Sunday, December 28, 2008

Recession Obsession

Being a business student, there's a certain criteria one is taught by professors for determining a recession: two or more quarters of declining (or, "contracting") real GDP. As a matter of fact, by that definition, we still haven't technically confirmed the existence of a recession. (That is, we haven't confirmed it by measuring fourth quarter GDP, though third quarter results are declining, and it strains credulity to think this quarter will rebound.)

The media and the public began using the term "recession" long before it was actually applicable, which I tried to correct when possible. (Does anyone remember early 2001 when Democrats accused the newly-inaugurated President Bush of "talking down the economy" by using the word "recession" before it had been adequately measured and established?)

I generally try to sun on the rainy parades of alarmists, especially when they want it to rain (Such as trying to explain to alarmists that the sun will actually not fry us in our own atmospheric gases) and it looks like I have a chance again...and who knows, maybe even a little credibility.

So we're told we crossed the magic line of an actual recession a few miles back. I slept through it, but okay, what the hey. I'm still a student, and not frightfully impacted by a recession, being that I'm not yet working and therefore not in danger of a cut in wages or being laid off.

But people need to just chill about this for a minute. The thing to do is try to look at things from a historical perspective.

Take a look at the data from the National Bureau of Economic Research's page on US economic recessions. If you do that, you'll realize that every decade for the past 100 years has had a recession!

People tend to be chronocentric (acting as if the era they were born in is the only significant one, which, by the way, also leads people to ignorant assumptions of "worst president ever" -- without ever comparing the current president's actions and policies to those of, say, Calvin Coolidge or Herbert Hoover!) and neglect historical context. Granted, there were plenty of things that happened before my day too, but was the stock market crash of 1929 really so long ago? Was World War II so long ago? The oil crisis of the 1970's? Mild recessions in the 80's and 90's? The massive but short-lived shockwaves of September 11?

Each recession has had its causes, and we've come out of each one of them. Almost every US president has fought against one. And by the way, in reality presidents are seldom to blame for them.

So please, people. Calm down.


Further links:
A History of Recessions
Bush’s Legacy May End Up Better Than You Think
National Bureau of Economic Research
US Bureau of Labor and Statistics
US Bureau of Economic Analysis
Gas Price Trends
Wikipedia: List of Recessions

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Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Krav Maga

Okay, so like it or not, I am in many ways "The Gun Guy." I'm fortunate to live in a state where the gun laws are even more relaxed than Texas (we have open carry, as well as legal carry of a firearm in the glove box without needing a license, among other things), but still, there will be times when I do not or cannot carry my weapon with me.

Then what?

I recently asked a Secret Service officer what his preferred method of hand-to-hand combat was. "My gun," he replied dryly. This is the same agent who, when asked if I could carry my weapon with me on the bus as we campaigned for the United States Senator, gave a stern "absolutely not." (I managed to make friends with him as the day progressed. And I didn't bring my gun.)

As a student, a large portion of my time is spent on a college campus, where I can be penalized for carrying defensively. (If I did my job of concealment, they would never know, but I tend to follow the rules while seeking to change them, so I don't carry on campus.) And again, there will be times when I can't utilize a firearm.

Enter, Krav Maga:
Krav Maga is the official self defense system of the Israeli Defense Forces, and has been taught to hundreds of law enforcement agencies and thousands of civilians in the United States.

Krav Maga is a simple, effective self defense system that emphasizes instinctive movements, practical techniques, and realistic training scenarios.

So why Krav Maga? Well, first of all, it's extremely practical. So am I. I had absolutely 100% worthless karate lessons when I was younger, which focused on doing a fight move exactly the same way every single time. The abiding memories from that are freezing cold feet (from doing exercises barefoot on a gym floor in winter) and playing foosball with the other kids during the break.

I checked out a martial arts class or two on campus, and couldn't stand the ceremonial aspects of it all. This whole "high and noble art", "respect your opponent" and "bow to the arena of combat before you leave to go to the bathroom" all had me raising an eyebrow; I wanted to learn how to throw a punch, or land a kick...to emerge the victor if someone had the bad judgment to consider me an easy target. In fact, the motive for checking those classes out in the first place was because weeks before, I'd been walking in downtown Chicago with some friends and family when some deranged nut came up and threw his arm around a female member of our group. It was crude and offensive though not violent, but still, I locked up. I would not have been able to fight effectively if I had to. I hated myself for it afterwards, and decided I needed more than my intimidating size in a fight; I needed to learn a few fighting basics. The Karate class's emphasis on grace, poise and regimented motion turned me off to the whole thing for some time.

A friend in New Zealand recommended Krav Maga to me, and it sounded good, but there was as yet no local outlet for the discipline, and my class schedule didn't help. I finally saw an article in the local paper about an area Krav Maga class opening up, and I went for it. I didn't bring exercise gear but, never the passive spectator, I jumped right in and participated in my regular jeans and everyday shoes.

Who knew jump rope could be so grueling? And these push-ups and sit-ups were taxing me far beyond my normal limits. By the time we were through, I was puffing, sweating...and loving it.

That was in June. I've recently become eligible to test up to level 2.

This stuff is intense, and like I said, extremely practical. Not only do you learn how to punch (kick, knee, elbow, etc.) and utilize the body mechanics to maximize the power and impact, but by virtue of holding the "tombstone" pad while your partner goes through the exercises, you learn what it's like to take a punch or kick. The pad absorbs the worst, but you absorb the impact. And sometimes, it's tooth-jarring.

I've enjoyed plenty of injuries as a result of it. I was limping for more than a week after one grueling workout a few months ago. I've sustained multiple cuts, sprains and abrasions, and usually see a minor bloodletting at least once every two weeks.

As I type, I have an abrasion on my elbow (more of a friction burn, really), a cut on one of my fingers from where the little finger bent over and sliced it, bruises on my forearms from external defense exercises, a rather large bruise on my right leg from where the punching pad didn't quite catch a kick the right way and a scrape on my neck from strangling exercises.

But hey, scars and bruises are badges of honor, and I'm proud to have purchased them with hours of hard work and training. And, in addition to being far more skilled to fight, I've built up endurance and lost about 13 pounds.

But hey, it's bound to happen when you have current and former military/law enforcement as instructors. One is a drill sergeant that trains state police full time. One flies a helicopter for the city police, and one of them is a trooper.

In short, the kind of people you want showing you how to fight.

Krav makes no bones about being brutal. It's not a martial art, and there is no sparring. You can't do clean sparring with this. This is self-defense training. The situation is, you've been attacked, so you respond with enough force to neutralize the threat posed to your life. Since most attackers are men, guess what? That means hitting or kicking a man where it hurts the most. Some may protest that this isn't honorable, but this is a guy who just attacked you and wants to have his way with you. How much honor does he deserve?

I'm a big advocate of being prepared for emergencies -- of saying "never" rather than "never again." That's why I recommend people learn how to defend themselves, both armed and disarmed, and why I commend Krav Maga classes to your attention.

If nothing else, you'll get fit.

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Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Defying Stereotypes

Stereotypes are funny things. People rant on and on about them and how they're prejudicial and shouldn't be formed ... yet they so often harbor their own, and laugh at the exaggerated stereotypes that make up the fodder for late-night comedians.

For example, an overwhelming stereotype right now (it's more of a paradigm) is the idea that President Bush is stupid, and near-universally despised. Joking about him, lampooning his behavior and openly deriding him is pretty typical conversation in politics. Now, this isn't about Bush, that's not where I'm going with this. I'm just noting that, in theory, people eschew stereotypes, but in practice, there are all kinds of stereotypes that are considered acceptable.

Enter me. To a lot of people, I've suddenly become "the gun guy." People I talk to online? "How's the gun thing going?" People I don't see too often on campus? "How's the gun thing going?"

Sure, it's only natural for people to go back to a point of common identification to relate to someone they don't know very well, so I can't pass too much blame. It just gets a little old after a while.

Case in point: I was speaking with a leader of a violence prevention group recently and was explaining some of the "better violence prevention through legalization of concealed carry on campus" efforts. Afterwards, I made a comment about the memorabilia for a noted stage play that decorated the office. The person was surprised, and (perhaps caught off-guard) even mentioned that my interest or knowledge in a theatrical production seemed incongruous with being a "gun guy."

Arg.

I can't complain too much. After all, I played with toy guns as a little boy, watched reruns of western serials on TV all the time, and eventually graduated to my first .22 rifle that my grandfather gave me. I got my first handgun a short week or two after turning 21, and then early this summer I purchased a Glock. I have the concealed carry permit, I've taken an additional class or two, and I've shot competitively (managing to outshoot even a few of the more experienced shooters). I have been researching, documenting and defending armed self-defense for years, I'm a board member for a nationwide gun rights organization, I've personally met (and am now known by) many of the key players from both sides of the debate, and I've enjoyed contact with the foremost pro-gun lobby, the NRA.

There's only so much I can do to mitigate the "gun guy" image. And I suppose the fact that I wear a "cowboy hat" doesn't help.

Still in all, I'm not just about guns. I am not constrained to that topic ... or even politics itself. I engage in politics because it's arguably where human beings can have the most widespread impact for good on the most people. And, because it's fun. But just because someone is avid about something doesn't mean they want to talk about it 24/7. I think a political science professor whose class I recently graduated would probably agree; my car was on the way back to his office, so we usually wound up walking together for a bit, and while politics came up sometimes, mostly the talk centered on good movies.

I even sing now and again in the car.

So, beware stereotyping, especially those "okay" subconscious ones.

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The Slippery Slope

I've written about British politics and culture before (here, here and here) and expressed that there is a lot to like and a lot to dislike about both. That's the disclaimer, since I received some comments from an offended Brit (unpublished due to profanity); there's plenty to like about England.

That being said, here's a picture that a friend of mine posted on Facebook, which came from this blog which got it from this forum:


For those of you that can't see it, the sign reads:
Sale of Knives and Bladed Articles
The Sale of these products is governed by the Offensive Weapon Act 1996 (as amended by the Violent Crime Reduction Act 2006)
It is a criminal offence to sell these products to any person under the age of 18.

I often tend to try to avoid the slippery slope argument simply because it is so overused, and consequently so easy to deny as panic and hype. However, this is a clear picture to me of what happens when the object, rather than the person, is criminalized.

Politicians often suggest that simply criminalizing guns will fix gun violence in America (or anywhere). Naive people at anti-gun organizations like the Brady Campaign continually argue that we have to tighten the rules and make it harder for the criminals to get guns. Somehow, they seem to lack the cognitive ability to recognize that a criminal is not going to take elaborate steps to ensure that his or her weapon of choice was obtained through legal channels!

The government has criminalized numerous types of narcotics and tightly-regulated various other prescription pain killers. Yet police make hundreds of drug arrests and multiple drug busts every day. No matter how hard the government tries, they will never be able to remove drugs from the streets. People will smuggle them, hide them, manufacture them, steal them.

Contrast that with weapons. In the first place, weapons serve valuable functions for the everyday citizen, chiefly for defense, protection, hunting and recreation. (Making a similar argument for drugs is far weaker.)

Second, a weapon in the hands of a law-abiding citizen effectively neutralizes the advantage a criminal has by being armed. (It's a matter of record, guns are used for protection all the time.) Now, I've met Paul Helmke, one of the head honchos for the leading anti-gun organization in America. Even he recognizes that a law-abiding citizen with a gun isn't a problem. He just has a hard time recognizing that a criminal won't care how he or she obtains the weapon of choice. That may be understandable, since the criminal mind is so far removed from how regular citizens think and act. But we can't make the silly mistake of transferring our value system to them, and pass actual laws on the belief that murderers, rapists and kidnappers will stop buying guns if it becomes illegal.

The British government fails to recognize that punishing the offender, rather than the object (and by proxy, the law-abiding citizen!) is a failed form of instituting civil society.

And by the way, I'm not Britain's only critic on the subject. British actor Ray Winstone recently lambasted his government for the same thing, and went so far as to suggest he's ready to leave the country.

"It breaks my heart to think about leaving the country but I hate what's been done to it. Kids on the streets in gangs with knives, all this lawless behaviour and what are we doing? Nothing. ... I wouldn't mind if we actually see something being done with all the money they take off in taxes. But I don't see more police ... what I see is no one on the streets and then a legal system that doesn't support the coppers when things finally get to court. There are criminals getting off every day in this country."

Maybe they should start thinking back to the source of criminal behavior first place. (Hint: It's not in an inanimate hunk of metal.)



**Edit 12/25/08**

For more, check out the NRA's article about the gun laws and resulting crime trends in Great Britain.

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Thursday, December 04, 2008

Lessons From Mumbai: Sheep and Sheepdogs

From the Belfast Telegraph: Mumbai photographer: I wish I'd had a gun, not a camera. Armed police would not fire back
"There were armed policemen hiding all around the station but none of them did anything," he said. "At one point, I ran up to them and told them to use their weapons. I said, 'Shoot them, they're sitting ducks!' but they just didn't shoot back."

...

I told some policemen the gunmen had moved towards the rear of the station but they refused to follow them. What is the point if having policemen with guns if they refuse to use them? I only wish I had a gun rather than a camera."


Hundreds killed by less than a dozen perpetrators. I keep looking for signs that hearken back to the simple yet powerful words uttered by Cate Blanchett as Galadriel in The Lord of the Rings, as the dark lord Sauron had begun spreading his evil rule: "But there were some who resisted..."

This same phrase stuck in my mind (and left a lump in my throat) when I visited the Holocaust Museum in Washington, DC.

Here, when ten cowardly terrorists mowed down innocent civilians, no one could or would shoot back. In fact, reports indicate that defenseless citizens could either throw rocks, run away or play dead. The Daily Mail reports that one man (ironically an actor who had portrayed a bomber on television) was shoved down by a good Samaritan and, lying still while being sprayed by the blood of other victims, was mistaken for dead and survived.

The amount of time required to mobilize effective police response in this case is horrible, especially if you're a hostage or victim. The Wall Street Journal has an amazing account of the shooting in which they note that gun permits are very difficult to obtain in India.

Someone tell me why it's so improbable that terrorists would do this somewhere else? There are multiple venues that will be crowded this Christmas season; if we're serious about anticipating and preventing terror attacks, we have to think like them. Think high victims, high public attention.

This is the kind of thing that armed citizens everywhere in America exist for.

A friend on Free Republic passed along an essay, On Sheep and Sheep Dogs, which I consider worth reproducing in part below:

One Vietnam veteran, an old retired colonel, once said this to me: “Most of the people in our society are sheep. They are kind, gentle, productive creatures who can only hurt one another by accident.” This is true. Remember, the murder rate is six per 100,000 per year, and the aggravated assault rate is four per 1,000 per year. What this means is that the vast majority of Americans are not inclined to hurt one another.

We may well be in the most violent times in history, but violence is still remarkably rare. This is because most citizens are kind, decent people who are not capable of hurting each other, except by accident or under extreme provocation. They are sheep.

...

“Then there are the wolves,” the old war veteran said, “and the wolves feed on the sheep without mercy.” Do you believe there are wolves out there who will feed on the flock without mercy? You better believe it. There are evil men in this world and they are capable of evil deeds. The moment you forget that or pretend it is not so, you become a sheep. There is no safety in denial.

...

We know that the sheep live in denial; that is what makes them sheep. They do not want to believe that there is evil in the world. They can accept the fact that fires can happen, which is why they want fire extinguishers, fire sprinklers, fire alarms and fire exits throughout their kids’ schools. But many of them are outraged at the idea of putting an armed police officer in their kid’s school. Our children are dozens of times more likely to be killed, and thousands of times more likely to be seriously injured, by school violence than by school fires, but the sheep’s only response to the possibility of violence is denial. The idea of someone coming to kill or harm their children is just too hard, so they choose the path of denial.

The sheep generally do not like the sheepdog. He looks a lot like the wolf. He has fangs and the capacity for violence. The difference, though, is that the sheepdog must not, cannot and will not ever harm the sheep. Any sheepdog who intentionally harms the lowliest little lamb will be punished and removed. The world cannot work any other way, at least not in a representative democracy or a republic such as ours.

Still, the sheepdog disturbs the sheep. He is a constant reminder that there are wolves in the land. They would prefer that he didn’t tell them where to go, or give them traffic tickets, or stand at the ready in our airports in camouflage fatigues holding an M-16. The sheep would much rather have the sheepdog cash in his fangs, spray paint himself white, and go, “Baa.”

Until the wolf shows up. Then the entire flock tries desperately to hide behind one lonely sheepdog.

...

Understand that there is nothing morally superior about being a sheepdog; it is just what you choose to be. Also understand that a sheepdog is a funny critter: He is always sniffing around out on the perimeter, checking the breeze, barking at things that go bump in the night, and yearning for a righteous battle. That is, the young sheepdogs yearn for a righteous battle. The old sheepdogs are a little older and wiser, but they move to the sound of the guns when needed right along with the young ones.

Here is how the sheep and the sheepdog think differently. The sheep pretend the wolf will never come, but the sheepdog lives for that day. After the attacks on September 11, 2001, most of the sheep, that is, most citizens in America said, “Thank God I wasn’t on one of those planes.” The sheepdogs, the warriors, said, “Dear God, I wish I could have been on one of those planes. Maybe I could have made a difference.” When you are truly transformed into a warrior and have truly invested yourself into warriorhood, you want to be there. You want to be able to make a difference.

While there is nothing morally superior about the sheepdog, the warrior, he does have one real advantage. Only one. He is able to survive and thrive in an environment that destroys 98 percent of the population.

...

It is denial that turns people into sheep. Sheep are psychologically destroyed by combat because their only defense is denial, which is counterproductive and destructive, resulting in fear, helplessness and horror when the wolf shows up.

Denial kills you twice. It kills you once, at your moment of truth when you are not physically prepared: You didn’t bring your gun; you didn’t train. Your only defense was wishful thinking. Hope is not a strategy. Denial kills you a second time because even if you do physically survive, you are psychologically shattered by fear, helplessness, horror and shame at your moment of truth.

And so the warrior must strive to confront denial in all aspects of his life, and prepare himself for the day when evil comes.

If you are a warrior who is legally authorized to carry a weapon and you step outside without that weapon, then you become a sheep, pretending that the bad man will not come today. No one can be “on” 24/7 for a lifetime. Everyone needs down time. But if you are authorized to carry a weapon, and you walk outside without it, just take a deep breath, and say this to yourself... “Baa.”

This business of being a sheep or a sheepdog is not a yes-no dichotomy. It is not an all-or-nothing, either-or choice. It is a matter of degrees, a continuum. On one end is an abject, head-in-the-grass sheep and on the other end is the ultimate warrior. Few people exist completely on one end or the other. Most of us live somewhere in between. Since 9-11 almost everyone in America took a step up that continuum, away from denial. The sheep took a few steps toward accepting and appreciating their warriors, and the warriors started taking their job more seriously. The degree to which you move up that continuum, away from sheephood and denial, is the degree to which you and your loved ones will survive, physically and psychologically at your moment of truth.

- On Sheep, Wolves and Sheepdogs from the book, On Combat, by Lt. Col. Dave Grossman

Wow.

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Guinness Records Discontinued Shooting Records in 1981 (Including Annie Oakley)

Trick/Quick Draw Shootist Bob Munden used to display his impressive skills with handguns on an old show called American Shooter that aired on Saturday mornings, on TNT if memory serves correctly. (Apparently reconstituted as a different show called Shooting USA on the Outdoor Channel.)

I went to check out his website recently, and found an interesting footnote at the bottom of one of his pages:
"In 1981, the year most shooting records disappeared from the Guinness Book, I called David Boehm of the Sterling Publishing Company and asked why. He told me that there is a committee that approves books to be used in school libraries across the nation. The committee informed Mr. Boehm that it would only approve the Guinness Book for continued use as a reference book in school libraries if gun records were removed. To protect the Guinness Book from a black list, that's what the publishing company felt it had to do. If you look at recent editions of the Guinness Book of World Records, you will notice that most gun records by shooters using real firearms (not gimmicked with things like light-weight aluminum barrels,) are no longer listed, including those set by the famous Annie Oakley, Ed McGivern, Tom Frye and myself. It is a shame that a small group of people on that education committee, people who probably grew up in cities away from the shooting sports millions of Americans and citizens of many other nations appreciate and enjoy, can have the power to effectively erase history."

With the exception of the Olympics, official shooting records are a thing of the past for Guinness. Funny, last time I picked up one of those World Records books, there were all sorts of records that shouldn't be appropriate for children in a library...

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