19 March 2013

TSA, Cowards in Congress, and My Little Pocketknife

The Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) seizes 2000+ pocketknives per day at airports.

This may indicate that, 9/11 notwithstanding, normal Americans do not regard the Swiss Army knife as an obviously deadly weapon.

Because doing the paperwork for each seizure is inconvenient – for the TSA – the government has proposed a rule change which permits airline passengers to carry pocketknives with blades up to 2.36 inches long. We might want a rule change based on the fact that “government” realizes that the pocketknife ban is idiotic rather than one based on their own convenience, but we should take what we can get.

[Incidentally, “government” is in quotes because the government is supposed to be us.  Sadly, those who work for us just don’t get that.]

But wait! No good deed and no bit of good reasoning ever goes unchallenged. Congress wants answers! Why does the TSA want to endanger innocents by tolerating Boy Scout knives? Enquiring (if infantile) minds want to know.

In a congressional hearing, Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee borrowed a colleague’s pocketknife for a demonstration. She pretended to stab him. She then solemnly pronounced, “You need to stop this now! These cause bleeding. These cause injury and these can cause terrible tragedy.”

(Apparently, it was OK for a Member of Congress to have a knife in his pocket.  After all, they’re, they’re, well, they’re Government.)

It’s hard to find a theme for this little collection of thoughts. That’s because there’s a whole rainbow of really silly hysteria shining through the Congressional prism.

The best argument against the garden-variety pocketknife on an aircraft is not very good. The 9/11 hijackers used “box cutters” - knives with utility blades – to take over aircraft and kill crew members. This seems to prove the hypothesis that knives are sharp and dangerous.

Okay, it proves they’re sharp, but we already knew that.

It does not prove that there is a greater danger from pocketknives on an aircraft than there is, for example, from the guy standing next to you in Walmart.

9/11 took place in a totally complacent society. Because no one should seek violence, it was (still is) ingrained in us to avoid violence even when violence is the better choice. Normally, we operate under “rules of engagement” that say if you agree with the aggressor, the bad guy will take what he wants, leaves and everyone will come out alive and healthy.

The terrorist hijacking presented a real steep learning curve. Passengers on only one of the four hijacked aircraft, Flight 93, had time to work out that the rules of engagement had changed. By then, the terrorists had taken over the flight deck and flight controls. Still, violent action by citizens with guts prevented that aircraft from being used as a guided missile.

So – what if you try today to take over an aircraft with a pocketknife? Can you kill the person next to you? Most likely. You can do the same thing to the guy next to you at Walmart. In fact, you have a better chance of killing more people and getting away at Walmart – that’s a much less dense environment and victims have much more room to retreat which gives them less incentive to attack.

Out of 100 passengers on an aircraft, 20 or 30 will be willing to meet violence with violence.  With a little bit of padding and overwhelming numbers, good guy citizens will prevail over someone wielding a knife or even two or three guys wielding knives.  The bad guys will not be taking over the airplane.  It makes much more sense to take away knives at Walmart.  For that matter, that kitchen knife display at Walmart is one lethal murder scene waiting to happen.  Well, wouldn’t Congress think so?

Since 9/11, there have been a number of instances of violent passengers - would-be bombers, just plain crazies - acting up on airplanes and being quickly subdued by fellow passengers.   Perhaps citizens in this new decade generally are more willing to step up to the plate against bad guys. Or, perhaps, stories of citizens can confronting criminals rather than running from them are getting a little more attention these days.

The suggestion that we should be afraid of people carrying pocketknives is one of stunning cowardice. The notion that government should regulate such things is a presumptuousness which old King George III would have recoiled at.   And yet, we are supposed to take seriously public officials who tell us to whimper like little girls because this guy is a pocketknife or that guy has not been to anger management.

I remember when I began to carry a pocketknife. I was six years old. It was a small white knife with a blade about an inch and a half long. That was a really big deal to me. It meant that my dad trusted me to be responsible. It meant that I could start carrying the same sort of tool as my older brothers and my grandfathers and every other older guy I knew.

These were – and are – tools. Remember man, the toolmaker?  I’ve carried a knife in my pocket constantly since with the sole exceptions of places where irrational paternalism prevails or those few places where leaving it in the car makes sense (such as jails.)

So far as the TSA proposal is concerned, we should not be groveling and thanking our government masters because they may let us carry knives now. We should be asking, how dare this paternalistic, cowardly collection of bureaucratic wimps and congressional dilettantes presume to bar We the People from carrying commonplace tools in the first place.

16 March 2013

Multi-topic Rambles - But Darn Interesting?

I haven't just rambled for a while.  I’m past due.

We Are Lucky They Are on the Job –

Earlier this week, I was on the way back from hearings in Taylor County Circuit Court. I came upon an intersection that was blocked by a fire department vehicle and was directed to take a detour. I asked the firemen what the problem was, and they told me the road was closed due to a serious motor vehicle accident.

This was at about 2:30 in the afternoon. I made the detour and came out at another blocked intersection with another fire truck and more firemen and I could see even more vehicles and firemen down where the wreck occurred.

The 8 or 10 firemen there all were volunteers. They either left work for this call – which took several hours – or they were on shift work and did it in their off time.

We talk about a “gimme” society where everyone is out for themselves. We talk about a lazy society and an entitlement society. For that matter, these Dispatches talk about those things and will continue to do so.

These volunteers are the other side of the coin. They are people who are driven to contribute to their fellow citizens and to see things and do things from which the average Jane and Joe would recoil in fear or horror.

We are lucky they are on the job.

Headline: “Obama Weighs in on Papal Election” - 

I didn’t go any farther than the headline. The article was several paragraphs long, so I knew that it was bullshit.  

It seems to me that the only wise “weighing in” by an American president while an election for Pope is going on is something like “Well, that’s none of our business.”

Why do we expect American politicians to comment on everything imaginable? For that matter, why don’t we call them on it when they go far afield from their legitimate functions?

Data Which Tends to Show That Background Checks Work:

Capt. Mark Kelly (USN, retired) is married to former Rep. Gabrielle Giffords. Ms. Giffords was shot by a criminal/crazy a couple of years ago in Arizona.

Recently, Capt. Kelly went to a gun shop in Tucson were he purchased a Colt AR-15.  That is a civilian version of the most common infantry rifle used by the American armed forces, the M-16.  The military version has a selector for fully automatic fire, that is, it works as a machine gun. It can also fire semi-automatic, that is, one trigger pull equals one shot.  The AR-15 is only semi-automatic.

Capt. Kelly then went to the press to decry how easy it was for him to acquire that weapon.

A slightly far-fetched response by the self-appointed gun community was that he was hypocritical in that he was buying something to use for home defense that he would deny others.  It was far-fetched because obviously he was doing it as a publicity stunt from the get-go.

I really don’t see what’s wrong with this picture. He had a background check using the national system which rings into the huge FBI complex in Bridgeport, West Virginia. He was cleared to purchase the firearm.

That’s the way it’s supposed to work.

Capt. Kelly is a decorated (e.g., Air Medal, Distinguished Flying Cross) and honorably discharged military officer. He has no felonies and no domestic violence convictions. He’s the kind of person who is supposed to be able to purchase a firearm, because he’s the kind of person who almost certainly is going to use it safely and only for lawful purposes.

Incidentally, the AR-15 probably is the least lethal weapons system Capt. Kelly has used.  He flew combat missions in the Gulf.

A legitimate issue about the background check system is how to include those with very serious mental illness, including addictions. A challenge there will be how to include them without discouraging people to seek treatment, especially for minor and situational disorders. In these Dispatches, that’s a discussion for another day.

Keeping Up On The Law:

The three traditional “learned professions” are medicine, the clergy and the law. To do your job, you have to spend considerable study time continuing to learn and just keep up. That’s not a big deal – it comes with the territory.

A lot of that involves reading court decisions, particularly those of courts in which you practice. You need to know how judges are deciding cases and what kind of arguments and reasoning work and what kind don’t. When you get a new judge or justice, you need to read particularly carefully to get up to speed on that judge.

In West Virginia, we have a new Supreme Court justice, Allen Loughry.  He already has left a lot of written tracks, mainly with his book Don't Buy Another Vote, I Won't Pay for a Landslide: The Sordid And Continuing History of Political Corruption in West Virginia.

And yet, it’s still part of the job to play close attention to how all the judges are writing and ruling so that we can do our jobs with a minimum degree of competency.

Incidentally, in a verbal review of Don’t Buy Another Vote, Bro. Moon commented that Justice Loughry had most of the recent scandals exactly correct, but as to as least one, “Boy, if he only knew the whole story!”

Accuracy in Argument:

This probably deserves to be an independent post once I’ve given it more thought. I note one of the topic headings above, “Data Which Tends to Show…”

Well, that proves I’ll never make it as a propagandist. 

Nobody wants evidence.  Nobody wants probabilities.  Nobody wants to recognize the existence of doubt or any possibility that “the other side” has a shred of truth or credibility to their arguments. 

And so, if I were a true-blue zealot, the topic heading would have been “Absolute Proof That …”

Sorry, that’s offensive, unscientific and dishonest. It’s not sexy, it’s not comforting and certainly doesn’t make things easy, but the truth is, life is not easy and social questions are not so clear-cut that absolute truth and absolute good lies on one side only.

I have taken a strong position in these Dispatches against current gun control proposals, the lack of logic driving them and the cynical use of the pain of victims. And yet, if everything Sen. Feinstein wants to do is enacted, some people who would otherwise die will live.  Sorry, my Second Amendment compatriots, that’s just the damn truth.  And on the other hand, if Sen. Feinstein has her way, some people who would otherwise live will die.  Oops, Sen. Schumer, you aren’t saving humanity completely after all.

Moreover, we have to make judgments about the costs we’re willing to pay for freedom of individual action versus imposed limitations.

You want easy? Shut off your brain and be a propagandist.

06 March 2013

Dennis Curry - Father, Lawyer, Marine

Dennis Hugh Curry, 69, of Spencer, WV (formerly of Fairmont) passed away Tuesday, March 5, 2013 at the Louis A. Johnson VA Medical Center in Clarksburg surrounded by his loving family. 

He was born in Fairmont on August 20, 1943, a son of the late Carroll Hugh and Opal (Gates) Curry. 

Dennis attended Fairmont Senior High School and graduated from Buckhannon-Upshur High School in 1961. He attended West Virginia Wesleyan College and graduated from Fairmont State College in 1965 with a degree in Industrial Arts. 

He proudly served his country with the U.S. Marine Corps, joining in 1962. He was commissioned an officer in May, 1965. He was deployed on aircraft carriers in the Atlantic and deployed in Norway. In 1967, he was deployed to Vietnam, where he was promoted to Captain and became an infantry company commander. He engaged in 26 combat operations including several amphibious landings. 

Dennis graduated from West Virginia University College of Law in 1971 and practiced law in Fairmont for several years. He was the first Municipal Judge for the City of Fairmont. Later, he practiced law in Spencer, WV. 

He was a member of the West Virginia State Bar, the Marine Corps League and was a life member of the National Rifle Association. In the past, he competed in several regional and national pistol competitions. 

He is survived by his three loving daughters, Hillarey Carder and her husband Dan of Masontown, Ashley Gillespie and her husband Scott of Morgantown and Erin VanGilder and her husband Brent of Carolina Beach, NC and seven grandchildren, Macey Carder, Benjamin Carder, Cayton Carder, Ian Gillespie, Mairin Gillespie, Beau VanGilder and Brooke VanGilder. 

Also surviving is the mother of his children, Susan Metheny Davis of Fairmont, two brothers, Roger D. Curry and his wife Janet Curry of Fairmont and Rev. Joel Curry and his wife Dr. Shara Curry of Glenville as well as numerous nieces and nephews. 

Family and friends may call at Carpenter and Ford Funeral Home, 209 Merchant St. Fairmont on Sunday from 1-8 pm and Monday from 10-11 am. The funeral service will be held in the funeral home on Monday, March 11, 2013 at 11 am with Rev. Joel Curry, brother of the deceased, officiating. 

Interment will follow at the WV National Cemetery in Pruntytown [near Grafton] where full military honors will be conducted by the Marion County Veterans Council Honor Guard. 

Online memories and condolences may be left for the family at www.carpenterandford.com