“A Good Family Man”

Once up on a time it was high praise indeed to say of a man that he was “a good family man.”  Television and movies celebrated fathers who cared about, and took care of, their families.  Today, if you say that people look at you like you’re from another planet.

This is underscored in media representations of fathers.  Once, fathers presented as positive models in shows like Ozzie and Harriet, Leave it to Beaver, and Father Knows Best.  Dated those shows may be and yes, sometimes the father was the butt of the joke (they were, after all, comedies), but that did not take away from the fact that these were loving families that cared about each other with fathers that were devoted to their families.

Contrast that with more recent fare where you have shows like Married with Children where the point of the show appeared to be how much these people hated each other.  Or perhaps Home Improvement where the father was the incompetent moron who caused all the problems.

In older shows, when you had a single father (Ben Cartwright in Bonanza, Lucas McCain in The Rifleman, Steve Douglas in My Three Sons, and so on) it was usually a widower.  (And before you get started, there were shows about single mothers who are widows as well–Victoria Barkley in The Big Valley.)   Of course, even in modern ones, when you do have a single dad it’s often a widower because, well, over the years 1993-2007 (a range for which I happen to have found figures), the mother gets custody 83-85% of the time.  More often these days the shows are about single moms.  These are rarely widows.  Either they left (for entirely justifiable reasons, of course), or were left by the fathers.

Oh, one particularly interesting example of “single fathers” was My Two Dads.  The mother was sleeping with two men, had no idea who the father was, so both came to take care of the child.  While kudos to the characters for rising to the occasion in the end, getting to that point relies on remarkably poor decisions on all three of the adults’ parts.

So where are the good fathers in recent years (for which I’ll say mid 80s or later–yes, that’s not so recent, but then, I’m not so young).

A surprising one is John Matrix in Commando.  He’s a single father, who appears to have a great relationship with his daughter.  No mention is made of what happened to the mother but given the totality of the film I’d guess he’s probably a widower.  And Matrix’s entire motivation throughout the film is to get his little girl back safe.

Another one is Adam Gibson in The 6th Day.  Gibson, a devoted family man, sees an “imposter” taking his place in his home and attempts to overcome tremendous obstacles put in place by the bad guys in his effort to return to his home and family.

Roger Murtaugh in Lethal Weapon.  A major part of his character is his devotion to his family (and the stress of dealing with a daughter reaching an age where her becoming sexually active is a possibility) and, indeed, that family and its devotion to each other is a large part of what brings Riggs back from the brink of his own personal Hell.

Gomez Addams in the Addams Family movies (okay, I prefer the 60’s TV show, but the movies are great too).  His utter devotion to his family is unquestionable.  (Okay, there’s the modern portrayal of Wednesday, which is part of why I prefer John Astin’s version.)

Then there’s the single dad with kids who need to “rescue” him by trying to get him a girl. (Sleepless in Seatle would be the archetype of this.) Kind of a reversal of the parent/child role where the child “takes care of” the parent instead of the other way around.

One movie deserves special mention:  “The Family Man” staring Nicolas Cage.  During the “glimpse” Jack Campbell gets to see what life would be like as a devoted family man–considerably less wealthy than he was, but surrounded by people he loves, and who love him.  The glimpse ends, the “angel” (I can argue that it’s actually a demon straight out of Hell) takes it away from him and, although they try to graft on a “happy ending” by showing a possible reconciliation between Jack and the woman who was his wife in the “glimpse”, he can never have that life.  Even if they do get together they are older.  Her father in this reality is dead.  The house they had is owned by somebody else.  And neither of them is the person they were in the “glimpse”.  So that life is closed to them.  Will they make a decent one from where they are “now”?  We’ll never know.

Frankly, you have to look far and wide to find strong, loving, caring fathers dedicated to their families in movies and TV these days.  They’ve fallen out of favor.   And whether this is art imitating life, or life being influenced by art, we’re seeing a lot of disparagement of the family, and the roll of strong, caring, involved fathers in it in society.  I suspect it’s a little of both in a kind of feedback loop.

As it stands, my personal goal is to be the kind, caring, compassionate father seen in many of those early sitcoms (and if you say “Patriarchy”, you just prove that you haven’t paid close attention to those programs.  Yes, the division of labor between inside and outside the home was different from what is common today, but if you look at the division of power and who generally got there way, you’d see something quite different).  One could do worse than choose John Astin’s Gomez Addams or Fred Gwynn’s Herman Munster as a role model.

One could do a lot worse.

One might, for instance, choose Al Bundy (Shudder).

Free Speech, What Would Cap Say About Nazis?

I don’t have to guess what he would say.  I can look at what he did say.

I grew up on superhero comic books, among other things.  And, to be honest, a lot of my personal and ethical philosophy was influenced by them.  And Captain America was one of the biggest of those influences. (And Superman.  Everybody snickers when he says he’s here to fight for Truth, Justice, and the American Way.  Only he’s not joking.  Or he wasn’t back in the day anyway.)

I read this comic way back when,  It was one of my favorites at the time and the lesson it gave stayed with me over the years.  Freedom must be freedom for everyone–whether we agree with them or disagree with them.  Even when we are violently opposed to them.  Perhaps especially when we are violently opposed to them.

So what did Cap have to say on that subject?

cap freedom of speech neonazis 1

cap freedom of speech neo nazis 2

cap freedom of speech neo nazis 3

I am pretty much a free speech absolutist.  Does not matter how odious one finds someones speech.  Censorship is not appropriate.  Violence is not appropriate.  The correct response to odious speech is more speech.  Speak in opposition.  Point out why they are wrong.  You can point out why they are wrong, can’t you?  Clearly, unemotionally, and objectively?  (If you can’t, you might want to ask yourself why that is.)

But recognize that the people saying words you despise have the same right to speak them that you do yours.



Wait. What? Guns?

This is going to be short, I think, because the point is not a subtle one.

So we had the scene in Charlotte.  Bigots of one stripe opposed by bigots of a different stripe having a big to-do.  And then a bigot drives a car into a group of bigots killing one and injuring others.

It would be funny if it weren’t tragic, or if my sense of humor were only a tiny bit darker.  It’s already pretty dark but not quite that dark.

That would be enough but Shannon Watts, spokesperson for the astroturf Bloomberg Front “Moms Demand Action” just had to open her yap and blame the event on the guns and the NRA.

What?  The NRA supports car rights now?  Or maybe the stupid twit doesn’t know the difference between a car and a gun?

No shots were fired at the event.  Not one.  By anybody.

Oh, some people were legally armed.  But not one gun was fired.

We all know that Ms. Watts will wave any bloody shirt she can in the service of Bloomberg’s “cause”.  But could she at least wave shirts where a gun was actually used?

Who Gets First Amendment Protections?

I have seen the claim made that Freedom of the Press only applies to “journalists” and if one is not a journalist by some definition thereof, one is not entitled to that protection.  Similarly, the question arises as to what constitutes as “church” and thus deserving of Freedom of Religion. (And if they could figure some way to limit Freedom of Speech to a particular recognized “class” of people, I’m sure they’d try to do that too.)

Both of these questions completely miss the point.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

The rights of the First Amendment, like all the rights in the Bill of Rights, are rights of individuals.  Of the people, each and every one of us.  Every person has Freedom of the Press.  Every person has Freedom of Religion.  Every.  Single.  Person.  And thanks to the Fourteenth, they don’t just restrict Congress, but also the individual States.

With that in mind, Freedom of Speech protects what you say or otherwise communicate communicate to a person or group of people directly, face to face, as it were.

Freedom of the Press protects what you write or otherwise render into a form to communicate with people removed in time or space.  At the time of the writing of the Constitution that meant either writing letters or printing using a printing press (thus “of the press”).

Freedom of Religion isn’t just a matter of what recognized church you belong to, but a protection for your individual beliefs whether part of an organized religion or not.

In the movie Sergeant York, there was a scene where Alvin York, having once been a violent individual and after having his own personal “Road to Damascus” moment, refused to have more to do with violence.  When conscripted for World War I, he tried to register as a Conscientious Objector.  However since the church he attended did not forbid fighting in wars he was denied this. (I refer only to the movie here and am using this fictional example to illustrate the point.) This, I believe, was an incorrect application of the First Amendment.  His believe, the Sergeant York portrayed in the moive, was non-violence.  That the church he happened to attend did not share that belief did not mean his belief should not be protected under the First Amendment. (And as a hedge against someone using such a claim to cover cowardice–well, there are plenty of non-combat positions that are just as dangerous as foot-soldier.  The Army Ambulance Service in WWI would come to mind.  Or courier and other jobs that bring one under fire without oneself doing the shooting.)

Peaceable Assembly, your right to get together with others generally making it easier to apply that freedom of speech.  Of course note that word “peaceable”.  Throwing stones, breaking windows, generally interfering with other people trying to go about their lawful business is not peaceable.

And finally petition government for redress of grievance isn’t just the write to circulate petitions for signatures but any matter where you communicate with government officials to ask that they resolve something that you believe they are doing wrong.  There is no guarantee that they will do that, of course, but you are allowed to ask without censure.

Furthermore, these things need to be interpreted as broadly as possible.  Freedom of Speech doesn’t just mean spoken words, but anything that one person does to communicate a message to others.  That could be sign language, gestures, performance art, and, yes, burning flags or books (so long as they own the flag or book–destruction of someone else’s property is rightfully a crime).  The only real limit on any of these is the point where it infringes on someone else’s rights.  And, no, being offended does not qualify.  There is no right not to be offended.

People ask, “but what about when they say this horrible thing?”  Well, the answer to odious speech is more speech.  If somebody is out there extoling the virtues of communism, then speak out about how it’s a horrible system that leads to wholesale deaths.  If someone advocates slavery, speak out in favor of freedom.  If you find something offensive, then don’t silence them.  Explain why they’re wrong.

Just a word of advice.  If you want to convince people, you might want to have a little more in your toolkit than insults for those who disagree with you.

Blast from the Past: A Passion for Space

Little has really changed from when I first wrote this several years ago.

I’m a big proponent of space science, don’t get me wrong, but my major interest in the “space program” when I was younger was the idea that maybe someday I could go, I could walk on the moon or mars or visit, maybe live in, a space colony.  That was what I wanted: “I wanted the hurtling moons of Barsoom…” and if not Barsoom, then at least the real Mars.

When it became clear that it was never going to happen, a lot of my passion dried up.  Oh, there was still the academic interest in space science, in understanding the sun and the planets, in maybe seeing if there is life on other worlds, in the solar magnetosphere and its motion through interstellar space.

But the passion that used to drive me was gone.

That’s where NASA (and their political masters) dropped the ball, IMO.  While I have nothing against the folk doing Space Science, I really think most of whatever budget they had should have been doing toward “access to space” technology.  Improving rocket reliability.  The strong, yet lightweight structures for flight airframes.  Real hardware rather than whole forests of paper.  Stuff done to bring, and presented as bringing, us closer to the day when you and I can go.  We needed the space equivalent of the NACA cowl and 4 and 5 digit airfoils so that private companies could build private hardware that could carry private, commercial passengers to private space stations.

Instead we got Shuttle, and no new human carrying hardware until, well, nothing yet.  [Ed:  Dragon by SpaceX is supposed to carry human crews to the ISS but still has not done so as of this writing.] And with Shuttle gone, we’re left with even older technology (Soyuz) to get humans into Space.  I mean that span carried us just about from the Ford Trimotor to the Boeing 707.  Yes, space travel is hard, but more than 30 years after Shuttle’s first flight we don’t have anything better?

That passion got ignited again back on the old electronic service GEnie (the capitalization is correct.  It was owned by General Electric).  Geoff Landis made the offhand comment that “what we needed was a rocket that individuals could make and that could carry a person up a hundred miles or so.”  I took the idea and ran with it.  Geoff and I did a bunch of back and forth.  Some other people stuck there nickel’s worth in.  And the result was the SpaceCub concept.  We presented it at the NW Space Development conference.  New Scientist included a bit about it.  I was interviewed for an AAAS broadcast (I really wish I could find tape or transcript for that).

For a while there, it looked like I was going to be able to go somewhere with it.  At the college I was attending we had a visiting scientist from Russia.  He put me in contact with his old professor.  The professor put me in contact with someone from Energomach (manufacture of key rocket motors–including the verniers from the RD-107/108 that Geoff and and I were looking at for SpaceCub).  And . . . well, there was no money for any “and” and I had to move on with the task of getting a job and providing for myself.

The real problem, even more than money, was the legal issues.  I looked at the treaties of which the US was a signitory.  I looked at the law, as it existed then.  And, well, it looked pretty bad for anyone wanting to actually try something like SpaceCub.  So, well, my old web page about it is still up, but that’s as afar as it ever went.

But, not long after the X-Prize was announced.  The specs for the prize matched what SpaceCub was intended to do, carry passengers to a height of 100 km (international definition of the beginning of Space) and bring them back to Earth, and do it over and over again with minimal time in between flights.  I spoke to one of the folk there and he swore up and down that they weren’t influenced by SpaceCub but, well, as Geoff said, before we came along nobody was talking about manned suborbital flight.  Then after we started getting some press, suddenly they were.  I don’ t know.  I have my suspicions, but I don’t know.

Apparently the Rutans and Richard Branson think the legal issues can be dealt with since they’re building a business to do what SpaceCub was supposed to do for (admittedly relatively well-heeled) individuals–private, human carrying rocket flights into space.

And so, my hope is back a little bit.  But I’m afraid it’s not hope resided in NASA or the government, but in the Rutans and Bransons of the world.

Robots are going to put us all out of work!

That is a refrain I hear all the time.  Automation, will take over people’s jobs and put them out of work and we’ll end up with endless numbers of people for whom there are no jobs.

But is that really how it works?

Liberal political commentator Sally Kohn seems to think so:

Solar labor inefficiency crop

She is clearly advocating here a means of producing energy that requires 40-80 times as much labor to produce a given amount of “product” (in this case energy).  Exactly the opposite of what automation does.

Automation, the use of robots, produces more with less labor than was possible before.  That means we don’t need as many people to fill the need for whatever we’re producing.  And that means the “excess” people are out of work, right?

Sorry, but that’s not how it has ever worked except in the very shortest of terms.

Producing more with less labor has been the spur for economic growth since before recorded history began.

In early agriculture, farmers planted crops by poking a hole in the ground with a stick, dropping seeds into the hole, then closing it by stepping on it.  One person could raise enough food that way to feed him or herself with very little surplus.  Just about the entire population had to be full-time farmers.

Along the way somebody discovered that if you dragged the stick along the ground you could create a furrow, preparing a field for seed in less time.  This rapidly turned into the scratch plow pulled at first by other people and later by animals.  One person could keep more land in cultivation, meaning you needed fewer people to produce the food for your population meaning more people were freed up for other activities.  People could become artisans, and craftsmen–specializing in those activities and not simply performing them as a sideline between stints in the fields.

It is no coincidence that the flourishing of the ancient civilizations of Mesopotamia, the Nile valley, and the Levant arose following the invention of the plow–other things too such as the potter’s wheel, which also allowed fewer people to produce the pots and urns that people needed.

So it has been throughout history.  Western (i.e. European) civilization took off when extensive use of water mills, and later steam power, took the place of muscle power for industry.

One of the steps along the way, an early example of automation, the use of punch-card controlled looms for making textiles, led to actual protests.  A movement started by a probably mythical individual by the name of Ned Ludd, protested the new looms, claiming that it would put weavers out of work.  The protests involved both violence and sabotage.

Of course, the use of the new looms proceeded apace and, contrary to the fears, the economic growth more than absorbed any weavers displaced by the automation process.  Nor was the displacement as bad as expected because by producing more textiles more cheaply, international trade increased the quantity demanded.

Interestingly enough, a number of former third-world nations (even before the term “third world” was coined) have used textiles as an entry point in bootstrapping an industrial and manufacturing economy.

And so it has gone ever since.  Machine tools.  Assembly lines.  Railroads.  Modern shipping (compare the crew to cargo ratio of a modern container ship to an old merchant sailing ship).  Industrial robots of increasing sophistication.  And now robots that are poised to take your order and make your food in fast food establishments.  All of them ways to get the same job done with less human effort.  The latest round is no different from any of the previous ones.

What all of them do is to free up people to do other things.  This is the core of economic growth and we all benefit from it.

If you don’t believe that, I invite you to try to live as that prehistoric farmer family did–feeding yourself by poking holes in the ground with a stick (no cheating by dragging the stick to create a furrow).

Good luck.


Blast from the Past: “A Gun in the Home is more Likely…”

I generally do “blasts from the past” when I either don’t have anything specific I want to blog on on a particular day or when I’m not feeling well and am just not up to writing something new.

Today is the latter case.  All achy and stuffy today.

People keep making the claim that a gun in the home is more likely to be used to kill a friend or family member than it is to be used in self defense.

This all derives by a “study” by Arthur Kellerman which has long since been debunked but its fake statistics nevertheless continue to be cited by anti-gun propagandists.

Here are a few of the debunkings:

Some of its flaws:
On the one side: He only counts as “defenses” dead criminals when in truth in most cases where a gun is used in self defense merely presenting a gun is sufficient to end the threat. When the gun is fired, most of the times the person shot survives. This is even more the case in defensive shootings because when a person means harm, they are more likely to keep shooting until the target is dead whereas in a defensive shooting a person generally stops when they believe the threat is ended (and, in fact, is legally required to do so). So, the number of uses of a gun in self defense in the Kellerman study is low by orders of magnitude.

On the flip side: The original study spoke of victims known to the attacker. People citing the statistic morphed that into “friends and acquaintances” and then later to “friends and family”. But the statistic being cited as “friends and family” is actually “person shot by person known to them”. In a drug deal gone bad, the persons are known to each other. In a gang war, the members of the gang are often known to each other. An abusive ex shot in self defense is known to the person doing the shooting. And so on. So a lot of the things being included in that statistic are things that simply are not relevant to a law abiding citizen owning a gun. (Ed:  Or they will be risks the person faces whether they own a gun or not.)

The other thing that gets added in is suicide.  However possession of a firearm only really affects choice of method rather than suicide itself.  Japan, for instance, with its essentially gun-free society has a suicide rate higher than our suicide and homicide rates combined.

Looked at dispassionately we find that studies of gun use in self defense produce a low value of about 800,000 per year. The high value is 2.5 million. It’s hard to get a definitive answer to the question because see above: most times in a defensive use the gun is never fired. As a result, this means that most gun defenses are never reported to the police. In any case, most studies of the issue return results of 1 to 1.5 million gun defenses per year. However, even using the lowball estimate of 800,000 that’s quite comparable to the number of times guns are used criminally in the US. So, far from having a gun in the household making one at increased risk, one is instead about as likely (again, using that lowball result) to use a gun in self defense as to be threatened by a gun. More, actually since “gun owners” (the only population where one is able to use a gun in self defense) < “total population” (the population at risk for criminal use). Being criminally threatened with a gun has a risk of about 800,000 out of 321 (or so) million. Using a gun to defend oneself has a risk of about 800,000 (lowball again) out of 70-100 million. The latter is at worst three times the odds of the former.

Or look at it more simply. Gun ownership in the US has grown by leaps and bounds. The spread of “shall issue” and more recently “constitutional carry” means more people are carrying more guns in more places than ever before. If the “gun ownership increases risk” had any merit then we would be seeing homicide and violent crime going up. But that’s not what’s happening. It’s been going down since the 90’s and is currently at a 100 year low.

The simple truth is, the violent have been with us since the beginning of humanity. The violent have several inherent advantages. They get to choose time and place. They get to choose victims (generally choosing those smaller and weaker than themselves). What firearms do is level the playing field. With a gun, aged Aunt Millie is the equal of 6′ 4″ 300 lb, Joe Thug on Steroids. Guns are, therefore, a net good to society.

“God made man short and tall. Samuel Colt made them equal.”

“Be not afraid of any man, No matter what his size; When danger threatens, call on me — And I will equalize!”