Monday, April 23, 2007


In the wake of the VA Tech tragedy last week, I blogged on the restrictions placed on citizens by private enterprise and organizations. This morning, I saw a political cartoon designed to make me feel like an asshole. It was a rail against handgun ownership and claimed 30,000 people are killed annually by handguns.

With a light workload, I did a quick google search and found the following:

The leading causes of death in 2000 were tobacco (435,000 deaths; 18.1% of total US deaths), poor diet and physical inactivity (400,000 deaths; 16.6%), and alcohol consumption (85,000 deaths; 3.5%). Other actual causes of death were microbial agents (75,000), toxic agents (55,000), motor vehicle crashes (43,000), incidents involving firearms (29,000), sexual behaviors (20,000), and illicit use of drugs (17,000).

The data is from 2000, but we'll assume it to be true for subsequent years, too. What I find interesting in that dataset is the number of vehicular deaths. 43,000. With all the assaults against gun ownership, it's astounding that nobody's trying to outlaw cars.

Think about it:
1. There are more vehicular deaths than firearm deaths annually, almost by 50%.
2. There's no constitutional provision guaranteeing the rights to car ownership.
3. Cars are supposedly the leading source of greenhouse-gas emissions, meaning that they're not just killing drivers and pedestrians, but also the earth.

Instead, industry pundits simply work to make cars safer and more efficient, an effort that has cost manufacturers and consumers more than all the tobacco litigation in the world.* Cars, like boats and houses, represent the economic divide between rich and poor. Cars require insurance, education, registration, titling, gas, maintenance, and a host of hidden costs.

But what about racing? Each race, be it NASCAR, F1, or whatever, consumes hundreds of tires, generally sees a few thousand pounds of carbon-fiber and steel get trashed, and costs hundreds of thousands of dollars to produce. There are deadly accidents every year, alcohol-related incidents at and around the events, hearing damage for participants and fans, massive urban congestion issues, and probably close to 20,000 gallons of fuel consumed. All of this goes to support a merchandising industry that further puts the poor in debt, as they feel they must financially support their favorite driver or team.

So, to review: cars are a deadly economic and environmental strain on our society, forcing us into bed with hostile nations and keeping the little man down.
Guns, on the other hand, were the instrument by which we won our independence and preserve our personal safety (which is why they're constitutionally protected). They are not considered pollutants, they range from cheap to moderately expensive--but without much in terms of maintenance costs (cleaning kit, ammunition)--and they're only half as deadly.

I know this debate has been brought up before, and it gets the same response: sarcasm is a poor excuse for wit. And indeed it is somewhat sarcastic, as nobody would ever consider banning automotion, and guns are an easy target, but the sarcasm doesn't deny the facts. Everything in the argument is true: guns are not as deadly as cars. So, until we eradicate smoking, physical inactivity, alcohol, microbial agents, and toxic agents, we should leave guns the hell alone. And when we do get through with that list, watch out: your sex life is next.

*I have no support for that claim, but since emissions have been targeted since the 1960's, and standards must be met for all road-going vehicles, the costs of R&D for every car on the road must be considered--which means every manufacturer must be considered individually--along with all retooling costs and actual manufacturing costs. Maintenance costs for emissions equipment plays a role, too, as do any changes in fluids (fuels, oils, etc.) and support items.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Score 1 for the Little Guy

This morning, as with most mornings, the parking on base was atrocious. I generally wind up walking about 1/3 to 1/2 a mile to my desk, across a creek, through a cordoned-off gravel area, up a relatively long road, down a hill, and across a street. It sucks.

It sucks even worse when some asshat double-parks in a space relatively close to the building. There's one particular space that's kind of stunted in size, and I've made the most of my car's small size over the years to snatch that space when no others were available.

I've been ticketed twice for parking there, but had both tickets overturned. I even helped a coworker get a ticket overturned for parking there, and she got a note from the Police Chief saying that no tickets would ever be issued for that space again.

This morning, a dude in a big Mercury Sable GS decided to park with his wheels over the line, making an already small space almost unusable. And today was the 3rd time this week that he's done it.

So I took a look, determined that I could just barely fit, and did so. I had to fold in my mirror, crawl out the passenger window, and close the windows with the key. I got my camera out and took some pictures, lest the fellow decide to attack my car upon his return.

Later, after I'd left for lunch, I got a call from a coworker that the dude was out there and was hopping mad. The guy was asking rhetorical questions like "couldn't this guy tell I was trying to reserve that spot?"

So I placed an anonymous call to the police, reporting the Mercury as improperly parked. The police, however, were already on the scene. I was at lunch, so I went back to my lunch.

Then the phone rang again: another coworker had been called, and I needed to either go out to my car or call the police dispatcher back. I chose the latter option and told them that I was 30 minutes away (true). They said that was fine and thanked me for calling.

When I got back, I didn't know what to expect. Had they towed my car? Had the dude keyed it? Was I going to be greeted by a large group of cops?

There was nobody to be found, and the car had been moved 2 feet to the right, allowing me plenty of space. No damage was done, either.

I got back to my desk and called the police to report that I was back and available if they still needed me. I was then told that the officer on scene determined that I was parked properly, that there was no conceivable way I could have gotten out of my car (ha ha!), and that the other guy was improperly parked. Since I was off-site at the time, it would be the other guy's responsibility to move the car, and since he was parked illegally, he needed to do it right then or get a ticket (awesome!!!!). He crawled in through the passenger side, pulled out, and backed in fully in his spot.

I win!

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Gun Control

A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

It had to happen: in the wake of the bloodiest rampage in US history, the media and politicians have turned off the grief taps and opened the hydrant of blame. These 32 students and educators haven't even been dead for 48 hours and already we're getting the full brunt of gun-control and what-did-VT-administrators-do-wrong.

And it's not a discussion, either. I read an article on Yahoo! last night detailing what all the important foreign governments of the world thought of Americans' access to weapons. The world evidently thinks we're an embarrassment to ourselves because we have a culture of violence, and yet they don't hesitate to call us when things go bad in their own back yards.

We all know about Christian Trejbal's indictment of gun ownership in the Roanoke Times a few weeks ago, and now we're hearing it from all quarters: gun owners are evil people, and the only reason to have a gun is to defend yourself from "the king of England".

And now some of the presidential candidates are expected to weigh in and maybe even Congress. So now, in the wake of this tragedy, let me propose an alternative view to what happened on Monday, and what might have been done to end the carnage.

On October 16, 1991, Dr. Susan Gratia watched in horror as her parents were gunned down by a madman in Killeen, Texas. She had no choice but to watch because she had left her gun in the car, fearful of violating a law prohibiting her from taking it into the restaurant. The madman, George Hennard, had no such fear.

Virginia Tech has similar prohibitions, as do most public institutions, restaurants, and places of business. But the nutjobs of the world don't usually look down the long list of laws on their way to a killing spree. Or do they?

A couple of years ago, the world watched in horror as events unfolded in the Amish community. A nutjob there picked a school, lined up girls, and shot them execution style. Why? He knew it would be an easy target.

My point is this: Monday's tragedy could have been cut short if the people we trust to handle guns had the right to handle them. Concealed-carry permit holders are registered, they are trained, and they are trusted by the State Police to not do anything stupid with a gun. Virginia Tech, however, did not trust them, and made every victim's choice the same: flee or die.

When Cho chained the doors shut, he took the flight option away.

I don't know for sure that anybody in that building was a concealed-carry permit holder, but I'm absolutely certain that at least one victim in that bloodbath owned a gun.

Weapons, and an armed populace, are absolutely essential to the security of a free state.

Gun-control lobbyists will argue that there's no standing militia, but that argument is absurd. Let's say, for the sake of argument, that Mexico were to invade while our military is deployed in the Persian Gulf. They are able to put the full force of their military to our borders, and quickly take control of the southern US. Who's left to fight them? Are we to wait until an enemy is within our borders before we establish a "well-regulated" militia? At that point, where is the militia to get guns?

It is my belief that our founding fathers expected us to come together with our weapons, form a militia in times of need, and repel any enemy like free men should.

And here's your gun-control law: "the right of the people to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed". Yeah, obviously nobody foresaw cheaply available bazookas, .50-caliber tank-mounted machine guns, or tanks, for that matter.

I also think our founding fathers understood law enforcement better than the general public. Yes, the police are there to stop crime, and yes, the laws and punishments are there to deter crime, but the police cannot be everywhere at all times, and by their very nature can only respond to crime. An armed populace is everywhere, all the time, and has the ability to stop a crime in commission. An armed populace is a greater deterrent to crime than any police force: if you don't know who's armed, whom are you going to rob?

I know one thing that will come of this: I'm going to bump up my plans to get my concealed-carry permit, and make it a very high priority.

Monday, April 16, 2007

Suddenly Beeboo's Stitches Don't Seem so Important...

My heart goes out to anyone with friends or family at Virginia Tech. Amanda has a cousin who's a freshman there this year, and I think we're all just a bit too nervous to call his parents.

Everybody say a prayer for those affected by this horrid tragedy.

Baby Face != Hammer

This weekend was supposed to rock. This weekend was supposed to be the perfect relaxation. This weekend was not supposed to end at the hospital.

Saturday, we took Alastair over to his grandparents' house to spend the night. We dropped him off right after lunch, so we had the afternoon and all night to ourselves. I was a little bummed, though, since I had an autocross scheduled for Sunday, and that meant I wouldn't see the little guy until late in the afternoon on Sunday.

So we set off on our fun afternoon, picking up a couple of new baby outfits, getting tickets for Grindhouse, and grabbing some very very tasty Indian grub at India K'Raja. Very yum. T3h yum.

We saw Grindhouse (freakin' awesome, but like everyone's saying: Quentin could have cut some dialogue...), went home, and crashed for the night.

Sunday morning brought the first bit of bad news: the autocross was canceled because of miserable weather. The weather itself was the second bit of bad news, but at least it let me sleep in for a while.

Skipping ahead to the afternoon (around 4:15), we popped in a Sesame Street video. Alastair loved the parts with Big Bird, but when he wandered off screen, so did Alastair's attention. Not fascinated by a song featuring Oscar, he grabbed a ball and started toddling around. Then, right in front of the TV, he face-planted into the doors of the TV cabinet. Right onto the door handles, which are metal and kind of pointy.

I rolled him over and saw his skull through the gash over his right eye.

Off went the TV, he started wailing, and I told Amanda that we were headed out for medical assistance: the gash would need stitches.

Now, it's worth mentioning that Alastair doesn't wallow in self-pity. About 3 minutes after the gash-crash, he just wanted to go back to playing. I was holding him with his head level to reduce the bleeding (which functionally didn't exist: no blood ran down his face at all, at any point), and he just wanted to sit up. He wasn't crying, he wasn't tremendously frustrated, he wasn't even grumpy. He wasn't acting strange: he just figured the ordeal was over. Weirdo.

But, ever the vigilant parents, we whisked him off to Patient First (it's only 1/2 mile from home, whereas the hospital is about 6 or 7 miles away). We waited only about 7 or 8 minutes in the lobby, and Alastair looked at a couple of books while I loosely held a big piece of gauze over his face. The triage nurse quickly sent us to St. Mary's hospital, since she figured the hospital could glue the wound shut, where Patient First would have to suture it.

Now, it's worth mentioning that Patient First and St. Mary's are in exactly opposite directions, so we weren't thrilled to have wasted the time, but at least we had exhausted the immediate car option.

We got to St. Mary's, checked in, and saw the triage nurse there. Then it was off to the lobby to wait, and he really enjoyed watching some NASCAR and playing peekaboo with the other children there. Again: weirdo. You have a big hole in your face, and you're trying to play?!?

We went back to the exam rooms, they took a quick look and determined that glue wouldn't do since there was hair in/around the wound, and sutures it would be (dammit: we could have stayed at Patient First!). But first, we'd have to wait 40 minutes for an anesthetic patch to work its magic.

In the end, we had to hold him still while a physician's assistant sewed two stitches into our very unhappy (and very conscious) son's face. Then, 2 minutes later, he was fine.

We went home, cuddled a lot, and put him to bed without any muss or fuss.

So that's it: Alastair's first trip to the emergency room at almost 15 months. Needless to say, we took the handles off the TV cabinet doors right after he went to bed. Tomorrow I'll dismantle the Iron Maiden from the den, and maybe I'll even put the unprotected band-saw away. But I'm not, I repeat not, going to cover up those bare live wires that snake across the middle of the floor. Boy's gotta learn...

Saturday, April 07, 2007

What, you didn't believe me?

Mexicans fuming as tortilla prices skyrocket
Grain Prices from the Vanderbilt Television News Archive
Corn prices skyrocket with growing demand for ethanol

Those came from the first page of a google search for "grain prices skyrocket".

My favorite part of the last article is when the writer says that soya plantings will be off 11% this year as farmers look to capitalize on corn prices. That's great, since soya is one of the few key crops in this whole biofuel scam.

Last night there was an article on the local news about rising egg prices, too, but I can't find mention of it on their website.

Anyway, I'm feeding Alastair as much corn as I can, since it might not be available to him as an adult.

Thursday, April 05, 2007

Let's all send a "gift" to the Roanoke Times

It's been the subject of much discussion around the office and in the blogosphere today, but I feel I need to leave my mark on the matter, too.

Christian Trejbal of the Roanoke Times posted an editorial article over the weekend that was ostensibly a test of the Freedom of Information Act, but which was in reality a witch-hunt against law-abiding citizens.

You see, his article only lightly touches on how FOIA affects our lives, but beat viciously with a hammer on gun-ownership, specifically concealed weapons. Mr. Trejbal used FOIA to get a full list of the 134,000 registered concealed carry permit holders in Virginia, and then posted it in the newspaper and on the Roanoke Times web site. He called it a gift.

He couldn't have been more right. Now, I know others have said the same thing, but here goes: criminals looking to steal a gun in order to commit a crime need look no further than Christian Trejbal's magical list. For $100 out of either his own pocket or his newspaper's, he has provided for free a list, with addresses, of all those law-abiding citizens who took the time, the training, and the hassle of getting licensed to legally carry a gun, and who probably have more than one. A not-too-savvy criminal could pick any address close to home, wait until the registrant left for work, and either attack him/her or just break into the house and poke around.

I honestly expect that break-ins will rise with this public knowledge.

What I want to know is if this ass-hat did any research into who commits crime. Did he, for example, look back through the last 10 years or so of violent crime cases to determine if the guilty party was a registered gun owner? He certainly didn't stop short when he compared concealed-carry owners to registered sex offenders.

He claims in his article that he's not impeaching private gun-ownership rights, that that's an argument for "another time", but in his list of potentially valid reasons for wanting to own a gun, we see the following: fear of a violent ex-lover, concern about criminals or worry that the king of England might try to get into your house. Um, yeah, I'm afraid of a man who doesn't exist. The fact that he includes this is an open impeachment of private gun-ownership, whether he'll admit to it or not.

Now, the good news is that public reaction to his article has been dramatic. Rumors are floating around that Virginia is looking into revising the laws for concealed-carry. Options that I've heard include: not requiring a permit to carry concealed, like in Vermont (where violent crime is almost non-existent); not allowing the list to fall under FOIA; or restricting the amount of data that can be publicly released with a FOIA application. I like that this mongoloid idiot has spurred public interest in revising our legal code. That's good.

What I'd like to see next is something a little more grassroots. I've heard negative banter about sending him poop in a DHL box, visiting crime upon him or his organization, and all other sorts of things. These are all bad ideas, because they prove his point: gun owners are inbred violent morons. Any attack on him is an attack on gun-ownership.

Mr. Trejbal isn't the problem: the Roanoke Times is the problem. Think about it: they ran the list of 134,000 names and addresses. That had to take up valuable commercial space in their paper, but they did it anyway. They ran the list on their website. At any point, an editor could have flagged the article as irresponsible or a waste of space. But they didn't, so here's my proposition: call the companies that advertise with the Roanoke Times and ask them to stop. Notify groups that have coordinated events with the Roanoke Times to withdraw their support. Make sure you tell them why you're dissatisfied. Heck, you can even tell those companies that you won't purchase their products if they continue to advertise with the Roanoke Times.

Believe me, this will make a stronger impression than griping on their message boards. After all, subscriptions don't make newspapers profitable, advertising does. When they call their corporate sponsors and ask why the cash tap has stopped flowing, they'll hear one name constantly repeated: Trejbal.

So let's send them the gift of advertiser silence. Free of charge.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Riddle: What's a Better Fuel for the Earth than Gasoline?

Well, it ain't biofuel.

Biofuels are killing the planet. Deforestation of Malaysia and the Amazon, rising food prices, decreasing wheat stores, decreasing availability of other displaced crops, and astronomical carbon emissions associated with the production of biofuels are disproving the myth that they'll be an efficient replacement for gasoline.

Check out these 3 articles (I guarantee there will be more to come...):

If we want to save the planet, we need a five-year freeze on biofuels
Demand for Ethanol May Drive Up Food Prices
Palm oil deemed biofuel failure

Apparently rising corn prices are expected to make a big impact in the prices of meats, eggs, and cheeses, since farmers don't get a $1.00 subsidy for crops going to feed livestock. Similarly, the farmers are not getting anything nearly so nice in subsidies for other food crops, so why grow them? Those that are still being grown will officially become rare, which means they'll be more expensive, too. If, however the gov't decides to subsidize other crops at a higher rate, where will they be planted? Virgin land.

The Indonesians are setting up farms for biofuel materials at a fever pace, and are burning off rainforest land at a rate of 0.7% per year, with the expectation that there will be no more Malaysian rainforests by 2022. That will mean the end of the orangutan in the wild. Nice. That same deforestation is releasing 1.4Billion tons of carbon emissions through fires every year, and the subsequent conversion of biofuel crops is releasing another 600 million tons, for a collective total of 2 billion tons / year, or roughly 8% of the ENTIRE WORLD'S EMISSIONS.

Even better: that same conversion of crops generates 10x more emissions than converting petroleum to diesel.

And best of all: every tank of E10 fuel you put in your car in the US will get you 3% worse fuel economy than gasoline purchased just a couple of years ago. And somehow we're supposed to rally behind E10 as helping reduce our dependency on foreign oil. Dude: if it's less efficient, you're going to need more of it. And just to add a little cherry on top, we're supposed to be moving to E20 before too long, with a guaranteed additional 3% drop in fuel economy. Sweet...

Monday, April 02, 2007

My First 10K

What a great weekend! I left work early on Friday, spent some time with Amanda in the afternoon, and we went to pick up our Ukrop's Monument Ave. 10K race packets.

The race itself was a fascinating study in organization. The whole area around the start, from Monroe Park to Broad & Harrison, was a chaotic mass of people, with right at 27,000 people registered to participate, and countless spectators for both the 10K and the children's 1-mile runs.

Moving (slowly) over to Broad St, the scene changed from one of a major party to an almost militaristic backdrop, with thousands upon thousands of people all queued up along the entire width of the 4-lane road for blocks and blocks. Each group of runners, organized by projected completion times, moved slowly behind an elevated sign showing the letter of their heat. I was in J, which was to start 30 minutes after the gun, and it took all 30 minutes for us to move just 2 blocks.

The scene made me feel like I was in some sort of colonial battle, with regimented troops waiting for their chance to attack the enemy. Creepy, but that was definitely the feel.

Amanda and I didn't stage together: she had predicted a time of 1:10, whereas I had predicted 1:05, and the difference was sufficient to divide us early. That's ok: she and I don't run together, anyway (our paces are very different).

Anyway, out of the gate, I felt really good, set what I thought was my usual pace, and immediately noticed that I was pulling away from most of my group. I kept wondering if I was pushing myself, but I managed to pretty much keep the same pace all the way through, and finished the race in 52:17. Not bad, and it means I averaged 7.115mph. If I can knock off 6 minutes before May 20 (Carytown 10K), I'll be at 8mph average, which borders on actually running, and not just jogging.

After the race, I didn't feel so great. I battled stomach cramps, leg pains, and back aches all day Saturday, and felt like the Sun had drained me. We didn't do anything to cool down after the event, though: just bouncing from one tent to the next, eating and drinking the free treats. Next time, there will be a cool-down stretching session...


Yesterday was a big day for Little Man. He started off with church in the morning, a really long nap, then a grumpy midday followed by a fun trip to Lowe's. After his afternoon nap, wherein I put together our new wheelbarrow, we went for wheelbarrow rides around the yard. You'd have thought he'd died and gone to Heaven. He was spinning around, making his car sound ("thppt!"), calling for me to go see the doggies, and enjoying being dumped out of the cart (very slowly and carefully).

We kept that up for what seemed like an hour, and then we took him out to dinner with Dad & Randy, where he flirted with all the ladies at the next table and charmed everyone's socks off. He got to see all of his grandparents, and had a really great day. I love our Little Man!