Thursday, December 29, 2005

AIDS in Africa: Does Throwing Money at a Problem Fix It?

From the Guardian's Christmas appeal 2005
Photo of slums in Lagos, Nigeria by David Levene,displayed under fair use

The Gardian (UK)'s Christmas appeal for 2005 has a very poignant story about AIDS in Nigeria. One in ten people in that country are HIV positive, and AIDS is prevalent throughout sub-Saharan Africa. We are likely to see a severe medical disaster in the next decade as those afflicted with the disease develop full-blown AIDS and suffer from all of the diseases and infections that plague the continent due to their compromised immune systems and woefully inadequate health care system. Some experts estimate that Africa will lose over half the population in the next half century due to AIDS and related diseases. That is a significant portion of the world's population.

Stories like this make me very thankful that I was fortunate enough to be born in America. We think we have poor people here, but our poor are generally poor due to their mindset, their attitudes. In America, poor people have working cars and color TVs, and they have access to a free education and basic health care. Poor in the Third World is poor. We're talking living in cardboard shanties-poor, drinking out of the same water source that is used for a sewer poor, living on less than $100 a year poor.

How do we fix Africa? My former boss has spent, and has committed to spend, millions of dollars in Africa. His heart's in the right place... but unless that money is directed by people who are both knowledgeable and trustworthy enough to spend it wisely, then I'm afraid it will only end up making more African bureaucrats rich. I don't think money in and of itself is going to fix Africa. Instead, the two biggest problems facing Africa are ignorance and corruption (we could say the same thing about New Orleans, or Seattle for that matter), and these must be addressed before money will make a difference.

I list ignorance first, because I am amazed that the people in Lagos don't do the simplest things... like clean up their immediate surroundings... that don't take much money or effort and that would make a difference in their health situation. The place is a freakin' mess... abandoned cars, rotting organic material, etc. Of course, this ignorance is compounded by the well-intentioned and the evil. Most NGOs that work at AIDS prevention do not, and will not, preach abstinence, preferring to pass out condoms that are invariably discarded instead. And then there's the rise of the "super-evangelist" hustler-preacher, who builds the big church and promises the desperate that he is uniquely gifted and can cure their ills... of course, the good man needs donations to do the Lord's work.

Second, corruption must be a big problem here. Nigeria has considerable oil resources; why doesn't the government use some of that money to make life better for its citizens? Compare Nigeria to Alaska; both have considerable oil resources (Nigeria has more), yet every Alaskan gets money from the oil. Does every Nigerian get money from the oil revenues? I doubt it, although I'm sure the leaders are extremely wealthy.

There's a reason that some countries and cultures are better off than others: every culture is not equal. Cultures that are bound by traditions tend to be backwards and resistant to improvement. African culture is an example of this, and Middle Eastern culture is another example. What might have been optimal for Iron Age existence just doesn't work in a post-Industrial Age world.

Whatever your goal, if you look to those who have accomplished it and imitate them, you will also accomplish it. Want to look like Arnold Schwartzenegger? Work out like him. Want to be wealthy? Then embrace the habits of wealthy people (living within your means, investing, owning your own business, etc.). Want to transform your country from a Third World disaster to a thriving, prosperous, nation? Then look at other countries, from America to Japan to South Korea to Singapore, determine what they did that worked, and do it!

A century ago, many parts of America and Europe were like present-day Lagos. We figured out what to do and how to do it. Why is it that the Chinese have figured this out in the last decade but Africa hasn't? Why doesn't Africa look to the West to see what works, and then imitate us? The answer is attitude. Of course, this attitude is only reinforced by the pseudo-intelligentsia in the West who can only find fault with Western society, culture, and government.

I don't think that the rest of the world can save Africa unless we conquer it and administer it -- and that's not going to happen. The West has thrown hundreds of billions of dollars at Africa over the past half-century, to very little effect. We can (and we do) help a little, but Africa is going to have to save itself... or not.

I'm not saying we shouldn't try. I hope The Gates Foundation can make a difference in Africa. I wonder, however, if it will, because we're talking about dealing with sovereign governments who can arbitrarily decide what rules to follow and what not to... and Bill's only option is to take what's left of his money and go somewhere else. I have faith in Bill Gates; I know he's smart enough to figure out what works and what doesn't. I don't have faith in most of the governments in Africa.

Perhaps some of that money, the part that is going to end up buying a retirement villa on the French Riviera for a Nigerian politician, might make a much bigger difference if, say, it was used to improve things in, say, Eastern Europe, or eastern New Orleans.

Tuesday, December 13, 2005

Image Quality Is More Than Megapixels: A Primer on Image Sensors

A Bunch of Old Coots © 2005 John Clifford
Sigma SD10, Sigma 70-200/2.8 EX @ 200mm, 1/200 @ f/6.3

A digital camera's image resolution, as measured in megapixels (millions of pixels), is what most people view as the primary indication of image quality. Manufacturers play to this perception, releasing cameras with increasingly greater megapixel ratings. However, there's more to image quality than the sheer number of pixels comprising that image.

All megapixels are not created equal. Sensor size, photodetector size, and sensor technology all play a role in determining image quality, or how closely the image reflects the scene that we attempted to capture. I'll explain why in a moment.

First, lets get some terminology straight. A pixel is shorthand for picture element, and refers to one of perhaps millions of colored 'dots' that make up an image. A photosite is a more precise way of saying a particular location on an image sensor that can record a light value. Photosites may have one or more photodetectors, or light sensing areas. Pixels and photodetectors are used interchangeably, but they are not necessarily so because most image sensors create a pixel by calculating its value from several adjacent photodetectors, each occupying a photosite in a two-dimensional array, while some image sensors can record multiple colors at the same X-Y photosite location via a stack of photodetectors (the Foveon sensor is the most widely-know of this type). And finally, let's define image quality as a coefficient that relates the RGB value of a single pixel compared to the value that should have been captured if the sensor was perfect in terms of capturing the RGB value. In other words, the highest quality image would have the actual RGB value captured at each photosite match the resultant pixel on the image.

Next, let's discuss how image sensors work. There are three main digital imaging sensor technologies in use today. We'll ignore the scanner backs used on medium- and large-format cameras (interesting technology but for very limited use), and look at the two variations of 'one-shot' digital imaging sensors: the Color Filter Array (CFA) sensor and the Foveon® sensor.

The most widely-used sensor technology is the Color Filter Array (CFA) sensor comprised of a two-dimensional array of photosites with a color filter array on top. Since photosites are monochromatic in nature the CFA sensor puts a pattern of color filters on top of the sensor so each photosite is only sensitive to one of the primary colors (red, green, or blue). The most commonly used CFA is the Bayer pattern, of arranging the color filters in a repeating Red-Green-Blue-Green order, and most digital image sensors used in cameras today are Bayer CFA sensors. Bayer sensors have one obvious limitation; the CFA filter assures that 25% of the photosites will detect only shades of red, another 25% will detect only shades of blue, and the remaining 50% will detect only shades of green. Most CFA sensors have an anti-aliasing optical filter that slightly blurs fine detail in an attempt to minimize moire at the expense of fine detail. A Bayer sensor's resolution varies depending on the color composition of the scene: best for black and white, better for green hues, not so good if red and blue are the predominant colors. Figure on about 60% to 70% of the theoretical resolution based on pixels per mm of sensor, or about 45 line pairs per millimeter (45 lp/mm) on the Nikon D70 and other 6 MP Bayer sensor-equipped digital cameras.

Comparison of Bayer CFA sensor and Foveon® sensor (from the Foveon website)

The second image sensor type used in dSLRs and digicams (point-and-shoot digital cameras) is the Foveon sensor. Unlike CFA sensors, the Foveon sensor has a three-dimensional photosite structure, with three photosensors stacked at each photosite (one for red, one for green, and one for blue). The founders of Foveon discovered how to to use silicon as a color filter of sorts, taking advantage of how deeply each primary color penetrates. What this means is that the image reconstruction process is as simple as taking the RGB value at each photosite and writing it out to an image file. No interpolation occurs; what you see is what you get until you are limited by either lens or sensor resolving ability. On the Foveon X3 second-generation sensor, that would equate to about 50 line pairs per millimeter (50 lp/mm).

Wait a minute! You're saying that a 3.4 MP camera has better resolution than a 6.1 MP camera? You're kidding!

No, I'm not kidding. That is exactly the point: more pixels in an image don't mean a higher-resolution image if the extra pixels do not contain valid image data but instead reflect interpolated, "guessed" data that may or may not accurately reflect what was in front of the camera. Here's a comparison of resolution test pictures from the Foveon-equipped Sigma SD10 and the Bayer-equipped Nikon D70:

Sigma/Foveon (left) and Nikon/Bayer resolution test shots, from the dPreview website. Click on Sigma or Nikon to get a better view.

This black & white resolution chart is the best case test for a Bayer sensor because every photodetector either sees no light or some light and the color isn't important, yet the D70 and the SD10 have about equivalent resolution. The Bayer sensor's performance is dramatically diminished if resolution charts that are red, or blue, or green, on a white background are used. You can also notice the multicolor aliasing (moire) on the D70 image, a result of interpolation (guessing): certain photosites capture a boundary between black and white and because of the color filtering this is interpreted as different hues.

A better comparison of resolution between the Foveon 3.4 MP sensor (left) and Bayer 6 MP sensor (right). The Foveon's slightly higher resolution can be seen by how lines on the left side of the image extend slightly more towards the center.
(image courtesy of Digit Life)

Let's compare image quality from different-sized sensors with the same number of photosites. Obviously, smaller sensors with equivalent resolution will have physically smaller photosites. What does this mean in terms of picture quality? Generally speaking, sensors with larger photosites deliver images with less noise (a 'grainy' look), because while the electronic circuitry inside an image sensor will occasionally generate random photons that emulate light striking the photosites, the number of photons captured per photosite over a set time is greater when the photosite is larger and thus the signal-to-noise ratio (SNR) is higher. This is why high ISO images taken with digicams (compact point-and-shoot digital cameras) with smaller sensors display much more noise than their larger-sensored digital SLR (dSLR) brethren. It is also why a 6 MP image taken with a dSLR nearly always looks better than the same image taken with a digicam. And, it is why some digicams with 6 MP sensors actually provide better image quality than a nearly identical camera by the same manufacturer with a higher megapixel rating.

How do you get the most resolution out of your digital camera regardless of its megapixel rating or sensor design?
  1. Set your camera to save images in a lossless format (raw or TIFF) instead of JPEG
  2. Set your camera to its highest resolution rating
  3. Set your camera to the lowest ISO speed that will allow you to successfully capture pictures in your situation
  4. Finally, for the ultimate in image quality, do your post-exposure image processing (sharpening, etc.) in an image editor such as Photoshop or Picture Window Pro (my favorite) instead of the camera
I hope this brief explanation helps you make a better decision when it comes to purchasing a digital camera. If nothing else, I hope more people realize that other companies besides Nikon and Canon make excellent digital cameras that are worth serious consideration.

Whacha Gonna Do Wid All Dat Junk?

Slate's Musicbox had an article on what was referred to as "a song so bad it veers towards evil." Give the writer his props: any article on that subject invites reading.

The song in question, "My Humps" by the Black-Eyed Peas, is a twist on the typical hip-hop view of the roles the different sexes play during courtship. It's not about love and respect, it's about access to those "lovely lady lumps" for "all that cash." Before I go further, let me state that I'm really not a Black-Eyed Peas fan, and I listened to the song initially because I wanted to understand how a man like Howard Dean could choose this band as one of his favorites (I think Howard was a poser who was trying to show how hip he was while hopefully getting some of the black vote).

I must be getting old. One of the elements of pop culture that ties a generation together is its music. By definition, I'm one of the last of the Boomers (people born between 1945 and 1961). I grew up with the music of the late '60s, listening to a lot of R & B and '70s rock and roll. Disco reared its generally-bland head during the mid-'70s and, I am ashamed to say, my senior-year high school yearbook features an abysmal drawing of a tiger (the school mascot) in the classic "Saturday Night Fever" pose. But the late '70s and early '80s had some great music. Punk, metal, alternative... it was all good. When I listen to today's music, I understand my father when he said, "You listen to that crap?"

All of these genres had one thing in common: they treated courtship respectfully. Male performers sang about the worship they had for a special woman; women sang about the positive aspects of men that invited respect. Yeah, there was the occasional "See Ya" song, like Journey's "Lovin', Touchin', Squeezin'" or Carly Simon's "You're So Vain" or Genesis' "There Must Be Some Misunderstanding." I look at these songs as warnings: guys, don't put up with cheating and getting blown off, girls, don't put up with a self-centered guy.

Which leads me to today's pop music and its misogynistic bent. I think much of this comes from black urban subculture, specifically hip-hop and gangsta rap. We don't want to know what love is anymore; we want that ho to call us Big Daddy when she backs that thang up. The hip-hop/rap subculture consciously rejects the social values of the mainstream. Why it does would make a fascinating essay in itself.

One of the recurring themes of Judao-Christian civilization is the union of sex with love in a monogamous heterosexual relationship that is the molecule, so to speak, of human civilization. The ideal is to find one person of the opposite sex that we can bond with for life, and then build a multi-generational family unit based upon that bond. There are a lot of good reasons for this ideal: monogamy builds stable societies without the problems of bastardy or jealousy.

This flies in the face of our genetic programming: men are designed to go forth and multiply. However, casual sexual relationships lead to violence between jealous lovers, unsupported children, and a fragmented society. People are programmed to require trust and security in a relationship in order to be happy. These problems have been with us from the beginning of time, and the ideal of monogamy is the result of millenia of experience.

Back to the song. I have to disagree with the author of the Slate column. I rather liked "My Humps" as a tongue-in-cheek commentary on the pathetic state of modern courtship, which evidently consists of winning a woman's affections temporarily by the simple expedient of throwing enough money at her. If you listen to the song, you realize that what the lyrics really say is that both sides play each other for fools. It's also a good dance track, and evidently a lot of people disagree with the column since this is one of the hottest singles on the charts.

You want a bad song? Just turn to any rap station and listen for a few minutes. How about "Shake That Laffy Taffy," a song so totally lacking in lyrical and musical merit that the person responsible for allowing it to be made should be barred from the music industry for life. The only rational explanation for why this song gets any airtime is that payola is alive and well in the music industry. No radio station would pay that song without getting paid big bucks. Hell, we should be getting paid to listen to it, but there isn't enough money in the music industry to make listening to this song bearable. Marvin Gaye would turn over in his grave.

I'll pick on my own generation because the new stuff is too easy. "Rock the Boat" by the Hughes Corporation? Yuck! Or "Afternoon Delight?" Every time I hear "thinkin' of you's working up a appetite" I wince. I want to slap the stupid songwriter who failed grade school grammar. How about "Ride the White Horse" by Laid Back? Or, pretty much the entire Beastie Boys collection, and the entire category of music referred to as 'Butt Rock.'

Whatever happened to great vocalists singing beautiful songs? Or great musicians? Earth, Wind, and Fire? Anita Baker? Jean-Luc Ponty, or Van Morrison, or Pat Methany, or any one of a great number of talented artists? Give me their music any day... and keep your Laffy Taffy.

Saturday, December 10, 2005

What Not To Do When Challenged by Police, Part Two: The Fallacy of Shooting to Wound

"It is not the critic who counts: not the man who points out how the strong man stumbles or where the doer of deeds could have done better. The credit belongs to the man who is actually in the arena, whose face is marred by dust and sweat and blood, who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up short again and again, because there is no effort without error or shortcoming, but who knows the great enthusiasms, the great devotions, who spends himself for a worthy cause; who, at the best, knows, in the end, the triumph of high achievement, and who, at the worst, if he fails, at least he fails while daring greatly, so that his place shall never be with those cold and timid souls who knew neither victory nor defeat."

Theodore Roosevelt,
"Citizenship in a Republic," Speech at the Sorbonne, Paris, April 23, 1910
Earlier this week a man was shot and killed by US air marshals. Rigoberto Alpizar, a Latin American native and naturalized American citizen, allegedly announced that he had a bomb in his carry-on bag. Two federal marshals were on the plane and confronted Alpizar, and he fled back off of the plane onto the gateway where he was cornered by the marshals. Alpizar refused to comply with the marshals' demands to place his carry-on bag on the ground and instead reached inside the bag, whereopon he was shot repeatedly by the marshals.

Given that what the marshals report is true (what they believed they saw), then the marshals did exactly what they were supposed to do: they neutralized a potential terrorist who ignored repeated warnings at gunpoint. However, Alpizar was not a terrorist, nor did he have a bomb in his carry-on. Instead, he was a diagnosed manic-depressive individual who had failed to take his meds and was clearly mentally unstable.

Of course, talking heads such as NBC's Katie Couric wondered why the marshals couldn't shoot to wound, disabling suspected terrorists instead of killing people like Alpizar, who with the benefit of hindsight was not a terrorist but instead a disturbed individual. What Couric and her ilk fail to understand is that in such a situation law enforcement has a very hard choice to make: do we ensure that we stop this individual who is exhibiting all the behavior of a terrorist because he may be mentally ill, or do we act in a manner that gives a dedicated terrorist a real chance of completing his mission to spare the occasional innocent but deranged person? The proper answer is, and has to be, of course you neutralize someone who has satisfied the threat triad of ability ("I've got a bomb!"), opportunity (on a crowded airplane), and jeopardy (reaching into a backpack despite orders to the contrary, at gunpoint). Couric's ambivalence to this, and in fact her wishing for another way out, is in my opinion a tacit admission that she lacks the courage to make the hard choice... yet feels no reluctance to criticize those who do.

More Roosevelt:
"Criticism is necessary and useful; it is often indispensable; but it can never take the place of action, or be even a poor substitute for it. The function of the mere critic is of very subordinate usefulness. It is the doer of deeds who actually counts in the battle for life, and not the man who looks on and says how the fight ought to be fought, without himself sharing the stress and the danger." (1894) Ibid
More and more, I think the major problem with America is that too many people without the necessary knowledge and experience believe that freedom of speech gives them the right to criticize about things which they know very little. Yes, everyone has the right to speak and to their opinion, but everyone also has the obligation to base their opinions on facts. When Katie Couric gets out of her New York studio and attends training with law enforcement, learns how to shoot a handgun and how hard it is to hit with one, and then runs through some realistic roleplaying situations and can handle the challenges without making mistakes, then she might have a better understanding of what it is she speaks. Alas, only in America can a perky airhead make eight figures.

Not that all criticism of this incident is unwarranted. There are several points to be made here. First, Alpizar's death is a tragedy, as I'm sure everyone including the air marshals who were forced to shoot him agrees. Second, Alpizar's wife knew that he was off his meds, that he was suffering from symptoms of his mental disorder before he boarded the plane, and yet she allowed him to board the plane anyway. What on earth was she thinking? Or, was she even thinking?

Third, and most important, in this day of heightened security due to the very real threat of terrorism, anyone who fails to immediately comply with law enforcement in a high security environment, or who otherwise behaves in a manner that is indistinguishable from terrorist behavior faces swift and certain death. Unfortunately, there is no other alternative.

We saw the same thing happen in London a few weeks after the subway bombings last summer. When the police are on heightened alert, everything will be evaluated in the context of a possible terrorist attack.

It bears repeating: if you don't want the hounds to chase you, don't act like the fox.

NB: Part I is here.

Saturday, December 03, 2005

Lessons Learned: The Tacoma Mall Shooting

On November 20, 2005, Dominick Maldonado, 20, described as a gun enthusiast who was "unstable with a drug problem," went on a shooting spree at the Tacoma Mall in Tacoma, Washington. After shooting and wounding seven people, Maldonado took four hostages inside a music store, but eventually released them unharmed and surrendered to police.

Washington state has had a concealed pistol license law on the books since the early 1970s, and it turns out that at least two and perhaps three people in the mall were carrying a gun and were in a position to stop Maldonado. Yet no one did. Why?

One person, who encountered Maldonado outside of the J.C. Penney's store, refrained from being involved because of fears that he might miss and inadvertantly shoot bystanders. While the information released on this person was understandably sketchy to protect his privacy, it appears as if he never drew his weapon and openly confronted Maldonado. Getting involved is a choice, and if one is not sure that he can prevail then discretion may well be the better part of valor.

Another person, Dan McKown, a manager at a mall store and part-time stand-up comic, confronted Maldonado as the shooter passed by the store McKown was visiting, after the original flurry of shots were fired.

As the Tacoma News Tribune reports:
He [McKown] walked to the front of the store to see what was going on, and took a defensive posture, crouched to one side in the store’s entrance. He had his gun out, but tucked it back into his belt, under his clothes, after thinking better of it.

Meanwhile, Maldonado walked past the Kits store.

"We had eye-to-eye contact the whole time," McKown said. He is unsure if Maldonado saw his weapon.

McKown, standing, said to Maldonado, "I think you need to put that gun down, young man."

McKown’s hand was back near his gun. Maldonado swung his barrel over and opened fired from the hip.

"Every one of his shots got some part of me," McKown said.
Dan McKown was shot at least five times by Maldonado. Because of the hostage situation, McKown lay bleeding for over an hour before he was evacuated and rushed to the hospital. He owes his life to an Army soldier and Iraq War veteran who used a teddy bear to staunch the bleeding.

This first-hand account begs the obvious questions: why didn't McKown shoot Maldonado? Why did he confront the shooter without having his gun at the ready?

In McKown's own words:
“I’m looking at this guy,” McKown said. “He’s a kid. I would have had to shoot him in the head.”

McKown just wasn’t ready for that. It’s not easy to shoot someone in the head, McKown said. McKown also didn’t want to get in the way of the police if they were handling the situation, and he knew he could get in trouble for brandishing a weapon in the mall.
There are some lessons to be learned here, both tactically and stragetically.

One tactical lesson is that you never confront an armed gunman without having your gun up and ready to shoot immediately! McKown was armed, and he had sufficient training and experience with a handgun to surely be able to hit a walking man in a dress shirt at under ten yards. However, with his gun in his belt instead of in his hand, he was already behind the eight-ball. Action always beats reaction; once Maldonado became aware of McKown, the person who decided to act would be the victor in an armed confrontation and Maldonado was that person.

Defense trainers refer to a verbal confrontation to a gunman as a "challenge." They know that, once the challenge is made, the gunman will either surrender or fight, and thus the person who challenges had better be ready. They also know that challenging an adversary cedes the initiative; by its very nature the challenger is expecting some sort of reaction and thus must take valuable time to assess that reaction.

Why do we challenge? That's the way they show it in the movies. Shooting someone without challenging him seems somehow unfair. We're supposed to confront the bad guy and give him a chance to realize the error of his ways, to offer him a chance to surrender before gunning him down, aren't we? Isn't that what makes us the good guy?

No. It makes us the dead guy. In a deadly force encounter there is only one rule; survival. Do not give the bad guy a chance. He will most likely take that chance, and you will end up getting shot. Don't fight fair. Fight to win, or take yourself out of the situation and don't fight at all.

In the situation above, several shots fired, people heard screaming and running en masse, observing a person strolling down the center of the mall with an obviously inappropriate weapon (the AK-47 is not used by any legitimate force in this country), once you've made the decision to interject yourself into the situation and confront the gunman the response should be obvious: take cover, draw your handgun, and shoot the gunman at the first opportunity without challenging him. Think of how this situation would have ended had McKown followed this course of action instead of doing what he did.

In my opinion, the real reason that Dan McKown ended up getting shot was not his tactics. It was his mindset. It was because he had not thought about what he would do if he ever had to confront a live gunman. McKown had not consciously decided on what conditions would not only allow him to use deadly force, but require him to do so in order to protect himself. McKown was in imminent danger of death, within yards of a gunman prowling the mall with an AK-47 who had already fired several shots... and he was worried about getting in trouble for brandishing a weapon? He had the wrong priorities. (None of this removes the complete and total responsibility for McKown's injuries from the shooter, Dominick Maldonado, who should be punished severely for his conscious, deliberate acts.)

The time to decide on how you are going to react to a deadly force confrontation is now, not when you are suddenly confronted. You won't have time then. When you are facing deadly force you need to be focusing on how to survive and prevail, not on whether you should be involved. The way to do this is to decide on triggers, acts by another that justify deadly force and that turn off your normal, natural, and salutory inhibitions against hurting others, and then make the conscious decision to act in a tactically appropriate manner based upon those triggers.

Under the law, we are only allowed to use deadly force when we, or others in our immediate presence, are threatened with death or grave bodily harm (rape, maiming, disfigurement). In order for the threat to exist, our potential attacker must have the ability to threaten us, the opportunity to threaten us, and we must be in jeopardy by his indicated propensity to carry out that threat. For instance, our friend at the skeet range clearly has the ability to harm us since he is holding a loaded shotgun, and he has the opportunity since we are within a few yards of him, but there is no threat because he has not shown any inclination to harm us. Similarly, the wino across the street may be yelling curses and insults at us, and waving a pipe around, but ability and jeopardy without opportunity (a pipe is a contact weapon and he is not in our immediate vicinity) we are not authorized to shoot him (I certainly would be alert and looking around to see if the wino had friends who were trying to sneak up on me with his distraction, though).

My triggers are simple: if someone threateningly points a gun at me or others within my vision, that person can now be shot by me without further notice on my part. If someone has a knife or other contact weapon (club) and threatens me at a range that precludes my successful evasion or escape, that person can be shot without further notice. I'm in my early 40s, with some martial arts training, and I don't go provoking people: if someone seriously threatens me with physical force and they are big enough to scare me, the gun gets drawn and the challenge gets issued ("If you attack me I will shoot you! Go away!") and if they attempt to attack me anyway they get shot without further notice (I know of too many people who have been disfigured, brain-damaged, crippled, or maimed by getting stomped to put up with that foolishness).

Once my 'trigger' has been activated, I will then do whatever it takes to obtain and maintain an unfair advantage on my attacker, and I will shoot him at the first opportunity without warning and without hesitation. Hesitation gets you killed! Once you have decided to act, follow through and do not hesitate! I will continue this course of action until I am absolutely sure the circumstances which 'triggered' me are no longer in effect and the threat no longer exists.

I urge anyone who has a firearm for self-defense to think about what would constitute a trigger, and to think about whether they can make the decision to shoot an attacker. Write out your triggers, say them, and repeat this until you believe you will act accordingly.

Accidents (unforeseen bad things happening) are invariably the result of a series of events, each one leading to the other until the accident. Break the chain and you prevent the accident. McKown's wounding occurred because he consciously put himself into a situation that he subconsciously wasn't prepared for. McKown had not made the decision that he would shoot someone if necessary, and that decision must be made before confronting an armed assailant; you will not have time afterwards. In fact, that decision should be made before deciding to carry a gun for self-defense. The failure to make this decision is what lead to McKown's wounding.

I'm not faulting McKown for this failure. On the contrary, it means that McKown was a genuinely good person, who had the ability to empathize with others, and who genuinely cared for people. Most of us are like McKown, and most are similarly handicapped when it comes to shooting another, and that is a good thing because it means we aren't sociopaths. Hurting others is an unnatural act to most of us, whereas it comes naturally to bad guys.

We used to host civilian classes with a law enforcement training company that used a realistic video training system where students could actually draw and fire their own gun at the screen depending on their evaluation of the situation. Invariably, we would have students who were otherwise very skilled with handguns either balk or fumble because of the reality and the unpredictability of the training scenarios, and get "killed" by the on-screen bad guy. It was a sobering experience, and that was the value of the training: getting people to get past the generalities of "Sure, I'd shoot someone who was trying to hurt me!" and think about what they would do in a real-life situation. Far better to get "killed" in a training bay by a video projection than by a bad guy.

That is why we train. That is why we think about using deadly force before being thrown into a deadly force situation. That is why we decide now what conditions make it necessary to use deadly force, and we further decide that we will not hesitate once confronted.

The only way to win a gunfight is to not get shot. Decide now, while you have the time, what it will take and what you will do to win.

HT: HaveGunWillVote

Update: Some people think that a hesitation to shoot shows the caliber (no pun intended) of person who legally carries a gun. I agree, as stated above. However, metaphorically speaking, if you decide you're going to handle garbage, it doesn't do any good to hem and haw when you notice the stench. You have to be willing to step up, accept the fact that you're going to have to do something unpleasant, and get the job of taking out the trash done as expeditiously as possible.

NB: The first Lessons Learned article, about a shooting in Tyler, Texas has more on the subject. Those who carry smaller-caliber pistols might want to check out this article on stopping power for the .32 ACP.

Rights Versus Responsibilities: Revisiting Abortion

A blogger I respect wrote a very good article on the subject of abortion, which prompted this response.

I can see both sides of this issue.

When I was younger I was pro-abortion, but it was mainly an unconsidered opinion that rested chiefly on the perceived benefits to me. Thankfully I never had to make that decision, or be involved with someone who had to make it.

Now that I’m older, hopefully wiser, and have had a child, I realize what a remarkable gift a child is. And, as an aside, I do not understand people who do not want children.

When all is said and done, what else is more important than a child? What else really matters? In a century the world will forget how great of an artist, poet, or builder you were… but you live on in your children and in their children. They’re a tremendous pain in the ass. You’ll spend hours and hours doing the most disgusting, menial tasks. When your infant daughter throws up all over your sweater at the bank, and you can still hold her and kiss her head while you clean it up, when you spend all night at the hospital with your infant son hooked up to an IV, cleaning diarrhea off of his behind every ten minutes… and that child looks at you and smiles in appreciation through their misery… only then will you truly understand love. Love means you do these things not for money, but simply because they must be done and someone is depending on you to do it, and it is a privilege.

It really all comes down to responsibility. Taking responsibility for our choices, instead of taking the easy way out. Having a child at a young age is very hard. Aborting a child because you do not want to face the hardship of having it should also be a very hard decision to make. That it is not to many is, to me, very troublesome.

I agree with you, Chrissy… if people aren’t ready to face the responsibility of childhood then maybe they should strongly consider whether they’re ready to face the responsibility of being sexually active. But everyone wants the easy way out, the convenient way, and to avoid what it is we’re doing we use words like fetus, abortion, and termination instead of child, infant, and killing.

I understand the arguments behind keeping abortions legal. “Women will get them anyway, and many will die from back-alley abortions.” I’m not in favor of women dying, but let’s not forget that every abortion requires a death. The child pays for the mistakes of the mother.

I would like to see Roe v. Wade overturned. I’d like to see late-term abortions made illegal, and especially the heinous procedure of late-term partial birth abortions where viable infants are legally murdered just because they’re delivered in the breech position and killed when only their heads remain in the birth canal. For Pete’s sake, you should have made up your mind in the first trimester! I’d like for teenagers to get at least one parent’s consent before they can have an abortion, and then be accompanied by that parent. I’d like to keep the government from spending a cent on abortions or abortion clinics. And I’d like legal abortions to be so rare that the majority of abortion clinics go out of business because people grew up enough to either ensure they don’t get pregnant by whatever means, or accept the consequences if they did.

I wouldn’t make abortions illegal, but I would make those changes. I know they will not be popular with many, just as I would have found them onerous in my ill-considered youth. The right thing is never easy, and seldom popular.

I can live with that.

NB: More articles on the subject here, and tangentally here and here.

Thursday, December 01, 2005

Psyching Ourselves Out

David Broder has a column in which he blames disillusionment among voters on Bush's purportedly dismal record as president, and says the Congressional Republicans are running away from him in droves in a desperate attempt to keep from losing control of the House to Democrats in the 2006 elections.

I have one question to Mr. Broder about his amazing analytical powers... do they really pay you for this?

There's a lot of disillusionment among the voters, however contrary to Broder's assertions, large numbers of voters are disillusioned with the tactics of the Democrats and the apparent willingness of their attack dogs in the mainstream media. Broder's rewriting of history to support his contention is factually incorrect to the point of being farcical.

Sorry, Mr. Broder. Clinton didn't win the 1992 presidential election because George Bush, Sr., had "played out the string" on the Reagan revolution. Clinton won because Ross Perot was able to siphon off enough conservative voters to give the Democrat a plurality, a rare event in presidential elections which Clinton managed to repeat in 1996. In both elections, the majority of voters chose someone besides Clinton.

Disillusion with the Clintons started early, and not because Clinton couldn't get anything accomplished. Rather, he accomplished too much. Clinton ran as a centrist, appealing to many independent voters who did not like George Bush but who also didn't like progressive Democratic policies. Once he won, however, he quickly revealed himself to be a progressive. It didn't help that the man announced he would break every major campaign promise immediately after he was elected in 1992. Many Americans who were willing to give Clinton the benefit of the doubt, like me (I didn't vote for him but I hoped for the best), saw the disconnect between his words and his actions. Many voters were alarmed by his tax hikes which killed the Bush-initiated economic recovery, his push for meaningless but restrictive gun control, his willingness to tinker with military readiness for political gain, and his attempt to enact government-controlled healthcare. Of all of these, I think the Brady Law and the semiautomatic rifle ban (both laws which have expired without an increase in crime) angered the most activists on the Republican side and led to the Democrats' Congressional defeat in the '94 elections. Clinton evidently agreed when he told an interviewer in 1995 that "the NRA cost us the Congress."

Eight years of the Clintons brought us phrases like "No controlling legal authority," and "It depends on the meaning of the word 'is'." We had 900 FBI files of political adversaries being delivered and examined at the White House. We had illegal campaign contributions from the Chinese People's Army delivered to Al Gore at a Buddhist temple. We had a foot-high printout of Rose Hill billing records turn up in the Clinton's living quarters at the White House two years after they'd been subpoenaed. The image of President Clinton telling us in no uncertain terms that he "did not have sex with that woman, Monica Lewinsky" is iconic in its representation of dishonest politicians. And who could forget how the Clintons left the White House; in shambles with keyboards defaced and government property being illegally appropriated (can we just say "stolen?") by staffers and the Clintons themselves. The Clinton Administration was equal parts tragedy and farce, and the real tragedy was that such an intelligent, gifted, charismatic man was so lacking in courage and character that he was an utter failure as a president.

Clinton's lack of courage was most evident in his foreign policy. We also had events like the US effectively surrendering to an African thug who was responsible for the deaths of eighteen US Army soldiers after Clinton sent them in to capture that warlord without allowing the Army to bring armor in theater. After the infamous Battle of Mogadishu, and despite the Rangers' expressed willingness to go back in the next day and finish the mission (this time with proper support), Clinton instead decided to pull our troops out, negotiate with Aidad who was directly responsible for the soldiers' deaths, and abandon the people of Somalia to the warlord's rule. Osama bin Laden realized then that the US under Clinton had no stomach for a confrontation, and so he began a series of terrorist attacks that culminated in the real tragedy of the Clinton Administration: September 11, 2001,

Here we are, five years after Clinton left office, and yet he has left behind a Democratic Party in his image. The 2004 Democratic presidential candidate couldn't make up his mind to save his life: "I voted for the $87 billion [troop funding] before I voted against it." (By the way, Kerry has yet to answer the SwiftVets' charges and sign a Form 180 and release it to the public, as he repeatedly promised during the campaign and even in January of this year.) Congressional Democrats screamed for the chance to vote in support of war with Iraq before the '02 midterm elections; now they're screaming that they want a do-over. And, of course, Bush is attacked for not having a plan even though the plan he enumerated today is the same plan that has been in place since shortly after the end of the war and by all credible accounts (including Democrat Senator Joe Lieberman) it's working. I love this remark from Senator Patrick Leahy:
Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., called Bush's remarks "nothing more than a spruced up version of more of the same, riddled with feel-good rhetoric that bears little relationship to the facts facing our troops." He questioned why the White House waited until now — more than 2 1/2 years into the war — to lay out publicly its strategy for victory.
How on earth can Bush's plan be "more of the same" yet this is the first time it's been presented?

I'd be a lot less disillusioned if the media would actually report what is going on, for once, instead of only reporting the news that hurts the war effort, that hurts the Bush Administration, or both.