May 26, 2016

It's time to take out the trash


"Greed is good" was a terrible idea. It pains me that it ever entered the American lexicon. However, it does not surprise me.

In order for us to move beyond the limits of "greed is good" thinking, we must find ways to incentivize self-improvement without punishing the successful. We can do this by finding ways to make it easier for individuals to start their own businesses, to manage their own money, and to study ways to improve their own lives through their own efforts.

For starters, get the Fed and all of the other central banks out of the stock market and stop using them to prop up failed business models. Higher interest rates would discourage debt and encourage saving while also allowing small or medium-size banks to generate profit from their loans rather than from a slew of fees. Instead of using federal and state regulatory agencies as punishing arms of government whose primary purpose is to generate revenue through fines and assessments, give government the primary role of using regulation to teach small and medium business owners a safer, more efficient way to serve their customers and improve their profitability. Teaching better ways of doing business without mandating prescribed ways of doing business should be the goal of both government regulation and regulatory agencies.

Government has become a weapon used by those in positions of influence to punish competition while making their own lives easier. Crony capitalism is the very essence of corruption and is the real source of many of our problems. Wall Street should not be held up as the leading indicator of economic health. Investors need to share equally in the risks of capitalism, regardless of whether those investors are hedge funds, pension funds, individuals, international banks, or business moguls. The key problem is that everyone in power or with access to power is depending on a healthy stock market to preserve their personal wealth. The Fed has become a babysitter for poor investment choices and excessive risk taking. It is time to remove the QE purchases and impossibly low interest rates that are propping up a failed market.

It is entirely possible that some form of anti-trust and anti-monopoly legislation is also needed. There really is no reason that multi-national corporations like GE, Wal-Mart, Macdonalds, Amazon, and Facebook should be in a position to dictate economic policy, social interaction, and political will. BP, Rosneft, Aramco, and other gigantic oil corporations should not be allowed to collude together with each other and with national governments to control the flow of energy products and the direction of research investments. Changhong, Huawei, Samsung, Phillips, and other electronics giants should not have such intimate relationships with national governments that they write trade treaties creating conditions which force smaller electronics makers and innovators to sell the giant or not sell at all.

I am not saying we need to punish rich Wall Street investors and successful international businesses. I am saying it is time to let the real world results of poor choices clean out the garbage so the genuinely successful can thrive. As traumatic and destructive as they are, market crashes and economic collapses are good for the multi-generational health of an economy. They clear out the weeds and underbrush so the true caretakers can continue improving the orchard. Right now the global economy is not operating on the basis of consumer demand, efficient productivity, and smart investment choices. The current world economy has become a web of economic superstars in business, politics, and entertainment who dominate the flow of capital through the global market to such an extent that no one else has a chance to compete. This is not free market capitalism. This is old-school aristocratic patronage and cronyism.

"Greed is good" and "too big to fail" both belong in the dustbin of history. It is time to take out the trash.



May 17, 2016

Lead Therapy Cures the Spring Blues


One of the things I miss the most when I am in Japan is access to firearms and gun ranges. There is nothing quite so satisfying as grabbing a trusted firearm along with a couple hundred rounds of ammunition and heading out to the range to punch holes in targets, smell the bitter tang of burnt powder on my hands, and feel the kick against my palm or shoulder as a round discharges. It is very satisfying to be able to stand fifteen or thirty feet away from an 8.5"x11" target and successfully punch holes in it with 250 grains of lead flying through the air at about 900 feet per second. But even down at the range, my eccentricities stand out like a crazy uncle fond of aloha shirts. I can't just use a blank white piece of paper for a target, nor a paper plate, nor a sheet of cardboard with a circle drawn on it, nor even a NRA-recognized regulation 12" black circle 25-yard small arms target. No, I get bored with such simple targets. I need something with a little color and pizzazz!

I haven't been to the range since I arrived back in Ohio last March. The weather has been too cold or too wet. The gun club I belong to (Brokenlock Longrifles) only has a single facility in a low-lying hollow near a creek. Heavy spring rains cause the creek to flood every year, filling the basin that holds the gun club. So in order to be able to get onto the range without damaging the grounds, I have to wait until the creek recedes and the grounds have at least two sunny days to dry out. This spring has been one of the coldest and wettest on record, making the range inaccessible until just recently. Last week my tractor died, I struggled to get caught up on my writing, and the tenor of politics in America put me in a very sour mood. By the time my schedule cleared and the range was accessible, the weekly sporting clays group had laid claim to the entire facility on the weekends, and the weekdays were still a wee bit too cold for my old bones to handle. Today was beautiful weather! Even though it's been dry all weekend, I had to wait for the tractor repair shop to call me and let me known when I was getting the tractor back. It was a long morning sitting by the phone trying to write character profiles and failing.

Finally, just after 2pm, the tractor shop called to arrange delivery for tomorrow morning. I looked outside at the clear blue sky and decided it was high time to get down to the range. I desperately need to sight in my .308 Ruger American Rifle, because I just replaced the stock and added a new scope, but I really was not in the mood to run ballistics calculations and fine tune scope adjustments. Too much precision work. I just needed to get out in the fresh air and burn through some ammo. Big ammo, with a big bang. I went down to the safe and pulled out my Uberti 1875 Remington Replicas from Taylor's & Co. These two .45 caliber pistols are both made in Italy by Uberti Firearms, then cleaned up and fine-tuned by Taylor's for sale in the United States. My pair have sequential serial numbers, U29003 and U29004. One time while I was in Japan, U29003 developed pitting rust on the outside of the barrel, so I had to send it back to have it reblued. It is a shade darker than U29004, and shoots about two inches higher and to the right of point of aim. U29004 shoots dead on at point of aim. It is far more accurate than I could ever master. Any mistakes are either failures on my part to use proper sight alignment or the result of poor trigger control, and sometimes both. I'm not exactly a world-class marksman, after all, nor do I have any ambition to become one.

After fetching about a hundred rounds of ammo and loading up my range bag, I discovered I did not have any targets! Since I normally print out my own zany targets, any that don't get used are often coveted by friends or family and I am only to happy to share them. I fired up the computer and the printer and went through the files on my hard drive, but almost everything felt just a bit bland. I went searching through Google images and found a very interesting line of targets produced by a company called, "iCandyCombat". Even if I had them express delivered, there was no way these targets could arrive inside a couple hours, so ordering them was not an option at this point. Additionally, the targets they sell are full-size silhouettes, which is something very nice to have and I will be ordering from them in the near future, but today was not meant to be a serious shooting practice. I stole one of the images from Google image search, reversed it, cropped it, and printed it out on 8.5"x11" paper. This meant the generous chest area target region in the bad guy was about 3" across in my version! Quite a challenge with a .45 caliber cowboy gun! So I decided I needed a bit less challenging target to warm up on. But I still wanted something with a little color, so I opened Windows Paint and went to work.

Cowboy guns hold six shots in the cylinder. However, safe shooters in the old west quickly learned that keeping one chamber empty made it impossible for the firearm to accidentally discharge while riding, roping, working the fields, climbing out of wagons, and so on. I was trained by my father who was trained by his father who was a real cowboy that worked on a horse ranch owned by his father, who was a genuine pioneer that carved a ranch out of the raw Canadian wilderness. Men in my family always load five shots in their six-shooters. I suppose you could call it a family tradition.

First I fired about 25 rounds through U29003. As expected, it fired consistently high and right. Then I fired about ten rounds (two load cycles) through U29004. It was as accurate as ever, so I put up a clean target and this is what I wound up with:

This group is 2.75" across and 1.5" from top to bottom. I don't know about anyone else, but for me this is a very fine five-shot group and I am quite proud of it. Naturally, the next step was to put up a couple of the iCandyCombat-style targets and see if I could save the hostage from the evil bad guy with the big knife. I have to confess, my first group did not go so well. I just clipped the hostage's neck, which would have killed the hostage. Not good. Not good at all. The second target I missed the hostage, but one round also missed the bad guy. Keep in mind, these targets are printed on normal copy paper with a half-inch margin on all four sides. The head shot area on the bad guy is less than one inch across and the chest area just barely three inches across. However, my third, fourth, and fifth targets all came out with beautiful groups. Three dead bad guys (well, five altogether) and three living hostages (well, technically four, but who's counting?). This is target number four. I chose it because the 2.5" group has a nice concentric shape:

Not bad shooting for a 55 year-old man who spent half his life in a country where no one is allowed to own handguns, let alone practice with them. Getting out to the range and getting some lead therapy accomplished also rid me of the yucky-weather-spring-blues. I'll never be a professional marksman, but if I find myself in a "shoot now or someone dies" confrontation, I am certain I could hit the bad guy without endangering the hostage. I mean, if I can take out a three-inch kill zone three times in a row with a cowboy gun, I shouldn't have any problem taking out a much larger eight or ten-inch kill zone on a full size human target. I hope I never have to, but in this day and age with terrorists shooting up Parisian cafes and California luncheons, it's nice to know that if I do find myself in that situation, I stand a better than average chance of taking out the terrorist before he can empty his first thirty-round magazine, let alone his second, third, fourth, or fifth.

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(Update: October 8, 2016)
I found out today that the iCandy Thermal Zone targets are only 13"x19", which makes them functionally no different from the versions I printed out myself. As a matter of fact, my own versions probably have larger target areas. This is very disappointing.



May 15, 2016

Augmented Reality goes Mainstream


The U.S. Army has teamed up with Hollywood in the most unique advertising campaign ever created. they are advertising for the new movie, "Independence Day: Resurgence" using an official US Army recruiting ad!

Augmented reality has now become reality where nothing is real because everything is presented real. Welcome to the halodeck.


May 14, 2016

Transgender bathrooms are a diversion


The world has truly gone insane. Or at least the United States has. President Obama by imperial decree has ordered all schools to allow boys to use girls restrooms and lockers (and vice versa) simply because the individual "identifies" as the opposite gender they were born into.

ISIS is coming across the southern border disguised as illegal immigrants, heroin is ravaging our youth, the time bomb of national debt is slowly counting down, and our President is worried that sissy boys and macho girls are being bullied because they want to use a different bathroom or locker room than mandated by the school?

This is exactly why I am having so much trouble coming up with blog posts. It's not that I don't have an opinion. The problem is that the most compelling issues on the daily news and crossing the President's desk are petty, unimportant, ridiculously insane concepts that have absolutely no bearing on our future as a country, our ability to create jobs for each new generation, and our relationships with enemies and allies alike.

Who cares if Donald Trump is a bigot and a philanderer? Seriously, what difference does it make? Can he stop ISIS from transforming the wild borderland between Iraq and Syrian into the starting point for World War 3? Can he stop the flow of heroin, drug dealers, rapists, and murderers across our southern border? Does he have a plan to pay down the national debt before it completely destroys our economy? These are the real issues facing our nation! These are the issues with the potential to shatter not only the social and political cohesion of the United States, but the peace and prosperity of the entire modern world!

Neutral gender toilets and locker rooms? Really? People are passionately arguing over this? Our world is crashing down around our ears and we're fighting over which high school changing room a woman dressed as a man or a man dressed as a woman should use?

When the tipping point is reached and billions around the world die in famine and flames, we will deserve our fate. We are bringing it down upon ourselves not by violating some moral law of God Almighty, but by completely ignoring the very real dangers growing in power and strength while we argue over which public toilet to use.


May 03, 2016

Behind Trump's Rhetoric


I see this Donald Trump every time he takes the stage, every time he throws out a bully paid to interrupt his rally, and every time he promises to build a wall. I don't know why or how, but I see him there behind his vitriolic rhetoric and reality TV campaign style. I can see the same Donald Trump in the set of his shoulders, the fire in his eyes, and the success of his children, that this woman sees every day at work.

Do not underestimate the Donald. There is great power in him, and great potential for a reformist presidency the likes of we have not seen since that butcher Andrew Jackson was thrown out of office on his bigoted ass. The bigots are not Trump's supporters. The bigots are the fools inflaming racial tensions and stoking violence for the sake of political power and preservation of their own corrupt lifestyles.

Yes. I'm an angry American voter. I'm angry at the corruption, the selfishness, and the deception that has been the rule in American politics ever since midway through Ronald Reagan's second term. A new foundation was laid in Reagan's first term, a foundation for a new world order based on genuine preservation of human dignity and protection of every individual's inherent civil rights. A corrupt, unbalanced, rotted shack was then built on top of that foundation.

It is time to tear down that shack and build a proper, constitutional government based on freedom.