Thursday, August 28, 2008

STILL Think I'm Crazy For Carrying A Gun in Wal-Mart?

From the Allentown Morning Call: Teen robber shot outside Wal-Mart is charged
A shopper licensed to carry a firearm shot and wounded a 17-year-old boy who allegedly tried to rob him at gunpoint in the parking lot of the Wal-Mart store in East Stroudsburg early this morning.

(More)

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Monday, August 25, 2008

A Comic I Can Identify With

I notice more and more that with few exceptions, I don't actually laugh at the comics in the paper anymore. Granted, I don't often get a newspaper any more, except Sundays, but still.

Opus wins the most points for making me laugh. Garfield seems to be improving in humor content. Since I began attending business school, it somehow seems a switch was turned on, and I've begun appreciating the humor of Dilbert quite a bit.

But while waiting at my bank today, I flipped open the paper and saw a comic that, for once, made me burst out laughing. If you don't get why, read this post.

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Was Superman So Super?

The universe of Superman has always been a mystery to me. I enjoy watching his exploits as much as anyone else (yes, I say watching - I don't read comic books), and I'm sure the problem of how to make an invulnerable superhero vulnerable is always an interesting experience for writers. Inevitably, it comes down multiple, mutually exclusive crises.

But Superman's superpowers baffle even basic levels of intuitive science.

The heat vision or super-cold breath aren't so bad. The former seems to require an internal light/heat source, while the latter must require a hyper-compression/decompression function in his lungs, or some sort of atmospheric coolant/retardant.

His ability to fly is so enviable that you really don't mind it being scientifically anathema. (Although if he's truly weightless, why does he not, in terms relative to the earth, fly off into space the instant he becomes weightless? After all, the planet is hurtling through the galaxy at thousands of miles an hour. Anything truly independent of the earth's gravitational field should be left in the wake.)

"You offend reason, sir. [Beat] I should like very much to offend it with you!" John Darling, 2003 adaptation of Peter Pan

His near-invulnerability raises questions. In the first Superman movie, Jor-El (Marlon Brando) attributes his virtual invulnerability to his dense molecular structure. If that density corresponds to known physical and elemental properties, why then isn't he heavier than the weight of 225 pounds (about average for his height/build) he quoted Lois Lane in the same film? Additionally, flying at his intense speeds, he has to stand up to atmospheric pressure and kinetic friction. (We already know he can stand up to heat from the movies also.)

If a bullet flattens itself up against Superman's eyeball (going even so far as to shape itself around his eyelashes) without even making him blink, as was the case in Superman Returns, then why does Superman even need eyelids? Evidently, his eyes are less sensitive to foreign objects, and therefore impervious to, say, such annoyances as getting an eyelash stuck in your eye or a speck of dust. Why does he even need lachrymal ducts and tears? (At last check, scientists still don't understand why human beings shed tears when they are sad.)

But all Superman fans know his one bane is kryptonite - radioactive pieces of Krypton, or the Kryptonian sun. Superman becomes weak and useless under its effects. Radiation certainly makes people weak and kills cellular growth. Prolonged exposure is deadly. But how can kryptonite alter Superman's molecular density simply upon exposure? Sure, it may radiate and kill his cells, but that wouldn't instantly make him vulnerable, or weak. And he wouldn't be back to normal after its presence was removed, either.

Clark Kent obviously eats, and Superman said in his first interview that he does eat, when he is hungry. This raises the question, why couldn't Superman be poisoned? If his biological systems of consumption and digestion are similar, poisons should be able to exploit those functions in the same way they work on normal human beings.

So, if Superman's skin is so impervious to elements, intrusions and penetration (even of a small-gauge needle, such as the one that bent on his skin in Superman Returns), if his body can withstand the friction of high-speed flight and the pressure of outer space, how could it still be sensitive to things like human touch, heat or debris?

Okay, so I'm dissecting a fantasy world too closely. At this point, if not long before, a true fan would throw arms up and exclaim that it's just fantasy.

My overarching point in all this is, aren't these sensitivities and vulnerabilities what make us human? The same skin that can tear and bleed so easily can also sense tiny objects (ever been tickled by the tip of a human hair, or felt a minuscule insect crawling on you?) including human touch.

Humans who acquired Superman's near-invulnerability would doubtless find it nearly as much a curse as it is a gift.
"There is no safe investment. To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will certainly be wrung and possibly broken. If you want to make sure of keeping it intact, you must give your heart to no one, not even to an animal. Wrap it carefully round with hobbies and little luxuries; avoid all entanglements; lock it up safe in the coffin of your selfishness. But in that casket -- safe, dark, motionless, airless -- it will change. It will not be broken; it will become unbreakable, impenetrable, irredeemable. The alternative to tragedy, or at least to the risk of tragedy, is damnation. The only place outside Heaven where you can be perfectly safe from all the dangers and perturbations of love is Hell." - C.S. Lewis

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The Philosphy of Bumper Stickers: Power to the Peaceful

I spied another "peace at any cost" bumper sticker the other day. And I'll not deny that bumper stickers, right or wrong, are often pithy and creative slogans - I just can't help but pick apart the silly premise or flimsy logic behind it.

This latest was "Power to the Peaceful."

I suppose it depends on how you interpret what it says. I interpret it to be "take power away from the war-mongers and give it to those who want peace." The only problem is that power isn't (shouldn't be) dormant. It is something to be wielded, ideally for good. Unfortunately, in the pursuit of peace, good must often wield that power through acts of confrontation. Giving power to pacifists is like giving money to self-reliant hermits...they can't and won't use it for anything constructive.

Contrast this slogan with the t-shirt I saw at an IDPA competitive shooting match today, a rephrasing of Patrick Henry's famous "liberty or death" quote:

"I'd rather be dead on my feet than alive on my knees."

Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Black Widow

I was taking out some empty flooring boxes to the trash this morning, and found both dumpsters full. So I turned over one of the regular garbage cans and found it full of webbing and a rather large black spider. A closer inspection as the old girl turned her underside to me revealed a bright shiny hourglass...a dead giveaway that it was a black widow one of the few poisonous spiders indigenous to my area. Although the venom is more toxic than some snakes, you don't usually die from the bite, and I'd never seen a live one before. Before taking care of it (you don't leave a poisonous spider free to lay her eggs around your house!), I grabbed my camera and snapped some shots for the arachnophobes out there to enjoy.




Sunday, August 10, 2008

DC, SCCC & C-SPAN

1. Flights are cheaper when you order them in advance. This is one of the first lessons I learned during my recent excursion to Washington DC. Fortunately, I secured a flight to and from DC at a reasonable price, and one night's stay was already taken care of courtesy of the Second Amendment Foundation.

2. It's hard to sleep the night before an exciting trip. That was the second lesson learned, as I lay in bed, awake, tired and unable to sleep. I think I finally eked out about three hours of sleep before awakening at about 4:30am to get to the airport on time.

3. Airports don't need nearly as much time at 5am as they do at 5pm. Despite warnings that you arrive at your airport an hour or two before take-off, I quickly processed through security and my luggage check and was waiting near the boarding tunnel for a good 45 minutes, as they sky slowly brightened behind me.

4. Airports charge you for luggage. Having not been on many flights, I didn't realize this. But once you're there, what're you going to do?

5. Yes, luggage handlers really DO just sling luggage around carelessly. I watched several times as husky bag-loaders tossed, stuffed and threw bags around without any semblance of care or caution at all. I wonder if they were trying to break something?

6. Airplanes are a lot smaller than they look in the movies. I had to squeeze my bulky frame into a window seat above the wing, and had the good fortune of having someone else join my row who was at least as bulky as I was. Oh yay.

7. You can't listen to fitting music on an MP3 player during take-off, to make the surge in speed and lift seem that much cooler. And I had prepared three tracks for the occasion, too.

8. There's nothing like flying. Forget about cool music...watching the ground drop away is a fantastic thing to see. It's a gradual process that happens very quickly, if that makes sense. Everything rapidly shrinks away, until those little ribbons are rivers, those little squares are fields and tiny moving dots are semi-trucks. Pardon me for waxing philosophical for a moment, but somehow, being that high does trivialize the problems down below. It puts things in perspective, and causes one to go "wow, we really are small."

The rest of the flight was relatively short, and soon I was in Charlotte NC's humongous airport. (Five Starbucks seemed a bit much to me.) More waiting, and then I boarded the next flight to DC. It's also a fun experience to look at different concourses, flight numbers and boarding tunnels and see the different destinations - like Miami, Honolulu and Chicago.

I arrived at Reagan airport at about 11am, plenty of good time, with a view of the city on the starboard side as we landed. Having typically only taken car trips, the fact that I was in DC just hours after being in Kentucky was still a bit surreal. Unfortunately, I learned the hotel I was staying at did not send a shuttle. So, I had to take a cab. Which reminds me...

9. DC cab drivers get away with way more than normal drivers would.

I quickly dumped my luggage in the tiny little box that somehow had room for a TV, a bed and a desk (the bathroom was probably the nicest place in the room) and change into my dress clothes. Carrying a printed-out map from the hotel to the National Press Club, I set out on foot. However, 14th street turned and weaved a little, and I wound up taking a false turn down another street. I finally broke down and asked a couple of gentlemen, expecting they would tell me it's right in front of me. But no, I was a bit further than I thought. I finally caught up with SCCC President Mike Guzman and some others hanging around just outside the National Press Club, and was escorted to the lucky 13th floor of the club.

It was a pretty good crowd, we counted over a hundred.

(Video of the event is available on C-SPAN's website here. Make sure you allow the pop-up window.)

I still don't know why they had water in expensive glass bottles that looked like they could potentially contain alcoholic beverages. And they were being consumed in wine glasses. A fine spectacle some of us figured this was making for the C-SPAN cameras!

It was a little strange to meet so many of the people I'd kept in touch with via Facebook and instant messenger, for more than a year, some of them. It wasn't even putting a face with the name, it was putting a human presence with a face and a name already known.

The tentative agenda was as follows:

1:00-1:05 Opening Speech by SCCC Pres Michael Guzman
1:05-2:05 Debate between John Lott and Brady Campaign Pres Paul Helmke
2:05-2:50 Academic Panel David Mustard, Bob Cottrol, Joyce Lee Malcolm
2:50-3:35 State Legislators Who Have Sponsored Legislation
3:35-4:15 Student Panel Discussing Their Experiences
4:15-4:40 Awards Presentation
4:40-4:55 G. Gordon Liddy
4:55-5:00 Closing Statement by SCCC Pres Michael Guzman

John Lott presented his side first, as only John Lott can do. Alas, Paul Helmke seemed to have greater poise at the microphone, and was more dynamic and animated in his communication with the audience. He was also dead-wrong, but, that's what a debate is for.



Lott and Helmke traded arguments about specific incidents of firearms usage, both good and bad, bandying details about the college shooting of 1966, as well as the New Life church shooting in Colorado and the Appalachian Law School shooting which was brought to a halt by students with guns.



When the floor was opened for questions, yours truly was first in line (at about 56:40 if you tune in to the video) to ask if, given that the issue of firearms was one of public policy, whether or not we should dispense with the countless anecdotal evidences available and look at the aggregate numbers to determine which is more common, criminal use of firearms or civilian use.


C-SPAN cameras catching every minute of the conference

By the way, I would like to extend a special thank-you to Nancy Pelosi for shutting down the cameras on the Senate floor, because although she was making an underhanded attempt to censor Republicans on the floor, she created an opportunity for additional exposure via the primary C-SPAN cameras, rather than on C-SPAN 3 as originally scheduled.

Shortly after these two wrapped up, I stepped out of the conference room and engaged in some discussion with Paul Helmke and John Lott, both of whom were locked in an interesting discussion at the time:





When speaking with Paul Helmke, he admitted that he wouldn't have a problem with responsible students like myself carrying a weapon on campus, especially if I had the state-issued credentials.

Speeches by David Mustard, Robert Cottroll and Joyce Lee Malcolm were all enjoyable, although I missed Mr. Mustard's speech due to conversations with Lott & Helmke. Mustard was more academic in addressing his research, Cottroll was more laid-back and intimate in communicating with his audience about the legal background of the right to keep and bear arms and "militia", and Ms. Malcolm traced the evolution of the right to "defence" (as citizens of Great Britain would spell it) to its current, dismal state. (I meant to ask her about the UK's recent upgrade of self-defense laws but did not.)

State legislators Jason Murphey (OK) and Ernest Wooten (LA) briefly addressed the audience, and took questions. I was particularly impressed and pleased with Rep. Wooten's speech. Among the different styles of public speaking (mine tends to be to say a lot in a short amount of time), the other style I admire is that where you say something and wait two or three beats to let it sink in before saying something else and waiting several beats, etc. Rep. Wooten noted that the first people who need educating are the educators, which was very true.



Following these two, renowned attorney Alan Gura, who argued the landmark DC vs. Heller case before the Supreme Court, spoke about the legal right to self-defense, and some of the details surrounding the case. (Photos were scarce because I tried to video most of it.)



I was able to catch up with Mr. Gura outside the room and have an enjoyable chat with him and Rep. Wooten. (I wound up missing most of the student panel and the speeches by Ted Gest and Joe Tartaro.) I also spoke with Professor Cottroll about speaking at my university. I noted John Lott leaving with two boxes of books in his hands, and inquired if he needed any help. Lott accepted, and I was soon to learn that his car was parked in a parking garage a little more than a block away. No good deed...

Upon returning (after some difficulty locating the original entrance to the Press Club!) I crossed paths with radio host G. Gordon Liddy, who was just coming in the door I'd been looking for. I hadn't been sent for him, but it seems I was just in time to intercept him and take him to our floor. (It is fortunate I was there and recognized him!)



Mr. Liddy addressed the audience in closing about his experience with the FBI (none of which necessarily pertained to guns on campus, but was interesting to listen to nonetheless).

C-SPAN lists the conference as lasting 4 hours and 22 minutes. Because of my different activities, it's funny that I wound up missing not a small amount of it, but the experiences there were priceless, and I'm certainly glad for them.

I built two extra days in to my trip for sight-seeing, and I shall discuss those in a future post.

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