Another Tragedy Calls for Simplistic Solutions

The tragic Parkland Florida school shooting has again thrust the national debate about gun violence into the forefront. The immediate calls for “something has to be done,” bring out the usual activists who argue for solutions as radical and illegal as a total ban on all weapons to bans on certain classes of weapons.

We all deeply feel the pain and suffering such an event causes in the lives of the victims, their families, the local community, and our national community. The tragedy is ours as a nation and it is natural to cry out for a solution.  End the killing, end war, end poverty, end suffering.

But it is out of the emotion for immediate solutions that the calls for ill conceived, simplistic solutions gain a lot of publicity. Accompanying the publicity is the use of inflammatory rhetoric such as calling the AR-15 type rifle a weapon of mass destruction, a weapon of war, a fully automatic firearm, an assault rifle, among other inaccurate and emotionally loaded terms. Wasting time attacking the weapon detracts from paying attention to real solutions.

Just to set the record straight without arguing about who misuses these terms:

  •  Weapons of mass destruction are nuclear weapons and certain chemical weapons capable of killing thousands of people in a single deployment.  Is a Massive Ordnance Air Blast (MOAB) a weapon of mass destruction? It is 10 times smaller than a small nuclear device. The one dropped in Afghanistan killed about 100 ISIS fighters.
  • Weapons of War may include anything from knives, swords, firearms, bombs, missiles, ships, aircraft – you get the idea.
    image of M2 Browning Machine Gun

    Browning Machine Gun

  • Fully automatic firearms are machine guns with extremely high rates of fire such as the venerable .50 caliber Browning M2 heavy machine gun. (Venerable to warriors whose lives it saved)
  • Assault rifles – The Germans are credited with developing the “Sturmgewehr”, a storm weapon, that has the general appearance of its assault rifle successors.  It is a selective fire weapon with a switch that allows fully automatic fire. Other firearms that qualify for this title include the M16 (U.S.), and the AK-47 (Russia, China, North Korea).  AR-15 type semiautomatics have an appearance similar to an assault rifle and  are indeed dangerous when mishandled, but they are not assault rifles and cannot be made into one unless re-manufactured, which is already illegal.
    Image of Sturmgewehr 44

    Sturmgewehr 44

Assault rifle legislation deals not with real assault rifles but their civilian semiautomatic look-alike versions. Real assault rifles, machine guns and destructive devices are legal under federal law if certain tax and registration provisions are observed. State laws vary. The taxes are high, the cost to purchase one is high, and availability is limited. People who own them in the United States are responsible collectors.

Our founding fathers were wise men who endowed us with a system of governance that assures our liberty to the extent that we are willing to preserve it.  They may have imagined the demise of black powder, muzzle loading rifles, and cannons, and their replacement by better technology.  Absent any clear idea of what would constitute “arms” in the future, they settled for just saying “keep and bear arms.”  This phrase was in keeping with the precedent of the 1689 English Bill of Rights, which provided that Protestants could bear arms for their own defense.

Sir William Blackstone wrote in the 18th century of the  “natural right of resistance and self-preservation, when the sanctions of society and laws are found insufficient to restrain the violence of oppression.”

Their point in guaranteeing our right to bear arms was to reduce the chance that government would run roughshod over our natural right of self-defense as the English had done to the colonists. Additionally people have a right to defend their life and liberty when others in society may oppress them.  Weapons in a civil society are for defense and not oppression, as is seen in gang violence and other criminal activities. Police are seldom and often never available within seconds of needing them to help us defend ourselves. Read HERE about our Inalienable Right to Self-Defense.

Just as with the historical changes in arms for self-defense, the founders undoubtedly had no way to foresee the demise of print media and the ascendancy of the Internet, yet they had the wisdom to codify the First Amendment to the Constitution outlawing government interference in our social interactions: religion, freedom of speech and the press, freedom of assembly, and right to petition for redress of grievances. The Internet is the new press, home of real journalism as well as lies, deceit, identity theft, and fiction, not totally unlike the old press.

Despite these constitutional guarantees., there are forces that try to dismantle our freedoms. Some call for the elimination of the Second Amendment, which would require a Constitutional Amendment. Who are these evil people intent on dismantling the Constitution?

Is this Left versus Right and/or the Paradox of Tolerance at Work?

So-called activists, possibly paid for by outside actors, call for violence against conservative speakers at universities. They ostensibly do so because they believe the speakers to be intolerant, and feel a duty to oppose (be intolerant of ) intolerance.

So much for freedom of speech and assembly. It was not the government that interfered with those speakers, but the University and its police who refused to ensure their safety and were accordingly complicit in the denial of the speaker’s rights by a potentially violent leftist mob. Is it the duty of governments or police to deny freedom of speech that some view as hate speech?  Europeans think so and have outlawed hate speech. Facebook and Twitter face huge fines for permitting hate speech on their sites. Yet the U.S. Constitution protects such speech, however distasteful.

Karl Popper taught that intolerance should not be tolerated, and if tolerance allowed intolerance to succeed completely, tolerance itself would be threatened. This is the Paradox of Tolerance.

As defined by Dictionary.com, tolerance is a “fair, objective, and permissive attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, race, religion, nationality, etc., differ from one’s own; freedom from bigotry.”

Dictionary.com defines toleration as “an act or instance of tolerating, esp. of what is not actually approved; forbearance.” In other words toleration is: “I will put up with your BS and won’t kill you but I really don’t like you very much.”

It is commonly believed that the political left calls for restrictions or bans on speech they view as intolerant, while the right exhibits a high degree of toleration , not because of any moral imperative but because of their conservative belief that freedom of religion, speech, press, assembly, etc. are part of a contract we all live under.  The right’s toleration extends to those with whom they disagree on moral or religious grounds because the law often says they must. Accordingly the right (conservatives) also believe in the strictly constructionist view of the 2nd Amendment. These common belief are being borne out by research.

The left will disagree with the right’s assertion that it is they, the left, who are intolerant because the left have come to believe that those on the right are the intolerant bigots who must be silenced.  It is the left that mock religious people on the right as clinging to their guns and their bibles. Something has changed in our society. The angry left have abandoned their historical tolerance,and have weaponized it to gain political advantage. These are not evil people, just very conformist group-think people who are not accustomed or trained to think critically.

The Universities are full of professors, children of the 1960’s, whose progressive/liberal attitudes spill over onto their naive students. In a way it is the young embracing Marxism and revolution, and when they grow old they abandon their zeal, get a job, and mellow out a bit. They join the great middle where ideology does not hold sway. Politically they identify as independent and vote 50% left while the other 50% vote right because in the U.S. there are really only two choices.

Those who call for restrictive legislation do not understand the heavy burden of passing legislation that contravenes the Constitution. Such legislation would be subject to the strict scrutiny test which says that the legislation must be narrowly tailored to achieve a compelling state interest and that there is no less restrictive way to achieve the same goal.  Precedent and recent history of gun rights legislation is not on the side of those who would restrict freedom, whether the first amendment, the second amendment or any of our other codified rights. Their loud voices are “full of sound and fury, signifying nothing.”

Argument or Appeal to Authority

Appeal to Authority is a fallacy of logic that claims support for a certain idea or proposition because some presumed authority says it is valid. Such are those who call for a ban on weapons because Australia did it, or Brazil did it, or that Canada is doing it incrementally, and much of Europe has done it.

After years of eroding the right to keep and bear arms in other nations, only Guatemala, Mexico, and the United States still have constitutional guarantees of self-defense. Nevertheless, the constitutions of Mexico and Guatemala place restrictions on that right that render it of questionable value except in the home.

So, the United States is unique in the world as a nation that guarantees its citizens the right of self-defense by force of arms, not only at home, or in a business, but wherever a citizen may be.  The sophomoric argument that we should do something because everybody else is doing it is not only logically untenable but flies in the face of our culture of freedom.

Culture

It is obvious that culture plays a dominant role in questions of suicide and homicide. Firearms are part of our culture but not necessarily the dominant factor in firearm deaths. School shootings, the young people perpetrating the crime, the role of social media, drug treatment of perceived behavioral aberrations, defense of schools, and parental supervision of youth all play potentially more important roles in the problem than the firearm itself. It is refreshing that such questions are being raised.

The United States is a multicultural nation in a broader sense than just people immigrating and bringing in another culture. We have had significant regional differences for many years and the regional/rural/city divide seems to be increasing.  Solutions to firearms violence that would work well for one jurisdiction may not work for another.  For example, it has been suggested that teachers could be trained and armed to defend their students. It takes little imagination to predict how such a suggestion would be received in San Francisco, CA versus Dallas, TX.

Calls for Gun Control

To persons familiar with firearms, gun control means controlling where a weapon is pointed. They are inherently dangerous and should be handled by mature adults who are not prohibited from possession, such as by a felony conviction.

The Second Amendment to the Constitution is a fully incorporated proscription on the federal and state governments from infringing our right to keep and bear arms.  It will be defended in court by faithful patriots until such time as the Supreme Court becomes corrupted by politics. What is the recourse for a civilized nation if that happens. Look to Brazil for an answer. There is little recourse but to sink into lawlessness.

Some will argue that Australia successfully confiscated all the firearms. That is not 100% true. The Aussies share a lot of cultural traits with us. They gave up a few unwanted weapons in a big propaganda move by the coalition government of  the Liberal PM John Howard. Now many years later, the Australian states have weakened the gun laws since the National Firearms Agreement was passed in 1996. They proudly point out that suicides by firearms are down. Now they just hang themselves instead and the rates are going up to alarming heights. Look it up HERE.

The purpose of keeping arms, whether for self-defense or sporting purposes has no bearing on the inherent right.

Gun laws in the United States have evolved into a system that balances the needs of all citizens. Calls to disrupt the system such as banning certain types of weapons or universal registration are knee jerk solutions proposed by people who do not understand the need to preserve the whole Constitution.

The AR-15 is a useful self-defense weapon. It is not an assault rifle and it is certainly not a weapon of mass destruction as Chris Wallace recently characterized it on Fox News Sunday.

The term “Gun Control” itself is charged with meaning. To those who advocate for personal freedom with the attendant required personal responsibility, gun control means “somebody wants to confiscate my gun(s).”   If they don’t want to confiscate it, at the very least they want to make it difficult or expensive to obtain a weapon and ammunition.  Seattle WA has a tax on firearms and ammunition that has achieved nothing except driving sporting goods dealers out of the city.

Other Suggestions to Eliminate School Shootings

All untested ideas usually come with unintended consequences.  To institute a program on a national level is to impose the unintended consequence on everybody.  Fortunately, our federal form of government allows states and municipalities to experiment with solutions consistent with Constitutional principles. If a state or city makes a blunder, it is far easier to remedy it. Successes can be shared.

Here are a few ideas that are being tried. Some of them are now standard in many districts:

  • Extreme Risk Protection Order (EPRO)  –  By February 2018, California, Connecticut, Indiana, Oregon, and Washington State have enacted legislation promoted by the Brady Center to Prevent Gun Violence.  The emphasis is on preventing suicides but after the recent school shootings, the laws are being promoted as a way to keep weapons away from dangerous people.  They stress the temporary nature of the order but judging from the court filings required by the State of Washington to restore a person’s rights, it may be a challenge to regain rights once they have been denied by the court.  (RCW 7.94.080 – Termination and renewal of orders.)
  • Professional Armed Guards in Schools –  Evidence from schools where police or professional armed guards are on duty suggests a deterrent effect on school violence. Opposition to armed guards comes from citizens who question the cost, as well as political opposition when the NRA suggests armed guards.  Marjory Stoneman Douglas School in Parkland and every other school in the district have school resource officers, real on-the-job law enforcement agents but they are spread thin in large schools. Police in the schools have resulted in violations of students’ 4th and 5th Amendments rights. (search and seizure, due process) Despite these objections, if a school district can afford well trained resource offices, the more the better. Problems of zero tolerance for minor infractions can be handled in more enlightened ways.
  • Armed and Trained Teachers, or other Volunteers – This is easier said than done. Questions about training and liability require serious consideration by government. It might work best out in the country where risk is already extremely low. How about New York City?
  • School Uniforms and ID Badges – Increased discipline seems to work well in private schools. Public schools are not as amenable to dress codes, uniforms, and other regimentation. Cost is a factor.
  • Closed Circuit TV (security) cameras –  Assuming somebody is paying attention to the cameras, such equipment can increase surveillance over a much wider area and is cost effective. Motion alarms sound at the observation post when motion is detected in areas that are off limits. Fences and other barriers keep students, personnel, and visitors in established security channels. The person monitoring the cameras need not be a trained security person but can quickly call security when something suspicious shows up. Cameras in class rooms can give security personnel a quick view of a situation when a teacher calls for help.

As tragic as school shootings are, they are not the biggest threat to young people going to school.  Since 2003, there have been 1,353 people killed in school-transportation-related crashes including 119 school-age pedestrians, a majority of which were struck by school buses.

What is the American way? | Alternative to AARP

Truth, Justice, and the American Way

When interviewed by a big city reporter who asked, “Why are you here?”, which great American replied, “Yes, I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way?”

Always being a good role model, he also let his fans know that he never drinks when he flies and he never lies. Pay attention to the Spanish translation in the following clip.

Superman was created by Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster in 1933 while they were still in high school. Over the next five years, they struggled to find a publisher for their evolving character to no avail. Finally in 1938 they sold their rights to the Superman character to Detective Comics, Inc. for $130 and a contract to collaborate on new stories. Maybe a Superman scholar can tell us when Superman first got his voice as a universal force for Good.

In the preamble to Max Fleischer’s movie cartoon versions of Superman that ran in the early 1940’s, Superman fought a never-ending battle for truth and justice.

In 1942, radio’s theater of the mind told the boys and girls that Superman battled evil doers for “truth, justice, and the American way.” No one ever questioned what the American way was. We all knew that a wicked war was being waged to destroy the American way.  By 1944 it was obvious that the American way would prevail in Europe and the Pacific so Superman turned his attention to fighting for tolerance.

After World War II, Superman’s foster Dad reminded his son that he must use his super powers “in the interest of truth, tolerance, and justice.”

The Adventures of Superman TV series that ran from 1952 to 1958 consoled the children who regularly hid under their desks to escape the A bomb that Superman would indeed continue to fight for “truth, justice, and the American way.” But by 1966, the TV cartoon version was reassuring the kids that Superman was back to fighting for “truth, justice, and freedom.”

In the 1978 movie, Superman himself declares to Lois why he is here: “Yes, I’m here to fight for truth and justice and the American way.” (The Spanish subtitle in the YouTube trailer translates “American way” as Liberty.) When Lois comments that Superman will end up fighting every politician in the country, Superman replies, “Surely you don’t really mean that.”

By 1993 in the “Lois & Clark” TV series, Superman was only willing to admit that he was here “to help” but when pressed by Lois he confirmed, “Well, truth and justice. That sounds good.”

In Superman Returns (2006), screenwriters Mike Dougherty and Dan Harris are reported to have wanted to avoid outdated jingoism so Superman’s motto became “Truth, justice, and…all that other stuff.”  After all Superman is an alien from Krypton who came to save the world, not just America. And Americans are not just from the USA. There are many fine Central and South Americans who need to be saved along with those other admirable North Americans, the Mexicans, and Canadians. It’s important to get the geography straight.

(As a side note, in a Action Comics #900 Superman announced that he would renounce his U.S. citizenship but there is no record of him, an illegal alien, or undocumented person, having become a naturalized citizen.  Clark Kent is destined to have a problem with e-verify. )

All of the countries in the Americas declare their dedication to Liberty (the American Way- liberté, libertad, liberdade).  Their constitutions declare liberty to be a founding principle. The Constitution of the  Federative Republic of Brazil ” in its preamble states that the Constitution ensures ” the exercise of social and individual rights, liberty, security, well-being, development, equality and justice.”  Yet Brazil is a dangerous place to live, as are other South, Central, and North American nations. Liberty does not mean living behind tall walls and steel gates.

There is a side to liberty that is rarely discussed aside from the common declaration, “It’s a free country. I can do anything I like.”  But personal liberty demands personal responsibility. Liberty and Responsibility go hand in hand. In countries where corruption runs rampant, it is is not just government officials and the police that are corrupt. Corruption is a abrogation of personal responsibility and when a majority of a nation’s citizens are personally corrupt, the whole nation suffers from corruption, and liberty is lost.

Individuals in all countries have to constantly fight for liberty and must demand that the conditions for liberty exist: adherence to the rule of law, and on a more personal level, honesty .  In societies where the rule of law prevails, and personal integrity is high, trust among people allows those nations to cultivate large businesses and economic prosperity.  (see: Fukuyama, Francis. Trust: The Social Virtues and the Creation of Prosperity. New York: Free Press, 1995.)

In a perfect world, every individual would be a Superman dedicated to truth, justice, and liberty. But then everybody would have to have more than just a casual acquaintance with the concepts of Truth, Justice, and Liberty.  We all think we know truth when we see it or hear it because we are all very discerning and not easily fooled, right?

Truth

We have all been taught to tell the truth. Lying is presumably the opposite of truth. Or maybe an untruth, falsehood, prevarication, or one of around 30 other synonyms for a lie in the English language. A really big lie is a whopper.

You want the truth?  You can’t handle the truth!  Remember that great line by Jack Nicholson in the movie “A Few Good Men” HERE

It all gets very complicated if we dig too deeply into the subject of truth so most of us opt out of exploring it too deeply.  Nevertheless part of our coping skills involves recognizing what is real and false, what is true or a lie, what is balderdash! So lets explore the idea of truth.

Senator Knows the Truth

On January 17, 2018, U.S. Senator Jeff Flake (R.Arizona) delivered a speech on the floor of the Senate where he discussed his perception of truth, and specifically what he views as untruths, otherwise commonly called lies. As a preface to the comments that follow, it is fair to stipulate that Jeff Flake is an honorable man, a political conservative, patriot, lover of liberty, and man of faith.  In other words, he is a good guy if you agree with what constitutes honor, patriotism, liberty, and faith for someone on the political right. We won’t argue whether that is true or not, or if Jeff Flake is a true conservative, or debate what Mr. Flake’s motives were for bothering with the speech. Two of his Democrat colleagues were in attendance, while a majority of Senators presumably had better things to do than sit through a 15-minute speech.

The political left generally disagrees with Senator Flake about almost everything except his criticism of President Trump and his support of the integrity of the press. Watch his speech, which however sincere and impassioned, will undoubtedly fade into the background noise of a world buried in speeches.  For purposes of this discussion, the speech illustrates a conservative perception of truth and lies.

Senator Flake previously announced that he would not stand for reelection and his remarks have been widely viewed as a parting shot against what he considers are some of the shortcomings of President Trump. He discusses what he calls assaults on the truth and in his concluding remarks seems to accept that truth is an absolute: the sum of existence. This is not surprising because most people think they know the truth when they hear it. Yet over the centuries scientists and philosophers have debated what is meant by truth.

The many Theories of Truth.

Positing multiple theories of truth suggests that such a thing as truth may not actually exist in absolute terms, but may be a definition constructed by people using their common language. Giambattista Vico, an Enlightenment philosopher coined the phrase, verum esse ipsum factum, “truth itself is (socially) constructed. Vico also observed that humans make their own history.

In the 1990’s there was a lot of discussion about moral relativism, that “truth is in the eye of the beholder.”  Accordingly, the opposite of truth, a lie is merely a different perception of the ideas presented.  Other attributes are attached to truth and lies. Truth is good; lies are bad!

In the C programming language, true is represented by any numeric value not equal to 0 and false is represented by 0. Such a simple concept of true and false is useful. Did Donald Trump utter the phrase “Shit hole?”  I didn’t hear it=0. Did he utter the phrase and then deny that he uttered the phrase?  I heard neither the phrase nor the denial =0.  Yet somebody claimed to hear it and complained to the press, none of whom heard it but all were eager to assign a value other than zero.  Soon the press was breathlessly proclaiming that the president said something that third grade boys commonly say and that somehow it demonstrates that he hates black people.

A large percentage of the population accepts (believes) what the press proclaims while a substantial number probably also believe the Trump story to be true but don’t regard it as evil and criticize the press for saying it. If you ask the skeptic if she believes the president said “shit hole,” she will probably reply that there is a high but unmeasurable probability that he said it. The credibility of witnesses or a recording could establish it as a fact within the shaky parameters of what constitutes a fact of adequate quality to present in a court of law but it appears that few actually heard it and there were no recordings as far as the public knows. Alas, a tree fell in the forest and only Dick Durbin heard it!

Facts

Facts are commonly considered to be constructs that can be proven true or false. In this context there is an assumption that a fact is something absolute and provable, and remains a fact because it has been proven true. Recently politicians, including Flake, are fond of quoting Daniel Patrick Moynihan, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.”  The line is usually advanced to demean an opponent’s opinions as not based in fact while the politician’s own opinions are righteously based in fact.

David Hume asserts at the beginning of Section IV of An Inquiry concerning Human Understanding: “All the objects of human reason or inquiry may naturally be divided into two kinds, to wit, Relations of Ideas and Matters of Fact”.  Relations of Ideas can be proven by logic, such as the principles of mathematics where many properties have been proven while many propositions still await proof. It is never necessary to rely on experience to support the relationships between ideas. A recent example of  an elusive proof dealing with the properties of prime numbers was published in 2013. The  story was published in Wired Magazine Online can be accessed HERE.  Ideas are true simply because they relate to each other in a defined way: 2+2=4,  the symbol for copper in the periodic table is  Cu., and yes, there is some number N smaller than 70 million such that there are infinitely many pairs of primes that differ by N.

The German philosopher, Immanuel Kant called relations of ideas “analytic” and matters of fact “synthetic.”

Matters of fact (synthetic) deal with experience. Most people make judgements based on the facts as they see them through experience. Judgements, statements, or assertions are  words often used interchangeably. Facts therefore are capable of being full of subjective value judgements/statements/assertions.

Simple (analytic) facts like temperature or pressure that can be easily measured by instruments are subject to the limits of the device used to make such measurements. At very low temperatures the classic laws of thermodynamics yield to quantum effects at the atomic level. So even measuring absolute zero cannot be done directly and the accepted value is a theoretical value based on extrapolating the ideal gas law, itself a good approximation of how a hypothetical ideal gas behaves under certain conditions.

The average temperature of the entire planet is increasing very slowly. Various theories try to account for the increase. Measurements of the increase are taken from points all around the world. All of the instruments are accurate within certain tolerances and subject to physical conditions at the time of the measurement. After years of data collection, scientists who measure such things have vast amounts of data that are difficult to handle. They use computers to help analyze the data. The computers are programed making assumptions that may or may not be “true”, being subject to “best guesses,” which empirically may be demonstrated to be close enough. Amid this complexity, world experts Michael Moore and Al Gore assure us that anthropogenic global warming  (AGW) is an established fact. The consensus among published climate scientists is widely reported to be between 90%-100%. If one were to ask many scientists if they believe if AGW is real, they will probably reply that it is true to a high degree of probability, but they can never say it is a fact or is proven because the very nature of the question is, as Hume phrased it, a matter of fact.

In a paper published in 2013 (opens in PDF), the authors examined 11,944 climate abstracts from 1991–2011 matching the topics ‘global climate change’ or ‘global warming’.  Sixty-six percent of these papers expressed no opinion on AGW; 32.6% endorsed AGW; 0.7% rejected AGW; 0.3% were uncertain. Among papers expressing a position on AGW, 97.1% endorsed the consensus that humans are causing global warming.  The authors recognize that the  literature contains several sources of uncertainty, including the representativeness of the sample, lack of clarity in the abstracts and subjectivity in rating the abstracts.

During the 2017 hurricane season, computer projections of the paths of the hurricanes helped people plan the best ways to weather the storm. Of the two most popular programs, the program developed by the European Center for Medium-Range Weather Forecasts proved to be the most accurate but not accurate enough to prevent people who evacuated from east Florida to west Florida from having to cope with the full impact of the storm when it veered to west Florida. Very complex systems will harbor surprises for scientists for many years to come.

Standard of Proof or Evidence

In the courtroom where juries and judges are called on to discover the truth, there are rules of evidence that allow the types of legal evidence that can be presented: testimony, documentary evidence, and physical evidence. The facts of the case are those assumptions that the parties do not dispute. After that everything is in question. Are witnesses telling the truth?  Does documentary evidence exist and is it reliable? Does the physical evidence or scientific evidence support or refute the prosecution’s or defense’s hypothesis or theory?

Consider the case of Paul Revere. Did he make a heroic midnight ride to warn the patriots that the British were coming at the dawn of the Revolutionary War with England?

We know that Paul Revere was a real person whose birth date and death date are recorded as December 21, 1734 and May 10, 1818 respectively. Not that it really matters, but these dates are confused by the conversion between the Gregorian and Julian calendars. The British Empire changed from the Julian Calendar to the Gregorian Calendar in 1752 so Paul Revere’s December 21, 1734 birth date under the Old Style calendar becomes January 1, 1735 in our current calendar. Sometimes the truth requires an explanation.

Much about his life can be documented by letters, artifacts he created as a silversmith and proprietor of a shop at Clark’s Wharf in Boston’s north end, as well as deeds of properties he purchased. As was common in those days as a gold and silver smith, Revere made dental prostheses making him a dentist of sorts. As an copper engraver, he made the plates for some of the Massachusetts Commonwealth’s paper money. And he was regarded as a good horseman. Some of these things are well documented and are probably true.  And the midnight ride for which he is so famous?

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, (1807 – 1882) began his famous poem with these lines:

Listen, my children, and you shall hear
Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,
On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five:
Hardly a man is now alive
Who remembers that famous day and year.

Longfellow was correct in stating that “hardly a man is now alive.”  In fact, the last know man alive at the time of the “ride” in 1775 had died a few years before the poem was written in 1860. Longfellow made no claim of historical accuracy. The poem was written on the verge of the War between the States and Longfellow’s warnings in the poem “In the hour of darkness and peril and need…” can arguably be a warning about the darkness and peril of the impending civil war.

In the years that followed the publication of the poem, it became the basis of history taught to generations of school children and accepted by most Americans as true history. Unread by most Americans in the early 20th century were the works of dozens of historians who debunked Longfellow’s version of what had become accepted history. The overriding consensus of writers at that time was that Revere was a man of solid substance and quite unconscious of the heroic figure which he was to become in history.

In 1923 an iconoclastic debunker asserted that the midnight ride never happened. That declaration prompted an indignant President of the United States, Warren Harding, to observe, “Somebody made that ride and stirred the minutemen in the colonies to fight the battle of Lexington… I love the story of Paul Revere, whether he rode it or not.”  (Fischer, David Hackett. Paul Revere’s Ride. New York: Oxford University Press, 1995.)

Documentary evidence shows that Revere was a team player and was indeed active at the beginning of the war. He made a ride to Lexington to warn the patriots but got captured by the British. His deposition to the Massachusetts Provincial Congress describing the events can be compared to a letter he wrote to Jeremy Belknap, circa 1798. Both detail an account of his activities that varies significantly from the version made famous by Longfellow’s poem.

Revere’s enhanced place in revolutionary history places him along side other doubtful stories like those of Molly Pitcher and Betsy Ross. Such stories of revolutionary valor were popular as ways to inspire patriotism in the young country. Paul Revere contributed to historical inaccuracy when he created an engraving entitled, “Bloody Massacre Perpetrated in Kings Street in Boston.” In creating the engraving, he copied an image by a  young artist named Henry Pelham, who stylized the picture as a propaganda piece to promote the war.

Fake History and Fake News

History is replete with examples of fake history and fake news. The most insidious form of fake news and fake history is that which contains some truth, which is then colored over by false information, and then purposely used to deceive. A particularly sneaky way of coloring the news  is the use of adjectives and adverbs in reporting an event.  Hopefully one could be aware of the personal biases of reporters but that is seldom possible.  Instead, a skeptical observer can watch the ways a reporter modifies the story by paying attention to the modifiers – gratuitous adjectives and adverbs, which can reveal the reporter’s own personal prejudice.

“This just in from our reporter on capitol hill. The President has once again blindsided America’s closest allies with dangerous and irresponsible policy decisions destined to irretrievably damage the already remote possibility of a lasting peace between the Palestinians and the corrupt state of Israel.”  This is a fake quote but it illustrates how a simple news story, “the Trump administration announced that the U.S. will move its embassy from Tel Aviv to Jerusalem,” has been characterized on numerous news outlets, which routinely pass off punditry for real news.

Fake news is not new. Only the velocity and volume of information, true, partially true, or dubious has increased because of electronic media.

  • In 1835 the New York  Sun ran a six part story about discovering life on the moon with a new type of telescope.
    Image of Life on Moon Hoax

    Life on the Moon

    (Picture at right.)

  • In 1782 Benjamin Franklin purposely published a fake issue of a Boston newspaper with a story claiming that the British were hiring native Americans to scalp colonists.
  • Other revolutionary leaders published fake stories that King George was sending thousands of foreign mercenaries to slaughter American patriots.
  • In 1844, anti-Catholic newspapers in Philadelphia falsely claimed that Irishmen were stealing bibles from public schools.
  • The October 30, 1938 radio broadcast of H.G. Wells story about the Martian invasion of earth caused mass hysteria.
  • Johannes Gutenberg invented the printing press in 1439 and for many years fake news predominated over real news.

Henry Ford paid for 500,000 copies of a bogus book written in 1902 called The Protocols of the Elders of Zion, which was an antisemitic text used to stir up hatred against Jews. He distributed them across the U.S. in 1920. It was debunked in 1921 by the Times of London. The Palestinian Islamist group Hamas states in their 1988 charter that The Protocols of the Elders of Zion embodies the plan of the Zionists.

Old Folks, those over 30, have no good Advice.

Henry David Thoreau was an early American writer, philosopher, essayist, poet, and naturalist, among his many other varied interests. Best known for his work, Walden and on the Duty of Civil Disobedience, Thoreau is still taught in high schools around the country, although the emphasis now seems to be away from his ideas about transcendental philosophy to how his observations in nature may relate to global warming.

In Walden, Thoreau asserts that old folks have nothing important to offer in the way of advice:

Henry David Thoreau

“Practically, the old have no very important advice to give the young, their own experience has been so partial, and their lives have been such miserable failures, for private reasons, as they must believe; and it may be that they have some faith left which belies that experience, and they are only less young than they were. I have lived some thirty years on this planet, and I have yet to hear the first syllable of valuable or even earnest advice from my seniors.”

Thoreau lived to be just shy of 45 years old. It is not known if his observation about valuable advice from old people changed before he died. Still it is an interesting assertion and leaves us to question its veracity.

We are taught to respect our elders and value their advice. Yet, is there any compelling evidence that as a distinct demographic old people are any wiser than young people?  Undoubtedly there are individuals, both old and young, who are considered wise, intelligent, or thoughtful, whose counsel would be valuable in specific cases where such counsel is relevant.  Skills can be learned and presumably an older person has had more time to accumulate knowledge and maybe even wisdom. Yet some young people because of life experience have been observed to be “wise beyond their years.”

One may make anything of a dead man’s writings to lend credibility to the conjectures of the living. Some things seem to be valid observations regardless of the era in which they are articulated and antiquity is no more authority than current observation. Thoreau was a thirty something, well educated young man when he made this observation in his book Walden:

“No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.”   This is certainly not an original philosophical observation, but is it true?

Trust without Proof?

It seems pretty straight forward. However closer examination reveals that most ways of (human) thinking, many of them ancient, are routinely trusted without proof.  Make your own list: philosophy, religion, astrology, Karma, intuition, fate, elected leaders, spirits including humans, animals, and plants, extraterrestrial aliens, prophecy, folklore… .

People who deal in folklore recognize that proof has no place in their discipline: “In contrast, it is not that folklorists are naïve or don’t care about the truth, it’s just that by the very nature of folklore the folklorist does not need proof or skepticism.”  (Untiedt, Kenneth L., Folklore: In All of Us, in All We Do, Denton Texas, Texas Folklore Society, p.4)

What do Scientists say about Trust and Proof?

“It seems paradoxical that scientific research, in many ways one of the most questioning and skeptical of human activities, should be dependent on personal trust. But the fact is that without trust the research enterprise could not function… . Research is a collegial activity that requires its practitioners to trust the integrity of their colleagues.”                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                            Arnold S. Relman

Stephen Hawking in his book, God Created the Integers, quotes Richard Dedekind (1831-1916) in the preface to Dedekind’s first edition of Essays on the Theory of Numbers: “In science nothing capable of proof ought to be accepted without proof. Though this demand seems so reasonable yet I cannot regard it as having been met in even the most recent methods of laying the foundations of the simplest of science; viz., that part of logic which deals with the theory of numbers.”

Philosophical and Scientific Proof

Philosophy is the study of the nature of knowledge, existence, and what some people call reality. People living in large cities live their lives surrounded only by things that people created and communicate with each other using languages that people invented. You could say that people have invented their own reality.

Philosophers and scientists studying the nature of things around them and in an attempt determine what is “true” have established rules to judge the credibility of evidence used to describe their discoveries. Philosophy never proves anything; it only debates which rules might be appropriately applied to science.

Well trained scientists maintain a healthy skepticism, even about their own research.  We would like to think that all scientists are honest and only publish their results when there exists enough evidence that those results are valid according to accepted standards.  Nevertheless scientists are human and it is not uncommon for a scientist to produce the result that those funding the study are seeking.  Some because of the academic imperative to publish rush their work to publication often in obscure journals whose standards of peer review are inadequate.

The world has progressed in the last few hundred years to where science is substantially free from the constraints of prior belief.  In 1633 the Roman Inquisition tried Galileo for heresy for claiming that the earth rotated around the sun. A few years later in 2000 the Pope apologized for the mistake.  Nevertheless scientists still face condemnation, not from the church,  but from others whose beliefs cause them to censure, ridicule, or deny funding  to scientists whose inquiries lead them down paths that are considered politically incorrect. Science is a tough business (yes, a business) and ground breaking discoveries are rare. Knowledge is gained incrementally and ideas are published with volumes of date and statistical analysis only to be proven wrong. But that is how science works. Proof is subject to review and may not be proof after all.

Belief is enough to function

People cannot function well if the standards of proof are too rigorous for the material at hand. Most people only require enough supporting evidence to arrive at a belief rather than a strict knowledge.  In many areas of human behavior, belief is sufficient for a society to maintain common bonds based on that belief. Religion is basic to many people’s understanding of the world and their lives in relation to the world. Some questions are notoriously difficult or impossible to prove with the tools we currently employ. A belief in God, a non-belief in a God, or a strong belief that there is no God are equally difficult to prove.  Atheists and Religious people are equally obnoxious when they try to push their views on other people.

Common beliefs about political issues fall into the same category. Strong views about basic concepts such as individual liberty can be shared by persons on both the political left and political right.  Disputes come when financial issues such as taxation and social programs are advocated by one side or another.  It is difficult to prove that socialism doesn’t work when social democracies like Denmark, Finland.
Netherlands, Canada, Sweden, Norway, and Ireland appear to function with good economies and high degrees of personal freedom. Others like  Greece, Italy, Spain, Portugal and France, and some states in the United States have dabbled in socialism and have experienced economic stress. Because economic experiments take a long time to play out it is very difficult to empirically demonstrate that socialism is not consistent with human behavior.  There is little doubt that socialism may work in one country but not in another because of reasons that have nothing to do with the economic system. It may have a lot more to do with character traits such as honesty, trust, integrity, social cohesiveness, etc.

Back to Superman

We have discussed truth and to some extent the American Way. We have tried to make the case that the American Way is a universal quest for Liberty, particularly the kind of individual freedom that the constitutions of various governments, including our own attempt to guarantee.

Justice

Now it is time to comment on Justice.  Very ancient people have already thought a lot about these things and we have very little to offer.

Our English word “justice” derives from the Latin  “Ius (Jus), plural Iura,” which was not codified law but represented the natural rights of Roman citizens simply by virtue of being citizens. The Iura populi Romani were the collective rights of Roman citizens upon which laws (legis, singular lex) could promulgated and codified by whomever was in power at the time.  Notions of justice as we now think were better described as aequum et bonum, “the just and the fair”, or what through reason could be interpreted as protecting the natural rights. As you can see, the ancient people thought a lot about these things, which by necessity gave rise to the legal profession.

According to Plato, the requirements of justice rest on an independent ethical reality. His philosophy of law is founded in his belief in absolute values and his faith in ideas as the basis of existence and true knowledge.

The Koran and Sharia law might be a modern example of Plato’s appeal to independent authority. Similarly, the Hebrew Bible’s ten commandments are the basis of our Judo-Christian ethic upon that we base our concepts of justice.

Protagoras, who said “man is the measure of all things,”taught that  justice is a creation of human beings and makes no appeal to a higher authority,  We could argue that Protagorean justice is democratic.  Democracies are fragile and to say that Protagoren justice is democratic is to suggest that such justice may be fragile.

It is not surprising that our founding fathers made an appeal to natural law, law above that of people but not necessarily decreed by a god.

The Declaration of Independence is said to be based on Natural Law.  Natural Law has nothing to do with the laws of nature. Natural law is a type of moral and legal theory that says that moral standards that govern human behavior are derived from the natural attributes of human beings. The Constitution and Bill of Rights emphasizes rights defined in conventional law, not Natural Law.

The quest for what we call justice means that citizens have equal access to and protection of the law. Experience teaches us that ” all men are equal, but some are more equal than others.” paraphrasing a line from the allegorical novella Animal Farm (1945) by Eric Arthur Blair writing under the pen name of George Orwell. Rather than advocate for democratic socialism as a remedy for inequality, as did George Orwell, Americans of all stripes should advocate for what has empirically brought more prosperity and justice than any other type of government, namely that of the United States.

The United States is a Federal Republic fundamentally governed by the Constitution, upon which has been piled almost innumerable laws and regulations that require constant vigilance to prevent them from impinging on Liberty. It may not always produce produce the results that everyone immediately demands. Elements of democracy both sustain it and endanger it. It is in a constant flux with each succeeding generation. Liberty and justice may wax and wane but the Republic has lasted for several hundred years.

May it endure forever!

First Amendment Doesn't Give You Free Speech

The First Amendment doesn’t give you any rights!

Too many people parrot the phrase “my first amendment rights” as if the First Amendment to our Constitution gave us some rights. Maybe it is just being semantically picky to insist that the First Amendment gives us nothing. We naturally have the rights enumerated in the Bill of Rights. By being born a human being with the cognition unique to our species, we can think or say anything we please. Only some outside force through aggression can attempt to silence us or impose some system of belief upon us. Even then we are free to think and say anything but most of us quickly learn when to keep our mouths shut. Censorship comes most often at the personal level, from a parent, spouse, acquaintance, a bully, or the political correctness police.

The Bill of Rights limits the Federal Government

All the Bill of Rights does is guarantee that our national government can do nothing to take away our natural rights.

Specifically in the case of the first amendment, the Federal Government through 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.”

What about the states? Can they impose a religion on us, or tell us when to be quiet, or prevent us from assembling peacefully on a street corner?

Over the years the courts, and most importantly the Supreme Court, have selectively ruled that certain provisions of the Bill of Rights also apply to the states. It is called the Incorporation Doctrine. The Legal Information Institute of the Cornell University School of Law provides a good discussion of the Incorporation Doctrine citing relevant court decisions. (HERE)

The Fourteenth Amendment to the Constitution was ratified in 1868 as part of reconstruction after the War Between the States to insure that state and local governments were prohibited from depriving persons of life, liberty, or property without due process of law. The Supreme Court has relied heavily on the 14th Amendment (as well as the 5th) to selectively require states to uphold our natural rights while at the same time allowing states and cities wide latitude to govern locally.

The First and Second Amendments apply to the States

The First and Second Amendments are fully incorporated as a consequence of Supreme Court Rulings:

Freedom of Religion

Freedom of religion is not as simple as it sounds. Freedom of Religion means only that you may believe anything you want without interference government. The freedom to act, unlike the freedom to believe, is not absolute.

When it comes to the exercise of religion, ritual and actions, the court has laid down decisions that govern hundreds of special situations: regulation of religious solicitation, tax exemptions, access to public property, church exemption from some laws, Sunday closing laws, conscientious objection, religious ritual at government functions, rituals that violate drug laws, and many more.

The No Religious Test Clause of the U.S. Constitution says “The Senators and Representatives before mentioned, and the members of the several state legislatures, and all executive and judicial officers, both of the United States and of the several states, shall be bound by oath or affirmation, to support this Constitution; but no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” (Article VI, Section 3).

The Constitution of the State of Texas says something similar to the U.S. Constitution but with a small twist: “No religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office, or public trust, in this State; nor shall any one be excluded from holding office on account of his religious sentiments, provided he acknowledge the existence of a Supreme Being.” Texas has agreed not to enforce the last clause but it remains in the State Constitution. Similar provisions in the constitutions of Maryland and South Carolina have been struck down by the U.S. Supreme court. Mississippi, Tennessee, and Arkansas continue to have similar provisions.

Article 19 Section 1 of the Arkansas Constitution, titled “Atheists disqualified from holding office or testifying as witness”, states: “No person who denies the being of a God shall hold any office in the civil departments of this State, nor be competent to testify as a witness in any court.”

Arkansas does not enforce this article and it appears obvious that the fourteenth amendment to the U.S. Constitution by Incorporation prohibits such a religious test.

Freedom of Speech

In Gitlow v. New York , the Supreme Court ruled that New York’s Criminal Anarchy Law passed in 1902 could limit freedom of speech because it outlawed “language of direct incitement”, which is not “the expression of philosophical abstraction.” Similarly advocacy of the use of force is not protected speech when it is “directed to inciting or producing imminent lawless action.”

What about other limits on the freedom of speech? Several states still have blasphemy laws on the books.

Massachusetts, General Laws, Chapter 272, Section 36 states:

“Whoever willfully blasphemes the holy name of God by denying, cursing or contumeliously reproaching God, his creation, government or final judging of the world, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching Jesus Christ or the Holy Ghost, or by cursing or contumeliously reproaching or exposing to contempt and ridicule, the holy word of God contained in the holy scriptures shall be punished by imprisonment in jail for not more than one year or by a fine of not more than three hundred dollars, and may also be bound to good behavior.”

In addition to Massachusetts, Michigan, Oklahoma, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, and Wyoming, still have blasphemy laws on the books even though they are not enforced.

In Massachusetts, poor Abner Kneeland was sentenced to 60 days in jail for seditious blasphemy. His case involved not only freedom of speech but also freedom of the press; he was a journalist who a published in The Boston Investigator a “scandalous, impious, obscene, blasphemous and profane libel” of and concerning God. He appealed his conviction to the state supreme court, which took two years to uphold his conviction. Kneeland served his 60-day sentence in summer of 1838 and then moved to Iowa to found a community of free-thinkers, which failed, so he turned his attention to politics as a Democrat. But even as a Democrat, being an “infidel” doomed his career as a politician.

Freedom of the Press

Over the years the “Press” has evolved from people using printing presses, large and small, putting ink on paper to say almost anything whether true or not, to other “Media” both large and small saying almost anything whether true or not. Media now includes not only ink on paper but extends to radio, television, movies, and the Internet. Now the Mass Media reaches huge audiences and has the ability to sway the opinions of millions of people. Unfortunately many so-called news outlets have evolved into propaganda outlets for various ideologies as well as political and financial interests.

The financial clout of media generally protects it from interference by government at all levels. Media accountability is a term to express the idea that powerful propaganda outlets should answer to the public interest but few organizations are able to effectively instill a high regard for the truth in media.

In the Western World, media is financed by commercial interests. Most commercial interests rely on a mass of customers buying their goods and services. They are generally sensitive to the welfare of their customers on whom they depend for their profits.

When a television news outlet publishes immediately verifiable false information, other opposing outlets pounce on them in the relentless quest for viewers. The Internet lights up, Twitter goes crazy, and soon the controversy disappears from public view.

Freedom of Assembly

The First Amendment explicitly prohibits the Federal Government from infringing “the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.” As a consequence of Incorporation, other governmental entities may not infringe the right of people to peacefully assemble themselves. If during such assemblies, the people wish demand a redress of their grievances, government is prohibited from infringing that right.

The key to this guaranteed freedom is “peacefully.” Other considerations are the property rights of places where people may want to assemble. States and Cities may require permits to use public property, or to impede traffic on public streets. Private property owners may prohibit use of their property for assemblies or may also charge a fee for using the property.

Freedom of assembly does not allow anarchist groups like Antifa to destroy property. Such activities make a mockery of constitutional freedom.

The gradual evolution of our Constitution and the great difficulty to amend it are among its strengths. This is certainly a conservative view. People on the ideological right are suspicious of calls for rapid change, such as the recent outcry to eliminate the Electoral College codified by Twelfth Amendment. It was ratified in 1804 and has withstood the test of time.

Our era of the Internet has created a population overloaded with information of dubious validity who demand immediate gratification and affirmation of their subjective and fleeting values. Cable news is remarkably shallow in its quest for marketable sensationalism. As demonstrated by many recent elections, mediocre people are elected to high and low political office on the slimmest of electoral margins. The only way most people know the candidates for whom they vote is through paid media presentations. In the final analysis all media presentations are paid for by somebody and all should be suspect. A random toss of a coin could produce similar results.

Here is a list of amendments that have been not been incorporated to apply to the states although some states do provide such protections in the state constitutions and laws.

Amendment III – prohibition against quartering of soldiers in civilian homes.

Amendment V – the right to indictment by a grand jury. (Double jeopardy and self-incrimination have been incorporated)

Amendment VI – right to a jury trial in civil cases.

Amendment VII – Suits at common law. (Jury selected from residents of crime location has not been incorporated.)

Amendment VIII – Cruel and unusual punishments inflicted (excessive fines has not been incorporated)  Federal and State Governments have some problems in this area. What constitutes excessive fines?  J.P.Morgan Chase-$13 Billion? British Petroleum – 3 Billion?

This interesting commentary is instructive.

Amendments IX and X – only apply to the U.S. Constitution

Additionally, in Gideon v. Wainwright (1963), the Court ruled that states must provide legal counsel to indigent criminal defendants, while Brown v. the Board of Education (1954) struck down a state’s ability to discriminate in public education on the basis of race.

The Never-ending Gun Control Debate

Humans Naturally Detest Murder

Ruger Mini-14 – Caliber .223

All humans recoil in disgust when a fellow human is murdered. We pass laws to punish perpetrators and enact measures to discourage murder. In the United States, firearms are overwhelmingly the weapon of choice for both murder and self-defense.

Does this mean we should pass laws to outlaw guns as a way to outlaw murder?

Absolutely not!  Guns also prevent murder so everybody needs to step back and look at the facts.

Mass Murder

Whenever there is a mass murder (defined as one in which four or more people selected indiscriminately, not including the perpetrator, are killed), politicians and citizens renew their cry for “gun control.”  Usually their knowledge of both firearms and the Constitution is either totally lacking or is subservient to their emotions. They begin by spouting false statistics to bolster their vacuous arguments and then increase the volume and frequency of their outcry. Some cherry pick numbers from the Small Arms Survey  to lend credence to their arguments. With little or no understanding of statistics they foist their emotional claims on a public audience equally unable to pick out the truth from the numbers.

Do the statistics really matter?

Question: How many deaths attributed to firearms are there in the United States in recent years?

Answer: Number of deaths: 33,594.  Deaths per 100,000 population: 10.5  (Center for Disease Control and Prevention – data from 2014)

Question: How many suicide deaths attributed to firearms are there in the United States in recent years according to the CDC?

Answer: Firearm suicides- Number of deaths: 21,386.  Deaths per 100,000 population: 6.7, or approximately 64% o firearms deaths are suicide.

That leaves about 12,208 murders attributable to firearms as reported by the CDC or an estimated 15,696 reported by the FBI in 2015. These numbers change but the absolute numbers are only a small part of the story.  In Chicago, where they have the strictest gun control laws in the nation, there were approximately 760 murders in 2016 by firearms, mostly in 5 south and west districts of the city where 59 rival gangs are fighting for territory.

The Reality

  • A majority of firearms deaths are suicides.
  • Most murders are committed by criminals who steal the weapons they use in their crimes.
  • Rifles of all kinds, including those pictured above, are used in less than 2% of murders.
  • Civilian versions of so-called assault rifles are not capable of fully automatic fire without modifications that require special licensure and paying a hefty tax.
  • The civilian model AR-15 uses the same caliber as the Ruger Mini-14 pictured above and has the same rate of fire as the little Ruger rifle.

In a Washington Post editorial on February 22, 2016, the paper claimed:

“The United States loses far more people to gun violence — homicidal, suicidal, accidental — than almost any other country, and there is one reason: the easy availability of guns.”

Their conclusion does not stand up to scrutiny. An all cause (homicidal, suicidal, accidental) firearm-related death rate per 100,000 population per year compiled by Wikipedia places the United States at 10.54, while Brazil is at 21.2 where the disarmed populace is terrorized  by armed criminals. Many of the countries with higher firearm related deaths have strict gun laws. South Africa has a firearm death rate per 100,000 of 8.3 but only 17% of those are suicides.

In a list of countries by intentional homicide rate, the United States has 4.88 deaths per 100,000 population. Japan (no guns) has a mere 0.31 homicides per 100,000, yet they have a suicide rate of around 26 per 100,000 people. The Japanese have discovered efficient ways of committing suicide that do not rely on the convenience of a firearm.

Second Amendment assures Citizens’ Right to Self-defense

Without going through the long history of Supreme Court decisions, the Second Amendment to the Constitution affirms the natural right of citizens to defend themselves and prohibits the Federal Government from infringing that right.  In District of Columbia v. Heller, 554 U.S. 570 (2008), the Supreme Court affirmed that the right to keep and bear arms is an individual right.

Firearms Prevent Murder and other Violent Crimes

It is very difficult to know exactly how many crimes are prevented by the presence of a firearm because merely seeing that a potential victim of crime is armed or may be armed could prevent a potential perpetrador from going forward.  Such events usually go unreported so there are no reliable statistics.

Anecdotally,   few years ago Florida was having a lot of carjackings, which decreased when laws were passed to allow concealed carry of firearms, and “stand your ground” defense laws. The apparent decrease proves nothing and these laws are being constantly reviewed by legislatures and courts.

Correlation is a statistical measure (expressed as a number) that describes the size and direction of a relationship between two or more variables. A correlation between variables does not automatically mean that the change in one variable is the cause of the change in the values of the other variable.

Causation indicates that one event is the result of another event. Cause and effect is very difficult to prove when human behavior is involved.

Pro-firearms sources may claim that  2 or 3 million violent crimes are prevented every year in the United States. Other sources tout “statistics” showing a lower number. The truth is that neither side of the debate knows because the information is not available! From the available data, there is a correlation between being armed and experiencing less crime. (See More Guns, Less Crime a book by John Lott, whose statistical analysis provides a convincing case for the validity of the title of his book)

We have a natural right to defend ourselves from harm, and fortunately citizens of the United States have that right affirmed in the founding documents of the nation. “Keep and bear arms” does not just mean firearms.

Given the choice of carrying a handgun, a baseball bat, or a samurai sword, it is hard to argue that the handgun is not a more efficient tool for self-protection.

This film by Nicolas Lévesque thoughtfully demonstrates that we who call ourselves Americans have a unique culture deeply steeped in individual liberty.

Speaking to members of the Massachusetts Anti-Slavery Society on January 28, 1852, American Abolitionist and liberal activist Wendell Phillips. said:

Eternal vigilance is the price of liberty; power is ever stealing from the many to the few. The manna of popular liberty must be gathered each day or it is rotten. The living sap of today outgrows the dead rind of yesterday. The hand entrusted with power becomes, either from human depravity or esprit de corps, the necessary enemy of the people. Only by continued oversight can the democrat in office be prevented from hardening into a despot; only by unintermitted agitation can a people be sufficiently awake to principle not to let liberty be smothered in material prosperity.”

 

Additional Links to Articles that demonstrate the disingenuous arguments of “gun control” advocates:

Gun Rhetoric vs. Gun Facts

This is an article by FactCheck.org that fairly discusses many of the complex issues surrounding the firearms debate.

Disarming the Myths Promoted By the Gun Control Lobby

This is a good article by Larry Bell  published in Forbes Magazine in Feb. 2012.

Senators betray their Oath of Office to further their Political Agendas

Article 6 of the Constitution

image of Constitution - Article 6, paragraph 3

Constitution – Article 6, Section 3

The oath of office for United States Senators is required by Article 6 of the Constitution. It’s text is as follows:

“I do solemnly swear (or affirm) that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter: So help me God.”

Yet their actions in confirmation hearings shamelessly ignore the Constitution and reveal their partisan biases.

The same Article 6 of the Constitution has a clause that reads: “… no religious Test shall ever be required as a Qualification to any Office or public Trust under the United States.”

Candidate grilled over her Religious Beliefs

During a September 6, 2017 Senate hearing to confirm Professor Amy Coney Barrett to the 7th federal appeals court based in Cincinnati, Ohio and Chicago Illinois,  several Democrat Senators grilled her about how her religion would inform her decisions if she were appointed to the Court of Appeals.

“When you read your speeches, the conclusion one draws is that the dogma lives loudly within you,” Senator Feinstein said of Barrett’s writings. “And that’s of concern when you come to big issues that large numbers of people have fought for for years in this country.”

Senator Richard Joseph (Dick) Durbin, (D, IL) himself a Catholic, seems to forget the Constitutional proscription about making a religious test for any office, including judges.

Senator Mazie Hirono of Hawaii asked another religion based question.  “You wrote about the duty of Catholic judges in capital cases,” she said. “In spite of the fact that you had written in an earlier article that Catholic judges—and you would be a Catholic judge—you would not recuse yourself from death-penalty cases?”

Senator Sheldon Whitehouse, (D-RI) observed while grilling Judge Joan Larsen, “To sit here and pretend that there is no role for people’s personal or private views or their social views when they go to the court—it’s just, it’s so preposterous as to be silly,”

Drain the Swamp

What is silly and preposterous is that the American public elect professional political hacks that are making public service into a lifetime profession. Fortunately the Madisonian model of government appears to be still functioning, especially with the election of Donald Trump. Agree with him or not, his “Drain the Swamp” metaphor has caught on with a sizeable fraction of the public and the sentiment may persist past his presidency.

While the Madisonian Model has been modified by the 17th amendment and continual calls for direct democracy have the potential do destroy the safeguards the founders laid down, a vigilant, well informed, and well educated electorate may be able to protect our legacy.

Source: Southeast Missouri State University. http://cstl-cla.semo.edu/kpsexton/pdfs/MadisonianModel.pdf

Direct Democracy and the Initiative Process

California Cases Reveal the Dangers and Successes of Direct Democracy at the State Level

A major flaw of direct democracy is a tendency of the majority to abuse the rights of the minority.  Such abuse is mitigated on the national level by the restraints in the Constitution that established our federal republic. The Electoral College is a consequence of the protections built into the Constitution. Rules established by the Senate and House of Representatives on the federal level can also be used by the minority party to moderate abuse by the majority (eg. the fillibuster rule in the Senate). Similar procedural rules are available in the various state legislatures to varying degrees.  The deliberative process of legislatures generally can be credited with allowing cooler heads to prevail. While in the early days of the Republic there were many examples of minority rights being trampled by the majority, as our nation matures the genius of our founding documents is increasingly evident as the rights of minority persons and parties have been protected, occasionally requiring an appeal to the federal courts and the U.S. Supreme court for redress.

Direct Democracy is Safer when it is Closer to the People

Direct Democracy is dangerous on a national level, questionable on a state level, an amusing hobby for politicians on a county and muncipal level, and virtually ignored on a family level. Is it any wonder then that the word DEMOCRACY does not appear in the Constitution of the United States. Democracy doesn’t even function on an individual level as is evident when a person resolves to to abide by self-discipline only to succumb to human frailty. At least little damage is done when an individual makes a bad decision; it is easily reversable.

Twenty-six states plus the U.S Virgin Islands have provisions in their laws that allow direct Initiatives or Referendums by the people. In practice the exercise is not direct democracy becasue most of the initiatives are sponsored and funded by special interest groups as an end run around the more reserved and deliberative legislative process by elected representatives.  In 2001, the National Conference of State Legislatures assembled a task force to review the growing use of initiatives and referendums around the country and to examine their effect on representative democracy at the state level. They found that abuse of the Initiative and Referendum process outweighed the  advantages and suggested that other states should avoid enacting such provisions.

The case of California is an example of why the Initiative process has outlived its usefulness.

California has become a one party state with Democrat supermajorities in both houses of the legislature, able to run roughshod over the minority party.  The supermajority allows Democrats in California to raise taxes, place measures on the statewide ballot, enact laws with “urgency” clauses, and override the governor’s veto. In spite of the concentration of power in the Democrat Party, state legislators have their hands tied in 2017 because of past citizens’ Initiatives. On the surface it can be argued that the initiative power of the people can overcome abuse by elected officials. But what started in 1978 as a citizen revolt against high taxes has combined with intervening economic and demographic events to create a crisis in California’s finances.

Since 1978, when Proposition 13 (prop 13) lowered property-tax rates, hundreds of recalls, initiatives, and ballot propositions have been approved in California, but few have had the long term and poorly understood effect of  prop 13. In response to rising property taxes, the people amended the state constitution to fix property taxes at 1%.  In 1992 the U.S. Supreme Court upheld the constitutionality of prop 13 in Nordlinger v. Hahn, 505 US 1 – Supreme Court 1992.

Now it appears that the rigid property tax regime built into the state constitution has distorted economic conditions in a similar way that rent controls and over-regulation can distort a free economy. It has reduced local control of schools because inflexible property tax revenue has necessarily been replaced by funds from state income taxes. The following articles review some of the other distortions to California’s economy.

Citizen legislation through the Initiative process does not uniformly result in disasters. Here we have explored the unintended consequences of prop 13 that have left the state with intractable economic problems. The two propositions 8 that follow, while not resulting in disaster, demonstrate the questionable value of direct democracy on the state level.

Proposition 8 (2008)

In 2008, citizens of California placed a referendum on the ballot to ban gay marriage.  It passed by a vote of 52 to 47 percent.  As a State Constitutional Amendment, it was ruled constitutional by the California Supreme Court in 2009.  In 2010, it was ruled unconstitutional by a federal district court on the basis that it violated the Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution (Equal Protection). Finally, in 2013, the case was decided on technical grounds (standing) by the U.S. Supreme Court:

Hollingsworth v. Perry, 133 S. Ct. 2652 (2013) – this case dealt with the Prop 8 litigation coming out of California. The Court held that, as private parties with a “generalized grievance,” the Prop 8 proponents did not have standing to appeal the District Court ruling. The Court explained that Article III of the Constitution confines the power of the federal courts to deciding actual “cases” or “controversies.” Once the District Court issued its order, the Prop 8 proponents “no longer had any injury to redress,” and that “no matter how deeply committed petitioners may be to upholding Proposition 8,” their interest was insufficient to confer standing. Given its ruling, the Supreme Court left the District Court’s opinion – that Prop 8 violated the Fourteenth Amendment – as the final and controlling decision on the merits.

Proposition 8 reflected deep religious and political views of people who financed the Initiative and validated both the informed and uninformed sentiments of enough people for it to pass. One can assume that a great number of the 47 percent who opposed the Initiative voted based on reason, emotion, or both.  The 2008 prop 8 occurred within the context of national debate about same-sex marriage where other states ended up voting laws both in favor and against. Finally in  June 26, 2015, the United States Supreme Court settled the matter in Obergefell v. Hodges that state-level bans on same-sex marriage are unconstitutional. It is understandable that Californians who wanted to preserve traditional marriage would use the only tool available to them, the Initiative. They knew that the legislature would not, or perhaps could not, give them the result they wanted.  Liberty demands

The Other Proposition 8 (1982)

Proposition 8 (or The Victims’ Bill of Rights) was a Initiative enacted by California voters on 8 June 1982 that amended the state constitution.

“A growing hyper-vigilance about “unsafe streets” paired with a general perception that state judges were more concerned with safeguarding criminal defendants’ rights than with affording victims a meaningful voice within the trial process sparked an impassioned victims’ rights movement. A broad constituency of politicians, police officers, prosecutors and activists lobbied extensively to correct what they considered a substantial imbalance between victims’ and defendants’ rights. This coalition urged the state legislature to enact reforms that prevented judges from broadly applying the exclusionary rule, which, under certain circumstances, excluded relevant evidence from trial. Fundamentally, this coalition sought to give victims the opportunity to become more active participants in the trials of their assailants.  But when the activists found legislators to be indifferent to their cause, they turned instead to California’s initiative power for a solution.”  (Berkeley Journal of Criminal Law, Volume 14, Issue 1, Article1, p 4)

It passed 56 percent to 44 percent, making California the first state to have a constitutional amendment that provides specific enumerated rights to victims of crime.  The California Supreme Court upheld the amendment in a 4 to 3 decision.

This is a case where those most familiar with issues of criminal justice formed and financed the coalition to advance the Initiative. Rather than being an instance of the majority taking the advantage of a minority, prop 8 (1982) is seen as a win for the victims of crime and brought California’s liberal exclusionary rules into conformity with narrower federal rulings.

California’s Direct Democracy Simplified

Here is a concise definition of California’s direct democracy courtesy of the Houghton Mifflin Company’s Weekly Readerhttps://www.eduplace.com/kids/socsci/ca/books/bkd/wklyrdr/u5_article2.shtml

Do Citizens’ Initiatives make Legislators More Responsive?

Whether direct democracy achieves its goal of making state legislators in the United States more responsive to the concerns of the people is a question still debated today (See, e.g., Richard J. Ellis and Michael Nelson, editors, Democratic Delusions: The Initiative Process in America, 2002). Here are some quotes that sum up Ellis’ argument against the initiative process as it has been proposed on a national level:

“For all their failings, legislatures have the singular virtue of being capable of identifying, correcting, and learning from past errors…and so neither citizens nor legislatures see anything wrong or unusual in changing and improving current laws. …government policy enacted by the legislature is treated as the law of the land, not as the godlike voice of the people.The real problem with initiatives is not that they are more likely to produce poor public policy than are legislatures – though they may – but rather that mistakes made by initiatives are generally more difficult to correct. A successful initiative, unlike a legislative action, is widely assumed to be the authentic expression of the “voice of the people.” …Even the modest attempt to have voters reconsider their decision brings howls of populist outrage.”

“When activists proclaim that the initiative process “belongs to the people” they obscure the political reality behind a fog of populist platitudes. The initiative literally belongs to the few who write the measures, not to the many who vote. A national initiative would do little or nothing to empower the people; instead it would provide political activists, politicians, and special interests another way to get what they want.”

Direct Democracy in Switzerland

Switzerland has a population of just under 8-1/2 million. Each of the 26 sovereign cantons (states) has a population of under 500,000 except Zurich and Bern with populations slightly over one million, and Argau and Vaud with close to 500,000 each  The literacy rate of those age 15 and over is 99% compared to the United States at approximately 86%.  Direct participation in government begins with the self-determination of the individual,then to the municipalities, district, canton, and finally to the national level. Most of the power resides with the cantons and municipalities.

Citizens routinely propose measures for consideration by all levels of government, which if not acted upon by government, is taken to a vote of the people. What happens in practice is proposals by the people are analysed by the elected officials, who propose a similar but better formulated and written solution, which is then substituted for the citizen iniatitive, and eventually ratified by a vote of the people. It is a collaborative form of governing with very little dissent.  The percentage of successful initiatives is Switzerland is only about 10 percent.  Most initiatives are withdrawn from the legislature before they reach the ballot.

According to Richard Ellis (cited above) in Democratic Delusions: The Initiative Process in America, the most common reason for the Swiss consensus is that the legislature has promised or taken action that satisfies the proponents.

Ellis writes that:
 “The initiative in Switzerland is thus an integral part of the legislative process and is often used as a spur to get a majority in the legislature to heed the concerns of minority groups that have previously been thwarted in the assembly. Unlike in the United States, where the initiative process is a badly confrontational, zero-sum game, in Switzerland it is often employed to arrive at a consensus by facilitating legislative deliberation and compromise.”

The major difference between direct democracy in Switzerland and the U.S. is a higher degree of participation by a highly literate populace in Switzerland, and a low degree of interest in the United States, particularily at the local level where voter turnout often does not exceed 20%.

Here is an interesting article about Direct Democracy: Ties between Switzerland and the U.S. from the Library of Congress.

https://blogs.loc.gov/law/2014/10/direct-democracy-ties-between-switzerland-and-the-u-s/

Who Really Controls the United States?

In the above article from the Library of Congress, James W. Sullivan (1848-1938) stated that the goal “of the direct democracy movement was to circumvent the legislators whom he considered “habitually” corrupt and non-responsive to the needs of the people in a society in the transition to an industrial country.”

Now we have evolved from an industrial economy to what has been described as retail and service economy. Even that description is in transition as most areas of the country are in a “healthcare and social service” economy.  As the debate over Obamacare rages on, Federal deficits soar, and both direct and representative democracy seem to have failed us.

Watch this animated map from the Bureau of Labor Statistics (HERE-opens in a new window)     Press PLAY to see the changes from 1991 to 2013

The debate over healthcare brings the centuries old argument about socialism into sharp focus except that no one dare utter the word socialism.  At this point in our national journey through time, there are more questions than answers. Representative Democracy has served us well in preserving personal liberty but can personal liberty survive in the face of socialism?  Certainly a large number of Western European Democracies are indulging in what is called Social Democracy. The trouble with incremental social change is that the time cycles are very long and by the time a society experiments with an idea many years can pass before the wisdom or the folly of the idea is clearly mainfest. Will Social Democracy evolve into Democratic Socialism as advocated by the self-styled Democratic Socialist Bernie Sanders?

The answer to that question depends on a literate populace participating in Representative Democracy, acting on unbiased information from a well informed media. In this way, the people will continue to control the United States.

The problem we now face appears to be a poorly educated populace acting on propaganda from a poorly educated media marching in lock step with a global elite whose wealth  individually exceeds that of many nations. As smart as the global elite are at making money, it is doubtful that they match the wisdom and knowledge of liberty that animated the Founders of our nation and the Swiss Confederation. The Western Democracies come in a close second in preserving personal liberty but they too face an erosion so imperceptively slow that one day the free nations will awaken and wonder what happend to freedom.

The Argument to Remove Marijuana (Tetrahydrocannabinols) from DEA Schedule 1

If you are a young healthy person, you should not be using marijuana.  It will make you more stupid than you already are if you become a heavy user.  But should you be prosecuted if you make the choice to use it?

Its continued classification in Schedule 1 by the DEA is based on 21 U.S. Code § 812 – Schedules of controlled substances, and its administration is subject to the complexities and corruption of the regulatory state. The claim that the regulatory state is corrupt is separate argument.

The findings required for Schedule I are as follows:

(A) The drug or other substance has a high potential for abuse.

(B) The drug or other substance has no currently accepted medical use in treatment in the United States.

(C) There is a lack of accepted safety for use of the drug or other substance under medical supervision.

Marijuana clearly does not meet ANY of the three criteria.

Rather than argue that marijuana does not meet these criteria and should be placed in another schedule overlooks the question of whether 21 U.S. Code § 812 should not simply be amended by Congress to allow the states to deal with marijuana as the various states very ably deal with the question of alcohol.

The primary duty of the Federal Government is to protect the citizens of the U.S.  There are enumerated powers  given by the people through operation of the Constitution to Congress.  The Tenth Amendment places limits on the power of the Federal Government:  “The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the States, are reserved to the States respectively, or to the people.” Indeed we have strayed far from these simple principles.  The alphabet soup of agencies and departments has become self-perpetuating:  ATF, CDC, CIA, DEA, DHS, DOD, DOE, ED, EPA, FBI, FCC, FDA, IRS, NSA, SSA, TSA.  We have sacrificed our liberty for the perceived security promised by governments.

Marijuana is a proxy for regaining our freedom, including the freedom to become intoxicated, just as single malt Scotch Whiskey is a proxy for freedom and intoxication. The era of prohibition from 1920 to 1933 ended when Utah was the last state to provide the 36th and final vote for ratification of the 21st Amendment.   It put away the sad legacy of the 18th amendment to the Constitution, which saw crime, gang violence, imprisonment, illicit use, and government corruption soar.

This time all that is required to regain some small freedom is for Congress to act. The states are doing a good job taking the place of illicit drug dealers.  The quality of the product has increased dramatically in states where marijuana is legal. Research is going on to determine what works and what people want.  Old people have a safe way to get help sleeping and cancer patients have help with their pain – all without expensive and dangerous drugs from conventional organized medicine.

In states where marijuana is legal, either medicinally or free-choice, use among adolescents is declining.  Teens and young adults are beginning to understand the risk to the developing brain and have freely chosen to abstain or at least limit their use.

The benefits are obvious:

  • Personal freedom
  • No prosecution
  • Better product
  • Money going to state instead of gangs.
  • Licensed dealers do not sell to minors.
  • Frees up law enforcement resources.
  • Dispensaries are safe.
  • Disputes with dispensaries can be settled in court, not in the street.
  • States can intervene if unsafe products need to be removed from commerce.

What is Moral Hazard?

Moral Hazard is predominantly an insurance industry term to describe the actions of an insured party who acts differently than he would if there were no insurance to mitigate the effects of his actions. An example could be a homeowner who smokes in bed, lights candles in the house, and lights off flambé in a dining room close to flammable drapes, all because he knows that the insurance will pay if the house burns down.

Moral hazard is where one entity takes more risk because another entity will pay for mistakes. A common explanation for why this happens is called “informational asymmetry.” It occurs when the parties in a contract have unequal information and one assumes risk without fully understanding the extent of the risk.

The government is a master at creating moral hazards. Taxpayers bear the brunt.

Consider these examples:

  • Obamacare required insurance companies to provide benefits that they knew were not sustainable, but they provided coverage anyway knowing that the government would bail them out. Taxpayers take the hit.
  • Because Obamacare allowed people to sign up after they became ill, the scheme became too expensive to maintain and it failed.
  • Banks took huge risks claiming that they were too big to fail. Frightened politicians bailed them out to “save the economy.” Taxpayers took the hit.
  • Politicians in Illinois vote for generous defined benefit pensions for public employees. Public sector unions encourage their members to vote for the politicians. The unions claim that their members paid their fair share into the pensions, yet since 1998 the percentage actually paid by government workers has increase 75% and that of taxpayers by 427%.  Taxpayers are responsible for paying off current unfunded liabilities plus all future increases as well.
  • Heavy handed regulation encourages people to engage in lawlessness and behavior to circumvent the regulation when the cost of compliance is onerous.
  • Asset Forfeiture Programs in the states and by federal authorities encourage police to prosecute people, not solely because of the nature of a crime, but because of the value of property that potentially can be seized. Civil forfeiture is a proceeding brought against the property rather a person convicted of a crime and has been used to enrich police departments and municipalities, undermining the legitimacy of law enforcement.  Whether the laws that permit such seizures are an example of moral hazard or simply encourage government corruption is open to debate.

An interesting column about civil forfeiture laws by George Will can be found HERE.

Some federal rules have changed since this was written and somewhat reduce the federal government’s complicity under what is called federal agency adoption of property seized by state or local law enforcement. We hope the states take a lead in eliminating ill-conceived civil forfeiture laws.

An article written by Benson, Rasmussen, and Sollars in April 1995 points out:

The Comprehensive Crime Act of 1984 is shown to have altered the incentives of police agencies by allowing them to keep the proceeds of assets forfeited as a result of drug enforcement activities. Empirical evidence is presented which shows that police agencies can increase their discretionary budgets through the asset forfeiture process.

The United States is experiencing a crisis in police-citizen relations. We believe it is urgent that trust in law enforcement and the rule of law be restored. Civil Forfeiture laws, although not well understood by the general public, represent a clear moral hazard or at worse facilitate police corruption.  How can anyone trust the police in a simple traffic stop if the officer starts asking about how much cash the occupants of the car are carrying?  The answer is very chilling to the average citizen and even more chilling to minorities.

The Institute for Justice provides a state-by-state report on asset forfeiture called Policing for Profit. Access their web site HERE and watch the video:

Reform of forfeiture laws is a cause that seniors can take a lead in promoting at the local, state, and federal level. Contact your representatives and ask how they feel about the topic.

Nootropics

According to Wikipedia, Nootropics are “drugs, supplements, or other substances that improve cognitive function, particularly executive functions, memory, creativity, or motivation, in healthy individuals.”

There are a few things you should know before wasting your hard earned money on anything that promises to make you smarter, more motivated, or reverses your impending dementia.  If you really are in the beginning stages of dementia, consult a good doctor and don’t buy stuff you see advertised heavily on Fox News Channel. The one that comes to mind is the jellyfish thing. We won’t mention the name because we are adverse to ugly tweets and lawsuits. If you are rich and healthy, give it a shot. Try ingesting strange things into your body to see how it works. You will be doing a clinical study with N=1.

Another word you should know, also defined on Wikipedia, is xenobiotic: “A foreign chemical substance found within an organism that is not normally naturally produced by or expected to be present within.” Drugs are xenobiotics as are many substances from so called natural supplements. Many things in food are xenobiotics. How your body processes these foreign substances and renders them harmless is very complex and not everyone handles them the same. Some people cannot handle gluten or lactose.

The next thing to learn about if you want to mess around with stuff to make you smart is the body’s cytochrome P450 mixed-function oxidase system.  It’s the body’s way of taking care of a lot of stuff the digestive tract, or other mechanisms didn’t handle completely. The P450 system is determined genetically. Something that you can handle well may kill someone else.  You can have genetic testing to see which isoenzymes you produce and how active they are, but it is largely a waste of time and money at this point.  Doctors deal with it empirically by trial and error, trying different drugs and adjusting the doses.

Let’s look at cytochrome P450 1A2, abbreviated CYP1A2. Its activity in the body helps detoxify xenobiotics such as caffeine, and acetaminophen.  Acetaminophen can kill you and you don’t know what a lethal dose is for you until you try it. Even then it may depend on what else you have been eating, if you are dehydrated, or if you eat your vegetables. Caffeine, like acetaminophen, can kill you and the lethal dose will vary. The median lethal dose (LD50) in humans is estimated to be 150-200 mg per kilogram of body mass.  Don’t depend on this number. It only kills half of those who overdose.

Back to nootropics, which we really never left:  Caffeine is a good one- pretty safe and a weak inhibitor and substrate of CYP1A2.  Some people can detoxify the stuff all day long and sleep like a baby. Others handle a cup in the morning. It’s not simply a matter of detoxifying it. Your genes determine sites in your body that it binds to, some well, others not so well. Boys don’t handle it as well as the ladies, generally.

What about modafinil?  It’s an inhibitor of CYP2C19, and inducer of CYP3A4 so if you are taking any drugs for therapeutic reasons you will probably mess up your treatment.  Besides it is a prescription drug and your doctor will need a diagnosis such as shift work-sleep disorder to feel good about giving you the prescription. But if you are old, have high blood pressure and are on a long list of drugs, the doctor will warn you about a myriad of drug interactions and suggest that you quit your night job.  Oh, but we forgot. You are over 50 and retired.  Right?

How does Donald (Trump) compare to Ronald (Reagan)?

Trump is a Different Man for Different Times

I arrived in sunny Southern California in 1963 eager continue my studies in physics after suffering two years of university in the frigid climes of upstate New York. I cannot tell you who was governor of New York during that time except to say that Nelson Rockefeller comes to mind and he had a wife named Happy.   Students then, at least the ones I knew, didn’t pay much attention to politics. When asked by a USC admissions director what I thought about the assassination of John F. Kennedy that occurred on the day of my interview, I carelessly replied that I didn’t think it made a lot of difference. Luckily for me he was an Orange County Republican and he decided that I belonged at USC.

In those days, USC was a safe place for complacent Republican sympathizers.  Occasionally a professor would ask uncomfortable questions about why Ronald Reagan was qualified to be governor. The safe answer was, and it turned out to be truer than anyone imagined, that Reagan knew how to choose smart people to actually run the government. Reagan is now widely acclaimed as the great communicator. He apparently was good at negotiating with dangerous world leaders as his legacy attests. But most of all, he surrounded himself as governor of California, and later as President, with very smart people, good people, moral people, and he left the country in the safe hands of his Supreme Court appointments.

The reason for the above background is to demonstrate that I was a witness to the Reagan Revolution so it is part of me. I watched Ronald Reagan in public life for 16 years. In spite of Reagan’s desire to cut the size of the federal government, split government substantially limited his agenda. He excelled in foreign affairs but his domestic agenda was stuck in the Great Society.

Donald Trump is no Ronald Reagan. I miss the affable Reagan smile and easy retort.

So how does Ronald compare to Donald?  So far it is too early to judge although everyone is anxious to do so.

The thing that immediately comes to mind is the Internet.

Reagan had television, a limited universe of talking heads, newspapers whose political biases were tame but well known, and a bunch of news magazines that were still able to turn a profit. The volume of information was manageable.  Narcissism was a word used by psychologists. People took pictures of OTHER people and sent the film off to be developed.

With the Internet, the volume of information has reached astronomical heights and its dissemination is cheap. One can conclude from the laws of supply and demand that political opinion has depreciated to the point of being virtually worthless. News outlets publish trash on page one, and later rescind it on page 6 with no apology.   On the ropes now is Time Magazine!

Is President Trump is a narcissist as the selfie crowd and a bunch of disgrundled psychiatrists are fond of proclaiming? A good argument can be made that a lot of psychiatry and clinical psychology is not based on solid science. Medicine is based on chemistry,  biology, and physics. Medical research, experimental, clinical, and epidemiological, rely on hard data that are evaluated mathmatically for statistical significance. The so-called soft sciences, anthropology, economics, epidemiology, geography, policy, psychology, and sociology may use scientific methods of inquiry but their discipline identifies better with scholars in the humanities. Narcisism only exists as a medical diagnosis because of the profoundly chaotic state of medical practice in the western world. DMS-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition) is an example of the medical/government complex inventing diseases to treat. Narcissism is one such invented disease and would be better characterized as Greek mythology.

Political acrimony is either at an all time high or we just know about it because of the Internet and its handmaiden, cable news. A 24-hour news cycle repeats the same lame stories as if by repetition they will achieve credibility.

So far Donald Trump appears to be choosing good people, at least one great new Supreme Court justice, and he is slowly filling the ranks of circuit judges. Hopefully he will get it right.  Some of his excellent cabinet people are quietly laying the groundwork for the revolution Reagan was unable to complete.

In the meantime my European friends are turning their sophisticated noses up at our gaff and twitter prone President who is breaking all the rules of political correctness.

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Melania, we’re out of toilet paper. Bring me some more international agreements.

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The above cartoon appeared in the March 6, 2017 online issue of OBV Online and is used here as an illustration of German sentiments. The caption on the OBV Website reads, “International agreements are taken very seriously in the White House. Cartoon: Bengen”