29 December 2012

Guns, Guns, Guns - Part 4 of School Shootings, The Wild West and Irrational Argument

Guns don’t kill people.

No, it’s true.

For that matter, neither do knives, nukes or nunchuks.

Knaves, knuckleheads and nutcases kill people.

The weapons make it easier.

An unarmed nutcase is still dangerous.  An armed nutcase is a lot more dangerous.  Take away the weapon and you still have a dangerous nutcase who can improvise a weapon.

So if we focus exclusively on the weapons, we are idiots.  If we focus exclusively on everything except the weapons, we are idiots.  And in the current political/social din, idiocy abounds.  

Everyone has The Answer.  So far, we are not having a discussion.  We are having a who-has-the-biggest-political-dick contest.

This has its attraction, though - it’s easier to deal with trivia than confront actual violence and injury.  If one has never had blood on his/her hands (in the literal sense), it is easier to talk blithely about a society where everybody mindlessly packs a pistol.  If one has never been threatened with actual, immediate violence, it’s easier to claim that the cell phone is mightier than the sword.

And if one bloviates loudly enough, one doesn’t have to do anything useful in the real world.

Case in point: The DC Police are piously “investigating” NBC news anchor David Gregory.  Last Sunday on Meet The Press, Gregory was interviewing NRA executive director Wayne LaPierre.  To make a point, Gregory raised and gestured with a 30-round rifle magazine. He was asking something like “Why do we need these?”

Big magazines are illegal in the District.  So the DC Police must investigate!

Mind you, there was no rifle present.  I guess the magazine was dangerous.  Gregory could have gotten angry and beaten LaPierre with it.  When they have 30 rounds in them, they’re kinda heavy.  However, a hammer would have worked better.  And the DC Police would have approved - they let you have hammers in Washington.

In the meantime, the same police who are “investigating” Gregory are not investigating other people.  There are places in DC where the police are unwilling to go alone.  If you guaranteed that every firearm in DC were confiscated, there would still be places that they would be afraid to go alone.  Reason?  There are some nasty-ass people there.

Just as there are nasty-ass people in lots and lots and lots of places in America, and in the world.

Hassling Gregory about the single rifle-less magazine on TV is (1) cowardly and (2) stupid.

However, it is not (3) surprising.  Directing attention to the objects is effective.  They are black and scary looking.  And eliminating them by passing a law is sooooo easy.  If we make ourselves believe “no-guns, no-violence,” we can escape responsibility for solving the violence problems.  After all, we tried our best, didn’t we?

(Recall that I do have a “pox on both your houses” view.  Those damn 30 round magazines are stupid and defending them as a necessary incident of the Second Amendment is just dumb.)

The “assault weapon ban” is just an extension of the focus-on-the-objects fallacy.  Can they be used for hunting?  Sure.  (In some states, those based on the current U.S./NATO military cartridge, the 5.56 mm/.223 cal. cannot because the bullet is too small, but obviously it’s a lethal round.)

But “assault rifles” look dangerous.  They are black.  They have lots of sharp angles and edges.  Sort of.  Mind you, the legal definition of “assault weapon” is so loose that a fairly innocuous gun might qualify.  To meet the 1994 ban, a rifle need only have two of the following:

  • A folding or telescoping stock - That aids concealability and diminishes stability for long range shooting.
  • A pistol grip - The stock can be sculpted so that the hand is in a vertical position, but a pistol grip which is not a part of the stock qualifies.
  • Bayonet mount - Just a mount.  Not a bayonet.  Of course, it’s hard to imagine a less useful thing than a bayonet on a rifle unless you’re going to be fighting hand-to-hand.
  • Grenade launcher - I have to admit, that’s pretty assaultish.  Of course, that ammunition is illegal already.
  • Flash suppressor - There is a flash of light at the muzzle (end) of a firearm when it fires.  A flash suppressor directs and allegedly conceals partially that flash.  When I’ve had them, they have been designed as muzzle brakes, which redirect the exhaust gases upward to compensate for recoil.

It isn’t that these weapons are so pleasant that is the fundamental error in the public discussion.  The sophistry lies in the belief that evil and deprave hearts will give up if it becomes more difficult to acquire these - or even all - guns.

(By the way - None of the "prominent" assassins of the 60's used what would be considered assault weapons.  Oswald, Whitman and Ray used bolt-action hunting rifles; Sirhan, a .22 pistol.)

It is much more difficult to recognize why some citizens commit unjustified personal violence.  And it will take guts to face that and resources even to begin to fix it.

Of that, more later.

22 December 2012

More Guns Blazin' - School Shootings, Part 3

Those who expect a tightly organized, concise and cogent essay on The Answer to shootings and violence in America are not merely overestimating this wretched scribe - They are living in wolkenklukklukshein: “cloud koo-koo land.”  

There is one of the first conclusions that might be good for Americans: That the violence problem is so pervasive and so complex, that it has so many causes, and that the mixes of potential solutions have so many unpredictable effects, expecting a short discussion or a fixed battle plan is just idiotic.

Mind you, were I an advocate of the “it’s all about guns” school, I would be doing exactly what the real advocates are doing.  The Connecticut case has given that “side” a cause celebre, and created a gaping hole in the political and social solidarity of the “gun bloc.”  Moreover, the response of the “gun bloc” has been (largely) inept, even given that a response based on reason hasn’t nearly the drum-beat of emotion which is giving the discussion its current life.

All I can do tonight is continue the musings, chuck these potato peelings into the stew of the discussion, and hope that we as a society savor all that is in the pot.

To those in the “gun community” I say, guys, I hear you about giving them an inch and they’ll take a mile.  I like that ol’ Second Amendment, and I enjoy shooting sports.  But these fucking 30 round magazines are about to be shoved into our rectums, and that’s going to hurt.

“Shooting sports.”  OK, there is a good bit of sport or hobby-intensity to firearms.  Handling firearms takes skill which is both hard to develop and extremely culturally significant here in West Virginia.

Presenting firearms as “sporting implements” exclusively is one of the inane things that “firearms enthusiasts” have been doing for the last 50 years.  Every time pro-gun folks take a stand which denies or de-emphasizes the fact that firearms are dangerous weapons, we look like Neanderthal dorks.

Primer: Firearms were created as weapons to be used in war.  The science of edged weapons and maximizing human-powered mechanical advantage had reached nearly its highest level.  (The only real improvement I can think of in the modern day is the compound bow, where cables and cams permit the storage of significantly more human muscle power.)  Armor and fortifications were somewhat effective against muscle powered weapons.  The firearm introduced energy from a new source, deflagrating chemicals.  Those chemicals powered projectiles from man-carried weapons which could defeat most man-carried armor.  Moreover, bringing a combatant to a level of effectiveness with a firearm was lots easier than doing the same for someone using swords, etc.

Ere long, it was obvious that firearms also did a superior job of hunting game.

Live with it.  Firearms are weapons.

Most uses are either for violence to living things, or preparing for violence to living things.  That’s why the damn things were invented.

Although the Dark Prince of Hypocrisy, Mayor Bloomberg, may think it “dystopian,” the fact that there’s lots of violence in America and lots of people bent on evil things is a fact of our national life.

A lack of violence is preferable.  If evil violence is presented, avoidance is preferable.

Yes, avoidance.  Only a moron civilian goes out seeking to do random justice by force of arms.  In courses of instruction for citizens who carry firearms, one of the first lessons is to avoid the fight at nearly all costs.  If it means running when that does not put you or others at risk, run.  If it means backing down, back down.

If evil violence cannot be avoided, it has to be overcome.  Often with weapons.  And people get hurt or killed by weapons.  Back in the day, I cared for gunshot wounded people who were righteous and some who were unrighteous.  And nearly as I can remember, they all hurt about the same.  Saying that firearms are merely sporting implements or dipped in the righteousness of the Lord does not change their lethal character.

And that’s OK with me.  If you carry a firearm and do not think of it as a lethal weapon, you need to lock it away and quit carrying it.

Mass shootings - or for that matter the fact that criminal gangs are now very violence-capable - occur in part because semi-automatic weapons can fire quickly.  Large magazines (the boxes which hold ammunition in the weapon) make the pause to reload less frequent.  (On another day, we'll have musings about the many, many causes of violence.)

From a sporting perspective, I suppose it’s enjoyable to fire off a 30 round mag.  Once, in my experience.  And then, you realize that you are spending a hell of a lot of money on ammunition and that unless you are shooting at very short range, your accuracy will suck.  Senator Manchin has drawn fire (see how martial metaphors abound?) for saying on a Sunday news show that he never has had more than three rounds at a time in his hunting rifle.  What’s the problem?  That’s the truth.  

Large magazines in semi-autos are most useful, then, for short-range gunfights with humans.  Huge magazines - the 100 round variety - may be useful for attacking theater audiences, but little else.  (OK, if you are a nitwit, you can use one to ruin a barrel from heat.)

And if the gun community draws the line on the other side of protecting big mags, they/we are going to get our asses kicked.  And rightfully so.

Generally, Second Amendment protagonists (me included) don’t have a problem with the prohibitions in 18 USC §922 concerning what constitutes a legal weapon.  We don’t have a problem with excluding from general sale machine guns, exploding ammunition or sawed-off shotguns.  If we can identify other products for which there is greater danger than utility, we should be open to taking them off the general market.  

Here will be the acid test of the responsible gun community.  Who will frame that side of the conversation?  If it is the “hold ‘em at all costs” crowd, the conversation will be a fierce debate with no winners and lots of losers.

Haven’t we had enough of no-compromise, no-hold’s-barred political and social warfare?

Oh, part 4's a-comin’.

19 December 2012

School Shootings and Violence - The Revealed Truth, Part II

It is such a challenge to deal rationally with high emotional content events. 

Cultural norms are shifting.  We are rewarding behavior which is pusillanimous. There seem to be ever-diminishing positive consequences of accepting “the bitter with the sweet.”

Case in point: Some well-intentioned local agencies are offering special counseling to persons who are having trouble dealing with the 14 December school shootings. 

Local as in West Virginia. 

School shootings as in Connecticut.

We understand sadness. We understand sympathy. For that matter, counseling is a grand good thing. Number 3 Equity Court refers one or two folks a week into the skilled hands of professional counselors.

But this was a news event. One must wonder why someone who wasn’t there and has no connection to the event other than watching the news suddenly has acquired a “need” for counseling.

It’s hard to figure out a “why” there.  Wallowing in self indulgence?  Admittedly, that is sooo inviting.  Just buying into the “poor me” attitude which is gaining such popularity?

I’m thinking that those who genuinely need counseling after that event likely needed it prior to that event as well.

A couple of our friends decry the “Wussification” of America.  I cannot help but make take action a connection between the victim-seeking behavior and that process.

Also, as I rather expected, everyone with a publicist or press agent is buying into meaninglessly caring deeply. I skimmed over a headline today which extolled the virtue of a professional football player for visiting victims.

Give me a break.

There will be a part three coming.

16 December 2012

The Unified One True Answer to School Shootings, Violence & Firearms. (Part 1)

Just kidding.

Every hand with a pen and pharnyx with vocal cords has spent the last 48 hours giving us The Obvious Truth.

Just look anywhere. But it’s funny how all these truths are so inconsistent.

“Part 1" is in the title because no poor scribe can touch all the questions buzzing about, let alone any possible analyses or solutions. Today will be directed at musings, perhaps followed by other installments. 

Beats me.

The musings:

So many people want a piece of the tragic action, and want to feel deep personal loss or rather, like it’s a good movie, to suspend the reality of their real lives to wallow in some distant cathartic angst or grief.

Okay. 20 children were killed. So were several adult heroes. Who needs our assurance that we see this as tragedy? If someone is silent (contemplative?), have they paid their suffering dues?

Sadness is fine. “Golly, I’m sad.” That’s a part of life.

For that matter, golly, I’m sad.

But we should not be claiming a fresh and original piece of the clump of grief which has hit Connecticut. It’s not ours to claim. We have a duty to society to consider it, consider circumstances which lead to any bad things that happen, but it is merely self-indulgent to claim emotional disability over other people’s tragedies.

I’m sure as I write this on Sunday that in many places of worship, prayers are being offered for the victims and families. I hope that in many, the police, fire, EMS and other responders are remembered. This was their nightmare scenario, too. Likewise the neighbors have been shaken to the core.

I also hope that there are places of worship where prayers have been offered up for the victims of violence generally and about the conditions that lead to violence - maybe even for the wisdom to figure out what those conditions are.

Maybe God has given us a small test here: I wonder who is praying for the shooter? Not me, by the way. And I don’t assign any positive or negative index to that. It just is what it is.

Bear in mind this Sunday the teachings found in the book of James:

What does it profit, my brethren, if someone says he has faith but does not have works?  Can faith save him?  If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, “Depart in peace, be warmed and filled,” but you do not give them the things which are needed for the body, what does it profit?  Thus also faith by itself, if it does not have works, is dead.
But someone will say, “You have faith, and I have works.” Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.  You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe—and tremble!   But do you want to know, O foolish man, that faith without works is dead?  (James 2:14-20)

No, this is not a religious piece. This is musings, remember? Nor does anyone have to accept the quote from James as divinely inspired or even accurately translated.

Does it make sense? Does it stand on its own? Is it a logical inclusion that great wishes – even great angst – are just so many hummingbird feathers unless and until someone does something?

Modern day “prophet” Larry Winget puts it a similar thought in a short and pithy way: “Don’t let your mouth write a check that your ass can’t cash.”

Also, we have to transition into what that something to do will be. Some sudden reaction to a single event is not a guarantee to create a workable solution and especially not to avoid unintended consequences.

If we identify the issues publicized (not created) with the excuse of the Connecticut school shooting as firearms PERIOD, we’re indulging in reactive and dangerously limited thinking.

Certainly, someone who is actively homicidally crazy and obtained any efficient, high-capacity weapon, that’s a problem. If that’s the problem we address and call it a day, I really have to wonder how smart we really are.

Ditching God?

A lot of the press is going really batshit over a calm and thoughtful give-and-take with former Gov. Mike Huckabee, who is a pastor. At the end of a thoughtful piece, he asked rhetorically why we wondered about God letting school shootings happen (the so-called theodicy question) when we had long excluded God from the schools.

If you read that literally, i.e., if that school and others in Connecticut prayed regularly, the incident would not have happened, the logic does not connect.

It sounded more to this scribe like a general observation.

God – the Christian, the Jewish, the Islamic, or the humanist collection of positive values is not nearly so much in evidence in American education as in  “The Good Old Days.”

Ah, a reference to “Good Old Days.” There is an invitation to irrational argument.  “The good old days when women could not work, when racial segregation was everywhere, McCarthy, polio…”

It’s as much a mistake to reject old ways which worked as to worship old ways which didn’t.

One of the old ways taught in schools that worked was the Golden Rule.   That was fine teaching. Must that be taught as Christian? Not in the “Here’s what the true God system says, children,” sense. 

But what a conversation starter!  What a lesson starter is “In the Bible, Jesus said, ‘Do to other people like you want them to do to you.’ – let’s discuss that.”

“Is that a good idea? Why? How would you feel if someone took your bike?”

Whatever tag you put on it, morality education, ethics education, or education in honorable behavior, it belongs in schools. Of course that sort of education is the parents’ job.

But fully half of parents aren’t doing their job as parents.

Our schools have been colluding with lots and lots of other elements in society in a multi-decade cultural suicide pact.

At the very least, addressing that has to be a part of the solution.

Silent dispatches:

Tap, tap, tap  – – Is this thing on?

This is been the longest hiatus in these dispatches for the past couple of years.

And the reason:  Life? The universe?  Nah.  Nothing so dramatic. Your irregular scribe has been beset with some minor health issues which have reduced “reserve capacity.” And clients, cases and courts have to come first.

It’s been rather like hiking in mud.  It takes more effort to attain ordinary results.

That being said, this scribe will not enumerate any little ailments. That’s unnecessary and quite boring.

These dispatches will appear with normal frequency, we hope. The proof will be in what the future brings.

Well, that’s nothing new, is it?

10 November 2012

The Electric is Off! Blame From Hypocrites.

In 2012, there were two events which resulted in lengthy electrical power outages in West Virginia.

The first was the “derecho” of 29 June, which was the equivalent of a non-spinning hurricane.  It left 3/4 of the state without power for one or two weeks. Fortunately for our friends to the East, the barrier of the Blue Ridge attenuated the storm somewhat.  (The prevailing winds here are west to east.)

The second was the combination of Hurricane Sandy and a cold front which occurred early last week. A few areas of West Virginia are still without power.

I’ve seen a lot of colleagues, police officers and others who have been or still are out of power. (The power did stay on here at the head of the Valley of Coal Run.) From them, I have heard a lot of “darn it’s,” and a few “boy, that sucks.”

What I have not heard is any whining or deep angst or anger at the power companies. These people carried on with their lives. The hard-working powerline crews from faraway have received warm welcomes in Mother West Virginia.

Likewise, the most recent storm interrupted power in large parts of New Jersey, southeastern New York, Long Island and elsewhere in that area.

Oh, the humanity!

Those out of power (forgive me if I don’t use the word “victims”) are complaining bitterly. Actually, I don’t mean to be highly critical of them.   Theirs is a different culture. In a densely populated area, they are more dependent on a technological and social infrastructure and less prepared for some of the natural vicissitudes of life. They do not have the tradition of the long hunter or the stoic mountaineer.

But the people who should damn well know better who are also bitching and moaning include Gov. Andrew Cuomo and his ilk.

They have attacked the power companies. They point out that the electrical generation/distribution system could have been much more robust.  They point out that some substantial part of the power outages could have been prevented.

And that’s true.

So why didn’t the power companies prevent them?

Placing all the blame on the power companies is, at best, really, really simplistic.

Electric utilities are very capital intensive, usually monopolistic and therefore highly regulated. Government has something between an incentive and a mania to keep electric rates as low as possible. Indeed, electric rates in the United States are quite low just as our usage is quite high.

The current generation, transmission and switching systems work. They are antiquated, but they work.  They are not robust enough to resist disasters, but disasters don’t happen very often and upgrading the systems would be damnably expensive.

It would be politically inexpedient to increase electric rates drastically to beef up what the industry and the governments know is an antiquated system.

For that matter, doing what would be necessary might be unacceptable once the plans are publicized. New York City wants everything underground. New York City is right beside an ocean. Water runs downhill. If you get high water (like a storm surge) stuff underground is going to get flooded. If you’re unwilling to put it above ground, you’re screwed.  Mr. Physics rules.

Wouldn’t  it be refreshing if some politician, any politician, would say “Maybe, just maybe, none of us have thought ahead sufficiently.”

Permit me to add a few words about United States energy policy.

What energy policy? The so-called American energy policy Is Balkanized, part-profit-driven, part-ideology-driven Chaos.  It is not science-driven or reality-driven.


  • New EPA regulations make construction of new coal-fired electrical generation facilities functionally impossible.

  • In the meantime, older coal plants are going off-line.

  • In the meantime, the demand for electricity is increasing. There are circumstances (for instance, if plug-in hybrid automobiles become popular) where electric demand can take a big leap upwards.

  • We swear that were going to become independent of foreign (and particularly Arab) oil. We’ve taken that oath for the last 40 years just as our imports from the Middle East have constituted a greater and greater share of our petroleum used.

  • We misrepresent petroleum reserves in the continental United States by ignoring the nature of the geology of the formations where the oil is located. Most of that so-called “abundant” oil will be very expensive to extract.

  • Wind power will never be a great portion of electrical production, but it can be some portion and certainly a greater portion that it  now is. The expense of producing electricity with wind has come down to the point that it nearly competes equally with coal. And yet now we’re hearing weird objections to wind power. After all, you have to put roads to the top of ridges and then scrape off a flat spot to put the turbine tower. Well, it would be nice if we could put them in the valleys, but it’s not windy there. There is also the Not-In-My-Backyard syndrome at work. A wind power project has been planned in shallow water off Martha’s Vineyard. That’s a really windy place. But it’s also a rich person’s paradise, and you would think some of those folks had been gut shot. Not in my backyard. We want power, but put the machinery some place else.

  • Our efforts at conservation are miserable. Did you know that strip malls are making a comeback? That’s because shoppers are becoming walk less willing to walk around enclosed malls.  They want to drive from store to store.

  • Our efforts at recycling are pitiful. In lots of areas, particularly metals production, using virgin material is frightfully energy inefficient. Aluminum, for example, is an extremely common element. But it is damnably hard to extract and takes a great deal of energy to separate from ores. Reusing aluminum, on the other hand, uses very little energy.

We are all responsible for this energy mass. Gov. Cuomo pointing fingers is hypocritical bullshit.

OK, a lot of what we’re doing is hypocritical bullshit, too.  Cuomo is not the only bullshit artist in the colony.


04 November 2012

All My Verdicts: All My Sorrows, Soon Forgotten

The ethical rules for lawyers bar advertising verdicts or the results of specific cases.

The rationale is that such advertising creates unrealistic expectations in potential clients and amounts to comparing one’s services favorably with those of other providers.

My own 35 year record of advertising is quite anemic. I’ve done some Yellow Pages, but I quit that a few years ago. I do “sponsorship” ads here and there, the sort which support or congratulate schools, the Boy Scouts and so forth.

I like to do radio on election day.  I have to wonder if my ranting about voter apathy pisses more people off than creates positive impressions. Not that it matters – voter apathy pisses ME off.

We’ve never gotten into tchotchke. We don’t do pens, calendars, refrigerator magnets and crap like that. It’s just entirely too tacky.

Oh, I do give out flag American flag lapel pins, but those are not festooned with the law firm name. I just like to spread those around.

But as a zealot of a vigorous First Amendment and a vibrant Marketplace of Ideas, I’ve always questioned limitations on truthful attorney advertising. Mind you, there’s no question that a lot of it is often so idiotic that it’s counterproductive. I recall one classic some guy ran a few years ago: “Don’t take a knife to a gunfight.” That’s good literal advice, but the metaphor just doesn’t go anywhere.

I have a buddy who spent 2 bushels of cash developing a cartoon tiger for television ads. His tagline was “Put the Tiger on your team,” or something like that. The bar authorities got on his case because that seemed to compare his services to other lawyers, so he changed the tagline to “We’ll fight like a tiger for you.”

I hope that no potential client ever believe that my buddy was going to  morph literally into a tiger, drag the opposition into the jungle and devour them. Anyway, with the language tweak, he kept the tiger.

Recently, the State Bar reminded everyone in its weekly mass e-mail about the prohibition against publicizing verdicts. And again, I had to wonder, if a lawyer tells the truth, what’s the harm?

Then, in connection with a case, I was getting some background information on a lawyer I don’t know. This attorney’s website had a whole list of verdicts in case results.

I became a believer in the bar really quickly.  You see, you can’t tell the whole truth about a case in a one paragraph synopsis.  And you certainly can’t tell the truth about what you did.  Cases are way too complicated and the nuances of good lawyering are way too subtle.

This guy reported some apparently good results:

State versus A: charged with murder. Verdict – not guilty.

That sounds pretty good. I have to wonder about the facts of the case because that much information doesn’t tell me a hell of a lot. Did the police charge the wrong person? Was there an affirmative defense that had to go to trial? Did the prosecutor goof?  What skill did this lawyer bring to the case?

State versus B: charged with DUI. The breathalyzer gets thrown out by the court and the state surrenders. Okay, the client is happy.  Was the breathalyzer untrustworthy? We don’t know. Why was it thrown out? Again, did good lawyering have anything to do with it?

State versus C: “We got the charges reduced.”  To what the defendant did?   Did the defendant still have a good defense that wasn’t tested? What did the lawyer do?

There were lots more. There was talk of charges reduced and big-money verdicts.

And that’s what lawyers are supposed to do. We’re supposed to represent people’s best interests and tell their story when nobody else is telling their story. And sometimes we tell it real well but their story is so bad that we get a bad result. And sometimes, we tell it ineptly but the case really is a winner from day one despite our lack of skill.

As it turns out, publicizing the result of the case doesn’t say a whole lot about what level of skill the attorney used.  Some of the best lawyering is done in complete darkness.

Case in point: I was talking to a friend who is a really, really top-notch trial lawyer last week. He was telling me about a case he settled. When he told me the facts, I thought it was worth a certain amount. Then he told me why he was able to settle it for about three times that amount. And he would be out of his mind to publicize that case because that would reduce his effectiveness in the next case. I know about it it is a teaching point. Nobody else needs to know about it.

The practice of law is not a public, newsworthy activity. It’s not something we should be doing on the front page. 

There are lots of metaphors and images used in advertising. There’s my buddy the tiger. In every television market, some lawyer has claimed the moniker, “The Hammer”: “I am the Hammer and they are the nails!”   [“I am a vain asshole, and this is my commercial!”]  There even those who have a “NT GUILTY” vanity plate à la The Lincoln Lawyer. Matthew McConaughey he could pull it off. The average lawyer can’t.

I suppose I’ve had my share of good results, and I can make a nice mental list. But I’ll be damned if I’m going to talk about them. My effectiveness, to the extent I’m ever effective, comes from getting things done, quietly, not from bragging about it. 

If you will find some character metaphor for me, don’t go looking for Tigers or Hammers. I prefer something like “The Shadow.”

Remember from the old radio drama: “Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men? The Shadow knows.”

I’m okay with that.

A minor contest: Can anyone tell me the source of the second phrase in the title of this post? Without using Google? The first one who can gets a book of my choosing from the Endless Bookshelf.®

31 October 2012

States of Emergency; Not States of Panic

I’ve expressed my thanks to friends in Florida for sending Hurricanes Sandy our way. If I had any friends in Cuba, I would think them, too.

Illogical? Of course. Since when does humankind regard weather events with logic?

We give hurricanes names.  We talk about how “he” or “she” moves here or there at his or her whim.  We ascribe evil motives to the spirits of the whirling wind. Sometimes, we might as well be tossing the runes, too.

Oh, I almost forgot – let me also extend a hearty “thank you” to my Canadian friends for sending the cold front which froze Hurricane Sandy’s copious tears.

States of emergency have been declared in much of West Virginia secondary to blizzard conditions and flooding. The Governor has suspended campaigning. I have not heard about his opponent, but I’m betting that he has either suspended campaigning or toned it down.

Other states have declared States of Emergency, including the entire East Coast from North Carolina northwards. The president has declared parts of New York and New Jersey federal disaster areas. This morning, we have been treated to fairly heavy video of damage on the coast and in New York City.

Weather events which disrupt normal services, make an area unsafe or unlivable or present specific threats to life or health deserve lots of attention. That’s part of the proper task of Government, securing “the common defense.”

States of Emergency facilitate that.

States of Emergency change work/overtime rules and make no-bid purchasing by government agencies much easier. They change loan/grant rules. They shorten the chain of command and grant increased short-term powers to emergency managers.

Also, States of Emergency help to focus citizens’ attention on widespread problems.


States of Emergency are not States of Panic. Certainly, they are not declarations that the individual citizen is helpless or dependent upon a benevolent Government to save his/her ass from every bad thing.

Neither do States of Emergency eliminate or limit the citizen’s practical responsibility to make reasonable preparation for short-term self-reliance.

If a water system fails, a citizen should not need immediate access to some public emergency supply. If the food distribution network is temporarily disrupted, the citizen should be able to get along for just a few days.

The whole notion of disaster preparedness and rugged individualism/self-reliance has become something of a cartoon. Lots of responsible American citizens forecast a social/economic Ragnarok just around the corner where the entire system of distribution, law enforcement and public order collapses. This is, they postulate, the time of “every man for himself.”

These uber-disaster preppers lay in large supplies of arms and ammunition, food, water, medication, and fuel. They fix getaway bunkers, fashion ultra flex fuel vehicles, all with the idea they will be among the very few who survive.

Indeed, there are a number of unlikely yet possible national disruption scenarios which could adversely impact the entire or nearly the entire population for a long time. If the nationwide systems of distributing goods and energy collapsed, we would find very quickly that the remaining resources would not support a 300 million person population. This is especially so where that population is concentrated into urban, non-productive areas.

So I can hardly brand the energetic disaster preppers as foolish. For all I know, they may be right.

However, self-reliance and good citizenship is not an extreme-or-nothing thing.

Many resources discuss what citizens can and should be doing physically to prepare for short-term interruptions in goods and services. It’s easy to find quick and dirty lists of what you should have in terms of water, nutrition, radios, batteries, etc. I’ll not waste space here to reprise any of that here.

The message for today is that we seem to be coming to a cusp in the future of American civilization. We are going to have to decide if we are going to award “Government” an identity separate from the citizenry in the minds of the majority of the citizens.

Is the government “Us,” it is it “Them”?

When/if the government becomes “Them,” we will have surrendered our national soul some plastic neo-corporate icon. We would not just be admitting, we would be bragging that “we’re not good enough, smart enough or strong enough" to depend on ourselves. Or, for that matter, to depend on each other. And so, “Worshipful Daddy in Washington, help us, help us.”

As an emergency manager, there were a couple of instances where I used States of Emergency for our own jurisdiction (a County). There were good practical reasons involving obtaining resources more readily.

I also remember another occasion where everyone around us was declaring States of Emergency, but we didn’t deem it necessary or appropriate.

It was mid-January. One day there was a three-foot fall of heavy, wet snow. That is unusual in this area, although not unheard of, It did put some strain on resources responsible to get things moving. The next day, our friends from Ottawa sent an arctic air mass, and temperatures with down below negative 20 deg. F. That is also rather unusual in West Virginia. The combination of the two was extremely unusual. That combination created lots of issues.

But we still did not do an emergency declaration because that would not change management issues. Oh, we did staff up the Com Center to be ready to pursue ad hoc resources as necessary such as people way out in the sticks with snowmobiles. But that didn’t require a declaration. Other than that, over the next couple of days our job consisted of issuing informational/philosophical public statements, some of which were quirky enough to be picked up some distance away.

The informational part was things like not using unvented flames for heat. The philosophical things were reminders of who we are. We’re the kind of people who care about our neighbors and check on them. We’re the kind of people who don’t get a case of the willies just because we can’t drive down to the store. We’re the kind of people who maintain and endure. We’re the kind of people who know that, in the broad scheme of things, little things like bad weather will pass.

Managers of the Hurricane Sandy situation needed to declare States of Emergency for good, sound reasons. Citizens should not misread those reasons or feel diminished in their personal power or responsibility. Times of stress and even times of disaster are times to renew our unique dedication to a cultural ethic of taking control and being the ones at the tillers of our own lives.

26 October 2012

Romney as Bullshitter; And All the Rest of Them as Bullshitters; OK, and Some Tall Tales From The King Bullshitter Hisself

I voted this morning.

How did I vote?

Lyndon Johnson was asked that question in 1964. His answer: “I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.”

Me? I split my ticket. I always split my ticket.

I adhere to a political party over broad principles as they are held by the Democratic Party in West Virginia. I do not have a slavish devotion to “my party.”

It is statistically improbable that one party will have the most qualified candidate in each race in an 11 page ballot such as the one I used today.

I’m a big fan of early voting. It is a way that we have honestly expanded the franchise. (I look forward to Oce Smith’s Times-West Virginian column this Sunday. Two weekends before an election is his time for his semi-annual encomium about the right to vote.)

Some awfully “big news” this week is that President Obama gave an interview to Rolling Stone magazine. In that interview, he referred to Gov. Romney as a “bullshitter.” The news and talking heads are full of oh-my-goshes, fainting and harrumphing.

Look – Romney is a bullshitter.

Obama is a bullshitter.

Biden is a bullshitter. More entertaining than Romney or Obama, too.

Ryan is a bullshitter, although he is harder to follow than the other three.

All of the Senate candidates are bullshitter’s. Some of them are more accomplished than others, but they’re all bullshitters.

City Council candidates – bullshitter’s.

Hell, at times I’m a bullshitter.

(I wonder if there’s a 12 step group: “Hi, I’m Roger. I’m a bullshitter.”  “Hi, Roger.”   “It’s been 20 min. since I have spouted bullshit.”)

The naked truth – unalloyed by the base metal of bullshit – is brittle and toxic to a campaign.

Take jobs. That’s a big national issue, and huge in West Virginia. New EPA rules have led to a big slump in the coal mining industry.

All of the bullshitters swear that the other guy hates jobs (for some unexplained and idiotic reason) and wants to eliminate jobs (ditto) and he/she loves jobs and has a way to guarantee that there will be lots and lots of jobs for good wages to boot.

Jobs this, jobs that, all bullshit.

The truth is, we can eliminate the corporate income tax, the capital gain tax, OSHA, the minimum wage, and every other “impediment” to jobs; or we can throw tax dollars into a “stimulus”, raise the minimum wage and wave a chicken over our head, but none of that’s going to create one damn job.

Employers have to decide that it is economically advantageous to add jobs to businesses, and then they have to do it in the real world. Or, sole proprietors and small business organizations need to decide that they have goods or services for which there is a market and then take the risk of hiring people to fill the market need.

Government action may alter economic advantage. It must be some business entity which takes the action to create the job.

We have a lot more bullshit about Obama personally. Obama is not a very popular guy in West Virginia. Recall that in the 2012 primary election, an unknown convict from Arkansas got 40% of the vote in the Democratic primary, and 20% of the Democrats who voted left that part of the ballot blank.

So the theme we’re seeing in every Republican and some Democratic ads is that “My opponent is a bosom buddy of Obama.” It doesn’t have to be logical and certainly doesn’t have to be true, they just want it to be believed until the evening of 6 November.

Neither Gov. Tomblin nor Sen. Manchin attended the Democratic National Convention. That was an unheard-of rejection of the national ticket. Last week, Sen. Manchin was quoted in the press as saying he really doesn’t like either presidential candidate.

At least in national races, maybe the connection to Obama makes a little bit of sense. In state races, it’s gotten a little bizarre.

There is a hard race for attorney general in West Virginia. The incumbent is Darrell McGraw, a former Supreme Court Justice. Darrell is a shameless self- promoter and some of his PR devices – at public expense – border on the weird. His Republican opponent is Patrick Morrissey who the label says is the second coming of truth, justice and the American way.

Somehow, Morrissey figures that McGraw is Obama’s best bud even though there’s not one damn thing that Darrell can do to help, hurt, affect or even amuse Obama. No, I’ll take back the amuse – some of that PR stuff is genuinely goofy. Our attorney general’s office is not the one which armed Mexican drug cartels. That’s a national attorney general thing. 

And we look forward to Mr. Morrissey picking more anti-Obama ads out of his carpet bag. (See note below.)

Mr. Morrissey has a vague, passing connection to West Virginia. He is the long time partner in huge law firms around Washington DC. No doubt, he’s qualified for that work. I really haven’t a clue what his qualifications are for attorney general.

Okay, I have to say the same thing about Darrell McGraw.

This is the first election in a long time where I’m not inside any campaign. That’s okay with me – I have to confess that I’m a little jaded at this point. At the Supreme Court the other day, I was asked a question which required a quick bit of self-description. I came up with “conservative cynic.”

So as a conservative cynic, here are a few more views of 2012 in West Virginia.

The Governor’s race is a rematch between Earl Ray Tomblin and Republican Bill Maloney.

Earl Ray is the incumbent Democrat who has been in government for more than 30 years. He’s done a decent job. The Democratic Party has dominated government offices in West Virginia about 65/35 for 70 years. As the comfortable majority party, the Democrats can afford to be centrist. Oh, we do have our fringe (more comments below), but by and by, the West Virginia Democratic Party is remarkably Clintonesque in economic and social policy.

(Remember Clinton? That’s the guy who left us with the national budget surplus which two presidents and several congresses have been spending and borrowing on like drunken sailors. I’m willing to let slide quite a few blow jobs if it means avoiding $15 trillion in debt.)

Most Republican incumbents who are in office are from Republican “safe” areas and they, too, are fairly comfortable as centrists. As such, the majority of people in state government West Virginia can talk together, reason together, maintain dignity and act responsibly.

Statewide, the Republicans do not act centrist as a rule. They act as if the fringe is their base.

Mr. Maloney has never been elected to anything. He is a self-made millionaire mining engineer. I have met him, and he seems to be a very intelligent and thoroughly decent fellow. It also seems that he’s surrounded by refugees from the Unification Church and the Addams family. At his campaign events, there is a coterie of clean-cut (carpetbagger) ideologues and a cheering section of every disaffected voice from both parties. There are so many axes getting ground you track iron filings out of the room.

I hope that Mr. Maloney’s understandable ambition has not dulled his sense of discomfort on the road.

The United States Senate race is a worry. I’m a little invested in this one. Joe Manchin is my friend. I’ve always supported him. His Republican opponent, John Raese, is someone I find unpalatable. My opinion would be suspect if Mr. Raese were not embracing the fantasy fringe so hard that the choice is a no-brainer.

The last I heard, Mr. Raese’s family lives in Florida and he maintains a qualifying residence in West Virginia. I will say that he has better campaign advisers this time than he did two years ago. While he says a lot of idiotic fringe stuff, so far he stayed away from the bizarre and squirrelly stuff such as orbiting 1000 mythical lasers for $1.85 apiece.

The first district Congressional race is a tragedy.  My friend Alan Mollohan was a 28 year incumbent who was defeated in the primary two years ago. My personal view (and I’ve told him) is that so much of his work was on national issues such as the House Ethics Committee that was invisible to the folks back home. A moderately popular State Sen. screwed him in the primary with a campaign of particularly caustic bullshit. A Republican, David McKinley, then the beat the guy who knocked Alan out.

So now, we have a Republican incumbent. He, too, is a crusader against Obama. Just look at the cleverly timed (and publicly paid) mailings we have received in the past year.

Members of, Congress have a “franking privilege,” which lets them use the United States Postal Service for free. Also, they have things printed out of their publicly paid office budget.

The franking rules provide blackout periods prior to elections. Mr. McKinley has published really nice mailers just before the beginning of the blackout periods before both primary and general election this.

They are wonders of the pro bullshitter.  They’re printed on card stock in full color, multi-page, and if they were commercially printed and mailed by Jane Candidate, she’d spend about $2 each. There are about 600,000 citizens in the district. So maybe Mr. McKinley has mailed out 100,000 or so of his mailers in each of two batches.  That’s campaigning with tax dollars to the tune of $400,000.

Oh, Mr. McKinley’s mailers don’t say one damned thing.  Yay, me.  Boo, Obama.  Rah, rah, rah.  Total - you guessed it - bullshit.

His Democratic opponent could be weaker, but I don’t know how. She seems to be a pleasant person. She is an avid Obama enthusiast. She is also one of the architects of a really, really dumb political campaign of one year ago aimed at derailing Gov. Tomblin’s candidacy. In that, they took strong gratuitous shots against Sen. Manchin at a time when he wasn’t even on the ballot. No doubt, the intentions were ideologically pure of heart. Politically, it was a belly laugh.

One of the minor races is that for state Agriculture Commissioner. I really am not sure what the Agriculture Commissioner does. Commissions agriculture, I guess. The Constitution says clearly that it needs to be someone whose occupation is that of farming. The Democratic candidate is a former state senator who is not a farmer. That’s a little bit of chutzpah.

All in all, I fear that my jaded attitude may be some kind of sought after reaction. I wonder to what extent behavioral scientists are looking long-term for political campaigns. If people quit thinking and quit caring, will our once-glorious nation take a walk into Seldon-plan hell?

Just thinkin’.
Note about carpetbaggers: Carpetbagger is a term given to foreigners who come into an area with the idea of taking over. The term comes from the American Reconstruction. Union administrators would set up offices in the South bringing their clothing and effects with them in their carpet bags.

09 October 2012

How Irrational Corporate Decisions at McDonald's Will Help My Animal Friends; Silly Walks Under the Golden Arches

I am a man of moderate although predictable habits.

Much of my practice has migrated to the 19th Judicial Circuit, consisting of Taylor and Barbour Counties, West Virginia. Going to court there requires that I drive down Route 250, which follows a road first laid down in the early 1800s.

Court starts promptly at 9:00 AM and so I leave early in the morning for what has become a most pleasant drive. On the way, I will stop for a bit of breakfast at a particular McDonald’s restaurant.

I know that some nutritionists will disapprove. Since when is nutritionists disapproving with regard to me a big surprise?

In any event, the 300 calorie Egg McMuffin, coffee and sometimes milk makes for a perfectly adequate road breakfast, suitable for a barrister of moderate habits.

This morning, the sign under the Golden Arches advertised “TWO Egg McMuffins for $3.” Okay, I figured, a buck and a half apiece, sounds great. So I ordered one.

When I went to the window, the price seemed awfully steep.   I looked at the receipt, something almost never do. Lo and behold, they had charged me $2.84 for that single damn Egg McMuffin.

At the next window, I asked “What’s with this?”

Now when a business does something irrational or random, it seems to me that there are three possible responses:

1 - Keep silent and look passive aggressive.

2 - Rationalize and look stupid.

3 - Say “That’s our policy,” which depending on the inflection can say “Screw you” or “Don’t blame me, I just work here.”

Okay, you know the answer here – “That’s our policy.”

I do not bitch out employees. In corporate hierarchies, there is a disconnect between the people who make “policies” and the people who have to implement them. Killing the messenger may give some momentary pleasure, but it’s awfully hard on the messenger.

Corporations do not have a unified conscience and when it comes to honest self-criticism, most corporations have all of the insight of your average lynch mob.

So I wondered – The corporation won’t care, so is there any way to turn this to a little positive?

It didn’t take long.

People who know me know of my great fondness for all of my animal friends.

[Yes, Egg McMuffins use animal products. Society uses lots of animal products. Very few source animals die of natural causes. Anyone who wishes to point out the mote in my eye is welcome to do so. Do mind that log.]

Autumn is upon us and we are coming on the bad weather when food sources for the animals become scarce. Oh, right, I hear it now – feeding the animals disrupts some natural balance. Come on, that ship sailed when the 100th long rifle crossed the Blue Ridge.

So, by an irrational policy, McDonald’s will subsidize me giving my animal friends a wholesome snack for only 16 cents every time I drive by the restaurant.

Now, you see, I’m going to order the two Egg Macs for the $3. I will consume one. And then, at one of the wide places in the road, I will stop, shred the other, and spread it where the animals can feed a bit.

This is the old win - win - win scenario.

McDonald’s sells more sandwiches. At low cost? That’s okay, they’re the ones that set the price.

My animal friends get a little food.

I’m only out 16 cents.

So here is a tip of the hat to McDonald’s management.  Every day, they come closer to the perfection of Monty Python’s Ministry of Silly Walks.

  • Happiest days
I was having a conversation this week with a very decent fellow, a working man who has two daughters.

He recalled the happiest time of his life. He said it was when his two daughters were little children and they lived together in a “piece of shit trailer,” and got around in an old thousand dollar car.

He described the joy of helping with homework and cooking Sunnday breakfast as a family and going fishing.

THAT is wealth.
  • Where I have done been.
Dammit, I’m busy. My trusty HAL 3000 puffs smoke out the USB ports. This is just the first time in a while I’ve been able to direct it to this place.