Saturday, January 31, 2009

Medieval Catholicism

Thanks to my recent trip to DC to attend the March for Life, I've gotten a crash course in Catholicism -- and I can't say it's all been very positive. Now I'll admit, I haven't had a ton of experience with Catholic services before. I know they're extremely liturgical, and place a lot of significance in symbols and tokens. A friend of mine knowingly informed me that during the march, I would encounter a lot of medieval Catholicism. He pegged it.

I was somewhat surprised to see at least two different portable shrines being carried in a style like the Ark of the Covenant.

As one of their denizens followed along with a megaphone, I picked up a few words to some of the endless (and dare I say somewhat mindless?) liturgies that he repeated ad nauseam during the march. He ended his "hail Mary" the exact same way each time..."blessed are you and blessed is the fruit of thy womb, Jesus." Except, he prolonged the last part of the word each time, pronouncing it "Jeezuuuus". Then from out of the crowd, dozens of marchers mumbled what was apparently the response. (Do you think it could be some sort of code...?) It seems that most of the March is, in fact, comprised of Catholics.

I found this interesting, considering that according to a study by the Barna Research group, half of Catholics are registered Democrat, and voted for Barack Obama in numbers greater than for McCain.

After the March, I had a free day to tour on Friday. (I recommend the Smithsonian Museum of American History, they've revamped their displays.) Saturday, I attended the Students for Life conference at the Catholic University in DC. Here's where it really gets Catholic...they have their own Notre Dame there. Several among my group broke away during the day to go see it and later on I supposed that, already exposed as the non-Catholic maverick that I was (and dang proud of it) I may as well go see it as well.

"Do we have time?" a bus mate asked, wanting to go see it as well. "We'll make time," I retorted. (Why are people always asking questions that no one can actually answer but them?)

So, a short walk from the Pryzbyla Center, we find the Basilica. (Cue Alan Menken's reverent but foreboding theme to "The Hunchback of Notre Dame" here.) Its proper title is the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (de Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm).

And yes, it is impressive. It is certainly an august monument, but I can't help wonder, to what? Christian churches may not be altogether different. They invest truckloads of cash (usually borrowed, or as they like to call it, "building in faith") in state-of-the-art sound systems, carpets, pews and stained glass windows. I don't know where the balance is, but it would seem apparent that the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception (de Gambolputty de von Ausfern- schplenden- schlitter- crasscrenbon- fried- digger- dingle- dangle- dongle- dungle- burstein- von- knacker- thrasher- apple- banger- horowitz- ticolensic- grander- knotty- spelltinkle- grandlich- grumblemeyer- spelterwasser- kurstlich- himbleeisen- bahnwagen- gutenabend- bitte- ein- nürnburger- bratwustle- gerspurten- mitz- weimache- luber- hundsfut- gumberaber- shönedanker- kalbsfleisch- mittler- aucher von Hautkopft of Ulm) crosses the line.

There were splendid and massive frescoes, paintings, displays, statutes and bas-relief carvings. There was a massive pipe organ towards the back. There were numerous vestibules off of the main chamber to give homage to the various and sundry saints and "Our Ladies" of the Catholic history. I nearly broke out into peals of laughter (I managed to channel it into muted chortling) because of the number of different saints and titles that were displayed, reminding me of the silly role-playing games with dozens of characters and +1 abilities.

There were automated cash machines accompanying stands of lit candles.

$4 bucks a pop, bucko. (And none of those automated lighters! You're on your honor!) I'm still not sure how it worked, and I wasn't about to stuff $4 into the machine to find out.

This poor fellow seemed to have been poorly-placed, as there were far fewer candles burning:

(Perhaps if the attending priests took a lesson in merchandising?)

It once again served to remind me that a lot of Catholicism is sadly mechanistic. (I heard one fellow explain that he went to Mass earlier that day, so he wouldn't "have" to go on if the time to worship God was just an obligation to be fulfilled.)

When we first entered, my compatriots (whom I'd instructed to alert me in case I started violating any unwritten rules of etiquette) dipped into the bowls of water near the doors and made the sign of the cross. ("Nyeehh...what's up, doc?") Later when on the bus, one of them flashed a small travel shampoo type bottle: "Holy water, anyone?" Now what do you say to that? "Uh, no thanks, I'm good!" What the heck is holy water, anyway? Water blessed by a priest? Why not just bless the whole globe and be done with it? Or are there spatial limits on a priest's +2 blessing-casting abilities? Can he bless a whole pallet of bottled water? That would make shipping a bit easier...

I couldn't help but be amused by this massive painting of Jesus on one of the ceilings. Apparently the Savior has taken to wearing orange Buddhist robes, signaling "touchdown" and learned to shoot flames out of his halo! (A nifty talent if I do say so myself.)

You may accuse me of being irreverent. Far from it. I am deeply devoted to the Lord Jesus Christ, my savior. But when one sees silly drawings of him, I find no evidence that laughing at them displeases him, especially when I know the true savior. ("And you, sir, are no savior...")

I also couldn't help but think that this massive edifice was a waste. How many starving families could have been fed with the money used to build that place? I mentioned a balance earlier, and it's true that there is one. Sure, you can't refuse to build a house of worship simply because people elsewhere are less fortunate. Christ told us we would always have the poor with us. But again, it occurs to me that wherever the balance is, it doesn't take a fine line to see that this building crossed it.

Having taken my till of photos, and still biting back some laughter, I plunged out the double doors, inadvertently causing a loud bang which was not without some contempt. How fitting.

Catholicism has a lot in common with Christianity, and I don't mean to imply that if one shares the Catholic faith, then one does not have the gospel. Nevertheless, from the Catholics I have talked to, there are serious and sometimes irreconcilable differences.

I looked for, and found, A Biblical Refutation of Roman Catholicism, which touches on many more of the finer criticisms of the denomination than my time or skill allow, but a few thoughts did occur to me here.

First, it bothered me that some of the Catholic prayers and pleas I heard requested for the intercession of sainted figures in the church, such as the "blessed Mother Mary" or Our Lady of Guadalupe or others. This is in direct ignorance, if not violation, of 1 Timothy 2:5, "For there is one God, and one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus." Furthermore, the practice of calling a Catholic priest "father" is in violation of Matthew 23:9, "And do not call anyone on earth 'father,' for you have one Father, and he is in heaven."

I also notice, both through anecdotal and statistical evidence, that Catholics seem far looser with their morals. While there, I observed actions such as swearing and drinking, things not befitting the kingdom of God. According to Barna Research:
Among the 16 moral behaviors examined, Catholics were notably more likely to not say mean things about people behind their back, and were more likely to engage in recycling. However, they were also twice as likely to view pornographic content on the Internet and were more likely to use profanity, to gamble, and to buy lottery tickets.

But after all, why not? If you can just go to confessional the next day, what harm is there in sinning? (Even if Paul makes it clear in Romans that we must never continue to sin in order that God's grace may increase on us.)

There are also conflicting views on authority, tradition, Papal infallibility (Pope Benedict once allowed that persons not believing in Christ may be destined for heaven, which one Catholic explained away as saying he was speaking outside of the church itself, and his word wasn't infallible then) and other matters which, as I said, pose irreconcilable differences. It was a nice group of people to travel with, and the experience in DC was great fun, but I do worry about those who think they are saved but aren't.

Cardboard Constables (Could Someone Explain This To Me?)

From The Telegraph: Police spend £20,000 on cardboard officers
West Midlands police said it had ordered 80 cardboard constables at a cost of just over £10,000. In Derbyshire, £6,650 was spent over the past two years on a "substantial number" of cut-outs.

"The theory is that it creates the impression at first glance of a capable guardian being on site, which hopefully also reduces the perception of fear of crime," said a Derbyshire police spokesman.

A survey using the Freedom of Information Act revealed that 13 forces in England and Wales have used cardboard officers.

Essex police said it spent £760 on eight cut-outs. They have been deployed in petrol stations, to deter drivers from speeding away without paying for their fuel, and also in shops to discourage shoplifting.

The force would not reveal precisely where the cut-outs have been placed because "to release locations is likely to jeopardise the success of the trials".

Can someone explain to me how these corrugated coppers are going to "reduce the perception of fear of crime"? Do they mean fear on the part of the police? If so, isn't it ironic that they're putting fake police on the beat in order to make the bad guys think they're not afraid of them?

Anyone who gives these decoys a second look isn't going to be fooled for very long. It's like leaving a police car in a parking lot. It doesn't take much looking to figure out there's not an actual police officer nearby. And what about those car alarms? Does anyone hear one of them go off and actually think "Oh no, someone is breaking into a car!" In reality, they're used far more often to locate a car in the parking lot than anything else.

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Friday, January 30, 2009

A Study in Spin

From Yahoo News: Q4 GDP down 3.8 percent, biggest drop since 1982
The economy shrank at its fastest pace in nearly 27 years in the fourth quarter, government data showed, sinking deeper into recession as consumers and business cut spending.

The Commerce Department on Friday said gross domestic product, which measures total goods and services output within U.S. borders, plummeted at a 3.8 percent annual rate, the lowest pace since the first quarter of 1982, when output contracted 6.4 percent. GDP fell 0.5 percent in the third quarter. These were the first consecutive declines in GDP since the fourth quarter of 1990 and the first three months of 1991.

I've already tried to point out that recessions aren't worth this much panic, but I find it interesting that these articles focus on the negative, when the exact same story could be presented with more positives emphasized. For example, in situations of recent sluggish growth (this forum offers a snapshot of a 2004 example) where growth was "slower than expected," which is presented as a bad thing.

This report shows that the economy actually shrank at a slower rate than predicted (5.5% forecast versus the 3.8% actual rate) and yet, it's still cast as worst drop in 27 years. Same facts, different spin.

Meanwhile, inflation is at historic lows and according to the Wall Street Journal, wages and benefits are up. Furthermore, the GDP actually still retained a net increase of 1.8%, which means the economy didn't actually shrink at all, it just slowed its growth. This sluggish growth is the worst since...oh. Just eight years ago.

Unemployment seems to be the biggest fear right now. I've had several liberal friends (and certainly heard plenty of media reports) that are very worried about the latest unemployment numbers, but at the same time almost gleeful that their dislike of President Bush is exonerated. (I note with some disdain that they never gave credit to him when unemployment held steady during most of his administration.)

But how well does unemployment function as a gauge of the economy? Well, first of all, unemployment is a lagging indicator, which means that the economy, good or bad, is usually a few months ahead of the unemployment numbers. Second, as noted by economist John Lott, a massive drop in unemployment during the summer of 2008 was due to a change in unemployment insurance benefits, as signed by President Bush. Lott also writes that the stimulus package only extends unemployment benefits until December 2009...after which, politically expedient maneuvering comes into play.

So now we're talking about injecting (redistributing) $800 billion of taxpayer money into the economy under guise of a "stimulus package," ostensibly because the economy is one of the worst in decades. Ironically, Bill Clinton claimed the same thing in 1992 and wanted a $16 billion stimulus package. Republicans refused to back down, and the effort died in the Senate. Seems our economy managed to survive.

The stimulus package is an estimated $800 billion. That's just a $100,000,000,000 more than the $700 billion I wrote about a few months back.

I'd certainly like more hard data to prove once and for all that government stimulus (stimuli?) won't work, but with the plethora of other factors that change every time we have one, I suppose such research will never be conclusive anyway. This article from the Independence Institute did provide some interesting answers to my question about where the money would come from, and it doesn't look positive. This article offers some classic reasons why government bailouts won't work.

The problem is that the actual battle being fought is about perception. I loathe moral relativism, but let's face it, when it comes to the economy, truth doesn't matter, perception does. The perception (fostered by grim media reports and artificial inflation of gas prices) is that this is one of the worst economies ever. (Ahem. Chronocentrism, anyone?) Once people think that, they start to spend less, which causes businesses to sell less, which causes them to buy less, then they lay people off. Then the fun starts to circle the globe. It's not even data-driven, it's merely perception. (Disagree with me? Ask a Wall Street investor how much the market is based on data and how much is on perception.)

Based on this premise, I am going to make a prediction. Since President Obama is immune from any criticism about the economy because anything done takes a while to filter down, after about five or six months, we'll begin to see more positive stories. Come April, the first-quarter summary will probably not be that great, but will still show signs of promise. As spring comes, news about more jobs and economic progress will start to be broadcast. The sun will shine, the birds will chirp and soon this whole recession business will just be another page in history.

How will this prove my point? Why can't I just allow for the fact that maybe President Obama will get something right? How do I know that the recovery will be perception-based and not stimulus-based?

Easy. Because the stimulus package won't be injected into the economy for two years.


Does Recycling Fuel Global Warming?

From The Telegraph: Recycling 'could be adding to global warming'
Peter Jones suggested that an "urgent" review of Labour's policy on recycling was needed to make sure the collection, transportation and processing of recyclable material was not causing a net increase in greenhouse gases.

Mr Jones, a former director of the waste firm Biffa and now an adviser to environment ministers and the London Mayor, Boris Johnson, also dismissed kerbside recycling collections in many areas as "stupid" because they mixed together different materials, rendering them useless for recycling.

He suggested that much of the country's waste should simply be burnt to generate electricity.

"It might be that the global warming impact of putting material through an incinerator five miles down the road is actually less than recycling it 3,000 miles away," he said.

Like the failed acid rain solution, I can't help but be amused at the bitter irony of these good-hearted citizens, spurred to action by environmental alarmists, try to do their part to save the world for future generations, and are then told they're only making things even worse.


Monday, January 19, 2009

Oh...It's Humorous Alright

Sometimes it's actually fun to read through End User License Agreements or guidelines for internet forums. Here's the legal notice from one forum I recently joined:
You agree, through your use of this forum, that you will not post any material which is false, defamatory, inaccurate, abusive, vulgar, hateful, harassing, obscene, profane, sexually oriented, threatening, invasive of a person's privacy, or otherwise in violation of ANY law. This is not only humorous, but legal actions can be taken against you
If you correctly interpreted and rephrased that last sentence I emphasized, it would say "In addition to being humorous, legal action can be taken against you."

Some people don't pay any more attention to writing those things than you do reading them.

Ha ha.


Saturday, January 17, 2009

Concealed Carry II: Continuing Education

I took a fantastic "Concealed Carry II" course recently, taught by a a 20 years+ veteran, deputy sheriff, firearms instructor, and weapons expert. He's also a fantastic communicator.

The course he taught was four hours of classroom instruction, four hours on the range. I initially thought I might be bored for the classroom time (having been in a variety of classrooms before), but the experience went by quickly and informatively. I picked up a lot of great points to use both in personal carry and to help explain further to people why I support concealed carry. Eventually, I had to borrow a pen from someone and begin writing down the multiple points on a sheet for later.

Here are a few that I've transcribed:

- You can't miss fast enough to win.

- People who call 911 when there is a shooter are calling for a trained person with a gun. (Recognizing this helps remove that over-exaggerated barrier between the police and armed citizens that people have.)

- Only around 30 people die by snake bites annually, yet no one thinks you strange to take a snake bite kit into the woods with you. Likewise, the odds of getting hit by lightning are extremely low, but a lot of businesses have them. Why is carrying a firearm for protection different, especially given how many more shootings occur than snakebites?

- Police can only shoot someone for the same reasons an armed citizen can; in self-defense, or defense of others. (Mind you, they can brandish their weapons sooner without legal repercussions, but when it comes to shooting, the rules are the same.)

- Owning a piano doesn't make you a pianist; owning a gun doesn't make you a murderer. (BUT, it also doesn't make you an effective armed citizen.)

- CRIMINALS ARE NOT LIKE US. People often make the mistake of transference - assuming someone's feelings about murder, rape, not causing pain, etc. are similar. Consequently, this is why you hear things like "I can't believe they did that" or "I couldn't believe what I was seeing." This causes a paralysis of sorts, and leads to behavior that would be rational between two similar human beings, but is irrational when one human being has no regard for life.

- The best way to win a gunfight is never to get into one.

- An armed citizen will almost certainly NOT be tried by a "jury of your peers" if and when a defensive shooting comes down to court. You have a concealed carry permit (presumably) and were carrying and used your weapon in self-defense. Less than 3% of my state is licensed to carry. Not all of them carry. Most of the jury members do not understand the concealed carry mindset, and the lawyers who selected the jurors didn't do their job right if they let someone with a CCDWL through. You will be an oddball and a freak to them. That's something to remember.

- If you use your firearm for self-defense and are not found guilty of a crime, you can still be sued by the victim or the victim's family. The standard of proof for a lawsuit (preponderance of the evidence) is more lenient than a crime (beyond a reasonable doubt) so be careful.

- Compared to all of the ambiguous shooting scenarios that citizens may face with in the daily routine, a multiple victim public shooting scenario at college is one of the most clear-cut situations in terms of situation awareness and target acquisition.

- In a gunfight, you have nothing to gain and everything to lose. A victory means you walk away with what you already had, your life.

- Hope is not a method.

- BE CAREFUL when dealing with the police. If you are suspected of a crime, police will not be your best friend. 90% of the people they deal with are crooks and crackheads. Comply with them and tell them the truth, but you'll be asked for your story several times, so if you're not sure of the details, SAY SO. The instructor mentioned that everything goes weird when you're pumped with adrenaline and fighting for your life. People were asked how many shots they fired in a shootout, and they answered "four or five" and evidence showed they emptied their 12-15 round magazine.

- Don't use bad language when talking about the perp. Even if the cop is your friend, s/he can be subpoenaed and testify that, for example, yes the shooter did call the deceased an uncouth name, and that won't help.

- Comply with the police officer, but avoid getting into detail as much as possible until you can talk with an attorney. Tell them "Officer, I want to and will comply with you 100%, but in the presence of an attorney." This should put an end to the questioning because by law, you have the right to remain silent and consult with an attorney, without inference of guilt. If an officer should not try to press you to forfeit that right.

- If/when you need to call 911, it WILL be taped, so be careful what you say. Do not lie. The instructor advised saying the following: "I was attacked, I feared for my life, I fired in self-defense." (And probably "send police and an ambulance.") Each component listed meets a requirement police and attorneys will be looking for.

And finally:

- There is a lawyer attached to every bullet you fire.

Those are just some of the bites of wisdom I gleaned from his lecture. It was very enlightening, and if there are concealed carry II classes available in your area, I highly recommend them. Additional training is always a good thing.

And by the way, I understand that bragging rights are important among competitive gun owners, so I should note that there was a live fire test at the end (three rounds of drawing from concealment and firing two shots, three rounds of firing two shots one-handed and three rounds of firing two shots with simulated malfunction/clip replacement).

I passed with the highest marks.


Corruption Is Non-Partisan

Captain Renault: "I am shocked, shocked to learn that gambling is going on in this place!"

Croupier: "Your winnings, sir?"

Captain Renault: "Oh, thank you, thank you very much."

- Casablanca, 1942

Ah, corruption. The bane of a politician, and the grist of the newspapers that cover them. It goes hand-in-glove with politics, and while it goes on all the time, people continue to be surprised (or at least act like it) when it surfaces. It can break a politician's career, and make a journalist's career all in the same article. Or, it can simply further the careers of both, as in the case of Bill Clinton and Matt Drudge.

Let's talk about it as a campaign strategy for a moment. Accusing a candidate or standing official of corruption may be a good short-term strategy for removing them from office (or at least depleting their political capital) but I am very weary of people who suggest that "Democrats/Republicans are the party of corruption". Don't be stupid; they're all corrupt.

The latest scandal to hit the fan is Illinois Governor Blagojevich, blatantly and literally trying to sell the senate seat recently vacated by President-Election Obama, to the highest bidder. Obviously, this is one of the more shameless examples, but it's nothing new. My former Republican governor, Ernie Fletcher of Kentucky, was plagued for years by scandals of patronage and favoritism with jobs and positions. (I worked on a few of his campaigns, and had other exposure to the extent of his corruption.)

Congressman Ted Stevens, a Republican from Alaska, has been indicted for corruption, bribery, failure to report gifts, etc. On the other end, Congressman William Jefferson, a Democrat from Louisiana, has been indicted for accepting bribes. Comically, the "frozen assets" were discovered inside boxes of food in his freezer after Hurricane Katrina.

People even think the bizarre arrest of Republican Larry Craig for offering suggestive signals towards an undercover investigator in a bathroom was unique. Guess what? It happened before. Walter Jenkins, an aide to President Johnson in the 60's, was arrested for very similar behavior at a YMCA in downtown DC. (Johnson still won, but Jenkins had to resign.)

If you have the twisted appetite for more of these stories, Wikipedia has a fairly long list to browse.

I've worked on a good many campaigns, and I can safely say that no matter who the candidate is, their workers are classless. I've seen workers insult their own candidate, drink on the beat, mock voters, slur opponents, and discuss underhanded strategies such as stealing signs.

Frankly, it's disgusting.

Now don't start telling me that a candidate is not responsible for their workers. It's true to a certain extent. But were I to become a candidate, some ground rules would very quickly and firmly be set in place to head off misconduct, whether in public or private.

Something needs to be done...the extent of political malfeasance does little to encourage voters exercising the freedom that others died to give them.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Self-Defense Happens

If there's anything the gun defense blog has proved, it's that the self-defense that is continually advocated, defended and statistically proven actually happens.

Texas reported a rise in justifiable homicides in 2008, which reflects the national numbers which show that justifiable homicides are at their highest in more than a decade.

Homicide is never a good thing, but if it comes down to "convicted felon" versus "innocent homeowner", call me crazy, but I'm rooting for the homeowner.

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Thursday, January 15, 2009

Debating Tip #2: Learn From History

"What has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun. Is there anything of which one can say, "Look! This is something new"? It was here already, long ago; it was here before our time. There is no remembrance of men of old, and even those who are yet to come will not be remembered by those who follow." - Ecclesiastes 1:9-11
It's a classic cliche; "Those who don't study history are doomed to repeat it." I recently saw an advertisement for the inauguration of President-Elect Obama, with the slogan "history only happens once" splashed across his face. Technically, that's true, but anyone who studies history knows that there's seldom anything new in politics. It's all just rebranded and repackaged.

"Your problem is that you are economists and lawyers and you assume people are rational. I'm a historian and I know they're not!" - Bob Cottrell

This dovetails nicely with the recent point I made about recessions, and the importance of historical context there.

Let's take another example though. Hurricane Katrina, and/or Hurricane Ike. As these storms approached and wreaked havoc in several countries before smacking Galveston, Texas (and during the aftermath) people were using these hurricanes to say that the weather was getting stronger than ever, and that the climate was changing because nothing like this had ever been seen before. In other words, being chronocentric. Records only go back so far anyway, but as the NYPost noted at the time, Galveston was ambushed with a similar storm more than a hundred years before.

Similar arguments can be (and are) made about global warming now. The ice is melting sooner than it ever has, the weather is getting warmer than it ever has, and so forth. Yet plenty of hard science indicates that we have seen far more extreme weather patterns in the past. (As old-earth scientists will say, the distant past.)

So if you're in a debate (either formally or informally) and someone extends some form of chronocentric hyperbole ("worst president ever" is a good recent example, but also alarmists of any type), it's good idea to back up and calmly put things in perspective.

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The Randomness of Media Coverage

From the South Bend Tribune: National media seek out South Bend woman
Sandra Hochstedler, the 70-year-old woman who held an intruder at gunpoint earlier this week, is out of the hospital and making the media rounds.

On Sunday evening, as Hochstedler was hauling firewood from her garage into her home, a man reportedly came running at her from the street and chased her inside.

She grabbed her gun and dialed 911, she said, and after the man burst through her living room window she held him at gunpoint until police arrived, threatening to shoot him dead if he moved.

The story was immediately picked up by local media outlets, and soon, the national media came calling as well.

Besides Inside Edition, Hochstedler said she has been contacted by ABC News, Good Morning America, and the Fox News morning show Fox and Friends.

Although flattered, Hochstedler said she is still a bit baffled by all of the attention.

"It takes my breath away," she said her newfound celebrity, "because I'm like, 'What? How did it get national attention? What is the big deal about? Doesn't everyone try to protect their home?"
To answer Ms. Hochstedler's question, yes of course people protect their homes. All the time. But the media needs a man-bites-skunk story -- and that only if there's video involved.

A senior citizen who shoots a crook is a great angle. But one wonders how the media missed the 87-year-old who defended herself with a gun in Arkansas, the 61-year-old who defended himself with a gun in Arizona, or the 93-year-old who defended himself with a gun in Ohio, or the 80-year-old who defended himself and his family with a gun in Texas.

One wonders, why is the coverage so arbitrary?

Pro-defense people I speak with often lament that the national media seldom covers these sorts of incidents, and that perhaps, if they would, people would see a brighter side to firearms. (See John Lott's book The Bias Against Guns: Why Almost Everything You've Heard About Gun Control Is Wrong.)

I don't have an easy solution besides the obvious; that the media is largely biased towards one political persuasion, and therefore has no qualms against disguising the evidence and reporting only what they consider to be news. I consider it an injustice that one citizen's actions are treated as an exception, when it is actually very much the rule.

Kudos to you, Ms. Hochstedler. Be assured, no matter how unusual the media considers you, that you are backed by a family of thousands.

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The Doctor Forever

"Everyone knows that everyone dies. And nobody knows it like the doctor. But I do think that all the skies in all the worlds might just turn dark, if he ever accepts it."

Every so often, there's something so sensational and, that I can't help but take a second to rant about it. Today, it's Doctor Who.

No other show I have seen, no other fictional character I have ever known has been such a cacophonous montage of impact. Doctor Who, (actually, he's only known as "The Doctor") can make your mind bend, your spirit soar and your heart break all in the same episode - sometimes in the same instant.

You'll have to pardon me, I am fresh off the "Silence in the Library" / "Forest of the Dead" two-parter from Series 4, but these two confusing, pulsing, freakishly frightening, ingenious episodes inspired me to try to transcribe why I love the show so much to begin with. Unfortunately, the episodes I just watched leave me grasping for words; raving about how great it was, but woefully incapable of explaining why. I suppose anything truly worthwhile does that to you.

Moreso recently, I've been turning on the TV (and, thanks to this past Christmas, the DVDs) and turn 40 minutes over to the Doctor. What ends up happening is I wind up feeling exactly like the Doctor's companions...wanting to shout "I hate you, d'ya know that?!" at the same time I'm marveling at the brilliance and cleverness.

In reality, my feelings are towards the writers and various multitudes responsible for bringing the Doctor to the small screen. I want to attack them and applaud them all at once for compiling happiness and heartbreak, love and confusion and hope and fear into one delicious jumble of a plot, keeping you on the edge of your seat right up to the end. I'm often left wondering mid-episode how on earth they can finish an episode when they only have 15 minutes left, much less have it make sense, and unless they go for the torturous two-parter, it always does.

The next thing I'm often left wondering is..."how could you do that to us??" Perhaps it takes extreme suspension of disbelief to enter the world of Doctor Who so completely that you're left with a heartbreaking bitter sweetness at the end of so many episodes. The majority of episodes I've seen so far leave you as sad as a teardrop, but, as my sister aptly summarized, it's not the kind of sadness that makes you wish you hadn't participated. You know how some things, extremely rare things, are beautiful enough to make you cry? I think it stands to reason that the flip side is something that is so sad it is beautiful. I further posit that while these two concepts exist independently of each other, they are most often found together, and perhaps most often in drama. Lord of the Rings exemplifies this sort of sentiment also; there are moments of pain and sadness so exquisite and rare, even if in drama, that you would not have missed it for the world, because it is beautiful despite hurting.

More importantly, it takes you beyond. Beyond yourself, beyond your conceptions of drama, life, the universe, everything. That's what Doctor Who lends itself to.

The Doctor inspires me. I know, he's fictional, he's a role played by an actor. (Actually several.) I'm still not sure how to reconcile that, but he does. He inspires the already-existent desire to be the nightmare of evil, the one guy that stands firm when everyone else won't.
"The Doctor showed me a better way of living your life. That you don't just give up. You don't just let things happen. You make a stand. You say no. You have the guts to do what's right when everyone else just runs away." - Rose Tyler

Thanks to Doctor Who, I know why most living beasts rightfully fear the dark, who it really is when you see movement in the mirror out of the corner of your eye and what really happens to statues when you're not looking. And there's now no doubt in my mind about who is superior in the Star Trek vs. Doctor Who debate.

Take a second some time and see for yourself, won't you?
"Some days are special. Some days are so, so blessed. Some days, nobody dies at all. Now and then, every once in a very long while, every day in a million days, when the wind stands fair and the Doctor comes to call...everybody lives."

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Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Irish Armed Citizens

From the Kilkenny People: Burglar greeted with pensioner's shotgun
AN attempted robbery at a house on Broguemakers' Hill, Kilkenny City at 4.30am on Christmas morning was foiled by the sprightly 68-year-old home owner. The quick-thinking resident awoke to the sound of a ladder being placed against the back wall of his home.
Slipping out of bed, he grabbed his legally-held shotgun and tip-toed downstairs in his bare feet, dressed only in a pyjamas. He silently opened the back door and found the burglar wearing a balaclava standing on the ladder.

Using rough language in an attempt to impress the intruder, the old-age pensioner pointed the gun and told the intruder to get down and f... off or he would have his head blown off.

The burglar, whose speech was slurred due to drink or drugs, held his hands in front of him and said “take it easy with that gun, I’m only looking for a few dollars”.

He was put off the property at gunpoint and the gardai were contacted.

Yeah. Looks like they got 'em in Ireland too.


Homeschooling On The Rise

From USA Today: Home schooling grows
The ranks of America's home-schooled children have continued a steady climb over the past five years, and new research suggests broader reasons for the appeal.

The number of home-schooled kids hit 1.5 million in 2007, up 74% from when the Department of Education's National Center for Education Statistics started keeping track in 1999, and up 36% since 2003. The percentage of the school-age population that was home-schooled increased from 2.2% in 2003 to 2.9% in 2007. "There's no reason to believe it would not keep going up," says Gail Mulligan, a statistician at the center.

I just recently found a couple of websites that provide some interesting quotes about education:

35 Thought Provoking Education Quotes

Quotes About Unschooling

To some extent, as I pursue my degree(s) in higher education, I can't help but be amazed at all the stupidity to be found among its halls. While the diverse classes do give me a well-rounded background, there is a massive majority of material I learned simply to fulfill the college's requirements, and which I will never, ever need. The stress of midterm and final exams is an artificial construct of unworldly proportions; college is supposed to prepare you for the real world, but there are few places in the real world where four months of lectures coalesce and culminate in one written performance, on which so much of your grade depends.

And I'm opting for another three years of graduate school!

Part of me longs for the days of apprenticeship, where you actually learned the trade hands-on from someone who already knew it.