Sunday, August 26, 2007

Gun Control, Free People, and the Threat to Britain

A month or so back I commented on a column by Theodore Dalrymple on Tony Blair's departure from the office of Prime Minister of Great Britain. I expressed a concern at the end of that post about how easy it would be for an organized minority to take over the country with the law-abiding populace disarmed.

Yesterday the Instapundit linked to a post by Michael Moynihan at Reason Online's Hit & Run blog. It is mostly concerned with the effects of gun control in Britain on gun crime (it's been counterproductive) and links to a much more extensive 2002 article by Joyce Lee Malcolm that details the chronology of the gradual disarming of the law-abiding British populace, starting in the1920's and continuing to the present day.

In the 1950's, while he was at medical school in the UK, my father was introduced to the sport of marksmanship by a friend. He decided to acquire his friend's .22 caliber bolt-action sport rifle (said friend probably wanted to get a better/fancier one for himself), the kind I could walk into any Wal Mart and buy without any problem today. Before he could complete his acquisition, he had to get the permission of the Chief of Police and so he dutifully went down to the police station where he spent several hours being questioned by a detective about why he needed a firearm, what he would do with it, etc. Eventually he convinced the detective that he wasn't about to stage a coup and he was allowed to complete his purchase. This was around 1954/5. In 1957 he emigrated to the US, making the trip on the ocean liner Ile de France. He disembarked the ship in lower Manhattan, carrying the same rifle, slung over his back and no one even questioned him about it. I still have the rifle.

As the Malcolm article points out, not content with disarming the people, the British Government has not only disarmed them, it has steadily eroded the people's rights to any meaningful right of self-defense. She presents this mostly in terms of its effects on crime. What she doesn't talk about though, and to be fair it's a subject for another article, is the potential for an armed uprising by an organized minority that could stockpile guns and use them to take control. It takes relatively few armed men to control a large number of disarmed people. And if those people have been conditioned to wait for someone else to help them, it is easier still because they have lost the basic instinct hard-wired into the brains of every creature on the planet to fight back when threatened.

Going back to 2002 again, perhaps Bill Whittle said it best in one of his epic essays, "Freedom":

"Ask yourselves why intellectual elites so love totalitarian states where people are unarmed and dependent sheep. Look at the examples of Hitler, Stalin, Pol Pot, Mao, and Saddam, and the horrors they have inflicted at will on their own people. And when contemplating your ever-so-sophisticated foreign policy, ask yourselves what compassionate and non-violent options you are left with when facing a determined, heartless bastard like Hitler, Napoleon, Ghengis Khan or Attila.

Some say that the time for real evil like that has finally gone. I hope you are right, I really do. I don't want to go fight those bastards; I'd rather barbeque and watch the Gators. I'm sure the Jews in 1930 Germany thought such things could never happen again, not in the heart of European culture and civilization. I'm sure every bound and beaten musician, surgeon, philosopher and painter being lined up at the side of a ditch thought exactly that.

Freedom is preserved by free people. Our 40th President wrote that “no weapon in the arsenals of the world is so formidable as the will and moral courage of free men and women.”

I believe gun ownership is the truest form of freedom, and here's why: It says you are your own person, responsible for your own actions. You are, in other words, expected to behave as an adult. It says, furthermore, that you should not be collectively punished for the misdeeds of others. In fact, those that abuse this freedom by committing crimes are thought of and dealt with much more harshly by gun owners, as a rule, than Hollywood celebrities, precisely because a free person understands the responsibility that comes with freedom.

This, to my mind, is the fundamental difference between the Europeans and the U.S.: We trust the people. We fought wars and lost untold husbands and brothers and sons because of this single most basic belief: Trust the people. Trust them with freedom. Trust them to spend their own money. Trust them to do the right thing. Trust them to defend themselves. To the degree that government can help, great -- but TRUST THE PEOPLE. "

I only hope that the British people will find again their collective will to live as free people before it's too late.

Update 9/9: Glenn Reynolds links to an article in The Times that reinforces the point that if you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have them:

".....Why is it, even after the Virginia Tech massacre, that Americans still resist calls for more gun controls?

The short answer is that “gun controls” do not work: they are indeed generally perverse in their effects......"

Maybe it's not too late for Britain to wake up after all?

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Mark Steyn On The True Lessons of Vietnam

I can't add much anything to this. So just go and read it.

"Then as now, people argued the real problem was America's presence and that if we would just withdraw, the killing would end," Bush told the Veterans of Foreign Wars convention Aug. 22. "Many argued that if we pulled out there would be no consequences for the Vietnamese people … . A columnist for the New York Times wrote in a similar vein in 1975, just as Cambodia and Vietnam were falling to the communists: 'It's difficult to imagine,' he said, 'how their lives could be anything but better with the Americans gone.' A headline on that story, dateline Phnom Penh, summed up the argument: 'Indochina Without Americans: For Most a Better Life.' The world would learn just how costly these misimpressions would be."

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Sunday, August 19, 2007

Forget Big Oil - What About "Big Corn"?

Here is more evidence (via Instapundit) that the drive to increase the use of biofuels, particularly corn-derived ethanol, may be counter productive. In fact, the EROEI (energy returned on energy invested) in producing a gallon of ethanol may be as low as 59% or, turning that around, the energy required to produce the gallon of ethanol is 170% of the energy yielded. That doesn't seem like a particularly sound investment.
"The reason is that producing biofuel is not a "green process". It requires tractors and fertilisers and land, all of which means burning fossil fuels to make "green" fuel. In the case of bioethanol produced from corn – an alternative to oil – "it's essentially a zero-sums game," says Ghislaine Kieffer, programme manager for Latin America at the International Energy Agency in Paris, France."

The push towards producing more energy from renewable sources is really just more rent seeking behavior on the part of the big agricultural conglomerates.

"It is difficult to discuss rent seeking without mentioning the ethanol lobby, in particular the agricultural powerhouse Archer Daniels Midland (ADM). As documented in a Cato Institute Policy Analysis by James Bovard, ADM has perfected the art of rent seeking as well as, if not better than, any other company in America. The agricultural conglomerate has benefited from a range of subsidies, agricultural and otherwise. ADM is "totally immersed" in government programs, according to Archer Daniels Midland’s CEO Dwayne Andreas.

A key component of the 1990 Clean Air Act amendments was a set of provisions governing the content of automotive fuels. The amendments required that oxygenates be added to gasoline in cities with high carbon monoxide (CO) levels and that reformulated gasoline be used in cities with high ground-level ozone (smog) levels. Both provisions created opportunities for the use of ethanol, a corn-based alcohol fuel. Ethanol is an oxygenate that can be added to gasoline to reduce CO emissions.

The ethanol lobby, politically supported by midwestern agricultural interests, swung into action. The lobby wanted both provisions to require the maximum amount of oxygenates possible, in order to increase the demand for ethanol. In particular, ethanol interests lobbied for a minimum oxygen content that could not be met by non-ethanol oxygenates. Reducing air pollution quickly became a secondary concern. As one Senate committee report noted, "In the absence of other avenues through which to encourage domestically produced ethanol to enter the fuel stream, this [requirement] is

It has been a long time since I took any classes in physics but I seem to recall that the energy required to accelerate a mass X from zero to velocity Y and move it over the distance from A to B is going to be the same, regardless of which fuel you use to provide the energy. If ethanol contains less energy per gallon than straight gasoline, wouldn't you need to burn more of it to provide the necessary energy? If so, where is the energy savings and where is the reduction in carbon emissions? It seems to me that a zero-sum game may be the optimistic case and the authors of the study quoted in the article linked at the top are correct. We would do better to increase the efficiency of fossil fuel use than the false economy of promoting more bio-fuels use.

Related reading here.
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Thursday, August 16, 2007

Sixty-Two More Reasons to Distrust the MSM

From the American Thinker (via Instapundit). How many more do you need?
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Sunday, August 12, 2007

It's a Tax Trap, Not a Two Income Trap

Earlier this week Glenn Reynolds posted a link to a lengthy post by Todd Zywicki at The Volokh Conspiracy. He refers back to a book I read a couple of years back, The Two-Income Trap: Why Middle-Class Parents are Going Broke. The authors (a mother/daughter team, Elizabeth Warren and Amelia Warren Tyagi) put it down to a bidding war for houses in neighborhoods with good schools. I was kind of bothered by the authors' propensity for not using apples to apples comparisons, something that struck Mr. Zywicki also:

"Reading that excerpt, I thought, "Hmm, that's confusing. I wonder why they listed the actual dollar values for all of the other expenses, but the 'percentage' of income spent on taxes. That makes it difficult to compare to make an apples to apples comparison of the actual tax burdens between the two periods." Presenting it in this manner is even more confusing because the authors then go on to implicitly convert tax obligations to dollar values in order to calculate the total amount of the families' budgets dedicated to aggregate "fixed costs" versus "discretionary spending," concluding that the 2000s couple has less left over for discretionary spending than the prior generation. Yet, although they report the actual dollar values for everything else, in an apparent oversight, [Ahem. Right. emphasis mine Brother J] they never actually report the actual dollar figures for the tax expenditures in the two periods."

Whipping out his handy-dandy calculator he quickly ascertained what the real issue is: taxes.

"So I got out my handy calculator and calculated what the indicated percentage of taxes translates into in terms of actual dollars paid in taxes. In turns out that for the 1970s family, paying 24% of its income in taxes works out to be $9,288. And for the 2000s family, paying 33% of its income (a higher rate presumably because of progressivity hitting the second wage-earners income) in taxes works out to be $22,374.

Thus, taxes increase in the example by $13,086. By contrast, annual mortgage obligations increased by only $3690 and automobile obligations by $2860 and health insurance $620. Those increases are not trivial, but they are swamped by the increase in tax obligations. Too put this in perspective, the increase in tax obligations is over three times as large as the increase in the mortgage (the supposed driver of the "two income trap") and about double the increase in the combined obligations of mortgage and automobile payments. This also leaves aside the peculiarity that the 2000s family is paying $9670 in new child care and $2860 in new automobile expenses supposedly to meet a $3690 increase in mortgage expenses, the supposed driver of the model."

It's a lengthy post but the whole thing is worth reading. It certainly does seem to make for another good argument in favor of the FairTax.
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