Thursday, May 31, 2012

When Is Self-Defense Not Self-Defense?

When the prosecutor and judge say that it is not.  Read it here in the Philidelphia Daily News article by Mensah Dean.

In this case, a 57-year-old, retired Marine with a heart and vascular condition was chased down in the street by a group of three thugs, one of whom pinned him to the ground.  The victim, Jonathan Lowe, fought back with a folding knife and managed to stab his attacker, 51-year-old Loren Manning, Jr., severely enough that Manning died.

Lowe was convicted of voluntary manslaughter.  Manning had two stab wounds in his back, though likely it was the wound in his neck that proved fatal.  I can't possibly imagine how while being attacked with a metal pole, knocked to the ground, and choked, in a life-and-death struggle on the street, Lowe could possibly have been so vicious as to stab the poor thug in the back.  (In case you are wondering, that is meant as sarcasm.)  Both the judge and the prosecutor are little better than criminals themselves.

Manning had 18 criminal convictions and was awaiting trial in a case where he "allegedly" beat and robbed a woman a couple of years ago.  But I'm sure Manning was "turning his life around". 

There are prosecutors who would have the good sense to never charge someone in Lowe's position.  There are judges with enough sense to have thrown the case out if it were brought.  Unfortunately even in the most justifiable cases, a person cannot count on good sense within the legal system.

I tend to think that Lowe would have done better in front of a jury.  I perfectly understand that once the attack was stopped, Lowe was still heated.  However, his behavior worked against him in the wussified, sheltered understanding of the judge who was probably never in so much a schoolyard shoving match, let alone a fight for his life.

When you are on the ground, it is neither the time nor the place for restraint or mercy.  That was true in this case as well as in the Martin-Zimmerman case.  Once the attack stops, though, aggression must stop, immediately.  I have my doubts about it making any difference in this particular case as the judge and prosecutor seem to have already made up their minds to find Lowe guilty of something.  We can't have the people of Philadelphia killing off the judicial system's best customers, after all.

We can hope this travesty will be overturned on appeal.  Think it through and learn.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Price of Skill

We have talked about this a little before, but here is an interesting Lifehacker link on the subject.

I may have told this story before, but it bears repeating.  I learned to skip rope as an over-40 adult.  I was working a contract job and living temporarily in a little apartment in a large city.  There was no good place to run nearby, and there was not much in the way of sidewalks.  Traffic was too heavy to run in the streets as I had often done in my old suburban neighborhood.  One day after work, I stopped in the local K-Mart to look at exercise equipment.  I thought about a stationary bike but didn't want to invest that much for a six-month stint.  My eyes fell upon a cheap jump rope, and, since I had a ground floor apartment where I wouldn't disturb any neighbors, I thought I would give it a try.  It looked for a time like I had made a mistake.  I simply could not get more than one or two rotations without tangling up.  But I kept at it and became decent enough to later fascinate my granddaughter with my footwork. 

While that's a trivial accomplishment, the principle is the same no matter the knowledge, skill, or expertise one is trying to acquire.  As one of the comments on the link points out, you are not wasting time and material in learning, you are investing, and if you are afraid to invest the necessary resources, it is difficult if not impossible to advance.  Shooting, for example, is best learned while "wasting" ammunition.   You don't have to use the expensive ammo for practice but be profligate with the cheaper stuff.

On a side note, with regard to jumping rope, over the years, I have noticed that my ability to catch thrown or falling objects "instinctively" has improved.  I attribute that to the coordination required for jumping rope, and it is also a very good -- though high-impact, aerobic workout.

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

What I Did on Decoration Day

The drive to the cemetery where I expect to be buried is not far, about forty miles or so.  Only a few miles further on is where my grandparents were buried.  My great-grandfather lies there as well.  His grave is traditionally not decorated.  He was abusive, mistreated his wife and children, and would not allow my grandfather to go to school or even learn on his own to read or write so much as his name.  By the time Grandpa was out on his own, he had learned to "cipher" and to cope with life quite well despite being so handicapped. 

I visited both graveyards placing flowers and walking by the stones of those I knew.  One of my grandmother's Tennessee kin lies near her grave, his narrow, white stone noting his status as a Confederate soldier.  I smile to think of his remains resting among all those Republicans.  I am sure he no longer minds. 

Down the slope from where my parents and my brother-in-law repose, looking east across the creek, toward the coming Christ and home, there is a the stone that marks where we buried Uncle Joe.  I knew a man who fought beside Teddy Roosevelt in Cuba, lobbed shells into German positions in France, and fought fires in Seattle.  My wife and my sister remained by the graves up the slope as I carried a flag and a tiny spray of flowers down to Uncle Joe.  I was happy to have a few minutes alone there to see again his white head and big, gentle hands, to think of him handing me a bundle of pennies bound in a blue handkerchief like pirate's loot or sitting on a pond bank with a straw hat and a cane pole.  His grave was not bare because my sister had been there earlier.  When we are gone I do not know who will remember him, except the Lord.  Perhaps I will find some likely youth and tell him of Joe's consternation about being rejected for service in World War II and of the time he ran trot-lines at the Hurricane Hole in a thunderstorm with lightning striking all around and him standing in the boat as calm and content as a man in church listening to the children's choir. 

The other graveyard I visit is farther away.  It takes two hours go get there from my house.  I was tired.  I did not want to go, but there remains only one elderly family member in the area, and she slides ever farther into dementia and forgetfulness.  So I drove, and I thanked God for the Boy Scouts when I arrived.  The Scouts had found every veteran in the cemetery and placed a flag there.  We had four stones and six graves to decorate.  Three held the remains of a veteran, and their lonely flags waved proudly at us in the strong winds that blow across the hilltop.  We struggled in that wind to secure our bright reminders.  I was almost ready to go.  We had used up all the flowers we brought along before seeking the last grave, that of my friend, Bud, who put his life on the line for his country for twenty years.  I meant to add only another flag for Bud, assuming that his step-daughter and granddaughter would be have placed flowers.   He had certainly been a father to his wife's child, and he had practically raised the granddaughter. 

The ground was empty save for the Scout flag.  His small stone had been knocked off center of its base.  His death date, inscribed on the military marker at the grave's foot, was still missing from his headstone after four years.  I found some fragments of flowers we had in our box and bound them to my flag with a zip-tie.  It wasn't much, but it was better than nothing.  I knelt, straightened the stone and forced my little bundle into the hard ground so the meager covering might outlast the gale.  We will call this week to make sure his headstone is properly engraved and set.  

Until I lie alongside my people facing the rising sun, I will make that trip or see that it is made, and I will be better prepared next time.  Someone will be told about Uncle Joe and "Uncle" Bud and the Confederate and why we do not decorate Bill's grave.  If I am forgotten, it is a small thing, but these must be remembered.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

CRKT Folts Minimalist Review

No, I don't work for CRKT, and I certainly don't get their knives free.  Although if any CRKT personnel happen by, I would certainly be willing to volunteer to run tests and post reviews for them.  For now, I just have a weakness for some of their designs, and I have found them to be good carry tools.

When they say "Minimalist" they are not kidding. 

The blade comes in multiple configurations, including a clip-point called a "Bowie" which is really stretching the term.  I chose this one because I was looking for a utility knife rather than a defensive blade.  In a desperate situation it would function as a slashing edge.

Despite its miniscule dimensions, the knife is quite comfortable to use in food cleaning and preparation.  I have used it to clean and cut up radishes, onions, and strawberries from our garden.  It would certainly skin a squirrel and dress quail, doves, or panfish, though filets are obviously beyond it  Mostly, though, it is a good backup that can be conveniently kept on one's person at all times.

There are three ways that I carry the Minimalist.  First, of course, is with the cord looped over my head.  This is a nice, handy carry when cleaning vegetables, cutting string to tie up tomatoes and similar applications.  I'll be staying in a hotel for a few days in the near future, and the Folts will be worn as a neck knife most of the time, including in bed.  I will be careful not to annoy my wife in certain situations.

The knife also comes with a belt clip that can be attached to the sheath with a couple of Allen screws.  The arrangement can be varied depending on the user's handedness and gear setup.  So you could hang it upside down off a Molle strap or whatever.  On a belt out in the field, the Minimalist just disappears.  It is a good choice for reducing weight and bulk when backpacking, hiking, hunting or working outside.

The third options is to simply drop the sheathed Minimalist into a front pants pocket or a pocket on cargo pants.  Even in dress pants, especially without the neck cord, the Folts carries discreetly. 

I have no complaints about the blade steel, and I really like the flat grind.  The Micarta grip is attractive and well-designed.  I am surprised at how much pressure I can get on the blade which has a relative thick and heavily grooved spine. By the way, the little lanyard is good for more than decoration or pulling the knife out of your pocket.  I drop it between my pinkie and ring finger to make my grip on the knife more secure.

I have had the Minimalist for a while now.  It is relatively easy to sharpen, maintains the edge well, and functions as designed.  I think I paid around $20 for it, and I would say that it was a worthy investment.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Richard Land Backs Down

Richard Land is a leader in the Southern Baptist Convention and hosts a talk show on a number of radio stations around the country -- mostly Christian venues such as the Bott network.  Apparently, he spoke out on the Zimmerman-Martin case.  I'm not sure exactly all that he said, but the SBC has become too politically correct to allow it to stand.  The Convention came down on Land and forced him to issue an apology to the Martin family and to President Obama.

Well, as we say down home, If you can't dance, ... I probably shouldn't complete that sentence on a family blog.

Young black men are "profiled" in this country because they commit crimes at a rate far in excess of their representation in the population.  Not all young black men are criminals, but an amazingly high percentage of males of African descent will be found guilt of felonies.  This is reality. 

President Obama is the one who should apologize to the family of George Zimmerman -- not to mention the American people --  for sticking his and Eric Holder's racist nose into a local issue in the first place with his disingenuous, politically-motivated, "If I had a son, he would look like Trayvon" pandering. 

Trayvon Martin was not killed because he was racially profiled or because George Zimmerman (who has far more black blood than Harvard Minority Professor Elizabeth Warren has Cherokee blood -- and his is documented) is a racist.  Martin was killed because he thought he could beat some guy down without consequence.

Martin's mother issued a statement about this being her first Mother's Day without Trayvon.  Perhaps if she had taught her son to respect other people, their property, and his own body, the young man would not have been on a suspension from school and prowling around houses to arouse Zimmerman's suspicions. 

The time has come for this country to be "post-racial".  I can sympathize with those who voted for Obama in 2008 because they believed his lines about ending the racial divide.  Now we know and have objective evidence that neither Obama nor Holder nor anyone else in the administration is interested in color-blindness.  Race is their trump card.  They will destroy this country using racial division as a ploy, a wedge, and a bludgeon.  "Fool me once" and all, but those who vote for Obama this time are fools.  Pure, plain, and simple.  

Somebody needs to speak the truth.

I am deeply disappointed in Richard Land and the Southern Baptists for their lack of spine and manhood.   

Sunday, May 13, 2012

Persistence, Skill, Talent, and, Possibly, Stupidity

I don't pay much attention to skateboarding or any of the extreme sports.  At my age, a shower is an extreme sport.  But I ran across a list of "10 Amazing Alternative Sports Clips" on Listverse where I sometimes manage to waste way too much time.  The other clips are mostly accomplishments during competition.  A couple of the clips, though, show a person practicing to gain the skill. 

Chris Cole -- 360 Flip.  This is almost painful to watch.  Apparently what he is trying to do is cause the skateboard to make one full rotation under him as both he and the board fly independently through the air.  That this is not easy becomes evident very quickly.  Each failure means that he hits the concrete.  Nevertheless, he gets up and goes again and again and again.  One count says 67 times to perfect this maneuver. 

My point has nothing to do with skateboarding but with what it takes to persist and develop a skill.  Chris Cole may have been blessed with good reflexes and some natural athletic ability.  He was certainly blessed with a high tolerance for pain and/or is in possession of really good drugs.  He fails and fails and fails and keeps trying.  Most of us would say after the tenth or the twentieth or the thirtieth failure that we were just not meant to do this thing, whatever it might be. 

Watch this clip all the way through.  See the knots on Cole's forearms.  Then remember, if you are willing to pay the price, persistence and determination will take you a lot farther than undeveloped, untested talent or genius. 

Euro Printing

John Mauldin says Germany has surrendered to inflating the currency. 

It's not too surprising.  Germany has to choose euro inflation or a quick, possibly unilateral departure from the EMU and the euro.  I suppose the Germans could go along with the EU version of quantitative easing and, once things stabilize a little, dump the euro and return to the mark. 

And by "stabilize" I mean that the various government debts are maintained temporarily with increasingly worthless euros. 

Theoretically, this should be a boon to the dollar.  More likely, it will be a good excuse for Bernanke and Co. to do the same thing -- print and buy federal and state debt -- here. 

Thursday, May 10, 2012

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance

Read this recycled essay via the Beaufort Observer.

There are segments of the population who always think that they have a militia or an army or a police force to protect them.

The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance is about the clash of civilization with chaos and lawlessness.  Jimmy Stewart, John Wayne, Lee Marvin, and, one of my childhood crushes, Vera Miles animate John Ford's characters perfectly.  Because of the actors involved, it likely would have been impossible to successfully cast TMWSLV at any other moment in the history of cinema.  This is a pinnacle of Ford's myth-making power.

To view the film as simply a somewhat strangely shot western about who gets the girl is really to miss much of its significance.  I'm not interested in doing a full-on, scene-by-scene review at the moment -- even if I had the time -- which I don't.  The point is that Liberty Valance represents the wild, chaotic and uncivilized nature of man.  Far from the "noble savage", without the boundaries of an accepted social contract, life has a tendency to be a tyranny of the strong over the weak.

Ransom Stoddard (Stewart) is a lawyer on his way to the town of Shinbone.  His stagecoach is stopped and held up by Liberty (Marvin) and his gang.  Stoddard is beaten badly, but he is undeterred in his attempt to bring law and order to Shinbone and the territory "south of the Picketwire" (Purgatoire).

Liberty continues to harass, threaten, intimidate and terrorize both Stoddard and all the law-abiding citizens of Shinbone, all but one -- Tom Doniphon (Wayne).  As Doniphon says, Liberty Valance is the toughest man south of the Picketwire, except for him.  Stoddard's words and rhetoric have no effect on Valance.  The executive power of the law as represented by the inept, whining, cowardly Marshal Appleyard (Andy Devine) is unable to enforce any restraint on Liberty's actions.

It is clear in a confrontation in the Ericson's restaurant that Valance fears nothing except Doniphon -- a man very much like himself, a man who understands the necessity of violence and action and the power of a weapon as an "equalizer".

In the end, Stoddard goes to confront Valance in a gunfight.  As Liberty is about to kill Stoddard, Tom Doniphon guns him down from an alley behind Stoddard.  Stoddard believes, for a time, that it is his wildly fired bullet that killed Liberty Valance.  Only later does Doniphon tell him the truth of the events of that night.

Although Hallie Ericson (Miles) marries Stoddard who goes on to become a Senator and statesman, she never stops loving Doniphon, who fades into the past with the passing of the frontier.  Hallie understood better than Stoddard, at least in the beginning, that men like Tom who were willing to look evil in the eye and make it back down are the ones that make civilization possible.  We may have our laws, our statutes, and our Constitutions.  We may have our many truthful, righteous, and beautiful words.  Without the power and the willingness to draw the line, the words will never be of any effect.

The link at the top talks about guns and civilization, but a weapon of any kind is only a tool.  They are necessary, and we appreciate them.  Firearms and, to a lesser extent, edged weapons, enable us to stand our ground.  Do not allow the left and the tyrants to rob us of the righteousness of that phrase.  Standing our ground is a natural, human right.  The ground we must hold is that of western civilization, of the Judeo-Christian tradition, of an exalted view of the rights and responsibilities of the individual.

Tom did not need the law.  He did not need Stoddard.  The righteous and the powerful man never does.  We will do what is right because it is right.  If Tom did nothing as he stood in the alley, Stoddard would die; Hallie would have been his.  He could have waited.  That is the action of the anarchist, the extreme libertarian who values liberty above all.  Liberty Valance is the chaotic savage.  But there is another liberty -- Hallie represents the freedom we have under the law, the freedom that must be "married" to the law in order for a civilized society to exist and continue.

Tom stands between chaos and civilization.  He is strong enough to walk that line, and he embraces it.  But he can see that most people are not that strong.  Though dismissive of Stoddard and his law, Doniphon knows that the world must follow that path upward for the good of the weak and the innocent.  He crushes the chaos then steps aside that law and freedom might be united.

I get frustrated with the system.  I do not like rules and regulations.  I live by the Bible.  I need no greater restraint.  I can fend for myself, for a while yet, and when I can't, well, nobody gets out of this world alive anyway.  But for America to function properly, to return to and fulfill its promise, we need the restoration of a Constitutional Republic where the laws are limited and reasonable and apply equally to everyone. 

That's what we are fighting for.  It will not happen overnight or in one election, but it is far better to -- at the very least -- slow down when we are clearly going the wrong direction.  I hope it can be done at the ballot box.  If it cannot, remember Tom Doniphon.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Things Going on in Israel

Day before yesterday, Netanyahu was going to dissolve the government and hold new elections.  Yesterday, he announced that he was forming a new government with the opposition party.

By joining the government coalition, newly elected Kadima Chairman Shaul Mofaz avoids facing voters amid polls indicating that his centrist party would lose more than half its Knesset seats. Just a month ago, Mofaz declared he would not join the government and vowed to unseat Netanyahu.
Sounds like Netanyahu called Mofaz's bluff.  The other thing that could be going on with a consensus government is laying the political foundation for a unified Israel in an attack on Iran.  You have to think that is coming.  Europe's power, wealth, and influence is crumbling as noted yesterday.  Israel can probably count on Obama and America only under the pressure of an election and then only as a secondary resource.  The clock is ticking.  I can't imagine that they wait much past September.

Updated with some idle speculation from the Atlantic.

Monday, May 7, 2012

The Old World

So my wife said, "What do the elections over in France or wherever have to do with our stock market?"

Because she is polite and was trying seem interested, she probably listened to about half of what I said during the next five minutes.  She caught the part about the Greeks not wanting to get jobs, which is most likely the part she will repeat to her sister when she phones her later. 

Of course, it is a little more complicated than that.  European countries have always given government more sovereign control of their lives than Americans felt comfortable doing.  America has, since the Second World War, provided most of the military support for Europe, allowing the northern European countries to concentrate on domestic welfare and industry.  All the cradle-to-grave care is also cradle-to-grave control.  People have come to expect benefits. 

But the world has changed and is changing demographically.  There is no youthful population of upcoming workers and entrepreneurs to support the rapidly aging populations in their retirement, to pay for their medical benefits, to buy their houses and condominiums, and their stock portfolios, or to support their investments with consumer spending.  The same is true to a lesser extent in America and to perhaps a greater extent in Japan.  The ponzi scheme has run out of suckers.

Despite the billions in poverty in India, Africa, and China, the developed world is in decline in terms of population.  There is youthful fodder for wars in Africa and in the Middle East across to India and China.  That will be the locus of the next large-scale conflicts.  War will not break out in Europe.  Who would fight it?  The Muslim immigrants, perhaps?  There will be unrest and protests.  There may even be a form of civil war, but no battles between Germany and France or any other countries.  At least, I think it is unlikely.  No, Europe will go under mostly with a whimper. 

But it will go under.  The consequences of the arithmetic are inevitable.

The euro is doomed in its present form.  As we saw today, the dollar stands to benefit, at least in the short term.  We could see oil prices and other commodity prices slip.  A stronger dollar could encourage Bernanke to crank up the printing press -- and he may have no choice.  As recession -- even depression sweeps Europe and cools China further, who else would be in the market for U.S. bonds? 

It will be an interesting year.

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stupid Conservatives

News Flash!  Mitt Romney is NOT the most conservative candidate ever!

I talked about this a little while.  I am not going to provide any links or mention any names, but I have severed all ties with a site that I have frequented for a long time.  The reason is that it is basically populated and controlled by idiots.

As I have said before, I most often call myself a Christian libertarian.  I think I am a classical liberal, much like Chesterton.  I get my economic theory from Bastiat.  In 2008, I voted in my state primary for Mitt Romney while most of my friends voted for Mike Huckabee.  Fred Thompson -- my first choice -- had already dropped out.  This year I voted for Ron Paul.

Perhaps I am not representative of conservatives, but I find the idea that people who call themselves conservatives would refuse to cast a vote to defeat Barack Obama out of "principle" simply ridiculous.  It is politics.  Yes, you make your decisions based on principles.  Principles should help you determine which candidate will do the least harm.  I have voted now in about eleven presidential elections.  A couple of times when I did not think it mattered -- in terms of how my state's electoral votes would go -- I voted Libertarian.  I think a couple of times I voted for Democrats that I knew for local offices, otherwise I have voted Republican without a whole lot of regrets.  I voted for John McCain.  I was not, for a while, terribly sorry that he lost.  I was very sorry that the Democrats had a 60-vote lock on the Senate.  Looking at the utter incompetence of Obama, I have to say even McCain would have been an improvement.

Obama needs to be replaced.  While I have some reservations about Romney, I would say the same of every candidate for public office.  I don't expect Romney to make the gargantuan cuts to the budget that are obviously necessary because such a drastic course is not politically expedient. 

On the whole, I do not think the problems we have in this country are ultimately political nor can they be resolved by any politician.  The fix for America is not in the hands of Wall Street or the Beltway elites on either side.  The remedy is in us as individuals turning away from government solutions.  We need freedom to do that.  The question we must ask, then, is not whether a candidate has "good ideas" or "offers solutions", but rather does the candidate grasp the fact -- whatever he may say and do -- that the power lies ultimately with the individual citizens of this nation?  If he does, and if he will allow us to go about our business with fewer hindrances, we will eventually climb out of the hole.  If he does not, if he (or she) insists on claiming to know what is best for each of us -- viewing us as a collective of subjects, we will sink down further.

If conservatives are too stupid to see the present choice in that light, it is hardly a wonder that we are in the condition we are.  

Interest Rates, Interesting Times

Today’s ADP report (via Denninger), and mostly likely, the new claims report coming out tomorrow will serve to further strengthen the realization that the economy is not recovering.  Europe is going to collapse.  The impending changes in the French government will only make matters worse.

My wife stayed up a couple of nights ago and watched Charlie Rose on PBS.  She was telling me that he had “some guy” on, who seemed to know what he was talking about, criticizing Bernanke.  Knowing of Rose’s man-crush on Buffet and his love for all things governmental, I assumed it probably wasn’t Paul Ryan, Karl Denninger or some other truth-teller.  She would have known Buffet.  “Was it Krugman?” I asked.  She wasn’t sure and asked for his first name.  When I said that it was Paul and asked if he was bearded, she said that was who she thought it was.

I think the Fed has one option open that might keep the sham going.  If they bought up a bunch of short-term treasuries, driving the rate down a few basis points while subsequently and suddenly jacking up the lending rate for banks, it might give the economy enough of a boost to get through the election this fall.  It is almost counterintuitive, but I think it may be why they have the stooge Krugman out front taking shots at the Fed. 

If CD rates jumped a couple of percentage points, it would pull in deposits.  I have a substantial – for me – amount of cash sitting almost idle in money market accounts.  Give me even two percent for six months and that money will go in a CD.  By squeezing the banks on bond rates and boosting their reserves, the Fed could hope to balance on the razor’s edge and push a few more loans out the door with an inflationary spark that would be just enough to look like growth. 

A rate boost would likely pull money out of the stock market.  It could also be the last straw for the euro.  I almost feel sorry for Bernanke.  He’s the goat no matter what, not that he is undeserving.  He helped get us in this mess and clearly lacks the courage to get us out.  A rate hike could bring down crude prices just in time for summer and, more importantly, Obama’s election.  It seems like the only solution.  The problem would be if it raised the cost of servicing the debt.  I think the Fed can keep the federal government bonds out of trouble for a brief period of time, but I am not so sure about states like California and Illinois.  States defaulting on pensions and other obligations would be bad news.  Again, the key would be the timing, which I am not sure anyone can predict, much less control. 

Anyway, if the Fed announces a move from their Zero Interest Rate Policy, I expect it will be merely a cover for buying bushel baskets of 3-month to 5-year treasury bonds.  

There is also always the possibility that I am completely wrong and do not understand either the current situation or the intended end-game.  In fact, there is a pretty good chance of that.