If You Give a Man a Fish: A Blast from the Past

As we go into the election season, this seems relevant. Of the two major party candidates, one wants to make you wealthier in real terms, the other wants to impoverish you. They are not, however, the ones you might think they are (unless you know a thing or two about economics–something I try to address from time to time on this blog).

This is going to ramble a bit.  I ended up going a completely different direction from what I had in mind when I started.

If you give a man a fish you feed him for a day, the old saw goes.  And if you teach him how to fish, you feed him for a lifetime.

As someone who has come home empty handed often enough from a day of fishing, I’m not so sure it quite works that way, but it’s close enough to be a reasonable metaphor.

Benjamin Franklin put it this way: “I am for doing good to the poor, but…I think the best way of doing good to the poor, is not making them easy in poverty, but leading or driving them out of it. I observed…that the more public provisions were made for the poor, the less they provided for themselves, and of course became poorer. And, on the contrary, the less was done for them, the more they did for themselves, and became richer.”

The truth is, there are some people–not everyone, perhaps not even most, but some–who, if you provide them enough for even a basic living without their having to earn it, will accept that and make no attempt to improve their lot through their own efforts.  Oh, they may complain about how hard they have it, but that complaint doesn’t motivate them to go work their way out of their situation.  If anything, it’s intended to influence you to provide more of that “basic living” they’re not having to work for.

This is not to say that there aren’t people who legitimately cannot provide for themselves but how often is that really the case?

The problem is two-fold.  Three-fold, actually.  The first is the “making them easy in poverty”.  Yeah, I can hear the howls now of how hard the poor have it.  Want to try again?  I grew up with an outhouse–having to go outside in the dead of winter to an unheated, drafty wooden building to do my business through a hole in a board.  A wood stove heated the kitchen.  Steam radiators heated the rest of the house.  Air conditioning?  What’s that?  I packed sandwiches for my lunch at school because we couldn’t afford the hot lunch.  We did have electricity–when it worked.  And we weren’t even particularly poor.  So, please, tell me again how “hard” most of the “poor” in the US have it today.   I can use the laugh.

And, no, I don’t begrudge the poor having a better life than I did.  That’s progress.  But, dammit, is it too much to ask that they appreciate what they have?  Apparently so.  Somebody else has more and that’s just too much to bear.

The second and thirds problems are closely related.  The second is that sometimes you just have more people than jobs, at least jobs that one could make a living at.  And the third is mismatch of skills required for the jobs available and skills people seeking work possess.  It doesn’t matter how great a typist you are if the job requires a welder.

So what to do?

First thing, impose the old dictate “if any of you would not work, neither shall he eat.” (And before you start “but what about…” note that word “would”.  It’s a matter of will, not ability.  If a person truly is incapable of doing anything of value that would qualify as work, then that’s a separate story.  But how many of those are there really?)

Personally, I’d like to see government welfare done away with entirely and let helping those who can’t work, or those who’ve temporarily fallen on hard times, devolve to private, mostly local charities.  I realize that such changes do not happen in an instant without causing their own problems.  Still, there’s a lot that can be done to move in that direction and the most important is a work requirement for anybody drawing any kind of government assistance.  Take away the incentive not to work to get off welfare.  You can work for your government assistance or you can work for your own money, but you’re going to work.

A related issue is that even for a person who, for whatever reason got on government assistance and now wants to get off it, can find the prospect daunting.  You find a job that pays more than that welfare check, well, and good, but now you also lose SNAP, oh, and while before you could stay home with the children, now you need to find daycare.  That costs money.  You’re actually worse off than you started.  Another perverse incentive.  Some people will push through that anyway but not everyone will.  And if our goal is to get people off welfare and on their own feet then shouldn’t the incentives work that way?  Say, reduce their total benefits from all sources one dollar for every two dollars they earn?

But in addition to removing the incentives for people to remain on welfare, we need the other side:  to make sure that there are jobs for them to take.  And to do that there’s one thing that so many people have trouble wrapping their heads around.

We.  Need.  A.  Political.  Climate.  Favorable.  To.  Business.

Whether it’s small businesses and people employing themselves, or big businesses employing thousands or even in some cases millions, businesses provide jobs.  Politicians do not provide jobs.  Governments do not provide jobs (except the jobs of government).  Businesses provide jobs.  And basic laws of economics apply.  If you make it more expensive for businesses to hire people, they will hire fewer people, or they will go where it isn’t so expensive (like, say, overseas).  If you cut off their ability to go where it isn’t so expensive, then foreign firms will take advantage of that opportunity to undercut our own businesses.  If you try to use tariffs or other trade restrictions to try to penalize the foreign companies in favor of our own, then they respond in kind and, again, our people suffer.

“But, but…big Megacorporation makes billions in profits!” And has trillions in sales.  The profits are a small fraction of the total amount of the business.  Most of that money goes to people working for the company, or people working for suppliers to the company.  Oh, and much of that profit is paid out to things like pension funds and retirement accounts that invest in things like big Megacorporation, not just to millionaires and billionaires.

“But, but…CEO compensation!” Do the math.  A company has one CEO.  Big ones, the ones where people complain about CEO compensation, employ hundreds of thousands to millions of people.  What the CEO makes is a drop in the bucket compared to the total labor costs.

For any large company, labor costs are their biggest expense.  Increase the cost of hiring people and they hire fewer people.  That’s not just Economics 101.  That falls right out of the first day‘s lecture in Economics 101.  Practically the second thing taught (right after “wants are unlimited, resources at any given time are limited, so it’s not possible for everyone to get everything they want”):  increase the cost of “buying” something and people buy less of it.

Now labor costs are at least something that produces value to the company.  So long as the value of the labor is higher than the cost of the labor it’s possible to come to an agreement.  But there’s another factor, the regulatory cost.  Almost a quarter of our economy is eaten up in regulatory costs.  If those costs were the GDP of a country, it would be larger than Germany’s.  That’s four trillion dollars spent making sure every i is dotted and every t is crossed.

Adam Smith, in The Wealth of Nations had the great insight that the wealth of a nation was not in specie, in gold, silver, and precious gems, it was not in paper money, and if he’d had to foresight to predict the modern age he would certainly have said it was not in electronic banking records.  It was in the amount of goods and services available to a nation.  It is not the money in my wallet and my bank account that is my wealth (such as it is).  It’s what that money can buy.  Produce and trade for more goods and services and you are wealthier as a nation, and the people within the nation are wealthier.

And everyone, rich and poor alike, benefits.  That cheap “prepaid minutes” smartphone you can pick up for $50 at Walmart?  A portable phone alone would have been a mark of wealth and prestige just 30 years ago–and one so small, unheard of.  And one with more computing power than supercomputers of the day?  With instant access to a wealth (note that word.  It has meaning) of music, movies and TV shows, to more information than all the libraries in the world held then?   How many millions would somebody have paid for that capability back then?

And it’s cheap.  A device that the wealthy of a generation past would have mortgaged their first three children for and it’s cheap.

You want to teach people to fish?  Economic growth.  And we’re wasting 25%  of our GDP not on developing and growing the economy but on regulatory burden.  Is some regulatory oversight necessary?  Probably.  But 25% of our economy?  That’s resources that could be used to make life better for all of us, frittered away on some government bureaucrats.

Goth on Ice: By George I Think He’s Got It.

The technique I’ve wanted really, really badly to successfully master is the Backward Crossover. I simply think it’s the most elegant and beautiful technique taught in the entire basic and adult progressions. Well, the two foot and one foot spins might compete for that position, but for my money a well-done backward crossover is just pure magic.

You can see how far I’ve come in the video above. I can’t say I’ve mastered it exactly, but I seem to have the basics nailed down.

My Three-turn (specifically forward outside three-turn), however? That’s a whole other ballgame and a frustrating one at that.

During class after this practice session, my instructor made several suggestions how I could improve. The first was to keep the non-gliding foot behind the gliding foot in a “T” (not on the ice, of course, otherwise you’re braking) and keeping that knee turned outward. The second was, once I switched arms from the position for a forward outside edge to that for the turn, I should have both arms up, about shoulder height and not let either one droop. This helps enforce a body posture that helps keep your balance coming out. Finally, he said once switching the arms to hold that position and glide a bit before turning. The turn should be totally the lower body, the upper body is already in place for coming out of the turn. This latter one is also part of my problem with the two-foot-turn back to front (seen in my stumbling direction changes in the backward crossover video).

You can see in the video that the closer I get to getting those elements right, the better the turn works.

Other things my instructor has me working on are my forward outside edges, forward inside edges and backward outside edges as formal figure skating techniques. I am making progress, slowly but surely in those. Right now, as I showed in earlier videos, I’m still just riding the backward edges around and holding them as long as I can. When I reach the point where I can consistently ride the backward edge in a half circle, I’ll start worrying about the arm switching and other things to continue in an “S” curve.

One more technique the instructor introduced me to last week was the forward inside Mohawk turn. The three-turn stays on the same foot but changes direction and changes edge–you start with a left forward outside edge, an end up in a left backward inside edge. For the Mohawk, you change direction, change foot, and keep the same edge. So you start with, a right forward inside edge and end up in a left backward inside edge. It works something like this:

In class I brought up the subject of the Learn to Skate USA “Adult” level progression. I noted it seemed geared more toward recreational skating and not actual figure skating–there are things not covered in the adult level progression that serve as foundational skills for figure skating: back to front two-foot-turn, and a variety of other techniques (described previously). The techniques included in adult that aren’t included in basic (for the young people) appear to be ice dancing moves: Swing rolls and outside to inside changes of edge on a line.

I told my instructor that I intend to continue in figure skating as long as I am physically able. He was quite pleased about that and said that he did try to work those other techniques in when working with adults.

All in all, nice little milestone met and progress made in other things.

The Battle of Tours: An Annual Tradition.


On this date, in AD732, Charles Martel led the Franks against Muslim invaders near the city of Tours and turned back the tide of Islamic advance at the Battle of Tours (sometimes called the Battle of Poitiers).

In the preceding 110 years, Islam, thanks to the diligent efforts of polite young men in white shirts and neckties on bicycles going out two-by-two, had spread from its origins in the Arabian peninsula through south-central Asia and across the north of Africa, and up into the Iberian peninsula.

Did I say polite young men in white shirts and ties on bicycles going out two-by-two?  Just kidding.  That’s Mormons.  The Muslims did it by going out conquering and to conquer, slaughtering everyone who would not submit, in a tide of blood across all their conquered lands.

It seemed that Muhammed and his successors did not understand that “Jihad” meant internal struggle over oneself and that “Islam” meant “peace” and the meaning of “submission” was one’s own submission to Allah.  They apparently thought “Jihad” meant real war against unbelievers, using real swords and spears, leaving real dead and mutilated bodies in its wake and the “submission” was forcing those not in Islam to submit to it.  But what did they know?  They only founded the religion or followed in the footsteps of the founder.

Muslims of the Umayyad dynasty, chiefly Berbers, invaded the Iberian peninsula (really, it was a military invasion, not a lot of missionaries on bicycles.  Besides, the bicycle hadn’t been invented yet).  Within a decade they had essentially conquered the Iberian peninsula and were expanding across the Pyrenees into what would eventually be part of southern France.

In the spring of 732, these Umayyad Muslims defeated Duke Odo at the Battle of the River Garonne, thus setting the stage for what was to come.

Odo, surviving the battle, asked the Franks for help.  Charles Martel, “Mayor of the Palace” (Ruler in all but name but it would wait for his son, Pepin the Short, for his line to officially claim the throne) would only promise aid in return for Odo submitting to Frankish authority.

While this was going on, the Umayyads, in apparent unconcern about possible Frankish might, advanced toward the Loire river.  Lax in scouting and unconcerned, they did not note the power massing to oppose them.

The Umayyads were mostly cavalry.  Charles, according to accounts, was mostly infantry, but heavily armed and armored infantry.  One of the Franks main weapons was the Francisca, a heavy-headed, short-handled throwing axe.  The Byzantine historian Procopius (c. 500–565) described the axes and their use thus:

…each man carried a sword and shield and an axe. Now the iron head of this weapon was thick and exceedingly sharp on both sides while the wooden handle was very short. And they are accustomed always to throw these axes at one signal in the first charge and thus shatter the shields of the enemy and kill the men.

And at the time of Charles Martel, the axes were still in common use.  It would be some time yet before the Frankish forces converted to being primarily cavalry under the successors to Charles Martel.

When the Umayyads reached the Franks and their allies, they faced off with skirmishes while waiting for their full force to arrive.

Finally, the forces were all ready and the day of battle arrived.  Abd-al-Raḥmân, the leader of the Umayyad forces, trusted to the strength of his cavalry and had them charge repeatedly at the Frankish infantry lines.  The incredibly disciplined infantry stood its ground staunchly despite (according to Arab sources) Umayyad cavalry breaking into their formation several times.

A charge of Umayyad broke through, attempting to reach Charles reasoning, probably correctly, that if they could kill Charles the Frankish army would break.  However Charles’ liege men surrounded him and held off the attack.

While the battle still raged, rumors went through the Umayyad forces that Frankish scouts were threatening the Umayyad baggage train and threatening to carry off the loot they’d already gathered in their march northward.  Arab reports indeed claim that this was the case (in a second day of battle where Frankish reports say it only lasted one day).

This, apparently was too much for many of the Umayyads.  Fight them on the field of battle.  Throw axes at them.  Stab at them with spears and slash at them with swords.  All good.  But threaten their loot?  No way.

However, they didn’t appear to make clear to their compatriots what exactly they were doing and why.  The others saw them heading back the way they’d come and thought they were in retreat.  And “if he’s retreating, maybe I should be too” is a thought soldiers have shared many a time throughout history.  The result was the Umayyads went into full-fledged retreat.  Abd-al-Raḥmân tried to stop the retreat and, as a result, was surrounded and killed.

The next day, Charles, fearing the possibility of an ambush, kept his troops in formation in their relatively secure position.  He did, however, send out extensive reconnaissance which discovered that the Umayyads had abandoned not only the field of battle but their own camp so fast that they’d left their tents behind, heading back to Iberia as fast as their horses and wagons could carry them taking what loot they could carry with them.

Had to protect that loot.

The Umayyads retreated south back over the Pyrenees and that remained the end of Muslim advance into Europe.  Further attempts into the European heartland were made but they came to naught in the end.  Charles Martel and his forces had broken the back of the Muslim conquest of Europe for many centuries to come.

How Charles Martel would weep to see Europe inviting in a new generation of invaders with open arms.

The Uniparty?

A lot of people, usually those of a more conservative or libertarian bent, claim that the Republican and Democrat parties are really the same. They’re both pretty big on State Control They’re both all “tax and spend.” They both talk about how they oppose things the “other side” has done (Republicans on Obamacare and gun control, Democrats on things like Immigration reform) but when they’re in power to the extent of having the Presidency and both houses of Congress, they don’t do anything about it.

Is there a lot of similarity between the two parties? Of course there is because, get this, they are trying to appeal to a lot of the same voters. Whichever party “loses”, if it wants to win, has to get the votes of people who voted for the other party last time. That’s going to create a lot of similarity. (Example: “coverage for pre-existing conditions”, doesn’t matter how much you explain how economically unviable that is, people want it. They don’t understand, or ignore, the economics, and any politician, “R” or “D” saying “you can’t have it” is going to lose a lot of votes, more than they can afford to lose, for doing so.)

But by focusing on the similarities one blithely ignores the differences. Would Hillary, would _any_ Democrat, have issued an executive order requiring two regulations to be repealed before any new one could be enacted? Would we have 300 new miles of border wall under a Democrat president? Would we have renegotiated NAFTA under a Democrat? Trump may have proposed the tax cuts which boosted the economy, but they had to pass Congress and who voted for them…and who voted against them? And Trump may have negotiated the new trade agreements, but it took “the advice and consent of the Senate” to ratify them. And again, who voted for them, and who voted against them?

At root, however, the problem isn’t the politicians or the parties. They are the symptom. They are doing what is politically profitable for them and most people…well there’s an “Aragorn” meme I created but don’t know how to post easily here. The text is “The day may come when low-information voters do not decide elections; but it is not this day.”

Yes, there are a lot of similarities between the major parties because they are trying to attract a lot of the same voters. But there are also differences because they are also appealing to different segments of the population.

But there’s more. We are winning the cultural war. Why do you think the Dems are full on “all vote fraud, all the time?” Fraud is the only hope they’ve got. What do you think is behind Pelosi’s “establish a commission for 25th Amendment removal of the President”? Seriously, even if she were able to get such a thing passed, by the time it went through both the House and Senate and Trump (for reasons of his own) signed it, or they overrode a veto (yeah, right), It would likely be close to inauguration day and a moot point…unless Trump won. The only reason it can possibly be an issue is that their internal polls are showing that, yeah, Trump’s probably going to win.

They’re losing, and they know it. The culture is shifting. Part of that is freedom-loving people realizing they are not alone. And part of it is that a lot more of us are willing to speak out and what we say (if I may claim some small influence there) is making sense to others. Remember, four million brand new people who have not settled on one position or another enter the arena every year. And we have more ability to reach and influence those people than ever before.

No longer is Walter Cronkite able to put on his fake-sincere “trust me” voice and lie to the American people with impunity, with no-one to call him on it.

We’re winning a battle we were barely in until recently.

A lot of the old guard politicians are still in that “we’re losing so make the best deal we can and hope to at least slow and soften the fall” mode but the key there is “old guard.” They’re being replaced by a generation of Ted Cruzes, Mike Lees and others. Sooner or later the remaining “old guard” will see the tide change or they’ll be swallowed up by it and replaced by folk who will.

On the flip side, the Democrats are going full socialist. Truth to tell, they’ve been that way most of my life, but now the masks are coming off. And they’re doing this because we’re winning. They’ve positioned themselves into a corner. They can’t come out for small government, for lower taxes, for the things that actually do help the economy grow (as opposed to their pseudo-Keynesian magical thinking) because they’re too committed to their “government will take care of you” message. To do so would shred any vestige of credibility among their base, the ones that aren’t the same pool of voters that both Democrats and Republicans have been fighting over for generations. And so they see those voters slipping away and their only response is to get even more extreme in appealing to their socialist base and to double down on enabling fraud.

Because we’re winning.

Drazi Politics: A Blast from the Recent Past (Slightly updated)

With the elections season rolling around this is, once again, relevant.


An episode of Babylon 5 focused on a cultural practice of the alien species the Drazi.  Every so often they had a big battle between Drazi wearing green scarves and Drazi wearing purple scarves.

There was no philosophical or economic dispute between the two sides.  There was no matter of class or status or race that stood between them.  No, they had a big box of mixed scarves and whoever drew out a purple one was on the purple side, and whoever drew out a green one was on the green side.

American politics has long born entirely too much resemblance to that conflict.  Oh, don’t get me wrong, there are differences of principle between the major parties, and between various minor ones.  However, those differences in principle get forgotten when it comes to actions by the party representative in office.

Republican implements gun control by executive fiat?  That’s unimportant, his supporters say. “Who cares about…” or worse. “4-D Chess.” Democrat proposes gun control?  High dudgeon from the Republican’s supporters.

Democrat says “we must enforce our immigration laws”? Cheers, or at least silence from Democrat pundits and voters.  Republican says the same thing, and continues policies started under a previous, Democrat, office holder? Screams of “concentration camps”, “never again!” and “war crime” (one wonders with whom we are supposed to be at war).

And the excuses made by Libertarians for “Bake the Cake” Johnson and “Ban the Guns” weld in 2016 and for “BLM (even though explicitly socialist) is Great” Jorgenson in 2020 don’t bear thinking too hard about. You’re likely to be caught into a mobius strip of rationalization that leads to a singularity of logical double think causing one to collapse into a black hole and wink out of anything that resembles rational thought.

For entirely too many people, principle takes a back seat to supporting “their team.” Unlike the Drazi, they may have chosen a side based on principle rather than simply pulling a scarf out of a box but when it comes to actual political action it’s “Green!” “Purple!”

Or “Red!” “Blue!”

The Founding Fathers

People tell us that the Founding Fathers of the United States were horrible, terrible men. And because they were horrible, terrible men we should dismiss everything they said and everything they did because it was all “tainted” with their being horrible, terrible men.

Were they such horrible, terrible men? Well, by modern standards to a large extent, they were. Many of them were slave owners, and if there was a black mark on the history of the United States, slave owning was it. Some of them were culpable in driving natives from their lands and in the near extermination if not outright extermination of some native peoples. Most of the rest were virulently racist and sexist by modern standards.

Of course, they did not live by modern standards. They did not have the advantage of further centuries of development in philosophical thought. They were near the beginning when people were just starting to grope their way into the idea of equal rights that “all men [and women] are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights” and that the role of government was to secure and protect those rights of life, liberty, and pursuit of happiness.

They were making fumbling first steps toward that end and having to deal with a great many folk who did not so believe. And the realities of their situation often provided serious impediments even to those who had managed to crawl a bit further along that road. Patrick Henry could be personally opposed to slavery but also concerned (thanks to his having seen some vicious slave revolts) that wholesale freeing of the slaves would lead to violent reprisals against the white population. Sure, it’s easy from our side of history to say “they would have deserved it for being such horrible people as to every condone slavery”. Well, maybe, but it’s a lot easier to say that when it’s not you and your friends, family, and loved ones that are on the line in a situation that was created before you were even born.

One could argue, with some justice, that even within the constraints that they faced they should have been more aggressive in stamping out slavery, in stamping out racism, in stamping out every other kind of “ism.” And perhaps they should have. But they were flawed, mortal men. And perhaps, deep down, they didn’t want to end those things, whatever their pretty words. Perhaps they really did see themselves as a new aristocracy, a cut above the “common people” and so naturally saw that certain groups were also superior to others. Perhaps “all men are created equal” was nothing more than a phrase to drum up popular support.

And perhaps not. In the end, we cannot know what was in their minds, what was in their hearts. Their surviving letters and their other writings can give us a hint but a hint is all it is. It can be hard to tell when they were lying to others, and nearly impossible to tell when they were lying to themselves.

I, however, am inclined to give them the benefit of the doubt not because of what they said and wrote, but because of what they accomplished. And what they accomplished was no less than the greatest birth of Liberty that the world has ever known.

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal,” may have been simple wartime propaganda, but they then backed that concept into the Constitution when they formed their new government. Popular vote for legislators. A House of proportional representation of the people given key powers such as the absolute power of the purse–all bills for raising revenue must start there. They included language to undercut the power of the large, slaveholding states with the Senate, giving each State, big or small, equal power and voice; the Electoral College, ensuring those seeking the Presidency must appeal to a broad spectrum of Americans and not just a few high-population areas; and the oft-maligned 3/5 compromise, which reduced the representation of the big slave-owning states in the House, and thereby their power and influence over the Federal government.

Compromises they needed to get the agreement of those who were not fully on board with “all men are created equal” but the stage was set, a starting point, a seed, if you will from which the concept of equal rights and equal protection under the law could grow.

So these flawed men, for all their flaws, accomplished something amazing, something wonderous, something incredible. Their flaws don’t take away from that. If anything, they make it more remarkable. Even with all those flaws, they were able to accomplish so much of good.

But there are those who want to tear that down, pointing not to the marvelous achievement but to the flaws alone, claiming that the whole structure is tainted because of their flaws. This is like tearing down a sturdy, snug house because the contractor cheated on his wife.

I choose instead to marvel at their creation and hope that something, anything I ever do can be even a tiny fraction of that legacy.

Goth on Ice: Getting Edgy.

As I have mentioned before, ice skate blades have two edges with a hollow between them. In addition, they have a curve, called a rocker, from front to back:

The combination of the rocker and the edge is what allows the blade to take a curved path on the ice. When the skate is leaned to one side, engaging one edge and lifting the other, its path curves in that direction.

These curves are categorized by which foot you’re skating on (right or left), whether you’re going backward or forward, and which edge you’re using (inside or outside of the foot). So, going forward, using your left foot and curving to the left (and thus using the outside edge) would be a “left forward outside edge). Change direction of curve, to the right, while staying on the left foot and so doing an inside edge would be a left forward inside edge. The thing to remember is “left” or “right” refers to the foot being used, not the direction you’re turning.

Early on in training one of the things we did was forward edges on the circle. Basically we’d use one of the big circles printed on the floor under the ice (part of the hockey playing field setup), or if one of the hockey circles isn’t available, the instructor would draw a big circle with a marker on the ice itself. We’d go around the circle in one direction or the other and lift one foot or the other, just to learn how to skate in a curved path and keep a consistent curve. So far, so good.

But it turns out this is very basic indeed. There’s a more formal system of edge exercises that’s a bit more advanced and requires being more comfortable holding the edges for extended times. Coach Julia shows how these are done for forward edges:

And backward:

Well, this is one of the things my instructor has me doing now. He started me with forward outside edges as well as backward outside edges. In addition, he had me doing three-turns:

Those were what I was working on this past weekend. With the backward outside edges, I wasn’t worried about the switch in arm position and head turn ready for the next lobe, just pushing off in the edge and riding it as long as I can. Get comfortable doing one edge, then set up doing the next one.

After this practice session, I had class. My instructor worked with me on these, correcting some errors I was making. In particular, I was doing the arm switch too soon in the forward outside edges, having my weight too far forward on my blades, not keeping my palms facing downward, and tending to let my leading arm droop (which shifts balance making it harder to hold the edge). For the three-turn I was getting my lifted foot too far forward and trying to turn the foot too soon after turning the upper body which throws off my balance. And for the backward crossovers, making sure I have heels in and toes out when I cross and getting more bend in the back leg. The first of those helps prevent one skate catching on the other. The second gives you more power and “flow” in the crossover.

And that was my weekend as a Goth on Ice.

“Not Today”: A Slightly Updated Blast from the Past

Many years ago, in an online discussion, the late Dr. Jerry Pournelle said that the purpose of the military presence in Europe was to get the Warsaw pact leaders (which, in truth meant the Soviet Union leaders) to look across the field at the forces arrayed against them, to look at their own forces, at their maps, then again at the forces on the other side and say “not today” and then repeat that the next day, and the next, in perpetuity (or, as it happened, until the collapse of Soviet Communism).

That also describes the purpose of an armed citizenry.

Some people are dismissive of the idea of an armed citizenry as a weapon against tyranny because “the government has drones, and tanks, and bombers, and nukes, and… You rednecks and your assault rifles can’t possibly stand against that.”

The problem is, as we learned in Vietnam, and seem to keep having to relearn in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, all that military hardware and technology is great when it comes to defeating armies in set-piece battles, even battles of maneuver.  It’s far less useful against an insurgency.  When you have insurgents hiding among the civilian population you need boots on the ground able to go door to door and sort out the insurgents from the civilians.  You need those civilians, at least a significant portion of them, to be willing to point out the actual insurgents to you (and not just use you to take down someone they don’t like, who may or may not be an actual insurgent–“Insurgents?  Yes, my business rival provides support to the rebels.  If you shut him down it will cripple the rebels.”)

What are you going to do with that heavy weaponry?  Roll tanks through Boise because someone’s holding secret meetings plotting the overthrow of the government?  Make an Arclight strike (carpet bombing) against Des Moines because there are weapons caches somewhere in the city? Nuke Indianapolis because insurgents are hiding among the population?

Those kinds of things can’t be solved with the heavy hardware, or not easily (and I’ll get to that in a minute).  They require boots on the ground, investigations and intel, and generally a cooperative population.  The “hearts and minds” component of counter-insurgency operations.  I would recommend Learning to Eat Soup with a Knife by General Peter J. Shoomaker for how that worked, or failed to work, in they Malaya and Vietnam. (I will note that I believe General Shoomaker gives insufficient weight to Vietnam being both an insurgency and a “conventional” war being fought in parallel and many of the things he dismissed as being “the wrong approach” were correct for the conventional part of the war.  The problem wasn’t that things appropriate to conventional war were advocated.  The problem was that solutions appropriate to an insurgency were not.  This is a case where we needed to embrace the power of “and”.)

While you can possibly beat even an insurgency with the “heavy hardware”, and indeed, this is another point that General Shoomaker elided over (perhaps because the British in Malaya and the US in Vietnam simply were not willing to be sufficiently ruthless, and that reality colored what he had to say) it usually involves a price that most Western nations simply are unwilling to pay.  It requires utter callousness to collateral damage and positively rejoicing in poor “international opinion”.  It requires viciousness on a level that makes the Mongol hordes look like nice guys.  And even that is no sinecure. After all, the former Soviet Union had no particular qualms against ruthlessness but they still were unable to make much headway in Afghanistan.

And in the end, however ruthless you are, you still have to send troops in on the ground.

Try that on your own people without years, possibly decades, of careful preparation, building a military force that’s both amoral and personally loyal to you.  That means getting rid of all the people who hold to ideals like honor, loyalty, and defending the nation rather than the ruler at its head–and, of course, all those people you’ve gotten rid of, presuming you haven’t tipped your hand with Stalinesque purges and show trials–with all their training and experince will now be in the civilian sector and arrayed against you.

No, the vast power of military hardware would be of little use in an actual insurgency.  And if you get to the point you can use it?  You’ve got a military that will actually obey orders to wage Total War on the American people?

That battle tank?  Where is its fuel coming from?  How is it getting from it’s start as an infusion in rocks deep underground through wells, refineries, pipes, trucks, and storage tanks until if finally ends up in the tank itself?  How many men does it take to guard every step of the way because anything you leave unguarded is an opportunity for insurgents to interrupt the supply–blow up a pipeline, ambush tank trucks, demolish a railroad bridge, and on and on.

Now apply it not just to the tank, but to everything else that goes into the care and feeding of a modern military force.

And those guards?  Spread out.  Distributed.  Vulnerable to being picked off.  So you need more men.  But where are you going to get them except from the American people you’ve just declared total war on?  Much of that and your guards are as likely to be saboteurs as not.

The US had the advantage of a secure source of supply for its troops in Vietnam, Afghanistan, and Iraq. The Soviet Union had the same for Afghanistan. And still they faced ongoing challenges from disruptions of that portion of the supply chain that was in hostile territory. How much worse, then, when the entire supply chain is in “hostile territory”?

Now, this is not to say that the insurgents would have it all their own way.  A sufficiently ruthless government, with a sufficiently loyal Praetorian Guard of a military, could end up killing enough to cow enough of the rest to “win” such a war.  And it’s possible with a sufficiently complicit media, and sufficient suppression of “unapproved” sources, that such a government might even keep general support away from the insurgents despite bombing your own cities.

But even if you win, the likelihood is that all you’ll rule is a burnt-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and pluck it away from you.

And if the insurgents win, the same thing applies–they only win a burned-out ruin, ripe for some foreign power to come in and establish their own overlordship.  (This, incidentally, is why I so strongly argue against armed rebellion against the abuses to the Constitution that are daily occurrences now:  even if successful, it would be a Pyrrhic victory at best.  Armed rebellion really is an absolute last-ditch recourse.)

That’s with an armed citizenry, a large pool of armed people who could be insurgents, even if most of them are not.  Eliminate that, and it becomes much easier.  If all the insurgents can do is throw rocks at you, it’s much easier to cow them.  Even if they’ve got improvised weapons, the issue is dramatically simplified for the would be tyrant.

So, the purpose of an armed citizenry is less to win a conflict against the United States military.  It’s to make the would-be tyrants in power look at the citizenry, look at the forces they have, look at the vulnerability of their supply lines where everything is “enemy territory”–and if they don’t understand or believe the situation themselves, those would have to carry out orders to establish their tyrannical rule will–and size up the chances and what they’d likely “win” even if successful…

…and say “Not today.”

Another Gun Control Post

So there was a post on the Book of Faces asking why gun owners aren’t willing to accept any “lesser” gun control. After all, if we’re not willing to “contribute to the conversation” then we have only ourselves to blame if others make the decisions for us.

I pointed out that we were contributing. He just didn’t like the answers. I then followed up with the following:

No gun laws actually accomplish the stated goals. They do not make people safer. They do not stop criminals. What purpose does a “small” (call it “reasonable” or “common sense” however much you want) regulation serve if it doesn’t stop criminals from getting and using guns if they want them? How can anything other than an absolute, total prohibition on firearms even make a dent in criminal use of guns? NBC (I believe it was) in the late 80’s did a “special” where they traced a single gun through its use in various crimes before it was finally recovered by police. This one gun was used in dozens of crimes. Now, NBC’s purpose in that was to imply how dangerous guns were if even one could lead to so much crime. What they actually showed, however, was how few guns are able to serve criminal uses. If one gun can be used in a dozen different crimes, then take that number of crimes and divide by a dozen to see how many guns are necessary to supply that.

If only 0.01% of guns end up in criminal hands, that’s sufficient to supply all the criminal uses everywhere. Get rid of 90% of the guns and you’re still talking 0.1% necessary to provide for all criminal uses.

I have my doubts whether even complete prohibition could realistically make a dent in criminal uses of guns. Guns can be stolen from police. Corrupt cops–and there are always some in the most honest of departments–can “lose” guns from evidence (it already happens with drugs…and guns). Guns are simply too easy to make, or to smuggle. Hell, we can’t make a dent in the illegal drug trade and those are complex biochemicals that can be sniffed out and distinguished from other things. Guns are metal and plastic, indistinguishable from other metal and plastic except for the shape of the pieces. You can’t “sniff them out” you’d have to physically inspect everything which might contain guns or gun parts (and, again, that does nothing to stop homemade guns.

So, even a complete prohibition is unlikely to stop the illegal uses of guns, therefore it’s certain that anything less will not.

And if you can’t stop, or even significantly slow, the illegal uses of guns with these “reasonable gun control” measures then what’s the point? Why waste the resources making and enforcing gun laws when those resources can instead be used on things that might actually affect crime?

That’s leaving aside that the biggest killer of people is not criminals but governments. It would take about 6000 years of criminal murders–using the highest ever year total in the US–to equal the number of people killed by their own governments in the 20th century. I’m not talking about people killed by foreign powers in war. People. Killed. By. Their. Own. Governments.

It has been said that with private gun ownership you will have tragedies. Without it, you will have genocides.

You might claim that we’re past that. Maybe. But on what do you truly base that? History doesn’t support such a claim. The twentieth century, after all, wasn’t that long ago. Would you claim that democracy and popular will render such things impossible? Have you even opened a history book? The pogroms and expulsions against Jews all through Europe were popular with the majority non-Jewish population. The Armenian genocide was popular among the Turkish majority. The Holodomor was popular among the non kulaks. The Trail of Tears was popular among the white majority (why, no, I don’t exempt my own country from being susceptible to abuse–neither did the folk who founded it; thus the 2nd Amendment). “Democracy” without restrictions is simply everyone picking on the weird kid–and I’ve always been “the weird kid” so I tend to take that kind of personally.

So, these lesser gun controls, these “reasonable gun controls” simply will not accomplish their stated goals. They cannot accomplish those goals. And when they fail, what then? Have proponents of “reasonable gun control” ever admitted “this isn’t working. We need to step back and try something else?” Even once.

Don’t bother answering. That’s a rhetorical question. The answer is “no, never.” Instead, what they do is double down. Their “reasonable gun control” failed to achieve its objective so, instead of rolling it back and trying something else to deal with the problem, they insist that the “answer” is yet more gun control. Another “reasonable” (or so they claim) restriction using the previous one as a stepping stone. And when that one fails, as it must, they put forward another. And another. And another. There is no stopping point short of complete prohibition. And, indeed, if you catch big proponents of “reasonable gun control” in an unguarded moment they’ll admit it, that prohibition of privately owned firearms is the goal.

So, no, there is no level of gun control that is acceptable because it doesn’t work for the stated goal and the unstated goal is reprehensible.

My Life, Part Twelve: Claysville (Part 1)

During the summer between fourth and fifth grade, my family moved out of the house next to Uncle Denny’s to a small property near Claysville, Ohio. I can’t say for sure if the house is still there as Google Street View doesn’t extend to that area and the satellite image is inconclusive. I’m not even entirely sure that I have the correct area in the above picture because things have changed so much. The area is more built up than it was when I lived there (as are many places, of course). Still, with everything I’m able to piece together, I’m pretty sure the property is visible in the above, but the house has either been replaced or substantially renovated (the brown roofed building near the center of the image).

Fifth Grade, 1972. I was 11. The family across the street had an older boy, a daughter perhaps a bit older than I was, a boy about my age with some form of speech impediment, and a younger daughter, perhaps my sister’s age or a little younger, with some more severe impediments (to the extent of being completely non-verbal). Farther up the street there was a family with, again, a boy about my age.

The folk across the street had chickens, lots and lots of chickens, a hog, a pony, and a few ducks. The ones up the street had two horses, a Pinto and a dappled gray. I don’t know what breeds.

We were…friends, of sorts.

In the picture behind what I think was my house, there’s a lot of open field. When I lived there the open field ended at our property line with a large tree just on the inside of the fence that marked the boundary. There was also an apple tree on the north side of our property about midway back toward the property line. Back behind the property line was woods. The property to our south was alfalfa fields. The immediate property to our north was empty field, just tall grass. A little beyond it a new house was building.

Not far behind the house across the street was more woods. And the house up the street, to the north and on the opposite side of the street from our house, there was pasture where the horses were kept, then more woods before getting too far back from the street.

Woods, woods everywhere.

This was before cable was much of a thing, let alone home satellite receivers. Bruce set up a mast extending up from our back patio with a big directional yagi antenna whose rotation we could control by a box on top of our TV set. Even so, reception was spotty at best.

The house had a garage, which Bruce immediately took over as his ham radio station. His and mother’s cars both sat out in the driveway when they were home.

When we first arrived at the house, the yard, all 1 1/4 acres of it, had been tilled and seeded with grass but the grass had not yet come in. That gave the place a raw, unfinished look. The woods all around kind of intimidated me, at least at first.

Fifth grade was in this small school maybe half a mile from the house. My sister and I took the bus which picked us up in front of the house. This was my second experience with school buses and one that cemented my utter detestation of buses ever since.

As, perhaps, I should have been used to I was not popular at school. “Not popular”? Such an amazing understatement. Smaller than most of my peers and weaker. Didn’t know much about the stuff they thought was important, and, to be honest does have considerable importance. A lot of “city folk” have an unfortunate tendency to look down on the folk who provide the food that they eat every day. But it wasn’t my thing and, so, I was very much an odd duck in that group. And while we had a fairly nice house, if a bit on the small side compared to a lot of the older properties around us, well, little of that “niceness” trickled down to us. Our neighbors had horses and ponies and motorbikes. I had shank’s mare (for those who aren’t familiar with that term, it means “walking”). Neighbor kids, all the neighbor kids, had wheeled carts that they could do “street sledding” with. They weren’t motorized but there were enough hills to make for some exciting downhill races.

I did, at least, get a new bicycle to replace the stolen Huffy, a 26″ “middleweight”. Single speed where the others in the neighborhood had three speeds.

It was in fifth grade where I cemented my love for Science Fiction. One of the first books to do that was in the class (as opposed to school) library. It was a spy-thriller-science-fiction book aimed at kids called “The Space Eagle: Operation Doomsday.”

Oh, I loved that book. Looking back, it strikes me as silly fun but just what I needed at eleven. But what really did it for me was another book I found in that fifth grade school library by this author, perhaps you’ve heard of him, Robert A. Heinlein:

(Sigh, the link was supposed to be to the edition with the cover I remembered back then, but Amazon and WordPress clearly had other ideas.) Rocket Ship Galileo, about a group of kids big into rocketry, making rockets hoping to win “Junior prizes” for rocketry who go on to do…

I wanted to be those kids. From that moment, whenever I went to a new place, with a new library, I sought out Heinlein’s work.

Unfortunately, with the good, there were…other things. As I said, I was not popular. The truth is, I was bullied. Nobody liked the new kid. What made it particularly worse was that my sister did seem to be popular. People liked her and hated me. I had a couple of “friends” which meant that we would sometimes play together during recess, but that was about it. All of this combined, probably with a natural tendency, to bring about what I now recognize was full-blown depression.

As a result of all this, I tended to retreat more and more into books and comic books. I read incessantly. I read encyclopedia articles. I read comics. I read science fiction (anything I could get).

It was also about this time that I started to develop an interest in girls as girls. I had previously had girls as friends when we shared an interest in something together (Lisa, from second grade being an example). I never went through a “girls are icky” phase. But girls as girls was new to me. Not to put too fine a point on it, I became interested in sex, or at least some of the preliminaries (you know, the hand holding, the kissing, that kind of stuff). Mind you, that interest was purely theoretical. I might have been interested but nobody, absolutely nobody, returned that interest. There was nobody I dared approach about the idea.

So, once again, I retreated into books.

I mentioned that at first all the woods around the house intimidated me. Well, that soon passed. Soon, I would step over a low spot in the fence that marked our rear property line and go wandering and exploring.

I’ll pick up there next time.