These files document abuses that happened decades ago. But that does not make them less serious.

I find these files to be brutal and painful reading. The behavior described in these files is terribly sad and evil. There is no excuse, no explaining away what happened to these children. The priests involved had the duty to be their spiritual fathers and they failed.
We need to acknowledge that terrible failure today. We need to pray for everyone who has ever been hurt by members of the Church. And we need to continue to support the long and painful process of healing their wounds and restoring the trust that was broken.
I cannot undo the failings of the past that we find in these pages. Reading these files, reflecting on the wounds that were caused, has been the saddest experience I’ve had since becoming your Archbishop in 2011.
My predecessor, retired Cardinal Roger Mahony, has expressed his sorrow for his failure to fully protect young people entrusted to his care. Effective immediately, I have informed Cardinal Mahony that he will no longer have any administrative or public duties. Auxiliary Bishop Thomas Curry has also publicly apologized for his decisions while serving as Vicar for Clergy. I have accepted his request to be relieved of his responsibility as the Regional Bishop of Santa Barbara.
To every victim of child sexual abuse by a member of our Church: I want to help you in your healing. I am profoundly sorry for these sins against you.
To every Catholic in the Archdiocese of Los Angeles, I want you to know: We will continue, as we have for many years now, to immediately report every credible allegation of abuse to law enforcement authorities and to remove those credibly accused from ministry. We will continue to work, every day, to make sure that our children are safe and loved and cared for in our parishes, schools and in every ministry in the Archdiocese.
In the weeks ahead, I will address all of these matters in greater detail. Today is a time for prayer and reflection and deep compassion for the victims of child sexual abuse.
I entrust all of us and our children and families to the tender care and protection of our Blessed Mother Mary, Our Lady of Guadalupe and Our Lady of the Angels.
Sincerely yours in Christ,
These are the words of a shepherd. For the first time ever, I feel hopeful for the church in Los Angeles. 

Reading Jane Austen as a Moral Philosopher

Reading Jane Austen as a Moral Philosopher, by Thomas Rodham.

In a modern literary novel, the plot is driven by the characters, and this is how it should be, because it is their fictional inner lives with which the reader is concerned. The reader is provided with direct access to events in the minds of the characters and can understand the plot as unfolding naturally from them. Not so in Austen. Her focus is on how her characters react to events, not on their capacity to cause them. The happy endings, like the intermediate trials and tribulations, are always dei ex machinis (also a standard feature of the romance genre in general) – that is to say, they ring somewhat false. This is because Austen’s plots are author-driven – they proceed according to what she wants to say, not according to what her characters want to do. So unexpected things are continuously happening: the characters are always doing strange things offstage (like jilting lovers, or eloping, or falling into terrible illnesses) that seem not at all realistic in terms of following from what we have been told of their motivations and dispositions. 

...There are also Austen’s positive illustrations of what virtuous conduct looks like. Here one sees why the plot is so firmly in the author’s hands, not the characters’: Austen is primarily concerned with setting up particular scenes – moral trials – in which we can see how virtuous characters behave in testing circumstances. These lessons to the reader are what she gave the most exacting attention to. This is where her words are perfectly chosen and sparkling with intelligence and deep insight. These are the parts that she really cared about. The rest – the rituals of the romantic comedy genre and ‘social realism’ – is just background. (emphasis mine)

This is why I always object so strenuously when someone chooses to characterize Jane Austen's books as romances. Modern romances are author-driven in that the author is setting up situations to which the characters (and, vicariously, the reader) respond sexually. Austen "set(s) up particular scenes – moral trials – in which we can see how virtuous characters behave in testing circumstances."

Wednesday, January 30, 2013

40 Years of Solitude

In 1936, Karp Lykov, a member of the Old Believer sect of Russian Orthodoxy living in a remote Siberian village, was working in the fields with his brother when a group of communists (who had little tolerance for the ultra-observant religious group) shot his brother. Lykov decided it was time to flee the Soviet authorities, and so he packed up his wife and two children (a nine year old son and two year old daughter) and moved off with them into the forested Siberian wilderness. Over the years they moved deeper and deeper into the forest, clearing small fields and building log cabins. Two more children were born, a son in 1940 and a daughter in 1943. The family so successfully isolated itself that they never saw another person until Soviet geologists stumbled upon them (having seen their fields when surveying by helicopter) in 1978.

The story is fascinating. One thing that particularly struck me was what the family didn't know versus what they did. They had, of course, no knowledge of world history over the last forty years. They knew nothing of World War Two and the utter cataclysm it had released upon Russia. But they did, in a way, know about the space program. They had seen satellites looking like swift moving stars as far back as the 1950s and had correctly deduced that they were the result of human effort.
As the Soviet geologists got to know the Lykov family, they realized that they had underestimated their abilities and intelligence. Each family member had a distinct personality; Old Karp was usually delighted by the latest innovations that the scientists brought up from their camp, and though he steadfastly refused to believe that man had set foot on the moon, he adapted swiftly to the idea of satellites. The Lykovs had noticed them as early as the 1950s, when "the stars began to go quickly across the sky," and Karp himself conceived a theory to explain this: "People have thought something up and are sending out fires that are very like stars."
The children in particular spoke Russian somewhat strangely, having never spoken to anyone other than in the family, but they could all read (the family had a bible and several prayer books) and successfully identified pictures of animals such as horses that they had never seen, having learned about them from the bible and their parents.
The Lykov children knew there were places called cities where humans lived crammed together in tall buildings. They had heard there were countries other than Russia. But such concepts were no more than abstractions to them. Their only reading matter was prayer books and an ancient family Bible. Akulina had used the gospels to teach her children to read and write, using sharpened birch sticks dipped into honeysuckle juice as pen and ink. When Agafia was shown a picture of a horse, she recognized it from her mother's Bible stories. "Look, papa," she exclaimed. "A steed!"

The other thing that struck me is how incredibly difficult this obviously able family found it to live in total isolation.
Isolation made survival in the wilderness close to impossible. Dependent solely on their own resources, the Lykovs struggled to replace the few things they had brought into the taiga with them. They fashioned birch-bark galoshes in place of shoes. Clothes were patched and repatched until they fell apart, then replaced with hemp cloth grown from seed.

The Lykovs had carried a crude spinning wheel and, incredibly, the components of a loom into the taiga with them—moving these from place to place as they gradually went further into the wilderness must have required many long and arduous journeys—but they had no technology for replacing metal. A couple of kettles served them well for many years, but when rust finally overcame them, the only replacements they could fashion came from birch bark. Since these could not be placed in a fire, it became far harder to cook. By the time the Lykovs were discovered, their staple diet was potato patties mixed with ground rye and hemp seeds.

In some respects, Peskov makes clear, the taiga did offer some abundance: "Beside the dwelling ran a clear, cold stream. Stands of larch, spruce, pine and birch yielded all that anyone could take.... Bilberries and raspberries were close to hand, firewood as well, and pine nuts fell right on the roof."

Yet the Lykovs lived permanently on the edge of famine. It was not until the late 1950s, when Dmitry reached manhood, that they first trapped animals for their meat and skins. Lacking guns and even bows, they could hunt only by digging traps or pursuing prey across the mountains until the animals collapsed from exhaustion. Dmitry built up astonishing endurance, and could hunt barefoot in winter, sometimes returning to the hut after several days, having slept in the open in 40 degrees of frost, a young elk across his shoulders. More often than not, though, there was no meat, and their diet gradually became more monotonous. Wild animals destroyed their crop of carrots, and Agafia recalled the late 1950s as "the hungry years." "We ate the rowanberry leaf," she said,
roots, grass, mushrooms, potato tops, and bark, We were hungry all the time. Every year we held a council to decide whether to eat everything up or leave some for seed.
Famine was an ever-present danger in these circumstances, and in 1961 it snowed in June. The hard frost killed everything growing in their garden, and by spring the family had been reduced to eating shoes and bark. Akulina chose to see her children fed, and that year she died of starvation. The rest of the family were saved by what they regarded as a miracle: a single grain of rye sprouted in their pea patch. The Lykovs put up a fence around the shoot and guarded it zealously night and day to keep off mice and squirrels. At harvest time, the solitary spike yielded 18 grains, and from this they painstakingly rebuilt their rye crop.
Swiss Family Robinson this ain't.

Poetry Corner, Hokey-Pokey edition

Last night, Eleanor came in, struck a pose, and declaimed,

"Who has seen the plunger?
Neither you nor I
But when the toilet overflows
The plunger is nearby."

And so! On that note, Thomas D of Dark Speech Upon the Harp gives you The Hokey-Pokey, in the style of

Thomas Hardy
Edgar Allen Poe
TS Eliot, Roethke, Emily Dickinson, Allan Ginsberg
Wallace Stevens, Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mary Oliver
Celtic Hokey-Pokey: Seamus Heaney, Dylan Thomas, Gerard Manley Hopkins
Edwin Arlington Robinson
Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Bob the Ape retorts with:

Edgar Lee Masters
Omar Khayyam, in the FitzGerald translation

Actually, you should just read down both their sites for the limericks.

Tuesday, January 29, 2013

I Got Yer Coolest Catholic Blogs Right Here

We're so underground that we didn't even hear of the Sheenazing Blogger Awards (that's as in Fulton Sheen) until someone notified us that we'd been nominated for Coolest Blogger(s): "Reading this blog makes you awesome just by association." Lots of pressure there, but we cool.

It may be that I'm entirely out of the loop, but I didn't recognize many of the bloggers nominated for almost anything. The Catholic interwebs have changed since we first started writing almost eight years ago, and many blogs have risen and fallen in the meantime. I also hadn't realized that Catholic blogging had fractured so thoroughly into gender enclaves -- seems like it used to be that most people read most people, or as least that's how it was in the circles in which we ran.

And so, speaking of the circles in which we run, we've quickly thrown together our own list of Coolest Catholic blogs. They may not be the biggest or the loudest, but reading these guys definitely "makes you awesome just by association."

Brandon Watson
Elizabeth Duffy
Clare Coffey
Bob the Ape
Shredded Cheddar
Amy Welborn
Mike Flynn
Helen Rittelmeyer
Almost Chosen People
Lotsa Laundry

Monday, January 28, 2013

Pride and Prejudice, at 200 and at 17

Today is the 200th anniversary of publication of Pride and Prejudice, and many people have up retrospectives or tributes or scholarly articles analyzing the enduring popularity of Jane Austen's best-known work.

I first read Pride and Prejudice at age seventeen, seventeen years ago. Doubtless there were then, as there have been for the past 200 years, Austenphiles, but I never knew any. Austen's works were, to me, simply Old Novels, and I neither sought them as desirable or shunned them as being the sort of thing those girls read, simply because I never heard anyone ever talk of having read them. The A&E miniseries had come out the year before, but even if I had heard of it, we didn't have cable, nor did we jaunt down much to Blockbuster, and the library's VHS collection could be spotty.

My family had an old paperback copy of Pride and Prejudice acquired in some donation, and it sat, unread, on the shelf with other battered copies of Great Books that had someone made their way into the house.  One day in 1996, I was going with my dad and siblings downtown to a Cincinnati Reds game, and we were going to ride the bus to the stadium, back when we still called it Riverfront Stadium, although by then it had been renamed Cinergy Field (before it became the Great American Ball Park). Any of you who have ever ridden a city bus know that there is no romance in public transportation. It is to be endured, and a book is one of the best ways to endure it. On my way out of the house, I pulled Pride and Prejudice from its dusty spot on the shelf.

In regards to Austen, I was a complete tabula rasa. I had never even heard the names of Elizabeth Bennett or Mr. Darcy. The blurb on the back of the book said, "No novel in the English language has brought forth more superlatives than Pride and Prejudice. Jane Austen's simplicity, gentle wit and ability to draw her readers into the life of eighteenth-century England have brought her universal acclaim. As William Lyon Phelps said, 'Jane Austen is one of the supreme literary artists of the world. Pride and Prejudice is her masterpiece.'"Fine words, but not a lot to go on in guessing what the book was actually about. And so, in complete innocence as to plot, content, characters, or author, I read.

I read on the bus all the way to the stadium. I read walking into the stadium. I am not generally an advocate of reading through events that one has chosen to attend, but I read through the ball game (no big loss; as someone once said, a baseball game is thirty minutes of excitement jam-packed into three hours). I read on the bus all the way home. I read late at night in my room to finish the book. Every incident and plot twist was new and surprising to me; every phrase fresh. I carried no cultural baggage about Pride and Prejudice being the epitome of romance or of Mr. Darcy being the archetype of the perfect man; I simply found it a wonderful book.

In those delightful days before the sheer ubiquity of the internet, it was much harder (though many still made intrepid attempts) to get caught up in fandom. I was spared the silliness of having my enthusiasms instantly validated by Facebook memes or fan fiction or quizzes about "Which Austen Man is Right For You?" The massive Austen marketing machine had not yet been set into full gear. Instead, I had to read the critical essay at the beginning, then read the book again, then read it again.

It took me a number of years to get around to reading Austen's other novels, and for that I'm glad -- I was no prodigy; reading Northanger Abbey now is an infinitely more rewarding and comprehensible experience that it would have been if I had first read it when I shared Catherine Morland's age and experience. Catherine is a heroine for an older woman looking back; Elizabeth Bennett is a heroine for a young woman looking forward.

It's a rare experience now for me to have such a fresh first encounter with a book, and such a well-known one at that. My own children have seen movie versions of Pride and Prejudice more than once, have listened to the audio book, and know the plot. They'll read it for themselves one day, but that first thrill of discovery won't have that pristine newness to it. But of all the books I could come to so marvelously unencumbered by the critical (or uncritical) opinions of others, I'm so glad I struck on Pride and Prejudice at seventeen -- as felicitous a match as any of Austen's heroines made.

Deor, set to music

After last week's post about the Anglo-Saxon poem, my brother sent me a video of a fellow singing Deor to the accompaniment of a hand-made eight-string lyre. Yes, that sounds like a punchline, but the singing is quite good, and the accompaniment draws you in.

As with so many music videos, I found it easiest to hide the window and listen rather than watch.

Friday, January 25, 2013

Of A Certain Class

I was struck by this post which talks about marraige frictions which derive from class assumptions:
Oliver and Maggie are young, very much in love, and planning their honeymoon. What should be an exciting series of conversations becomes surprisingly unpleasant. Maggie resents Oliver’s nonchalance about where the trip should be; he’s seemingly happy with almost any destination. Oliver finds the normally easy-going Maggie strangely rigid and demanding about where to take the trip, and doesn’t understand her anxious, almost obsessive research into the possible details of each honeymoon location.

Finally, it occurs to Oliver to ask a question: “Do you imagine that this is the only trip we are going to take together?”.

Maggie bursts out “Of course it is!” and starts to cry.

What is going on? Oliver grew up middle class and therefore anticipates a lifetime of travel with his future spouse, of which the honeymoon is only one journey. Maggie grew up in a community where virtually everyone was flat on their uppers. For her, a honeymoon is the only trip a couple would take, the sole travel memory they would share between themselves and with their children and grandchildren for 50 years to come. For her the choice was thus fraught with fear that she and Oliver’s one and only venture into the wider world would be less than perfect.

Another couple, Alphonse and Pat, generally get along well until something in their household breaks and a long-running feud comes to the surface. When the dishwasher floods the floor, for example, Alphonse digs out the service manual and his tool kit and commences to tinker with it over a few days until its function is restored. Pat simmers with anger at the days without a dishwasher and the grimy tools and grease stains on the kitchen floor. Alphonse is bitter that Pat doesn’t seem to admire how handy he is at fixing things around the house.

What is going on? Alphonse grew up in a blue collar home in which calling a repairman was considered an extravagance and in which men were supposed to know how to fix things with their own two hands. Pat grew up in an upper middle class home in which the only thing in the tool box was a cell phone. When Pat’s high-powered professional parents needed something to be repaired, they hired someone and it was done immediately, no muss no fuss.
MrsDarwin and I have very nearly identical class backgrounds, so I don't think there's ever been a time when we've found ourselves working from different assumptions like this. There have been a number of times at work, however, when I've found myself suddenly conscious of my background assumptions as compared to those of other people. American class distinctions seem fairly soft, as compared to the extreme class consciousness one runs into in any modern British TV or literature, but there are still basic assumptions about spending that will either make me aware of the fact that we're a single income family, while most of my coworkers have two incomes roughly the size of mine, or else that my family had less ready cash when I was growing up than those of a lot of my coworkers.

Vacations is one area that springs readily to mind. My family took one big trip that I remember as a kid, out to see the solar eclipse in Hawaii in 1991. (My dad was a planetarium lecturer, so the interest was semi-professional.) In general, however, we simply didn't go places on vacation. Thus, it always throws me when people at work talk about trips to Florida in the spring, skiing trips to Colorado in the winter, etc. as if it was pretty normal to take one or two big trips each year in which the whole family stays in a hotel and participates in some sort of fun activity. (In our case, we basically only travel to weddings and baptisms. This gets us one to two big family road trips a year. If that ever slows down, maybe we'll take a vacation.)

There are also certain kinds of work around the house we've realized that we define ourselves as being "normal people" because we do them ourselves. We've never had a yard service: I mow the lawn, cut trees, etc. myself, and while I'm sure it makes sense ot free up that time, the fact is I just wouldn't feel right about hiring someone to do that work for me. Similarly, most of the families we know on our street have a cleaning service come in to clean the house a couple times a month, but MrsDarwin feels much the same about having a cleaning service in as I would feel about having a yard service.

That one can invest a fair amount of identity in some of these thins despite the fact that they are quite trivial is, I think, part of what makes them class issues. Sure, there's some money involved, but the amount of money isn't necessarily all that much, and I'm sure there are other areas in which we spend more money that other people would feel comfortable with. Yet somehow or other I find myself with a deep feeling that "people like us don't have vacation cottages" or "people like us do our own yard work".

Thursday, January 24, 2013

þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg!

John Farrell gives a beautiful recitation, in Old English, of the melancholy Anglo-Saxon poem Deor. The recurring sigh at the end of each stanza is this line:
þæs ofereode, þisses swa mæg! 
That passed over, this so may.

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Not Stillwater 29

Well, I was hoping I'd have some Stillwater for you eventually, but it appears that I've just irrevocably deleted 1000 words - a week and a half's worth of agony, gone in one unfortunate click. Thanks to our aged Mac, as soon as I hit undo, the computer sputtered and froze and would not release to me my text. Gone, gone with the wind, alas.

Maybe I can get it all back in another week and a half...

Arms Inflation

My current audiobook when commuting and such is The Last Lion: Winston Spencer Churchill: Defender of the Realm, 1940-1965, the postumous completion of William Manchester's three volume biography of Churchill. As with previous volumes, it's a bit sprawling (telling the story of Churchill's life means narrating a lot of what was going on with world history generally, especially during World War II, which takes up much of this volume) but never dull.

I'm currently in early 1941, with the Lend Lease Bill working its way through congress and Britain waiting anxiously to see if it passes before the empire goes bankrupt and can't afford to buy much needed arms from the US. The book throws out a few prices: A Thompson sub machine gun cost $200 in 1941 and a B17 cost $240,000. That got me wondering what those amounted to in modern dollars. Result: Putting the 1941 to 2011 conversion into an inflation calculator produces a Thompson sub machine gun cost of $3013 dollars and a B17 cost of $3.2 million. By comparison, the modern M4 carbine (which combines the function of the WW2 era battle rifle and sub machine gun) is roughly half the cost of a WW2-era Thompson at ~$1500. However, modern military aircraft are far more expensive (though obviously also far more functional) than their WW2 era ancestors. The modern B-52 heavy bomber costs the Air Force about $80 million per plane, while the B-2 stealth bomber costs over $700 million.

This also underscores the extent to which World War II was a war of industrial production. 12,731 B-17s were built. Only 744 B-52s have been built in their 50+ years of service and only 92 are currently operational. The fancier bombers are far fewer in number 100 B-1Bs have been built and 21 B-2s.

Of course, part of this disparity in number produced has to do with capacity. The B-17 could carry a maximum of 8,000lbs of bombs, and that only to a target less than 400 miles away. The B-52 carries up to 70,000lbs of bombs and can make round trips out to targets up to 4,000 miles away.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Gun Rights and Civil Rights

With gun control in the news, and the celebration of Martin Luther King's birthday today, it's not a bad time to link to a fascinating article which The Atlantic ran a while back on the surprising origins of the modern gun rights movement and its interpretation of the 2nd Amendment:
THE EIGHTH-GRADE STUDENTS gathering on the west lawn of the state capitol in Sacramento were planning to lunch on fried chicken with California’s new governor, Ronald Reagan, and then tour the granite building constructed a century earlier to resemble the nation’s Capitol. But the festivities were interrupted by the arrival of 30 young black men and women carrying .357 Magnums, 12-gauge shotguns, and .45-caliber pistols.

The 24 men and six women climbed the capitol steps, and one man, Bobby Seale, began to read from a prepared statement. “The American people in general and the black people in particular,” he announced, must
take careful note of the racist California legislature aimed at keeping the black people disarmed and powerless Black people have begged, prayed, petitioned, demonstrated, and everything else to get the racist power structure of America to right the wrongs which have historically been perpetuated against black people The time has come for black people to arm themselves against this terror before it is too late.
Seale then turned to the others. “All right, brothers, come on. We’re going inside.” He opened the door, and the radicals walked straight into the state’s most important government building, loaded guns in hand. No metal detectors stood in their way.

It was May 2, 1967, and the Black Panthers’ invasion of the California statehouse launched the modern gun-rights movement.
OPPOSITION TO GUN CONTROL was what drove the black militants to visit the California capitol with loaded weapons in hand. The Black Panther Party had been formed six months earlier, in Oakland, by Huey Newton and Bobby Seale. Like many young African Americans, Newton and Seale were frustrated with the failed promise of the civil-rights movement. Brown v. Board of Education, the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and the Voting Rights Act of 1965 were legal landmarks, but they had yet to deliver equal opportunity. In Newton and Seale’s view, the only tangible outcome of the civil-rights movement had been more violence and oppression, much of it committed by the very entity meant to protect and serve the public: the police.

Inspired by the teachings of Malcolm X, Newton and Seale decided to fight back. Before he was assassinated in 1965, Malcolm X had preached against Martin Luther King Jr.’s brand of nonviolent resistance. Because the government was “either unable or unwilling to protect the lives and property” of blacks, he said, they had to defend themselves “by whatever means necessary.” Malcolm X illustrated the idea for Ebony magazine by posing for photographs in suit and tie, peering out a window with an M-1 carbine semiautomatic in hand. Malcolm X and the Panthers described their right to use guns in self-defense in constitutional terms. “Article number two of the constitutional amendments,” Malcolm X argued, “provides you and me the right to own a rifle or a shotgun.”

Guns became central to the Panthers’ identity, as they taught their early recruits that “the gun is the only thing that will free us—gain us our liberation.” They bought some of their first guns with earnings from selling copies of Mao Zedong’s Little Red Book to students at the University of California at Berkeley. In time, the Panther arsenal included machine guns; an assortment of rifles, handguns, explosives, and grenade launchers; and “boxes and boxes of ammunition,” recalled Elaine Brown, one of the party’s first female members, in her 1992 memoir. Some of this matériel came from the federal government: one member claimed he had connections at Camp Pendleton, in Southern California, who would sell the Panthers anything for the right price. One Panther bragged that, if they wanted, they could have bought an M48 tank and driven it right up the freeway.

Along with providing classes on black nationalism and socialism, Newton made sure recruits learned how to clean, handle, and shoot guns. Their instructors were sympathetic black veterans, recently home from Vietnam. For their “righteous revolutionary struggle,” the Panthers were trained, as well as armed, however indirectly, by the U.S. government.

Civil-rights activists, even those committed to nonviolent resistance, had long appreciated the value of guns for self-protection. Martin Luther King Jr. applied for a permit to carry a concealed firearm in 1956, after his house was bombed. His application was denied, but from then on, armed supporters guarded his home. One adviser, Glenn Smiley, described the King home as “an arsenal.” William Worthy, a black reporter who covered the civil-rights movement, almost sat on a loaded gun in a living-room armchair during a visit to King’s parsonage.

The Panthers, however, took it to an extreme, carrying their guns in public, displaying them for everyone—especially the police—to see. Newton had discovered, during classes at San Francisco Law School, that California law allowed people to carry guns in public so long as they were visible, and not pointed at anyone in a threatening way.

In February of 1967, Oakland police officers stopped a car carrying Newton, Seale, and several other Panthers with rifles and handguns. When one officer asked to see one of the guns, Newton refused. “I don’t have to give you anything but my identification, name, and address,” he insisted. This, too, he had learned in law school.

“Who in the hell do you think you are?” an officer responded.

“Who in the hell do you think you are?,” Newton replied indignantly. He told the officer that he and his friends had a legal right to have their firearms.

Newton got out of the car, still holding his rifle.

“What are you going to do with that gun?” asked one of the stunned policemen.

“What are you going to do with your gun?,” Newton replied.

By this time, the scene had drawn a crowd of onlookers. An officer told the bystanders to move on, but Newton shouted at them to stay. California law, he yelled, gave civilians a right to observe a police officer making an arrest, so long as they didn’t interfere. Newton played it up for the crowd. In a loud voice, he told the police officers, “If you try to shoot at me or if you try to take this gun, I’m going to shoot back at you, swine.” Although normally a black man with Newton’s attitude would quickly find himself handcuffed in the back of a police car, enough people had gathered on the street to discourage the officers from doing anything rash. Because they hadn’t committed any crime, the Panthers were allowed to go on their way.

The people who’d witnessed the scene were dumbstruck. Not even Bobby Seale could believe it. Right then, he said, he knew that Newton was the “baddest motherfucker in the world.” Newton’s message was clear: “The gun is where it’s at and about and in.” After the February incident, the Panthers began a regular practice of policing the police. Thanks to an army of new recruits inspired to join up when they heard about Newton’s bravado, groups of armed Panthers would drive around following police cars. When the police stopped a black person, the Panthers would stand off to the side and shout out legal advice.

Don Mulford, a conservative Republican state assemblyman from Alameda County, which includes Oakland, was determined to end the Panthers’ police patrols. To disarm the Panthers, he proposed a law that would prohibit the carrying of a loaded weapon in any California city. When Newton found out about this, he told Seale, “You know what we’re going to do? We’re going to the Capitol.” Seale was incredulous. “The Capitol?” Newton explained: “Mulford’s there, and they’re trying to pass a law against our guns, and we’re going to the Capitol steps.” Newton’s plan was to take a select group of Panthers “loaded down to the gills,” to send a message to California lawmakers about the group’s opposition to any new gun control.
Needless to say, this method of campaigning against gun control (especially given the source) did not go over well. The bill sailed through, as did several other 1960's sets of gun restrictions at the state and federal levels aimed to tamp down the growing waves of crime and civil unrest that were coming to characterize the 1960's.

And yet, those same trends towards unrest created a new sense of urgency on the right for the means to protect themselves.
After the assassination of President John F. Kennedy in 1963 by Lee Harvey Oswald, who had bought his gun through a mail-order ad in the NRA’s American Rifleman magazine, Franklin Orth, then the NRA’s executive vice president, testified in favor of banning mail-order rifle sales. “We do not think that any sane American, who calls himself an American, can object to placing into this bill the instrument which killed the president of the United States.” Orth and the NRA didn’t favor stricter proposals, like national gun registration, but when the final version of the Gun Control Act was adopted in 1968, Orth stood behind the legislation. While certain features of the law, he said, “appear unduly restrictive and unjustified in their application to law-abiding citizens, the measure as a whole appears to be one that the sportsmen of America can live with.”

A GROWING GROUP OF rank-and-file NRA members disagreed. In an era of rising crime rates, fewer people were buying guns for hunting, and more were buying them for protection. The NRA leadership didn’t fully grasp the importance of this shift. In 1976, Maxwell Rich, the executive vice president, announced that the NRA would sell its building in Washington, D.C., and relocate the headquarters to Colorado Springs, retreating from political lobbying and expanding its outdoor and environmental activities.

Rich’s plan sparked outrage among the new breed of staunch, hard-line gun-rights advocates. The dissidents were led by a bald, blue-eyed bulldog of a man named Harlon Carter, who ran the NRA’s recently formed lobbying arm, the Institute for Legislative Action. In May 1977, Carter and his allies staged a coup at the annual membership meeting. Elected the new executive vice president, Carter would transform the NRA into a lobbying powerhouse committed to a more aggressive view of what the Second Amendment promises to citizens.

The new NRA was not only responding to the wave of gun-control laws enacted to disarm black radicals; it also shared some of the Panthers’ views about firearms. Both groups valued guns primarily as a means of self-defense. Both thought people had a right to carry guns in public places, where a person was easily victimized, and not just in the privacy of the home.
The article is lengthy, but makes for fascinating reading.

History in our Library

In honor of Martin Luther King Jr. Day, a piece from the archives about how our house links us with the Freedom Riders.

The previous owner of our house was the former dean of the local Methodist seminary, a man who was active in the civil rights movement and rode with the Freedom Riders. Tonight, going through some of the books that had been left in the house, I saw a folded paper peeking out of a tome entitled Pillar of Fire : America in the King Years 1963-65and opened it to find a facsimile of a letter. 
Delaware, OH
September 20, 1963


We the students and faculty of the the Methodist Theological School in Ohio are among your many brothers in Christ who were deeply shocked and appalled by the brutal bombing of your church and killing of your children this past Sunday.

Our shock has been mixed with guilt, for we are part of a large body of professing Christians who have been slow to rise to the call of our faith and cry out against injustice, inhumanity, and oppression. We know ourselves to be among the many whose silence has led to your suffering. We therefore ask your forgiveness as we pray for God's.

Knowing of some of your immediate needs we have collected gifts of money which we are sending to the Reverend Fred Shuttlesworth, whom we were privileged to have among us for a short time a few months ago and to whom we confidently entrust the employing of these funds where he sees the need as greatest.

We would not, however, salve our consciences by sending such gifts. While we were already active in the struggle for freedom and justice for all, we have, since last Sunday's tragedy, rededicated ourselves to this task and redoubled our efforts to break through every wall of silence and separation, of fear and hatred, of apathy and unconcern. For we are determined -- praying that God may hold us to and guide us in our resolve -- that your children shall not have died in vain.

Walter R. Dickhaut, Jr., President
Student Association

Van Bogard Dunn, Dean
The Methodist Theological School in Ohio
On a hunch, I flipped to the index of the book, and as I suspected, there was an entry for Dunn, Van Bogart, on page 271. 
On March 29 (1964), seven white theology professors and two Mississippi Negroes approached Capitol Street Methodist Church of Jackson for the Ester morning service. "That's far enough -- no end runs," announced the spokesman for a line of ushers interposed on the front steps. A standoff ensued. "I guess you'll have to arrest us," concluded Rev. Van Bogard Dunn, dean of Methodist Theological School in Ohio. While being led away toward a sentence of six months' jail and a $500 fine, Dunn got the commanding officer to say that police would have taken no action without the explicit request of the church ushers. The reply was legal grist for Jack Pratt of the National Council of Churches, who planned to argue on appeal from paragraph 2026 of the Methodist Church Discipline that no Methodist church could ban interracial worship on legitimate religious grounds.
Many of the books left here (and there were many left) contain notes tucked inside or a review of the work clipped from the newspaper, or cards marking the book as a gift. The Dunns were great readers and inscribers, and many of the books were dated on their receipt. I had been gathering up a number of volumes that were of no personal interest to Darwins, but now I see I'm going to have to flip through each book, which means I'll be sucked into reading most of them, and the library shelves aren't going to get lighter any time soon. 

(You may remember one of our previous finds from the library, which involved a minie ball of ill repute.) 

Thursday, January 17, 2013

Is Rape Prevention Actually Rape Permission?

There seems to be an argument going around that efforts to help women avoid being raped somehow enable rape. For instance, I've seen this image-as-argument going around Facebook lately:

My first thought on seeing this is: Well, they probably didn't have a big presentation on 'Don't mug people' either, but it would hardly be offensive if they still had a presentation during Freshman orientation at a big university on areas to avoid, keeping valuables out of sight, going to one of the emergency phones and calling campus security if you feel threatened, etc. One would hope that we live in a sufficiently civilized society that "don't commit crimes" goes without saying.

However, while as a social conservative my initial word association when I hear "rape" is an attack like the Central Park Jogger case, in the bohemian environment of modern college campuses the complaint is not necessarily as crazy as it sounds. Given that sex, even with relative strangers, is considered socially acceptable and normal on many college campuses, and given that heavy drinking and drug use often are as well, a whole host of additional issues involving sexual consent crop up. A freshman presentation on avoiding rape given to university students is likely to contain advice such as "women should be careful when drinking around men" or "be careful about separating from the group and going off to a secluded place with a man". If this was all the rape prevention discussion in university orientation included it would obviously leave out the other side of the picture, which would be telling men "just because a woman is so drunk that she can't coherantly so 'no' does not mean that she wants to have sex with you" or "just because a woman goes to a secluded spot with you does not mean that she wants you to force her to have sex with you" or "when a woman says 'no' to you, treat that as meaning 'no' -- don't assume that she must be liking it even though she's saying 'no'."

I know that many colleges do push this second side of the coin, but I take it from the complaint that some only provide the "how to avoid being a victim" angle. Perhaps it's because both students and adminsitrators are more prone to feel embarassed talking about sex in a large group than they are talking about more generic "safety" and "prevention". Perhaps it's because in post sexual revolution American culture laying down any sort of clear rules about sex to young people is implicitly seen as prudish. One of the things that really struck me a while back when I was reading Regnerus and Uecker book Premarital Sex in America: How Young Americans Meet, Mate, and Think about Marrying was that many of the subjects in their study said it would be "too personal" to discuss various issues relating to relationship expectations, disease, pregnancy, etc. with the the people they were having sex with. The idea that talking is "too personal" while having sex is suitably distant seems deeply crazy to me, but it does seem to be a sentiment expressed with a certain frequency in our current society.

If a college is going to provide its female students with advice on how to avoid situations that could result in rape, the college is clearly not unwilling to provide students with guidance on behavior. At that point, it seems reasonable that they should also make clear that, yes, unconsenting sex is rape, and make explicit to students what kind of behavior is unacceptable for this reason. In this context the above picture-argument does, perhaps, have something of a point.

However, in at least some cases, the argument seems to be that recommending any modification of behavior on the part of women in order to reduce the likelihood of being raped is unreasonable. See the below:

Now, there's a distinction worth making even here: Just because someone violates some piece of good advice which might have helped them avoid becoming the victim of a crime doesn't mean that they "deserved" the crime. If you leave your cell phone sitting on the seat of your parked car, you don't deserve to have it broken into. If you walk alone through a bad neighborhood at night, you don't deserve to be mugged. The fault is always on the person who commits a crime, not on the person who could have done something else to prevent it. And yet, there's always the jerk out there who on hearing of some misfortune is willing to say, "Well, of course, if you were going to do X, what did you expect?" Let me be clear: that's the wrong reaction.

At the same time, it's silly to be resistant to good preventative advice simply because one shouldn't have to worry about being a victim of a crime. The fact is, certain behaviors make it much more likey that one will be victimized. Advising someone not to engage in certain behaviors that increase their chances of being raped does not mean "just maybe you won't rape someone" if they follow the rules. It is a recognition that even if you consider forcing sex on someone to be always evil and totally unacceptable, there are people out there who will do such a thing, and avoiding certain behaviors will decrease one's chances of being preyed on by them.

This may not be fair. There are situations I would advise my daughters to avoid when they're headed off to college that wouldn't worry me as much for my son. But life has a way of not being fair and I don't see that it makes sense to avoid taking precautions for one's own protection out of an outraged sense of justice. While there is a case of sorts for the first picture-as-argument, the second seems wholly off base.

The truth will set you free, and make you look really stupid

In the box of books my great-aunt sent my family when I was eight or ten, there was a book, the title of which I've long forgotten, about a shy and mousy girl who wants a doll so badly that she blurts out a lie about owning a gorgeous life-sized doll (aptly named Troubella). This story spirals out of control in ever more elaborate iterations until the girl ends up stealing a mannequin to take to some elegant party in honor of her fictitious doll, and she's chased by the police, and finally the truth comes out at the end. Although I read the book several times, it always made me cringe in vicarious embarrassment because the premise was so stupid. Why did she make up the story in the first place? Why did she keep digging herself in deeper? Why not just take it back as soon as she said it? I was the kind of child who was fairly observant of rules and regulations, so the thought of spinning a big lie was just ridiculous. Obviously, if you told the truth in the first place, or even second place, you'd certainly be better off, as well as honest.

This came to mind as I was reading the fantastic story of Manti Te'o, the acclaimed Notre Dame linebacker whose grandmother and girlfriend died on the same day.

(Lennay) Kekua, 22 years old, had been in a serious car accident in California, and then had been diagnosed with leukemia. SI's Pete Thamel described how Te'o would phone her in her hospital room and stay on the line with her as he slept through the night. "Her relatives told him that at her lowest points, as she fought to emerge from a coma, her breathing rate would increase at the sound of his voice," Thamel wrote. 
Upon receiving the news of the two deaths, Te'o went out and led the Fighting Irish to a 20-3 upset of Michigan State, racking up 12 tackles. It was heartbreaking and inspirational. Te'o would appear on ESPN's College GameDay to talk about the letters Kekua had written him during her illness. He would send a heartfelt letter to the parents of a sick child, discussing his experience with disease and grief. The South Bend Tribune wrote an article describing the young couple's fairytale meeting—she, a Stanford student; he, a Notre Dame star—after a football game outside Palo Alto. 
Did you enjoy the uplifiting story, the tale of a man who responded to adversity by becoming one of the top players of the game? If so, stop reading.

Only it turns out the girlfriend did not die. That's because she did not live. That's because she did not exist.

Manti Te'o did lose his grandmother this past fall. Annette Santiago died on Sept. 11, 2012, at the age of 72, according to Social Security Administration records in Nexis. But there is no SSA record there of the death of Lennay Marie Kekua, that day or any other. Her passing, recounted so many times in the national media, produces no obituary or funeral announcement in Nexis, and no mention in the Stanford student newspaper. 
Nor is there any report of a severe auto accident involving a Lennay Kekua. Background checks turn up nothing. The Stanford registrar's office has no record that a Lennay Kekua ever enrolled. There is no record of her birth in the news. Outside of a few Twitter and Instagram accounts, there's no online evidence that Lennay Kekua ever existed. 
The photographs identified as Kekua—in online tributes and on TV news reports—are pictures from the social-media accounts of a 22-year-old California woman who is not named Lennay Kekua. She is not a Stanford graduate; she has not been in a severe car accident; and she does not have leukemia. And she has never met Manti Te'o.
The story is just so outrageous that you have to wonder: how did he think he would get away with it? Did he think that his celebrity would insulate him from any inquiry? Did he start to believe it a bit himself as the story grew, or did he think it was okay because people were inspired? How could he think that it wouldn't unravel, that no one would ever do the research and find that there were no death records, no life records, no hospital records, no police reports, nothing but a few social media profiles? And why lie in the first place? Was it not enough to be a celebrated college football player, with adoring profiles in ESPN and The New York Post?

Te'o now has a chance to come clean, but it sounds like he's going to pull a Lance Armstrong for a while. Here's his statement:
This is incredibly embarrassing to talk about, but over an extended period of time, I developed an emotional relationship with a woman I met online. We maintained what I thought to be an authentic relationship by communicating frequently online and on the phone, and I grew to care deeply about her. To realize that I was the victim of what was apparently someone's sick joke and constant lies was, and is, painful and humiliating. It further pains me that the grief I felt and the sympathies expressed to me at the time of my grandmother's death in September were in any way deepened by what I believed to be another significant loss in my life. I am enormously grateful for the support of my family, friends and Notre Dame fans throughout this year. To think that I shared with them my happiness about my relationship and details that I thought to be true about her just makes me sick. I hope that people can understand how trying and confusing this whole experience has been. In retrospect, I obviously should have been much more cautious. If anything good comes of this, I hope it is that others will be far more guarded when they engage with people online than I was. Fortunately, I have many wonderful things in my life, and I'm looking forward to putting this painful experience behind me as I focus on preparing for the NFL Draft.
Don't worry, Manti, Oprah will always have a place on her couch when your PR guys decide that honesty is the best, and most lucrative, policy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

Assault Weapons Part 3: Gun Control

In Part 2 I described the essentially cosmetic characteristics which were used to define some civilian rifles based on military assault rifle designs as "assault weapons" in the 1994 Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB). During the ban period (1994 to 2004) and even more so since, military style rifles have become dramatically more popular in the civilian market.  The AR-15 (the family of civilian rifles based on the military M16) is now the most popular type of civilian rifle in the US with dozens of models on the market. However, these rifles continue to have a very bad reputation with gun control advocates and they have been used in several recent highly publicized crimes such as the Aurora, CO movie theater shooting and the Newton, CT school shooting. This has led to renewed calls for increased regulation or outright bans of "assault weapons". In this third and final post on the "assault weapon" issue, I'd like to address the following issues: How often are military style rifles used in crimes? Are they particularly suited to crime? Did the 1994 AWB have any discernible effect on crime? Do military style rifles have legitimate civilian purposes?

How Much Are "Assault Weapons" Used In Crime?
The Coalition to Stop Gun Violence takes a fairly standard line on "assault weapons" in its page on the topic:
Assault weapons possess features specifically designed by the world's militaries to make it easier for the shooter to fire a sustained, high volume of rounds into a wide area. As a result of America's weak gun laws, these weapons entered our civilian marketplace decades ago, and criminals quickly learned how to exploit their military features.
However, these claims about the widespread adoption of military style rifles by criminals do not seem to align well with the facts. According to a report this year by the Congressional Research Office "By 2007, the number of firearms [owned by US civilians] had increased to approximately 294 million: 106 million handguns, 105 million rifles, and 83 million shotguns." (page 8) However, according to the FBI's uniform crime report, only 3.6% of murders are committed using rifles, a number that would include both "assault weapons" and more traditional rifles. Rifles were outranked in numbers of murders committed in 2010 by handguns (60.2% of murders), knives (13.1%), fists, kicking and other uses of the human body (5.7%), blunt objects (4.2%) and shotguns (3.7%). Another way to think of this is: Although there are roughly the same number of rifles and handguns available in the US, handguns are used in homicides at a rate nearly 17 times that of rifles.

A 2004 report prepared for the National Institute of Justice to assess the effectiveness of the (then expiring) Federal Assault Weapon Ban wrote:
Numerous studies have examined the use of AWs in crime prior to the federal ban. The definition of AWs varied across the studies and did not always correspond exactly to that of the 1994 law (in part because a number of the studies were done prior to 1994). In general, however, the studies appeared to focus on various semiautomatics with detachable magazines and military-style features. According to these accounts, AWs typically accounted for up to 8% of guns used in crime, depending on the specific AW definition and data source used (e.g., see Beck et al., 1993; Hargarten et al., 1996; Hutson et al., 1994; 1995; McGonigal et al., 1993; New York State Division of Criminal Justice Services, 1994; Roth and Koper, 1997, Chapters 2, 5, 6; Zawitz, 1995). A compilation of 38 sources indicated that AWs accounted for 2% of crime guns on average (Kleck, 1997, pp.112, 141-143).

Similarly, the most common AWs prohibited by the 1994 federal ban accounted for between 1% and 6% of guns used in crime according to most of several national and local data sources examined for this and our prior study (see Chapter 6 and Roth and
Koper, 1997, Chapters 5, 6)
Although each of the sources cited above has limitations, the estimates consistently show that AWs are used in a small fraction of gun crimes. Even the highest estimates, which correspond to particularly rare events such mass murders and police murders, are no higher than 13%. Note also that the majority of AWs used in crime are assault pistols (APs) rather than assault rifles (ARs). Among AWs reported by police to ATF during 1992 and 1993, for example, APs outnumbered ARs by a ratio of 3 to 1 (see Chapter 6).
From all of these, it would seem that military style rifles simply are not used that much in crime. This should not actually be all that surprising. The reason why the modern assault rifle is such an effective military weapon is that it is able to deliver accurate fire (and do so rapidly enough to allow a single soldier to tie down multiple enemy soldiers) at a distance of up to several hundred yards. This function (delivering accurate fire out to several hundred yards) is useful to civilian sport shooters as well, but it is of no use to criminals, who generally are using guns at a distance of just a few feet. That is why handguns are favored by criminals. Long distance accuracy and even rate of fire are not nearly as important in crime.  Indeed, in most crimes employing a gun, the gun is not even fired; it is used as a threat.  Far more important to criminals is the ability to carry a gun without it being seen until it is produced. Rifles, however military in appearance, do not fit well in a pocket.

Compactness is also the reason why handguns are primarily used by civilians in self defense. According to the same Congressional Research Office report cited above (page 13):
Another source of information on the use of firearms for self-defense is the National Self-Defense Survey conducted by criminology professor Gary Kleck of Florida State University in the spring of 1993. Citing responses from 4,978 households, Dr. Kleck estimated that handguns had been used 2.1 million times per year for self-defense, and that all types of guns had been used approximately 2.5 million times a year for that purpose during the 1988-1993 period.
This would suggest that while handguns are used in 89% of murders that are committed with guns, they are also used in 84% of cases of self defense. (As with the use of guns in crime, in the majority of cases of self defense, the gun is never fired, it is only drawn as a threat.)

Military rifles do seem to hold an attraction to some people bent on mass kills, as shown by the use of AR-15 rifles by the killers at Aurora, CO and Newton, CT. However, these cases are incredibly rare, only a handful over the last decade, as compared to the millions of military style rifles owned and used by completely law abiding citizens. Nor are military style rifles in any way required to perpetrate horrific mass killings as examples such as the Virginia Tech shooting demonstrate. Although gun control advocates tend to emphasize that "assault weapons" are designed to be fired "as fast as possible", the fact of the matter is that the civilian rifles which are termed "assault rifles" do not fire any faster than more traditional designs of semi-automatic rifles, or than pistols and revolvers. Virtually all handguns manufactured in the last 100 years, and a significant percentage of the rifles manufactured in the last 50, can be fired as fast as the trigger can be pulled. The attraction of military style rifles for mass killers is not that they offer some technological edge in killing that other guns do not possess, it is that their appearance ties in with their deluded images of themselves, allowing them to think of themselves as looking more deadly. In this sense, the selection of a gun with a military appearance is much the same as the selection of "tactical gear" which often serves little practical function for the crime planned, but which allows the killer to imagine himself to be military and dangerous in appearance.

Did the 1994 AWB Reduce Crime?
Murder rates and violent crimes rate did fall significantly from roughly 1994 (the year when the AWB was enacted) through 2000 and have remained flat to slightly down since that time. However, rifles (and thus necessarily the subset of military-style rifles) remained a roughly stable (and very small) percentage of guns used in crimes throughout the period. The National Institute of Justice Report showed some evidence that military style rifles were used less in crimes after the 1994 ban (pages 42-45) however it also noted that since rifle manufacturers came out with legal ban-compliant versions of their military style rifles, the actual number of military style rifles sold went up during the ban rather than down (page 35-36). Given this increase in sales of military-style rifle and the fact that the "ban" did not actually remove any of the existing "assault weapons" from circulation, it seems likely that any small change in the rate of their use in crimes would have been coincidental.

Altogether, the NIJ conclusion that the ban had little clear effect on crimes seems pretty likely:
Should it be renewed, the ban’s effects on gun violence are likely to be small at best and perhaps too small for reliable measurement. AWs were rarely used in gun crimes even before the ban. LCMs [large capacity magazines, defined by the AWB as magazines holding more than ten rounds] are involved in a more substantial share of gun crimes, but it is not clear how often the outcomes of gun attacks depend on the ability of offenders to fire more than ten shots (the current magazine capacity limit) without reloading.
Now that eight years have passed since the expiration of the, with sales of "assault weapons" skyrocketing but the number of murders falling, it seems hard to make a case that the expiration of the AWB has had any effect on crime either.

Do military style rifles have legitimate civilian purposes?
The somewhat peculiar rhetorical fall-back which is sometimes executed in the face of this data goes something like this: "Sure, assault weapons may only be used in a small percentage of crimes, but these are guns which have no legitimate civilian purpose, so why not ban them and achieve whatever small reduction in violence that would result?"

This seems like an odd argument in the face of the fact that military style semiautomatic rifles are one of the highest selling types of rifles in the US. With millions of these rifles being owned by US citizens and only a few hundred being used for crimes each year, it seems fairly obvious that there must be legitimate civilian purposes for them. Millions of civilians are choosing to spend $700-$2000 in order to buy these rifles, and very few of them are using the rifles to commit crimes, so whatever they are doing with them would seem to be "legitimate civilian purposes". As I described in more detail in Part 2, these rifles are actually pretty well suited both to target shooting and to home defense.

Are military style rifles exceptionally "high power" rifles?
One of the other claims that I often see in news stories is that military style rifles such as AR-15s are far more "high powered" rifles than normal civilian rifles. Coalition to Stop Gun Violence collects a number of quotes from such stories on their "What Law Enforcement Says About Assault Weapons" page:
"We're literally outgunned. You're talking about the kind of firepower that can go through vehicles, through vests, and that can literally go through a house."
"These are state-of-the-art weapons ... My firearms experts over here tell me body armor that we have would have saved our officers from these weapons here. I mean, in fact, many of them are capable of slicing through a vehicle. This is just how deadly these weapons are."
“[A semiautomatic AK-47 rifle] can lay down a lot of fire in an urban area where there is basically no cover from it. You can conceal yourself from these weapons, but they’ll rip through a car. They’ll rip through a telephone pole. They can rip through just about anything in an urban environment. Everybody understands when they read the morning paper that you have to push as much as you can to get these guns off the street."

It is true that rifle bullets are very powerful and destructive things, often capable of going through walls or piercing the metal body of a car. However, this is the case with all rifle bullets. Indeed, the intermediate size rounds fired by assault rifles are significantly lower power than the rounds typically used by hunters. The 5.56×45mm NATO round fired by the AR-15 packs a force of 1,300 foot-pounds of energy. The 7.62×39mm fired by the AK-47 is slightly more powerful at 1,500 foot-pounds. However, the .308 Winchester, a common hunting cartridge, is far more powerful than either one at 2,600 foot-pounds.  Every common hunting cartridge is more powerful than those used by military assault rifles.  The suggestion that "assault weapons" fire unusually high powered rounds compared to standard rifles is directly contrary to the very purpose of the shift from battle rifles to assault rifles after World War II, which was to move to a lower power (and thus lower recoil) cartridge that would be easier for soldiers to shoot.

What perhaps gives rise to this confusion is that "assault weapon" rounds pack far more force than standard pistol rounds. For instance, the 9mm Luger round (which the ATF reports is the most common caliber of pistols traced by police in connection with crimes -- and which is also the caliber of pistol most often carried by police themselves) carries a force of only 400 foot-pounds, a little less than a third of that of the AR-15's 5.56×45mm NATO.

Is there a legitimate purpose to "high capacity magazines"?
Magazine size is perhaps the number one area in which new gun control legislation is likely to focus. The 1994 AWB banned the manufacture and importation of magazines holding more than ten rounds for any type of gun with a removable magazine. This had the largest effect on semiautomatic pistols. Most pistols made in the last 20 years hold over a dozen rounds in their standard magazine.  (This isn't because the guns are particularly "high capacity", it's just the number that fit in a magazine the same length as the pistol's grip.)  Military style rifles also often came with a larger magazine holding 20-30 rounds.

Gun control proponents point out that there are very few situations in which a civilian would need to have a magazine holding more than ten rounds of ammunition. Hunters usually only get one good shot at an animal. Target shooting is usually done in sets of 5 or 10 shots. Very few self defense situations require firing more than ten shots.

However, at the same time, very few crimes involve the firing of large numbers of shots either. The National Institute of Justice study on the AWB reported that only 3% of instances of gun violence involved the firing of more than ten shots -- though those 3% did account for 5% of gunshot injuries, a slightly disproportionate share.

Gun rights advocates respond with two fairly indisputable points: To the person intent on firing a lot of shots in the commission of a crime, carrying extra loaded magazines is easy and changing magazines is incredibly fast.  With no particular training it takes about a second to drop an empty magazine and put in a new one.  Further, given that there are already, by government estimates, 20-30 million magazines holding more than ten rounds in current circulation, even if the manufacture of more were banned, there are so many already available that the ban would do little other than increase the cost.  An sort of buy-back or confiscation program would be very difficult to enforce simply because of the huge number of magazines in circulation.  As such, it seems very hard to imagine than any ban of the manufacture of new magazines holding more than ten rounds would do anything other than annoy gun owners -- something which at times seems to be considered an end unto itself among gun control advocates.

Summing up: In the face of terrible crimes, there is a strong desire on the part of civil society to "do something". In the coming weeks and months we will see that instinct playing itself out in full force. An attempt to ban or regulate "assault weapons" is likely to be one of the centerpieces of this attempt to do something. However, for all their black and angular aesthetic, "assault weapons" are not different in function than other common rifles. They substitute metal stocks and grips for wood, and they sometimes feature military style features that have little relevance to civilian use (lugs to which a bayonet can be attached, flash suppressors, etc.) but these features do not make them more dangerous. Indeed, the lighter weight cartridges which they share with the military assault rifles which are their technological ancestors are actually significantly less powerful than the standard hunting cartridges fired by most "normal" civilian rifles. The rifles labeled as "assault weapons" are owned by millions of law abiding citizens, and they are very rarely used in crimes. The urge to ban or regulate them is an urge to put appearances over substance.

I don't own an "assault weapon", indeed I've never shot one.
But I would like to own one of these someday if they're still legal:
The M1A, civilian version of the M14, the last US battle rifle.  While
I've come to appreciate the AR-15 a lot more while researching these
posts, I"m a wooden stock and .30 cartridge kind of guy.

Previous posts:
Assault Weapons Part 1: Battle Rifle to Assault Rifle

Assault Weapons Part 2: Assault Rifles vs. "Assault Weapons"

Thursday, January 10, 2013


We've spent all morning here getting our kicks by taking Myers Briggs assessments, and since you need some kicks too, I present you with the links.

But first, let's review the letters:


Parenting by Temperament's temperament sorter.
I found this useful for the girls, though their adult version didn't really work for me. Eleanor and Isabel are both ENTPs, which comes as no particular surprise (though I'm including a Z in Isabel's, for Zany). Julia is ESTJ, which also fits. She has a different personality from the others -- punctual, orderly, self-motivating, and as hard-headed as they come. She makes me think of Claudette Colbert's quote from Palm Beach Story: "You have no idea what a long-legged gal can do without doing anything."

The Jung Typology Test.  (Some may find this assessment more helpful.)
The first assessment gives me ENTJ; the second, ENTP.

ENTJ (this is Darwin's personality type):

"Creating order out of chaos" is one extraverted thinker's way of describing her volition. Extraverted Thinking personality types are determined, logical, critical, they love a challenge, especially one that will allow tangible improvement in productivity, efficiency or profitability. They are direct, finding the quickest, most direct path between what is and what should be.
They excel at implementing ideas and are often on the lookout for good ideas worthy of their attention. They are quick to organize, orchestrate, find resources, coordinate, and follow through to the end of a project. They love a problem, especially one that will make full use of their competencies, their logic and sense of order, justice and fair play.
Many find competition to be stimulating and fun. "These are the rules of the game now let us play." Fairness is sharing and respecting the same set of rules, so may the best one win. And since they readily acknowledge that there will be a winner and a loser, they would simply much rather be the winner. So they hone their strategies on the fine knife of experience and sharpen their skills to meet the next challenge head on.
They love having greater challenges bestowed on them as a result of having successfully met the last, as this attests to their competence and skills. They appear dispassionate because of their impersonal and objective approach, but close observation will reveal deep passion and enthusiasm as well as sensitivity, especially to cherished ones. However they expect others to roll up their sleeves as they do and meet the task in spite of personal hardships or discomfort.
They have little tolerance for personal whims that threaten a smooth running operation. They are direct and honest with most things that displease them and expect others to do the same. Their humanity shows in their sense of fairness and justice as well as their love of humour.
Well, close enough, except that it makes me sound a lot more organized than I am. Judging is described as:

Plan many of the details in advance before moving into action.
Focus on task-related action; complete meaningful segments before moving on.
Work best and avoid stress when able to keep ahead of deadlines.
Naturally use targets, dates and standard routines to manage life.

Nope, way too organized and routine-driven.

Here's what I find on ENTP:

With Extraverted Intuitive personality types, words, ideas and possibilities spew effortlessly from them. Words are their best friends. They dance around ideas, the more, the merrier. Imaginative, spontaneous, original and enthusiastic, they have a knack for seeing other possibilities, other dreams and options. The world is never as it is but as it could be, as if it were but an artists sketch begging for colour. They initiate change and often are prone to trespassing a few known boundaries to take themselves and others where no one has been before. The status quo tends to lack inspiration.
When inspired, they are fearless and tireless. Their energy will know no limits unless red tape takes over. Routine drags them down. Their faith in possibilities and belief in the benefit of change often inspire others to follow. They are challenging, ingenious and innovative. They will give their best to what appears to be an impossible challenge, a place unknown to man or beast.
They use metaphors, stories, images and analogies to make their point.They love theories and often shape their own. They see patterns emerging. Keen improvisers, they are rarely caught off guard, there is always something up their sleeve. The sky is the only limit.
They are sometimes entertainers, artists or otherwise engaged in public demonstrations that allow their ideas to bloom. Their greatest difficulty is not in initiating projects but in choosing among so many possibilities, setting realistic boundaries, establishing priorities and correctly assessing resources.
I dunno. This sounds a bit energetic for me. What makes me lean toward Perceiving is this description:
Comfortable moving into action without a plan; plan on-the-go.
Like to multitask, have variety, mix work and play.
Naturally tolerant of time pressure; work best close to the deadlines.
Instinctively avoid commitments which interfere with flexibility, freedom and variety.
I stand utterly convicted.

Maybe it's that I fall very squarely in the middle of the divide, but having to proclaim oneself an introvert or an extrovert seems to me to be overly confining. I feel like I have tendencies either way, at least judging from the test questions. Yes, I like to recharge by being alone. Yes, I feel comfortable expressing myself in public. I can see why I'm ranked as Extrovert, but I think that Introversion/Extroversion is more of a spectrum than a polarity.

Also, reading the descriptions, I think I've moved more squarely into the Thinking camp as I've gotten older.

Wednesday, January 09, 2013

Skip the MBA

I went to the mat a couple times arguing that going to college is not a bad idea (if you are good at academics and want to go), mostly in response to Bearing's post secondary education series. (Unfortunately, just as we were about to get into it about college with Erin and Mark when they came to visit, we all had to stop and put the kids down, and then we never got back to the topic.) However, I think one has to be a lot more cautious about one's decision to go on to a graduate program, especially in an area that's strictly credentialing such as an MBA. Megan McArgle has a post up that I much agree with making the point that getting an MBA is usually a waste of money if you're not getting it at one of the top schools:
The article is crammed with sad anecdotes. But when you dig into it, I'm not sure how much of this is news. Almost all the discussion is of third-tier regional schools. It was a commonplace when I was applying to business school, way back in 1999, that there wasn't much point in getting an MBA unless you could get into a top-tier school; the degree simply wouldn't repay the investment of time and money. That clearly hasn't changed, but I'm not sure there's much evidence that it's gotten worse, either--except in the sense that more people are getting degrees of questionable value.
For graduates with minimal experience—three years or less—median pay was $53,900 in 2012, down 4.6% from 2007-08, according to an analysis conducted for The Wall Street Journal by Pay fell at 62% of the 186 schools examined.
It's not unusual for starting pay to fall during a weak economy. What this really highlights is what business schools rarely tell you when they're selling you on their school: students with weak experience and lower-tier degrees aren't getting the six figure salaries that people associate with an MBA. Students with more experience do better--but need the credential less. The high-paying employers that people hope to wow with their degrees don't recruit very far down the prestige ladder....

The last two decades have witnessed an aggressive expansion of graduate programs, particularly in areas like business and law. Schools love them because they're cash cows: low cost, high price. But they don't provide good value to their graduates. When young people ask me whether they should get an MBA, I give them the same advice that I got in the late 1990s: unless you can get into a top 10* (or have a very specific job that you know you can get by attending a regional program), then don't. You're too likely to end up with massive debt and no very good prospects for paying it.

Hell, I did go to a top school, and nonetheless, through a series of unfortunate events, faced a long spell of unemployment that ended when I accepted a job that left me personally rewarded, but financially somewhat desperate. And there are many, many more people in that situation whose degrees come from third-tier schools with little in the way of name recognition or alumni networks. That's why I always urge people to think very, very hard before they decide to go to professional school. It was no fun at all paying high five-figure debt on a low five-figure salary. I don't recommend the experience to anyone else.
I have a bit of a prejudice against MBAs since I move in a career niche where many of my peers have them, and so, reactionary that I am (and certainly past any point of being able to go back and get an MBA) I tend to deprecate MBAs in favor of experience. (That, and there's nothing quite as annoying as a straight-out-of-B-School new hire who is convinced that "how we learned it in business school" is invariably more important to know than how things work in one's individual company.)

However, prejudice aside, this point about only going to business school if one can get into one of the very top ones definitely aligns with my experience. Perhaps the only exception would be if your company is willing to pay for you to get an MBA at a local second or third tier school. If all you're having to lay out for the degree is some time and effort, getting the credential at the company's expense may be worth it to you.