How to reinvigorate the Royals

Please indulge me one last time this season to write about my beloved, who have currently lost 99 games and are going to make one last valiant attempt to avoid losing 100 this year.
The Royals are a small market. Small-market teams have a rough go of it, yes. But the Minnesota Twins have been doing OK. The Twins have some vision and a plan and they stick with their plan, and that’s part of it. So here’s what we need to do to duplicate that success.

1. Build a superstar. Back in George Brett’s heyday, the Royals had no payroll problems. The fans came out to see Brett, the Royals spent that money to get more players, and since the Royals had winning records, the fans kept coming. In the late 1980s, a bad season meant the Royals didn’t win any championships. But they had winning records. The Royals nearly have that superstar. His name is Mike Sweeney. He’s got a sweet swing like Brett. He’s got plate discipline like Brett. And he’s even more likeable than Brett. When Brett was Sween’s age, he partied as hard as he played. Sween takes care of himself and he takes care of his fiancee and he takes care of his community. The only people who don’t like Mike Sweeney are opposing pitchers.

But Mike Sweeney’s protection in the order is The Mighty Raul Ibanez. Now, The Mighty Ibanez has turned into a good hitter, but he’s not an All-Star. He’s a better hitter than a 50-year-old George Brett. That’s saying something. But to build a superstar, what the Royals really need to do it

And Mike Sweeney needs to get together with Dave Dravecky to put together a project talking about the Christian symbolism in baseball. (Pitchers can’t hit but it’s part of their job. Designated hitters come in and do that part of their job for them. Sound kinda like Christianity? I think so. I think God’s in favor of the DH.)

2. Sign Jim Thome. Jim Thome doesn’t fit into Cleveland’s plans anymore. Blame it on mass insanity. Blame it on tightfistedness. Blame it on whatever. But the Indians don’t want Jim Thome. And guess what? Jim Thome likes Kansas City. I don’t blame him. In Kansas City, if you’re on the highway and you want to change lanes, you use your turn signal and someone lets you. In Kansas City, strangers smile at you for no reason. When the now-departed Miguel Batista arrived in Kansas City at the airport after a trade, some little old lady walked up to him and said, “You’re our new pitcher. Let me get one of your bags.” People are just nice.

Yes, Jim Thome’s going to cost buckets of money. But guess what? He won’t cost more than Roberto Hernandez and Neifi Perez cost combined. So here’s what you do. Rotate Jim Thome and Mike Sweeney between first base and designated hitter. Then try out this lineup:

Michael Tucker, 2b
Carlos Beltran, cf
Mike Sweeney, 1b
Jim Thome, dh
Raul Ibanez, rf
Joe Randa, 3b
Mark Quinn/Dee Brown lf
Angel Berroa, ss
Brent Mayne, c

We’ll talk about the Michael Tucker insanity in a second. Jim Thome’s .300 average and 52 home runs will make Mike Sweeney look a whole lot better to pitch to. It virtually guarantees he’ll hit .340 again, because pitchers will look forward to the half of the time he makes an out. Jim Thome will see good pitches because Mike Sweeney’s on base. Or someone else is. The Royals will score lots more runs. Meanwhile, Mark Quinn and Dee Brown have Jim Thome to learn from. The Royals’ lineup suddenly starts to look like the great Cardinals teams of the 1980s that had lots of jackrabbits who could hit doubles and one really big bat in the middle. Except Mike Sweeney and Raul Ibanez offer better protection than Jack Clark ever had in a Cardinal uniform.

3. Try Michael Tucker at second base. The Royals need a second baseman who can hit. Tucker’s not a great hitter for an outfielder, but he’s a really good hitter for a second baseman. He won’t be a great fielder. But the 1984 Padres solved two problems by moving Alan Wiggins from left field to second base. They got a good hitter at the position, and they freed left field for another bat. The Padres kept Jerry Royster around to play second in the late innings. The Royals can keep Carlos Febles for defense late in the game.

4. If the Tucker experiment fails, move Carlos Beltran to leadoff and Joe Randa to the #2 spot in the batting order. The Royals don’t score any runs because Mike Sweeney doesn’t have enough people on base in front of him. The Royals often give away their first out by having people like Chuck Knoblauch and Neifi Perez and Carlos Febles hitting leadoff. Joe Randa’s no speed demon anymore, but he gets on base. And he’s got enough power that a lot of times, when he gets on base, he gets on second base. Carlos Beltran gets on base. Mike Sweeney needs to hit with people on base. If the Royals were to sign Jim Thome, he’d be worthless without people on base. So disregard the traditional idea that your first two hitters should be your fastest runners, and just get some people on base. Carlos Beltran is your leadoff hitter anyway with him hitting second. Might as well accept reality and work with it.

5. Develop young pitchers. In 1985, the Royals brought in Jim Sundberg, a veteran catcher who couldn’t hit to handle their young pitchers. The formula of young pitchers with lots of good stuff and a catcher who knew how to guide them brought them to the World Series, and, ultimately, to a World Championship. Time will tell if any of today’s young pitchers will turn into Bret Saberhagen or even Mark Gubicza. Since the Royals can’t afford to go sign Tom Glavine and Greg Maddux (and since they wouldn’t score any runs for them anyway), they don’t have much choice but to take the chance. But since the Royals have been throwing their young pitchers’ arms out (witness Jose Rosado, Chad Durbin, and Dan Reichert) they need to re-think the way they develop their young pitchers. Throw fewer innings and watch more videotape.

And be patient. Greg Maddux spent two years as a so-so relief pitcher and sometime starter before he blossomed into the greatest pitcher of his generation.

Hmm. I’m already looking forward to April 2003.

Is God punishing the United States of America?

In the wake of Jerry Falwell’s controversial statements on Pat Robertson’s 700 Club, and after a conversation with a pastor who told me one of his congregants asked him whether “God still reaches down and zaps people,” I think it’s time for a voice of reason.
First, an introduction. I’m 26 years old. I’m not a pastor. I am schooled and trained as a journalist. Theology was my best subject in grade school and high school, but I have no formal schooling in religious studies or theology besides that. I approach the Bible the same way a journalist would approach a source, or a good academic would approach a piece of literature. I am a Protestant. I do not buy the Catholic argument that all one has to do is listen to the bishops. That kind of thinking led us to the sale of the forgiveness of sins in order to finance the building of massive cathedrals in Europe half a millenium ago. One schooled in the Biblical languages can make a better interpretation of scripture than I can, yes, for the same reason that someone schooled in Russian can make a better interpretation of Tolstoy. But that doesn’t mean someone can’t read a good English rendering (or better yet, several good English renderings) and understand. I believe it is the duty of every Christian to spend at least a little bit of time in the book that gave rise to the religion; it helps keep people like Jerry Falwell and the Catholic bishops of the 1500s in check.

Enough of that. On to the issue at hand. Many evangelicals, and I’ll lump Falwell into that category, operate under the impression that the United States of America is God’s chosen nation. But nowhere in scripture is the renunciation of Israel’s status as God’s chosen nation. God’s chosen people today are those who believe in Jesus Christ. But that’s not the same as a chosen nation. It extends beyond political and racial boundaries.

God is interested in nations only because nations contain people, and God is much more interested in the people that make up that nation than He is about the nation itself. Governments exist to preserve order and to serve out justice. I don’t think it’s a drastic oversimplification to say government’s job is to protect its citizens from thugs. I believe the only real difference between conservative and liberal and democratic and totalitarian is a disagreement over just who thugs comprise.

Is God disciplining the United States Government? Absolutely. Is that His only purpose? Absolutely not.

We the people of the United States of America have sinned. There is no question of that. Is God disciplining us? Yes, along with many other peoples–it wasn’t just Americans who died in this tragedy. Is this punishment for specific sins, or an indication that God has turned His back on us? Absolutely not.

God woke us up. He got our attention. God does that, or tries to, just about every day. It can take many forms: something someone says, a close call in the parking lot, a feeling in the pit of your stomach, or the destruction of a building. If we paid attention to the little things, would the big things happen? Maybe not. But maybe so.

So why did God let this happen?

The simple answer is we don’t know. We have to remember that God’s priorities aren’t the same as ours. Our priority in the United States right now seems to be to maximize profit and pleasure. Profit and pleasure are fine things, and I think even Jerry Falwell will agree with that. But we run into problems when we let them control our lives. So, yes, the United States would do well to take the hint and realize that there’s more to life than profit and pleasure.

God’s priority is to get as many people into heaven as possible. Pure and simple. Prosperity and pleasure in human terms are entirely secondary to that.

There are numerous examples in the Bible of God letting nations go their own way, in order to punish other nations. God let Egypt run wild over the children of Israel. Then He punished Egypt for what they did. The Old Testament is full of these kinds of stories.

Is the now-provoked United States about to become an instrument of God, raining down God’s discipline in the form of bombs and warheads? That’s an awfully self-righteous thought. But I do believe God is now going to go use the United States to get someone else’s attention, yes.

And what of vengeance? It’s not up to the citizens of the United States of America to seek vengeance. The hate crimes taking place in the United States now are completely unjustified. But what about war? The job of governments is to protect its citizens. That includes waging war when the other side refuses to be reasonable. And if the government calls on its citizens, it’s their duty to take up arms and serve.

So why did God let 5,000+ people die?

Simple answer: Damage control. Believe me, seeing those deaths and the pain it caused hurt God more than it hurt all of us, combined.

I was talking about sin with one of the elders of my church the other day. I observed that the sin hurts the participants, much worse than they know. And it hurts the people around them. Making matters worse, the process of stopping the sin can hurt people. Sometimes stopping hurts more people in a single day than continuing the practice for a single day would. It’s a vicious mess with no good, easy cure. No wonder God hates it.

God feels the pain and anguish of the congregation that lost its priest. God feels the pain and anguish of the people who suddenly found themselves widows and widowers. God feels the pain of the children left without mothers or fathers. God feels the pain of the terrorists’ family members who are asking why and how their good little boy could have done such a thing. God feels it all, all at once, and more deeply than we’re capable.

But these kinds of things happen all the time. I had a Canadian reader write in, expressing his well-wishes. He said he understood totally. He left South Africa to try to get away from these kinds of senseless atrocities. They didn’t follow him to Canada, but now one has happened next door.

And let’s look at what’s happened since this tragedy. Yasser Arafat has told his men not to shoot Israelis, even if the Israelis shoot first. If the ceasefire lasts 48 hours, they’re going to sit down and talk. It probably wouldn’t have happened without this.

Russia is sharing intelligence with the United States. And it’s looking like Russia might get us the use of some former Soviet military bases. This is unprecedented. French author Alexis de Tocqueville saw the rivalry between the Russian Bear and the American Eagle in the mid-1800s.

Military experts expected our next war to be with China. But for now, China and the United States face the common enemy of terrorism. Terrorists hate us because we’re the biggest kid on the block, but China has attributes the terrorists would hate as well. China knows this. God may yet get China’s attention.

I haven’t been paying attention to what’s happening in Northern Ireland, but if nothing else, this tragedy has people on both sides of the conflict there thinking too.

And one thing we seem to forget is that it was only 5,000 deaths. There was a fourth plane that could have killed thousands more, depending on its target. God didn’t allow that plane to reach its destination. He also didn’t allow any other planes to be hijacked. There’s plenty of evidence that it wouldn’t have ended with those four planes.

And what of our 5,000+ innocent casualties? Their fate rests in the hands of a just and loving God. As hard as it may be to do, we have to trust that God knows what He’s doing and that this could have been much worse.

On politics…

I’ve learned a lot about politics this week. And about myself as well. I figured I’d share.
This is church politics, but I see little difference between it and governmental politics, academic politics, or corporate politics, other than this time I actually believe in the result enough to be willing to hear out the other perspective, put myself in that position, and be that other person for a minute, look around, and see what he (it’s almost always a he) is thinking and seeing.

And I guess that’s what I’ve learned about myself. I can get into the Mac/PC debates and I can argue them as passionately as anyone, but in the end, if someone decides to shoot himself in the foot by paying way too much for an overdesigned single-threaded computer that crashes all the time, well, that’s his business–unless the overly chatty AppleTalk network protocol is going to disrupt everyone else’s work by sucking up all the available bandwidth, or the lack of administrative security is going to allow the user to install software that’ll disrupt other users. But if a guy’s only going to hurt himself by making the wrong decision about a computer, fine. I don’t care. If he’s gonna put up a stink, I’ll let him sink.

Every time I’ve believed in a company, I’ve been betrayed. So I don’t give a rip about corporate politics. And government? Government’s mission is to perpetuate itself. It’s going to do the right thing to perpetuate itself, regardless of whether that’s the right thing for you and me. So when I feel myself starting to get riled up about government, I change the subject.

Church politics? I’ll hear you out. I even went to The not-in-the-least-Rev. Fred Phelps’ web site and read his reasoning on why the LCMS needed to have a “God Hates Fags” protest in front of its doors. Let’s just say it’s very unfortunate that he believes this, because it would be really, really funny. Remember the witch scene in Monty Pyton’s Holy Grail? The one where they said someone was a witch, because she looked like one, because they dressed her up like one? Same logic. Picket a church, provoke it, when it retaliates, sue the retaliator in small claims court, then say the courts say your sign was true. But I’m not going to acknowledge him with a link.

So. I am Lutheran. I didn’t come to that conclusion easily. There are a lot of scumbags who are Lutherans, so for a long time I believed that all Lutherans were scumbags because I’d met so many of them. Then I learned that all churches had scumbags, and on top of that, some of them had really, really poor doctrine. Doctrine, in case that word has you scratching your head, is a fancy word for a set of beliefs, hopefully derived from reading the books of the Bible in context.

So, I got sick of watching people beat each other up with poor doctrine, and worse yet, beating me up with poor doctrine, so I sat down and did something a lot of people never do. I read that book. Yeah, the whole thing–884 pages in one of my translations. It took me three months to do it. It’s shorter than a James Michener novel that I could probably read in a month, but Michener is much lighter reading, and, yes, I’ll say it, usually Michener does a better job of holding your attention.

Reading the whole thing did a lot for me. For one, I saw a much bigger picture. The verses those guys were taking out of context suddenly made sense. It didn’t just “feel” wrong anymore–I could tell you if they were taking it out of context. There’s another common mistake in Bible study that you don’t see so often in other literary studies, or for that matter, other disciplines. In any other discipline, you take the simple stuff first. In programming, you learn loops before recursion. In riding a bike, you learn pedaling before you learn balance. The idea is that you learn the simple things before the complicated things, so that the complicated things don’t make the simple things hard.

I’ll give you an example. When talking to the Pharisees (a religious sect) once, Jesus exclaimed, “You brood of vipers!” Greek scholars tell me what he actually said bordered on profanity. The obvious conclusion: Jesus hated the Pharisees. But that’s wrong. Let’s go back to the most basic Bible verse there is: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world…” Who’d God love? The world. What’s the world? Everybody. Who is Jesus? God. (That’s another verse or 47.) OK. So Jesus loved everyone. Even Pharisees. So why’d Jesus call them a brood of vipers? Because he was disappointed in them. He knew they were capable of better but didn’t want any better.

So I read the whole blasted thing, got the answers to my tough questions, and came to the conclusion that the Lutherans had it right the overwhelming majority of the time. Certainly more than 90 percent. Probably closer to 98 percent. Baptists and Methodists and Evangelicals and Catholics and other denominations were right most of the time too. But usually they appeared to be wrong about at least one of the tough questions.

So, since I agreed with about 98 percent of what the Lutherans (and, specifically, the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod) were saying, I came to the conclusion that I’m LCMS.

Now, if you ask most LCMS Christians why they’re Lutheran, they’ll probably tell you because their parents were Lutheran. A lot of them don’t even think about it. Ask a lot of them what it means to be Lutheran, and they’ll use words like “page 5,” “page 15,” “organ music,” “liturgy,” and other things. It’s highly structured, highly organized, and, well, to the outsider, it’s just plain weird. It’s designed to be reverent, and yes it is. But it’s not what it means to be Lutheran. There are Lutheran churches in the inner city in New Orleans. I guarantee you they aren’t using a pipe organ and German music dating back to the 15th century. But they’re as Lutheran as can be.

The theology is what’s important to me. The form of worship isn’t so much. And when I see the high liturgy done poorly, it irks me. It’s a whole lot easier for a group of people with meager skills to put together a contemporary-style service that looks good. And contemporary worship scales nicely as skill increases.

The other thing I like about contemporary worship is the freedom. If you follow the liturgy, on any given Sunday the sermon will probably be about one of three things. (Each service has an Old Testament reading, a New Testament reading, and a Gospel reading.) A lot of people dread sermons, especially those types. In contemporary worship, the pastor has more freedom. The pastor can look at what the needs of the congregation are and preach on that. It might be a one-off message or it might be a long series. For churches that do that, the sermon is usually the main attraction. Frequently they’ll make tapes and outlines available so you can listen to it again and study it further. And people do.

In LCMS circles, those sentiments make me a flaming liberal. It doesn’t matter that my doctrine is, if anything, right of center (again, in LCMS circles). The true liberals in LCMS left in 1974. The disagreements that remain in LCMS today are over, frankly, petty issues. I’ll get rid of the guitars and go back to pipe organs if I have to. Or if the order comes down from on high that the only instrument suitable for use in church worship is the kazoo, I’ll deal with it. God hasn’t changed, and the core beliefs haven’t changed.

But the LCMS camp is bitterly divided. Bitterly. On the right, you’ve got the so-called Confessional Lutherans. That’s a meaningless term. It refers to a collection of documents called the Lutheran Confessions, which are statements of doctrine. Interpretation of the Bible. Period. Every LCMS Lutheran will probably agree with 95-99% of the statements in those documents. Confessional Lutherans hold on tightly to their liturgy.

On the left, you’ve got a variety of movements that Confessional Lutherans like to paint with names like “Echoes of Seminex.” Seminex was a liberal movement that LCMS expelled beginning in 1974, and that movement was founded on theology. Seminex is mostly a memory now, absorbed by other church bodies, but the label is a scarlet letter. The “liberal” movements of today have little to do with Seminex, as far as I can tell.

For example, a movement that calls itself “Jesus First” is most frequently brought up with a Seminex label, because Jesus First is sympathetic to the plight of women. I’ve seen accusations that Jesus First would go so far as to ordain women–an issue that Seminex would have brought up, yes. But when I read the Jesus First documents, that’s not what I see. Jesus First is mad that in many LCMS circles, women are treated as second- or third-class citizens. At the top you’ve got adult males, who know all. Below them, you’ve got clueless, rebellious teenage males, who haven’t learned how to know any better. Below them, you’ve got adult women, who never will know any better.

And that’s clearly unbiblical. Jesus never talked down to women. If Jesus First advocates the ordination of women (something that seems to be prohibited in 1 Timothy 2 but that almost certainly doesn’t limit women to silence the way extreme-right Lutherans read that chapter), I’ve never found a paper on it. In some regards, Jesus First is doctrinally more conservative than the Confessional Lutherans. But Jesus First advocates contemporary worship and is very outspoken in its manner of doing so.

Many Confessionals believe that all in the Jesus First movement are going to hell, and a good number of them aren’t shy at all about expressing that opinion.

Now, when it comes to general position (other than who’s going to heaven or hell–if the use of a pipe organ is required to get to heaven, then Jesus is in hell because it didn’t exist yet in His day, and that logic is almost as messed up as Fred Phelps’ logic) I can see where the Confessionals are coming from. I respect their position, and I admire their desire to revere God. And doctrinally, I agree with more than 95 percent of the things they say. However, I do believe some of them treat women atrociously, and using Biblical misinterpretations to justify it is just another slap in the face.

And I’m not going to say I agree with everything Jesus First says. I haven’t read everything Jesus First says. What I have read, I find myself understanding very well and at the very least sympathizing with. They have a large number of very good and well-considered points.

I think I know where I stand. But I don’t know for sure, because I don’t know how far the various “leftist” groups go. While the left celebrates the election of a president most expect will be sympathetic towards their cause, the right continues name-calling. Then the extreme right gloats that its most conservative candidate won first vice president. Meanwhile, the name-calling continues. And it’s extraordinarily difficult to tell from their disseminations what anyone truly stands for. Maybe if I were still in grade school, I’d understand, but as I recall, I had a difficult time sorting through the name-calling then too.

And I read a quote yesterday on one of the right-wing sites, quoting the late Dr. A.L. Barry, Synod president from 1992-2001, known for his conservatism. He was running for president in 1992, and someone asked him the question, “What if you lose?” And Barry was quoted as saying, “Then we’ll all know what to do.”

I have no idea if that quote is true or in context. But I sure don’t like the implication. It’s not respectful, it’s not loving, and it’s not Biblical.

I don’t know if the left wing is correct more often than the right wing. But what I do know is that the left wing displays a whole lot more maturity.

And the left and the right are a whole lot more alike than they are different. But the bitterness of differences seems to increase as the size decreases.

Microsoft lives to see another day

Microsoft lives to see another day. I’m of two minds on the Microsoft breakup. As a good little Republican, I believe in free enterprise and history demonstrates again and again that the best way to kill something is to regulate it. Government is reasonably good at protecting us from thugs, when it wants to be, and it’s best at protecting us from thugs when it’s not meddling in things it’s not good at doing.
However, there is absolutely no doubt in my mind that Microsoft is a thug.

Microsoft rightfully recognized OS/2 as a threat to its empire and wanted to get it gone, quickly, before the public realized that Windows 3.1 was just a pile of unstable crap not worthy of being called beta software and started buying something that didn’t crash three times a day. Knowing that IBM is a big, slow company whose various divisions usually don’t even realize they’re part of the same behemoth, Microsoft attacked. As Windows 95’s release date grew nearer, Microsoft knew IBM’s PC division would want to sell Windows 95 pre-installed on their PCs, since no company wanted the distinction of being the only company that couldn’t sell you a Windows 95 PC. Microsoft told IBM that if they wanted to bundle Win95 with their PCs and continue to sell OS/2, well, then, they could just go buy their Windows 95 licences at retail.

Finally, IBM negotiated a compromise. They got their Win95 licenses, but at the price of not being able to market their vastly superior alternative anymore.

Microsoft saw a little company called Netscape as a threat, because its cofounder, a young, hotheaded programmer fresh out of college by the name of Marc Andreesen, publicly stated his ambitions to make his Web browser more important than the operating system it ran on. That’s a lofty goal. Strong talk. But what 23-year-old college graduate doesn’t walk across the stage thinking he or she can conquer the world? Bill Gates wouldn’t understand that feeling, seeing as he never managed to get a degree, but anyone else with the self-discipline to play the game for four years does. And when you’re Marc Andreesen, who managed to write both popular Web browsers, one of them while you’re still in college, you have more than a feeling you can change the world. You already know it. You have evidence! So of course you talk big.

Andreesen paid a tall price for thinking big and talking big. Microsoft went to NCSA and licensed the other Web browser Andreesen wrote, slapped its logo on it, and called it Internet Explorer. Initially they sold it as part of the Plus pack, but since Netscape was a far better browser, Microsoft wisely decided to compete on price. They improved it and started giving it away. Back when the Japanese started selling minivans at below cost, it was called dumping. But laws that apply to everything else don’t apply to computer software, because lawmakers and judges are morons who have no understanding of technology, and Gates, being the son of a lawyer, knew it. So Microsoft got away with it. Netscape, unable to compete, died a very slow, painful death.

But consumers are so much better off now, aren’t they? Rather than pay for a Web browser that sometimes crashes (or, as usually was the case, getting it for free when they sign up with an ISP who bought a bunch of Netscape licenses in bulk), they get a browser/operating system combo that crashes a lot and often takes the whole system down with it.

Now, somehow, a tiny company in Seattle that specializes in streaming audio is a threat to Microsoft’s OS monopoly. I guess when people are listening to underground radio stations using a piece of software that doesn’t display Microsoft’s Windows logo, they’re not thinking wonderful and lovely thoughts about Microsoft and therefore they’re a threat. So Microsoft makes streaming audio part of the OS and foists it on people, even if they don’t have a sound card. Listening to MP3s is an essential, inseperable function of the operating system, after all.

Now, RealAudio makes my life pure hell sometimes and I’d love to see the company roll over and die. But just because they had a good idea and a poor implementation and ambition to grow doesn’t give Microsoft the right to kill them just because they have a product the marketplace likes and some day might use that revenue to become bigger competition than they are now. The logical conclusion of that logic is for Microsoft to send out hit men to take out any programmer who dares work for somebody other than Microsoft or a company like Symantec or Adobe that Microsoft can wrap around its little finger.

And yes, Justice Penfield Jackson is a moron with a big mouth. He was understandably livid at Microsoft for its courtroom antics and doublespeak. However, rather than opening his mouth, ordering their breakup, then opening his mouth some more, he should have just held them in contempt of court. They fabricated evidence when they shot the video that attempted to prove that Edward Felten’s program didn’t work. Jackson caught them. The solution isn’t to extract revenge by opening your mouth outside the courtroom. That’s just stooping to Microsoft’s level. Holding them in contempt and saying why would have been more than enough.

But it’s increasingly looking like none of this matters, for once. Microsoft’s back to its old tricks, bundling more and more stuff that people may or may not want into their operating system, and now they’re doing more than just bullying their competitors. They’re bullying their customers as well. Not many companies will appreciate Microsoft forcing them to spend thousands of dollars to prove they’ve never ever installed a copy of Windows twice. The companies that are guilty, of course, have no leg to stand on. But a lot of companies end up paying for Windows twice. A copy of Windows comes with every PC they buy, but as part of a volume agreement with Microsoft, they end up buying, for whatever reason, an additional copy of Windows for every PC on their network. But now that Microsoft is flailing around for revenue, you’re guilty until proven innocent. If you own one PC and Microsoft knows about it, then it’s entirely possible you own two PCs and you loaded your copy of Windows on it too.

Some of the audited companies are understandably upset and suddenly looking for alternatives, where they were formerly in Microsoft’s camp 100%.

And, of course, Microsoft’s attempts to force people into upgrading, even when Windows 95 and Office 95 are perfectly suited to many tasks, will alienate some. Microsoft’s oft-misunderstood .Net initiative has infuriated people that I never expected to leave the Microsoft camp. Some buy right into it, but some always do. Meanwhile, Linux and its associated software marches on, getting better every day. Ironically, a similar tactic that Microsoft used to murder Netscape in cold blood–giving the software away for free–now threatens the cash cow of NT/2000 server. Servers are enormously profitable–you just take your desktop OS, call it a server, charge five times as much for it, and then charge a few bucks per seat for the privelige of connecting to it. The real cost of a Windows NT/2000 server usually runs five figures. And most companies have several servers. Linux, meanwhile, is low-cost (free if you want), more stable, and more versatile.

Since Microsoft’s current business model requires not just profits, but sustained exponential growth, Linux’s attacks on the server front may allow justice to finally be administered, no matter how incompetent the U.S. Government’s Keystone Kops turn out to be.

One can only hope.

02/16/2001

As promised, the mail and my responses to it. We’ll start off with the dissenting points. My points are interspersed in the first message, then afterward with the rest, since those messages tend to be shorter.

Interestingly enough, neither of the dissenting views came from the States. One was from Britain, the other from Canada.

Chris Miller first:

Hi Dave

First of all I think you ABSOLUTELY should not have mentioned the IRA in this debate. There are few things that irritate British people more than Americans thinking they know about the Irish situation. And your analogy is flawed, anyway. The IRA and the UVF and the IFF and all the other republican and unionist terrorist organisations of which I’m sure you haven’t heard are political bodies. They have a political grievance and a political purpose. These aren’t people who walk into Starbucks and start shooting randomly. And most of their atrocities, whether in Ulster or on the British mainland, are not committed with guns.

Like I said, they don’t need guns. We have violent political movements in the United States as well. Eliminating guns won’t eliminate violence, whether the motive behind the violence is political or social. (And though I’m no expert on Ireland, I did take more classes on British and Irish history in college than I did US history–I’m more comfortable with that subject than I am with, say, the C or Pascal programming languages.)

I’m not talking about keeping guns out of the hands of criminals – they will obviously have them anyway. I’m talking about the various crazies and malcontents who have access to guns whenever they’re feeling particularly twitchy. Your man in McDonald’s wouldn’t be a threat at all in London or Marseille or Barcelona – he would just be shouting and moaning harmlessly, a threat to nothing but the atmosphere. And do you really believe that, even if he was armed, it would be best if everyone else was as well? So instead of one source of mortal danger, there was potential death flying every which way in the room? I have to say I wouldn’t feel a great deal safer faced with 20 gunmen, rather than one. I would suggest you don’t hear of these situations very often because they rarely happen.

Right. The crazies will resort to building bombs rather than using guns. But right now it’s easier to get a gun. If guns weren’t an option, some of the bombs will be duds, but frankly, I like my chances better against a crazy gunman than against a working bomb.

And you’re forgetting, that if I’m in McDonald’s with bullets flying, I’m not facing multiple gunmen. I’m facing one. The attacker is facing several. The other gunmen are aiming at the attacker, not at me, and they’re not spraying bullets around like you see in the movies. And if the attacker’s smart, his attention is now focused on the other guys with guns. If it isn’t, he’ll be face down in a pool of blood quickly.

More likely, he’s making his way for the door, because if there’s one thing a criminal hates, it’s a confrontation.

I agree that a blanket ban on handguns wouldn’t work in the US, but that’s only because Charlton Heston and all your other trigger-happy citizens wouldn’t stand for it. Also, the NRA isn’t the most powerful lobby group in the country just because people like rifle ranges. There is a serious amount of money in the arms business, and anyone who thinks Chuck and co. are simply defending a necessary constitutional right is just being naive.

You can make that argument for a good number of political causes, on the right or the left.

Your family and discipline tirade is interesting. So it’s wrong to deny people their religious beliefs, but yours are the right ones? That smacks more than a little of intolerance and hypocrisy. And call me an old Commie, but I believe there are certainly more important things than personal property. I suppose I’ll never convince an American of that though: it’s all about the Benjamins.

Except Christianity stole those moral standards from Judaism (as did Islam). Hinduism came up with it independently; Buddhism stole those standards from Hinduism. So we’ve just covered all the major world religions, so it’s hard to call that intolerant. The older religions that don’t tie religion to ethics aren’t affected one way or the other.

And as for my personal property examples, crimes fall into two categories: killing or injuring someone, and taking that person’s stuff.

I agree that the world would be a better place if people were nice to each other – I’m not an anarchist – but it’s impossible to think in moral absolutes. Your arguments are shot through with presuppositions, chief among which is that you are right and everybody else’s views are fatally flawed. You’re applying your own principles to everyone else. What’s right for one ain’t necessarily so for the other. You give yourself away by describing exactly what you were like at school. Well, there are many like you, and many more who were and are totally different. Someone isn’t inconsequential just because they aren’t like you. Their choices are valid. Hey, school sucks – just be thankful you got out of it what you did.

My reason for telling that story was to demonstrate that the difference between a law-abiding person and the perpetrator of a massacre can be subtle. I think I demonstrated that I have a few things in common with the people from Columbine. And one major difference.

But don’t stereotype me or jump to conclusions just because I was a bit of a loner. Some loners are that way because they don’t understand people and don’t like people who are different. I used to know a few people like that. I was a loner because I was shy, not because I thought I was right and everyone else was wrong.

And come on, Dave. If you ignore what you see as left-wing propaganda, why should I pay any more attention to this sort of conservative rhetoric?….

I didn’t say I ignore the media, nor did I call it left-wing propaganda. I just said it was incomplete. Tell the whole story and I’m happier. As it is, I have to read both sides of the supposed mainstream press: leftist rags like the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, and rightist rags like The Washington Times (which is much more conservative than I am), and then hopefully I’ll have some chance of seeing what’s going on. But neither side has much use for any story that doesn’t further their political agenda, so maybe in that regard they are propaganda-like.

Fortunately a dwindling number of people pay attention to it. And I never thought I’d hear myself say that, having been a journalism major.

I do ignore television news, but the superficiality and sensationalism and condescending nature of it offends me much more than the leftist agenda. (Plus the reception is lousy in this neighborhood and I don’t want to pay for cable.) But what else can you do with 22 minutes of camera time? But in these days of hundreds of channels, fewer and fewer are paying attention to that as well.

Some days I just don’t have the energy to sort it all out. So I go to the Kansas City Star, click on Sports, then go read about baseball. Scary. There was a time when baseball was the thing that set me off.

I hope you picked up the Maniacs references – I was actually listening to the “MTV Unplugged” album when I read your page. Spooky, eh?

Chris

Maybe a little. But they fit the mindset of the subject matter as well as any band I can think of. The subconscious mind at work…

From: Gary Mugford ( mugford@nospam.aztec-net.com )

David,

   I have a refeverence for others’ beliefs. You and I are on the opposite side of the theological fence, which means not a thing when it comes to talking about computers and baseball. When you write about subjects that don’t interest me, I still read it, because good writing is always worth reading. It’s not unknown to read an arguement I haven’t considered before and revise my opinion. But it’s rare.

   Like Chris, I come down on the anti-gun side. In the same way that bombing somebody is a detached way of killing, so it has become so for guns. The gang problem around the world (not just in the U.S.) took off when the over-supply of guns to an unfettered buying population in the U.S. started making gang warfare a gun battle rather than an in-your-face mano-a-mano fight. It takes a whole lot less courage to shoot somebody in a drive-by then to tangle with brass knuckles from two feet away.

   The historical need for guns in the U.S. is undeniable. But like buggy-whips and home butter-churns, they ceased long ago to be a need, but an homage to a bunch of far-sighted men who gathered together to form a new nation a couple hundred years (and change) ago. The problem with honouring their memory is the deification of these men as all-knowing, all-omniscient. There is a religious fervosity about these men that defies logic to we non-Americans.

   The right to bear arms is usually equivocated with the right to free speech and the freedom of religion as the pillars of the American way. But that vague description of the right to bear arms has been interpreted and re-interpreted down through the years by those that want it to mean what “THEY” want it to mean. By one definition, the right was to bear all the defensive weapons one could hold in their hands at one time. Another definition would include one’s right to own a tank and a nucleur arsenal. The true intent probably lies somewhere inbetween. But given the lack of farseer capabilities amongst these fine men, I suspect the intent was closer to the former than the then science fictional latter (science fiction still to be invented itself, some years into the future).

   You can argue the need of every citizen to bear arms. There are non-persuasive arguements for both sides. But the one arguement that should not be made is the constant harkening back to these men and their intentions and solomonic wisdom. They proved human by writing a constitution that required amendments to move closer to perfection. They acknowledged the righteousness of owning slaves and of treating women as property. They were flawed, but they knew it. So they attempted to create a changing constitution that would keep with the times and new provenances created there in. And they would be amused and horrified if they found out that hundreds of years later, their will and intent was being mis-used. If the law becomes outdated, change it. They took the English legal canon and did it. They expected their descendents to do the same.

   Which brings me around to the points of fact that you use to defend the status quo. The same reports that  gun crime in conceal-‘n-carry states has gone down, fails to quantify gun accidents, which I understand have risen proportinately. I won’t exchange one life for another.

   You also cite the impossibility of getting rid of the guns held by the criminals and that getting rid of guns will not get rid of all of the violence. So?  I’m reminded of the currently-running commercial featuring an old hero of mine, Bob Lanier. It’s the starfish story where a youngster hoisting stranded starfish back into the water is asked why he’s even bothering, when there’s thousands of them on the beach and he can’t help them all. “Helped that one,” comes the answer. As trite as it sounds, every journey DOES start with but a single step. To not try because of the enormity of the task, is ,,, well, un-American!

   Actually, I offer you the false logic website: http://www.datanation.com/fallacies/index.htm . I’m betting that several of your arguements fall into the trap of Fallacy of Distraction.  Nobody ever promised that getting rid of guns would get rid of all of the violence.  Gun control has very little to do with bomb-making loonies. Given the opportunity, they’d do both (and do). Massacres don’t occur every day, but accidental shootings do (last I read. I cannot cite source). Just what is the acceptable massacre rate? Harsh, but we are talking about guns.  Criminals, are not governed by laws, so no law written to limit their access is going to have massive effect. But it WILL CUT DOWN ON SUPPLY. And that supply will erode each time a gun-toting fiend gets caught. Innocent or not by law, the gun goes bye-bye. This is good.  And I continue to harp on accidental shootings. It’s a lot easier to recover from a bat to the backside then a gun shot in the gut. What was before, that is now outdated, archaraic and not needed, shuoldn’t continue to be the rule. We are EVOLVING!!!

   I also failed to see Chris’ letter as an attack on your religious beliefs.  Chris believes (I think) that art must show the innards and the borders of society. In showing the limits of behaviour, it helps define those limits. Great art can also show the depth of society (or the lack of it).

   Are we living in a world where ‘anything’ goes? Yeah, increasingly. Do I decry it and try to guide my little Paige through some of the muck I never had to encounter at her age, but she will have to? Sure, that’s what being an adult is. Do I live by a central set of morals largely identical to your own? Yes. I believe behaviourly-speaking much as you do. Do I subscribe to the precise set of religious rituals and trappings that you do? No. I believe that nobody past, present or future is perfect and all-knowing. That includes the framers of the Constitution and all that try to read their minds through the veil of the ages.

   I think Chris’ statements about John Ashcroft, which you have more knowledge of and a differing point of view, might have been what set you off. You have a favourable opinion. Chris reads statements and actions by Ashcroft and finds them differing to his point of view.  Without reviewing the complete canon of Ashcroft rulings, that have earned him a large following in Missouri, Chris has read about the selected instances where the new AG ruled or said things that Chris (and I) disagree with. Should we reserve opinion? Probably. Will we? Probably not. We are human. And if somebody says something we find disagreeable or hypocritical, we tend to focus in on that one single statement to the exclusion of other competing evidence. But I will grant you the humility of acknowledging that I might be wrong about the man.

   Ultimately, I think the sky is azure blue. You might think it’s cerulean blue. We’ll never prove the other right or wrong as to the shade. But we CAN agree that the sky is SOME shade of blue. So we try to live life right. And that’s a good thing.

   Regards, GM
Actually, in Missouri at this time of year, the sky’s usually gray. Especially this week.

I fail to see the point of banning weapons if it’s not to decrease violence, and my point wasn’t to distract, but to try to illustrate that even a law-abiding citizen can have the tendencies that cause one to, as we say in the States, go postal. You can teach me ethics, put a gun in my hand, and I’ll abide by the law. You can teach me ethics, ensure that I’ll never see a gun in my life, and I’ll abide by the law. But don’t teach me ethics, and I’m likely to do what I please with whatever I can get my hands on. Banning guns is a superficial argument at best, and it requires a great deal of effort. Better to focus that effort on fixing the real problem–otherwise, it’s like spending $300 to shoehorn old memory and an obsolescent CPU into a six-year-old Pentium, to use an example from earlier this week. It might make some people feel good, like they’ve done something, but it doesn’t address the true problem and it won’t work as a long-term solution because the fundamental problem is still there.

Gun accidents do happen, but they can be minimized through training. And we hear of far more fatalities due to car crashes than due to gun accidents. The solution to both problems is the same: better enforcement of existing laws, better training, and maybe tightening up restrictions a bit on who can get their mitts on one.

As for our reluctance to make major changes, it’s probably because though times change, the underlying principles don’t. A lot has changed since the days of Hammurabi, but our code of laws is more similar to his than it is different. Our Founding Fathers had roughly 5,750 years of history to look at. Are we so arrogant as to say that with a mere 250 more years’ perspective, we should change everything?

I don’t see the rest of the world doing that, or when they are, they’re copying another country whose success they envy.

Hmm. I guess we’re doing something right. That’s good to see. We’re not willing to throw away our history over one or two problems. There’s hope for us yet.

From: Michael Baker ( MBaker@nospam.BioLabinc.com )

Hello Dave,

Your post today (Feb 14th) really struck a nerve w/ me.  I pretty much feel the same way, and your response to Mr. Miller was articulate and well thought out.  I enjoyed reading it.  I have a few random thoughts of my own:

Blaming our society’s ills on guns or TV violence or other such pop-psychiatric poop is really just an excuse for people who don’t want to deal w/ their own problems.  Ultimately, the fault lies with ourselves.  However, I believe the media is responsible for the acceleration of the decay.  The media more than just left-leaning, it has completely fallen over.  We are bombarded w/ TV and paper news that is all essentially the same.  Many purport to a be a balanced source, but it’s not, and many people don’t see that.  Here in Atlanta, we have one paper, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.  Years ago they were separate organizations.  The Journal was the more liberal, while the Constitution was the conservative.  They merged, and for a while they kept their same “flavor”.  Now, the only difference is that one is delivered in the morning, and the other in the afternoon.  They both run the same stories and use the same writers.  I consider it to be a leftist newspaper.  This is rapidly turning into a rant.  I’ll move on to another topic.

“…That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.”

My parents have a friend who is an elementary school (2nd grade, I believe) teacher.  My Mom and I had dinner w/ her recently.  She talked about how much more needy the kids are nowadays.  They don’t get any attention at home.  It makes teaching more difficult, because the teachers have to spend more time dealing w/ the childrens’ behavioral problems than teaching.  She’s not quite to retirement yet, but I think she’s ready for it.

“…Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.”

Lol!  That is just classic.  It’s so true.  I’m neither good looking or dumb, but I’m only slightly threatening. 🙂

So, coming back around again… It starts at home… How very true.

Again, thanks for the fine post.

Thank you. My mom was a teacher. She got tired of trying to tame students (and this was teaching at a Christian school, so you’d think their parents would be more likely to instill those ethics, but who knows?) so she got out of the classroom. She has fewer headaches and better pay at her new job.

I’m unwilling to blame the media for destroying our society, but it’s not helping. Unfortunately, getting a conservative to go to journalism school is nearly impossible. Getting the conservative through journalism school without changing majors, getting them to look for a job in journalism (it’s hard to find one), then getting them to take a job in journalism, getting them to keep a good post, and getting them to stay in the profession are harder and harder still. It’s frustrating because they pay’s terrible, the frustration super-high, and most conservatives aren’t very idealistic so they tend not to feel like they’re making a difference. If you’re not going to make a difference, might as well get a job that pays well. Or go to work for a conservative publication that leans just as hard to the right and is ultimately just as unreasonable. (The Washington Times infuriates me nearly as much as the ultraliberal St. Louis Post-Dispatch.) The result: a poorly balanced media.

From: Tom Gatermann ( tardis69@nospam.swbell.net )

Hey you know one thing about guns and those kids at Columbine is, that gun laws don’t work.  Those kids weren’t supposed to be able to get guns at all at their age. I don’t support gun laws myself as you know.  I wouldn’t own a gun personally at this juncture in my life, but I wouldn’t tell another law abiding citizen he/she couldn’t.
 
I also would have to say that your editor’s opinion of a Constitutional amendment being bull—- is way out there in Communist world!  Since when did constitutional amendments become a joke?  Especially one of main ones on the Bill of Rights!!!!  Isn’t that the kind of talk that the Amendments are supposed to protect us from?  Heck, we might as well start taxing tea again.

That’s precisely why a Constitutional amendment can only be overturned by a later amendment, or by changing judicial interpretation of it. The latter is more likely, but fortunately that’s a fairly slow process too and the political pendulum swings enough that the courts don’t swing too terribly badly.

I wouldn’t call that idea Communist, but it’s far too authoritarian for my comfort level. The Constitution protects that kind of talk, but gridlock protects us against it by making it difficult to make it anything more than talk (that’s what’s dangerous after all).

I don’t think new gun laws will make much difference because we don’t even enforce the ones we have. The evil John Ashcroft has said as much; he’s said he’ll enforce the ones on the books, which hasn’t happened for years. So maybe now we have a fighting chance of finding out whether gun laws work. It’s a good strategy I think.

 

From: J H Ricketson ( culam@nospam.sonic.net )

Dave –

Superb. You may have missed your calling. You perhaps should be a politician – except that is precluded because you are honest.

Or a pastor.

Even a practicing agnostic such as I find much of value in what you have to say. Please – post more of such thoughts as often as you feel called to do so. They are that precious thing: something that causes me to think, and review my thoughts. Very welcome in my world. There is more to our world than mere high tech. I think most, if not all, Daynoters, distinguish ourselves by this realization (as opposed to pure Tech such a Tom’s  MoBo, Ars Technica, etc.) Makes for interesting reading and a unique collective POV, IMO

Regards,

JHR

Politician? Except I can’t stand most politicians. John Ashcroft’s fine. Mel Hancock (former Missouri representative and gubernatorial candidate) is great, and actually fun to talk to. Jim Talent (another former Missouri representative and gubernatorial candidate, also mentioned for a possible cabinet position) is pretty personable and friendly, but not as much fun as Hancock. Todd Akin (who took Talent’s seat in the House) is great. Not as funny as Hancock, but that may be because he’s so much younger. Kit Bond (Missouri senator) is fine as long as you’re on his side. You don’t want to cross him. Kenny Hulshof (Missouri representative) is a pretty nice guy. But of the couple dozen politicians I’ve met, I think those six are the only ones I’d be willing to sit down and talk with at any length.

And as for being a pastor, the only thing worse than state politics is church politics. I haven’t written off that possibility (indeed, I’m honing my skills in case I need them), but I won’t act on it until I’m married and older. I’ve seen what happens to people my age who go into full-time ministry.

In the meantime, this stuff causes spikes in traffic, but the computer talk is what keeps people coming back so I’ll maintain my focus there.

Thanks for your thoughts, of course.

From: Bruce Edwards ( bruce@nospam.bruceedwards.com )

Hi Dave:

All I can see regarding your long piece referenced in the subject line is –

BRAVO

An excellent job – you hit the nail on the head.  Keep up the good work,

Sincerely,

Bruce
www.BruceEdwards.com

Thanks.

From: Sharon A. Black ( blacksa@nospam.missouri.edu )

I agree with so much of what you said in your post earlier in the week.  If kids grow up knowing that they’re not going to get away with unacceptable behavior at home, and that carries over into their schooling when they’re very young, it makes sense that it should carry over into their behavior as adults as well.  As I’ve always said, when it comes to correcting a child’s behavior, consistency is THE most important.  As you pointed out, making the correction on a timely basis is also important.   Maybe this whole line of thinking is a little simplistic, but  it does make an awful lot of sense. And I think that it’s pretty easy to look at young adults who are produtive and law-abiding, and see a common thread in the way they were raised. Problem is that today too many parents don’t want to be bothered disciplining–wait, I think “guiding” or “teaching” or “directing” would be better words for it–their children and they become irrate when anyone else tries.  (Why THAT happens is a whole other story.)  Then they make excuses for their child’s behavior then it becomes someone else’s fault and then the child’s misbehavior is justified.  So the next and the next and the next incidents are justified.  And children’s behavior keeps getting worse and worse.  Then we end up spending huge amounts of money to incarcerate them. When they do get out, in most cases, values and morals are no different (or at least not different in a positive way) and we start all over again.

Depressing, isn’t it?

Yes it is, Mom.

It’s a simplified view yes, but when you don’t get the little things right, they tend to explode in your face. And we see it over and over again. You saw it firsthand in the classroom.

Incarceration serves to protect citizens momentarily against criminals but doesn’t do a good job of rehabilitation, as a look at the criminal history of most of the felons on any given court docket show. When I was writing crime stories, the problem usually wasn’t finding a crook to write about–it was deciding who the crook with the longest and most horrifying track record might be so that story would get a better position in the paper. That’s the unfortunate result. Incarceration doesn’t work. Making it harder for them to get guns and drugs doesn’t work. Prevention used to work–when the prevention came from the home, and not from Washington, D.C.

And it’s far, far too late, so I’m calling it a night.

02/14/2001

More from across the Big Pond. I got this from Chris Miller, one of my editors at Computer Shopper UK, yesterday. Always good to hear from him because he makes me think, even though we rarely agree about anything but magazine design.

Hi Dave

I’ve been looking at the web page and I’m glad you like the ‘Window cleaner’ illustration from the new issue – much better than the blue blobs. Also glad you are holding up Shopper UK as a paragon of design. Thanks.

I shall avoid the subject of John Ashcroft, whom you appear to revere for all the wrong reasons. What I really want to say is that I think you need to prioritise your outrage. A ‘sick, sick society’ is not one where a high school can produce a play about rape, but one where children are shot and killed in schoolyards every day. The purpose of art is sometimes to shock – insecurity and violence are perfectly valid themes to explore. And why tell a story about secure, confident people who know exactly what they are doing? Where’s the drama in that? If that were all that was allowed, there would be no “Romeo and Juliet”, no “Jane Eyre”, no “Jude the Obscure”, no “Psycho” – cultural landmarks all.

Guns, however, are a serious social problem in your country which no-one seems to want to do anything about because of some semi-mythological “constitutional right” – which is, if I may speak frankly, bulls–t. I’m tired of the excuses everybody uses – guns mean massive profits and no-one, except maybe a few Ivy League intellectuals and northern-California hippies, is really serious about banning them. This despite Columbine, the disgruntled postal workers, the dot com rage and countless other pointless and avoidable deaths.

High school plays are not the scourge of American society.

Cheers now
Chris

I think you take me for having oversimplified far more than I have. Inappropriate high school plays are mostly a symptom of the problem–I won’t say they don’t cause problems, but no, we won’t solve all our social ills by toning down our school plays or our television. But it wouldn’t hurt anything either.

Likewise, getting rid of all our guns won’t eliminate all our violence. Guns are outlawed in Britain, but does anyone really believe the IRA doesn’t have guns? But there are other, more creative and more effective ways to kill people and blow things up than to use guns, and you can do it with regular, perfectly legal household items, as the IRA has so effectively demonstrated over the years.

It’s not like massacres happen every day in the United States. Once or twice a year, someone’s caught planning one, like earlier this week, and on the occasional God-forsaken day, an event like Columbine happens.

But banning handguns is a very superficial solution to a bigger problem–no less superficial than banning school plays or a particular television show. Banning guns won’t keep them out of the hands of criminals. Even if it would, desperate or very angry people would commit their crimes with knives or other weapons, just as they did before guns were reliable. The irrefutable fact is that in the handful of states that have gone the opposite extreme and enacted concealed weapons laws, crime has gone down. Social engineers HATE to talk about that because it goes beyond all the hip, chic theories of the day. So a guy walks into McDonald’s and starts shooting. He’s in control. But then some gun-totin’ cowboy (to use the popular image of Americans) whips out his gun and from behind the cover of a table, starts shooting back. The odds are suddenly changed. Can the citizen with the gun prevent anyone from getting hurt? No. But he greatly increases the probability of the one person in the building who deserves to die in such situations (the armed gunman) of sustaining bodily harm of some sort, and greatly decreases the number of potential casualties. And what if there are two or three snipers? The out-of-control situation gets back under control real quick, with minimal harm.

You don’t hear of these situations often because 1) they don’t happen very often and 2) the hard left-leaning press hates these stories.

But remember, this works in the United States but sounds like insanity in Europe because of the differences in our culture. In Europe, private ownership of weapons was a threat to the government, so it generally didn’t happen. In the Americas, weapons were absolutely vital to protect yourself on the frontier–there were hostile animals out there, and yes, hostile people. As the frontier pushed west, weapons were less essential, but they didn’t become unnecessary. Then we gained independence, and the government favored private ownership of guns early on, partly because a citizens’ militia meant there was little need for a standing army, which saved tax dollars, which kept the citizens happy because they hated taxes. That didn’t last, but guns remained a necessity in the west for about a century. To a degree, they still are a necessity in some segments of our society–there are still predators out there that threaten your livestock. Guns are part of our culture, and you won’t transplant overnight the disarmed European culture that formed over a timeframe of centuries to the United States. But the Wild West approach still works here.

But this, too, is a symptom. The greater problem is that we’ve lost our moral compass. OK, so you don’t like my religion. Demonstrate to me that a society that says it’s OK to kill, OK to cheat on your spouse, OK to steal, OK to disrespect your parents, and OK to lie can thrive. Find me one. You won’t.

Whether you like the religion or not, you can’t deny that its set of morals just plain works. But so few teach right and wrong anymore–now you just do what feels good. It feels good to cheat on your wife, so you should do it. You’re liberated. OK. So how is that different from me deciding it feels good to kill my former neighbor who caused me so much grief? Or what about my current neighbor’s nice black BMW? Wouldn’t that be a much nicer ride than my Dodge Neon? Why not steal that? If it feels good, I should do it, right?

Personally, I fail to see the difference.

So what’s the matter here? We’ve got a very self-centered society, interested in very little other than individual pleasure. So go screw around, it’s fun. The eventual result of that is kids. That’s OK, they’re fun too when they’re winning trophies and doing good. Just don’t get in my way. Here’s the remote. Here’s a video game. Have fun. Don’t bother me. And the kids grow up with parents (or a parent) respecting no one but themselves, and they learn that behavior.

So the kids grow up. Their most basic needs of food and clothing and shelter are being met. Usually. But their emotional needs aren’t. Their parents aren’t really there for them. So they don’t mature properly. They don’t exactly learn right and wrong. Their parents don’t model it for them, and they sure aren’t being taught it in school. Growing up is tough. I remember. I was a smart kid, too smart for my own good maybe, and yeah, it made me unpopular. A lot of people didn’t like it. Plus I wasn’t a big guy. I’m 5’9″, 140 pounds now. (Below average height and below average weight, for the benefit of those on the metric system.) At 14, I was 5’4″, not even 100 pounds. I was an easy target. I got in my share of fights, and I usually didn’t win. For one, the bully was almost always bigger than me. For another, I was always outnumbered anyway. Growing up too smart can be as bad as growing up the wrong race. F. Scott Fitzgerald got it right in The Great Gatsby, when his character Daisy said, after her daughter was born, “All right, I’m glad it’s a girl. And I hope she’ll be a fool–that’s the best thing a girl can be in this world, a beautiful little fool.”

Actually, he got it half right. The best thing a guy can be in this world is a beautiful little fool, or better yet, a big hulking fool. People like dumb, beautiful people, because they’re good to look at and they’re non-threatening.

I’ll be brutally blunt: I grew up with a lot of jackasses, and frankly, there were times that I thought the world would have been a much better place if someone brought a gun to school and pumped some lead into their ugly faces. There. I said it.

When I read about the Columbine killers, it resonated with me. I understood those guys completely. One of them was the brains of the outfit. The other was a follower, pure and simple. But I understood how they felt, I understood (and even dug) the music they listened to, and for a time I even dressed like those two did. One of my former classmates even told me after the event, “Those two guys remind me of you.” After all, I used to run around in a black trenchcoat, black t-shirt and black jeans and combat boots, looking gloomy and listening to Joy Division and The Sisters of Mercy.

And don’t get me wrong. My dad had guns. My dad had a lot of guns. He kept the really big stuff locked up, but he had handguns stashed. There was a Derringer he kept in his sock drawer. He had another gun he kept stashed inside the couch in the basement. For all I know he had others. He taught me how to shoot the Derringer. He also taught me how to shoot a .22-calibre rifle. I wasn’t very good, but at close range you don’t have to be.

So why didn’t I turn into one of those guys? My dad taught me to respect human life. Dad was a doctor. Dad even treated a couple of guys on death row. There was a guy who used to hire drifters to steal cattle, then sell them quickly. Then he’d kill them to eliminate the evidence (and cheat them out of their share of the money). I don’t remember how many times he did this. My dad had a brief encounter with him while he was getting an x-ray. They exchanged words, and it wasn’t exactly nice. “Meanest sonofabitch I ever met,” he recalled. I asked him why he treated him, especially seeing as they were going to kill him anyway. Know what he said? He said it wasn’t his job to kill him. It was his job to make sure he had the same quality of life (or as close to it) as anyone else. Killing the man was the state’s job, if it ever got around to it.

So if my dad could respect the life of this man, who by the account of everyone who ever met him wasn’t worth the oxygen he breathed over the course of a day, then shouldn’t I respect the lives of the people at school?

Dad (and Mom too) taught me right and wrong. And they didn’t ignore me, they disciplined me when I stepped out of line. The worst happened when I was 2 or 3. I was being the epitome of brat, and making matters worse, we were guests at a family friend’s house. My mom took me out to the garage, partly to figure out what to do with me. Well, it was March or so, so it wasn’t too cold in there, and it wasn’t too hot, and there was absolutely nothing to do in there either, so she found a lawn chair and told me I had to sit there until I decided to act civilized. Then she went back in the house. Our host asked, “Where’s David?” and my mom told her. After about fifteen minutes, she came back out and asked if I could act civil. I said yes.

That was the most trouble I was ever in. Yes, I got spanked a few times (but it was a very few), and I got yelled at a few times. But with my parents, discipline was consistent, and it was swift. And because it was those things, it was rare–I didn’t step out of line much.

I don’t think the idea that if I were to commit a crime, I might be able to beat the system ever occurred to me until I was 18 or 19. If I didn’t beat the system at home or at school, why should I expect to be able to beat the government?

So no, I never thought of killing my antagonizers. And that’s fine. They got theirs. My biggest antagonizer never finished school. At 17, his parents kicked him out of the house. He drifted around a couple of years, living out of a van and the occasional cheap motel, then finally settled down. At age 21, he was working in a restaurant, doing the same job as a lot of 17-year-olds. He’d be 27 now, and if there’s anything more pathetic than a 14-year-old loser, it’s a 27-year-old loser, and anyone who knew us both would see it now.

Meanwhile, I kept working, doing my best at what I was good at, doing my best to ignore the taunts, and a funny thing happened. At age 17, the taunts stopped. People didn’t mess with the seniors–we were the oldest people in the school besides the teachers. We’d paid our dues. We earned our respect. And the seniors didn’t mess with each other. Being smart became almost… admirable. In college, that was even more so. And get out into the professional world, and it’s even more so. The things that people made fun of you for in school raise eyebrows now. I’m not at the pinnacle of success, but I have everything I want or I can get it.

So, coming back around again… It starts at home. It starts with the family paying attention to its members, and doing its duty. Morals may not be any fun, but an immoral society is even less fun. Certain things like life, dignity, and personal property have to be honored absolutely. Do these things, and you won’t come out all bad. The occasional bad apple will still slip through, but it’ll be an oddity, and a whole lot easier to deal with.

Do these things, one family at a time, and I don’t care what culture you’re in, you won’t go wrong. The whole culture will benefit, with or without guns, with or without questionable forms of entertainment.

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