there’s no such thing as localized incompetence in politics.

Briefly stated, the Gell-Mann Amnesia effect is as follows. You open the newspaper to an article on some subject you know well. In Murray’s case, physics. In mine, show business. You read the article and see the journalist has absolutely no understanding of either the facts or the issues. Often, the article is so wrong it actually presents the story backward—reversing cause and effect. I call these the “wet streets cause rain” stories. Paper’s full of them.

In any case, you read with exasperation or amusement the multiple errors in a story, and then turn the page to national or international affairs, and read as if the rest of the newspaper was somehow more accurate about Palestine than the baloney you just read. You turn the page, and forget what you know.” –Michael Crichton

This applies to politicians in equal measure, and it’s one of the reasons why I hold Democrats in as much general contempt as I do Republicans.

I am by no means an expert on a lot of things, but there are some subjects where I know my stuff extremely well. So when I see someone go off on, say, gun control, and then proceed to display a breathtaking level of ignorance about the issue at hand, get basic facts and definitions laughably wrong, misdiagnose the problem entirely, make demonstrably false claims, propose counterproductive solutions, and be deliberately deceptive just to get some pet legislation passed, I automatically assume that the politician in question is equally clueless and dishonest about every other social issue. (That goes for Conservatives and Liberals alike, by the way.)

I think much of the problem with politics these days is that too many people are willing to assume that the politicians they support are more competent and honest when it comes to pushing their pet causes. Me, if I know you’re either willfully ignorant or demonstrably dishonest about one subject, I have a hard time believing you at all.


nothing to hide, nothing to fear, part MCVIII.

Feds seek contractor to build federal license plate reader database.

Remember: if Team Us does it, it’s a sensible national security measure, and if you oppose it, you’re a paranoid nutjob and/or want the terrorists to win. If Team Them does it, it’s a totalitarian police state measure, and if you support it, you’re a fascist pig and/or hate America, freedom, and apple pie.

i give it two out of five ches. has a nice little bit of snark on Rolling Stone Magazine’s insipid “Five Economic Reforms Millennials Should Be Fighting For” article. For those of you who don’t want to drive up the click counter at Rolling Stone: one Jesse A. Myerson basically repackages the main pillars of the Communist Manifesto to appeal to modern-day ultra-progressive hipster sensibilities and advocates guaranteed public-sector jobs, a basic living stipend, and, oh yeah, abolishing private property. It reads like something a bunch of 19-year-old sociology students cooked up at Starbucks in an hour and a half over MacBooks and $5 lattes.

Look, I grew up in a divided country. Half of us had to live under the tyrannical yoke of capitalism, with private property and landlords and greedy bankers and stuff. The other half got to live in a place where every single item on Jesse A. Myerson’s economic reform wish list was in place. Guaranteed employment and basic living stipend from the state? Check. Communal ownership of everything (“take back the land”)? Check. Social security for all? Check. Public banking system? Check. On top of that, free education, free child care, free healthcare, and the strictest gun control imaginable.

Guess which half of the country had to put up barbed wire and minefields after a few years to keep its population from fleeing to the other half? Guess which half of the country ran its economy and environment into the ground?

Holy balls, that article is so chock-full of starry-eyed, self-righteous coffeehouse Trotzkyism, it practically vibrates with revolutionary fervor. Did you know that landlords, for example, don’t really do anything for their rent money? That they just “claim ownership” of some property and then sit there and collect cash from the working class? It’s true. This is amazing news to this landlord and his wife, who have been diligently paying off two mortgages all these years, and hired a property management company to maintain the place and make sure our tenants’ needs are met. Why, just last month we oppressed our poor working-class tenants by buying a new range and dishwasher to replace the old appliances that were starting to go all wonky on them. But yeah, other than paying the mortgage on the place every month, paying the management company, and making sure anything that breaks is fixed promptly, we do pretty much nothing but collect rent checks and sit on our asses.

<adjusts monocle, twirls handlebar mustache>

Anyway, that’s what you get when you run articles on economics written by professional Occupy Reality folks who have never had to make a payroll. Bet you that article is getting lots of clicks and views, though, which was probably the entire point. It sure as shit has nothing to do with progressivism or upsetting the current order, because Rolling Stone is about as hip and counter-culture as Citibank these days.

click it or ticket.

Libertarian/conservative small-government fruitcake New Hampshire doesn’t have a mandatory seatbelt law for adults. The New Hampshire seatbelt use rate is 75%.*

Neighboring Massachusetts, the Northeastern bastion of progressivism and Laws-Will-Fix-It-ism, has a mandatory seatbelt law. The Massachusetts seatbelt use rate is 73.20%.*

Is it that we New Hampshirites have enough common sense that we don’t need the threat of a fine to think buckling up is a pretty good idea, or is it that our Massachusetts neighbors are so much less responsible that they do need that threat to have a seatbelt use rate that’s almost as good as ours?

Of course, you can’t argue this with a fan of mandatory seatbelt laws. They’d take one look at the numbers and claim that a.) NH’s rate would be even better with a mandatory seatbelt law, and that b.) MA’s would be ever so much worse without it, thereby proving the need for it.


*Source for the compliance rate data: NHTSA data for 2011, the most recent year available.



Back from the shop: my well-worn Benchmade 2550 automatic folder.

A few months ago, the automatic opening feature turned itself off by way of the mainspring snapping in half. Due to the stupid-ass federal law on shipping switchblades across state lines, I couldn’t send it back to Benchmade to get fixed, so I tossed it into a drawer and forgot about it for a while. Then I mentioned it on Facebook one day, and thanks to reader and new friend Michael (who is a police officer and thereby authorized by Federal law to receive such dangerous contraband in the mail), the 2550 has been serviced and returned to my (entirely legal) possession.

The switchblade law is an example of what happens when people who don’t know anything about a subject craft a law on it, with only newspapers and movies as a source for information. The Switchblade Knife Act of 1958 was the result of some hand-wringing hysteria on the part of suburbanites who thought that “Blackboard Jungle” and “Rebel Without A Cause” were documentaries.

The following is from the Wikipedia entry on switchblades:

In 1950, an article titled The Toy That Kills appeared in the Women’s Home Companion, a widely read U.S. periodical of the day. The article sparked a storm of controversy and a nationwide campaign that would eventually result in state and federal laws criminalizing the importation, sale, and possession of automatic-opening knives. In the article, author Jack Harrison Pollack assured the reader that the growing switchblade “menace” could have deadly consequence “as any crook can tell you”.[17] Pollack, a former aide to Democratic Senator Harley M. Kilgore and a ghostwriter for then-Senator Harry S. Truman, had authored a series of magazine articles calling for new laws to address a variety of social ills. In The Toy That Kills, Pollack wrote that the switchblade was “Designed for violence, deadly as a revolver – that’s the switchblade, the ‘toy’ youngsters all over the country are taking up as a fad. Press the button on this new version of the pocketknife and the blade darts out like a snake’s tongue. Action against this killer should be taken now”.[

The state laws on knives are as byzantine as the state laws on firearms. A knife that’s legal for me in my home state to own and carry would make me an instant felon, were I to cross the border into MA with it and get pulled over and frisked. For some reason, I can be trusted to walk around in New Hampshire with a switchblade or a locking folder, but residents of Massachusetts would turn into homicidal delinquents if they did the same. And while NH has no restrictions of any sort on knife carry, the Federal act makes it illegal for switchblades to be shipped across a state line to anyone but a licensed dealer, police, or military.

I don’t blame Benchmade–they’re just following the pointless law. For what it’s worth, Benchmade service is really good. They fixed the spring, bent the pocket clip back into shape, and re-sharpened the knife, all at no cost save shipping. But it’s ludicrous that they can’t ship my own knife back to me directly, despite the fact that it’s 100% legal to own and carry in my home state, just because a bunch of stogie-smoking old white dudes got their bloomers in a wad after watching “West Side Story”.


the government shutdown diaries.


Day One of the government shutdown. Park rangers are furloughed. The fires from the grizzly bear riots are painting the night sky over Yellowstone bright orange. Bald eagles are ditching their tracking collars and skipping the country. WHEN WILL THIS MADNESS END



Day Two of the government shutdown. They have begun to tear up roads and dismantle all the utility wires. The garbage trucks sit by the side of the road, abandoned. We are freezing in the dark and can’t go anywhere. THANKS, NRA TEABAGGERS.



Day Three of the government shutdown. Marauding Canadians are crossing the unguarded northern border in large groups. For now we can placate them with hockey shirts and cheap LASIK, but I fear the worst.

The supermarket has no food left. Without anyone to tell them what size apples are safe to sell, they didn’t want to risk killing us all. At least SOMEONE is looking out for us.



Day Four of the government shutdown. Without the FCC, everyone on TV and the radio is just screaming random obscenities. In the next town over, people drank raw, unpasteurized milk, and everyone died screaming.

Because there are no more grocery stores, we tried to go out to eat last night. Restaurant was gone. Some fool installed a bathroom urinal with unapproved water throughput and blew the place up when he flushed. SERVES HIM RIGHT, I SAY.

well, I’m glad it won’t be war-war.

Secretary of State Lurch says that the administration isn’t asking Congress for permission to go to war in Syria because bombing Syria wouldn’t be “war in the classic sense”. You know, more of a Diet War. War Light. New War. Less filling than the old kind.

Trying to move goalposts by changing definitions—that’s pretty much the only thing both parties excel at when they get their hands on the Purple Robes of Power. That’s why everything is terrorism now, even stuff like raising concerns about water quality. (And before you Conservatives go all, “Well, that’s Liberals for you, nyuk nyuk,” remember that you guys put all those nifty tools in the shed at 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. after 9/11, ready for the next guy to use.)

War in the classic sense. It boggles the mind that anyone would think this class of people fit to run anything more complex and important than a porta-potty at the county fair.

reader question: what’s wrong with gun registration?

Commenter “Jarin” has a question regarding gun registration which I answered in the comments thread, but which deserves a blog post response.

Jarin asks:

I don’t understand what the fuss is about registration… (no, really, I don’t get it, someone please explain it). Why should we not have registration for something as easily dangerous as guns? Why should firearms have less regulation than automobiles? Seriously, look at the paperwork around owning and operating a car. And yet, everyone does it. Why not treat firearms similarly?

First of all, registration does not do anything to prevent crime. Don’t believe it? Let me write down the serial number of my gun on these two pieces of paper and hand you one of them. What crime exactly are you going to prevent with that?

Second, registration is pretty much good for nothing except preparatory groundwork for confiscation. (Look at NY for a current-day example.) Canada’s expensive gun registration did not help solve a single crime but carried a $60 million price tag. That’s a lot of money that could have gone to stuff that actually fights crime. Lots of gun owners in this country get justifiably nervous at the idea of a registry of firearms when historically such a registry has only ever served to provide the authorities with a list of addresses for confiscating firearms.

Third, firearms do not have “less regulation than automobiles”. If they did, I’d be able to walk into any gun store and walk out with any gun I want, without having to show anything but a means to pay. I could own whatever I wanted on my own property without license or insurance (you only need those for a car if you plan on operating it on public roads.) My carry license would be valid in all fifty states and most countries abroad.

I wish they’d treat firearms like cars when it comes to regulation. If cars were regulated like guns, you’d need to pass a federal background check for each and every dealer purchase, your driver’s license would only be good in your own state unless some other state had explicitly agreed to reciprocity, and things like the capacity of your gas tank, the spoiler on your trunk lid, or the mode of shifting could be legal in one state but a five-year mandatory felony prison term in a neighboring state.

demonstrably wrong, laughably ignorant, and deliberately deceptive.

(Note: This post is largely directed at my liberal and progressive friends. Yes, I have those, just like I have Libertarian and conservative friends. If your entire social circle shares one political viewpoint, you don’t live in the real world, you live in an echo chamber. Conservative friends: please refrain from “LIBRULS ARE TEH STOOPID!!!1!!ONE!! type comments.)

When it comes to pushing gun control legislation, heavy-handed propaganda is generally excused or justified by a lot of Progressives because it serves the right cause and goal.

  • Among the many half-truths and outright manipulative falsehoods in Bowling for Columbine, Michael Moore tries to show the extent of redneck gun-nuttery by making it look like he got a rifle at the bank where he opened his account. (The bank had advertised a free rifle with new accounts, but the transaction still had to go through a local gun dealer, background check and all.) In his version, he walks out of the bank with the rifle in hand, as if they handed it to him in there.
  • Colorado Rep. Diana DeGette, lead Democratic sponsor of a bill to introduce a magazine capacity limit, has no idea how ammunition magazines actually work–that they’re not disposable one-time use items, but reusable containers that can be filled with ammunition over and over. She thinks banning them will make shooters “run out of bullets to shoot.”
  • Rep. Carolyn McCarthy, when asked about the “barrel shroud” feature she wants to see banned on rifles, describes it (laughably incorrectly) as a “shoulder thing that goes up”, meaning a collapsible stock on a particular shotgun model.
  • The President of the United States claims that the Newtown shooting was committed with a “fully automatic weapon”, which is simply not the case. (Adam Lanza used a semi-automatic rifle that fires one shot per trigger pull.)
  • Gabby Giffords’ husband is observed buying the same type of weapon he is lobbying to ban, and then claims he recorded the transaction to “show the country how easy it is to pass a background check.” He fails to mention that he was unable to buy a gun on his first try (because he didn’t have a valid Arizona ID), and that the dealer refused to let him take possession of the rifle because he answered a question on the background check form incorrectly (he claimed that he wanted to donate the rifle to the local police department, which means he lied on the “straw sale” question of the federal background check form that asks whether you are the actual buyer of the firearm.) The system not only worked as intended, deliberately lying on the federal form resulted in a refused sale. But showing that would have invalidated Capt. Kelly’s entire argument (which was most likely bogus to begin with, so he either lied to the dealer or the public/media.)
  • The lead gun control advocacy group in the United States muses that the public’s confusion about the difference between fully automatic machine guns and semi-automatic rifles (“anything that looks like a machine gun is assumed to work like one”) can only help the support for laws that ban the semi-automatic rifles.
  • The constant invoking of “unlicensed dealers” at gun shows that can sell guns to anyone without background checks. (There’s no such thing as an “unlicensed dealer”–they mean gun show patrons who bring a rifle or pistol of their own to sell to another private party in the parking lot or while wandering the show floor, not the dealers at the show who have to do a federal background check on every buyer.)
  • The claim that guns are “less regulated than teddy bears”, when guns are the only consumer product in the country whose purchase requires a federal background check for every single retail transaction.

If you support restrictions or outright bans on private arms anyway, stuff like that may not be a big deal to you–after all, it only serves to help restrict gun ownership, and any measure that gets us down the road a bit is a good one, right?

Well, you’re actually harming the rest of the progressive agenda by using or supporting such tactics, because they harm your credibility.

If you push legislation on a social issue with arguments that are demonstrably wrong (as in “provably non-factual”), obviously ignorant, and deliberately deceptive, how are people supposed to believe that your arguments are factual, informed, and objective in any other policy debate?

If you think it’s no big deal to get your facts wrong, be ignorant about the issue at hand, and intentionally deceive people into voting your way when it comes to gun control, why should the fence-sitters and the opposition believe that you don’t play loose with the facts when it comes to climate change, energy policy, social justice, economic policies, or any of the other items on the progressive agenda? How can you be surprised when your efforts on, say, climate change are met with suspicion and outright hostility from the other side, and they accuse you of misrepresenting the data to push an agenda? After all, you’ve already set a precedent for that.

Truth and reality don’t need misinformation. If you misrepresent the facts to achieve a legislative goal, you harm your own agenda and show contempt for the electorate. That goes for both sides, liberal and conservative alike. Liberals would greatly resist legislation on reproductive rights pushed by people who refer to the penis as the “jizz spigot” and describe the act of sex like a kindergartner who has caught bits and snippets from her parents here and there. They can’t be surprised when Conservatives oppose legislation on gun rights pushed by people who know little or nothing about guns (and who actually consider their ignorance on the subject a virtue.)