Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Few Latin Terms

No, I'm not channeling John Malkovich, I'm responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal attempting to get inside the Libertarian mind.  Now, I personally believe that the concept of a Libertarian Party is nearly as ungovernable as a herd of cats.  One blogger I follow has humorously compared a roomful of Capital L Libertarians as similar to an Asperger's Syndrome convention, not without some merit.  I've read Ayn Rand and Freidrich Hayek and of the two, I'd much rather hang out with Freidrich.  But it would be hard to imagine a more fractious and hard to manage group, except perhaps for an anarchists' convention, which is another oxymoron on its face.  I see libertarianism as more of a personal philosophy than a political platform.

The aforementioned WSJ article describes the results of a self-selected group of self-identified libertarians given an online quiz on ethical problem solving.  Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians are more detached in the decision-making process, less likely to use purely emotional responses to arrive at an answer.  Great, so I'm a Vulcan.  Well, yeah, pretty much.

I won't attempt to speak for other libertarians, which in many ways is the essence of libertarianism.  But I will discuss my own ethical and moral compass and how I view laws and society.

I view society as a group of individuals, so any law that unduly restricts individual liberty in the name of society automatically fails as a logical proposition.  I am a classical liberal, which bears no resemblance to the modern definition which is inherently statist.  To be fair, modern conservatism also has some ugly statist features, although I think the modern liberal statist wins the competition based upon the sheer scope of their goals.

A classical liberal views society as a group of individuals that agree upon a set of laws that provides for a common defense against unjustified attacks both upon the societal and individual levels, provides a means for the enforcement of contracts (civil courts), and maximizes economic freedom within the previous constraints. 

The last several centuries of human history demonstrates to me that societies work best when people are working for individual goals and rewards.  Collectivism fails every time it is forced upon people who don't want to live in a collectivist society.  Freidrich Hayek equated modern statism with serfdom, and with good reason.  The lives of a medieval serf and a twentieth-century Soviet peasant had a great many similarities.

So, I recognize that any society needs laws.  The devil is in the details.  Here come the Latin terms!  A law can regulate behavior that is either malum in se or malum prohibitum. A law that regulates malum in se  behavior is restricting activity that is immoral in and of itself, such as murder, rape or theft.  Sure we can find examples of individuals that do not regard those behaviors as perfectly acceptable but you will be hard pressed to find a society that did not regulate those behaviors and existed for more than a few years.

Behavior that is malum prohibitum is illegal because a statute says it is.  Not stopping at a four-way stop sign when you are the only driver there is an example of something that is illegal only because our legal system says it is.  Illegal narcotics are another modern example.  I will scrutinize malum prohibitum laws much more closely than I will malum in se laws.  Why?

Because malum prohibitum laws usually involve one person deciding that the conduct of another person is unacceptable, even when that conduct causes no tangible negative effects on the person deciding.  I don't care if it is a campus speech code or a crying Baby Jesus, neither is acceptable to a classical liberal.

Unless a person's actions cause unjustifiable direct harm to others, their conduct should not be criminally sanctioned.  Period.  Dot.  Any law restricting behavior must demonstrate why that behavior meets this test.  Mental discomfort is not sufficient grounds.  My rights cannot be limited because somebody else doesn't like how I exercise them.  Laws are permission for the state to use force against individual members of that society.  Once we start legislating based upon personal opinions and biases we end up with the ugly mess we have now.  It's time as society for all of us to put our adult pants on and let others live their lives as they see fit, while they reciprocate the same courtesy to us.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Prometheus Unwound

SPOILER ALERT! –If you haven’t seen the film and are hoping to maintain some pretense of suspense, stop reading now.  Or not.

I wanted to like this film.  I really did.  I even saw it twice just to make sure I hadn’t missed some critical element in the script that tied it all together.  Turns out I didn’t miss anything.

The film opens with some Aryan ET dissolving himself into goo, presumably on Earth.  The implication I took away was that he was the progenitor of DNA-based life on the planet.  Sucks to be you, prions.  That assumption means that the Earth has been their little science fair project for the last couple of billion years.  Towards the end they were even holding block parties with Paleolithic humans, leaving invitations to come by and visit the next time we’re in the neighborhood.  Then I guess the grant money ran out.

We’re introduced to Drs. Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw excavating a Pleistocene cave site on the Isle of Skye late in the twenty-first century.  At least Lisbeth is excavating it, Charlie is nowhere around the actual site.  We find out the reason for that later on.

Now we switch to the scientific exploration vessel Prometheus.  The ship’s crew is seventeen people including at least one android that is a big Peter O’Toole fan.  The android, David, is spending his spare time learning how to swear in over six million languages, including Bocce.

We meet Meredith Vickers, played to perfection by Charlize Theron.  An autocratic corporate type from the ninth circle of Hell.  By far the iciest personality on the ship, ironically she is also the first to awaken from the two-year cryo-sleep.

 The ship has a captain, who is at best third in command.  Actual command is fuzzy, but seems to rotate between Lisbeth, Charlie, and Vickers, who has the vehicle title to the ship.

An all-staff meeting ensues.  At this point I begin to suspect that Meredith Vickers hired this crew in a cantina at the Mos Eisley spaceport.  The Visigoth geologist who earlier brushed off Millburn the Jeff Goldblum-esque biologist now teams up with him to form a comedy act that will last for the next day or so.

Weyland, The Old Man of the Company pops up in a hologram and explains that Lisbeth and the man-child are following a star map of ice-age cave art that led them to this planet, believed to be the homeworld of the Engineers who created all humanity.  Pass the sweet potatoes and keep an eye out for Pak Protectors.

The Prometheus descends into the clouds.  Screw lidar and radar mapping from orbit!  They’re going to just fly around randomly and pray that whatever orbital defenses the Engineers may have left behind don’t shoot them down.  The man-child spots straight lines, which he solemnly informs the rest of the crew Mother Nature never uses.  It’s a road, leading to a huge dome! 

Surely now we’ll take the time to survey the site properly?  Nope, we’re gonna land a multi-megaton, VTOL starship right on the front lawn!  And now we begin to understand why the man-child is kept away from archaeological sites.

Frifield the Visigoth geologist has a couple of neat survey drones that transmit all kinds of mapping data, but not video, because he doesn’t want to exceed the data limit on his phone plan.  Since there’s clearly no point in waiting for the drones to do their work without any risk to life or limb the team trudges on.

The man-child notices that all of the carbon dioxide has been somehow filtered from the atmosphere inside the dome and removes his helmet.  That’s right.  At this point I’m wishing the rest of the team will just sever his Achilles tendons for the good of the scientific community.  Since he hasn’t keeled over in seconds the others decide to ignore the helmet laws too.  Maybe they can all play cards during the month-long quarantine their idiotic decisions earned them.

David finds some slime on the wall and is so impressed that he doesn’t say a word.  He starts pushing on random hieroglyphics and manages to activate the EVP web-cam system built into the structure.  We are treated to a grainy hologram of big alien space jockeys like the one in the first Alien film running down the corridor.  One trips and is decapitated by a door.  They find the headless cadaver lying in front of the door.

At this point Frifield’s necrophobia kicks into gear and he panics.  He manages to affect Millburn the biologist and they both transform from presumably the best scientists Vickers could get for this once-in-a-lifetime expedition into Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.

David the android arbitrarily decides to open a sealed door.  Shaggy and Scooby run away.  Lisbeth makes a pro forma protest but the man-child is totally cool with it.  Nobody bothers to put their helmets back on since the air in a sealed chamber is sure to be good after two thousand years, right?

Now things get interesting.  David begins poking the alien goo, Lisbeth bags the Engineer head for her mantle back home and the man-child mopes that nobody was there to tell him, “Klatoo varada nikto”. 

Uh oh, big sandstorm coming!  Maybe if they had bothered to survey from orbit that might have been noticed before now.  Everybody back to the ship!  Right now!   

Except for Scooby and Shaggy.  They’re lost in the dome.  Never mind that Shaggy was the one controlling the drones that were mapping the structure.  The pair is stumbling around finding Engineer cadavers all over the place.  The captain tries to convince them to go investigate an intermittent life form reading that one of the drones is registering.  But he fails to offer them a Scooby snack so they take off in the other direction.

The Captain and Vickers flirt a little bit and then the captain abandons the bridge watch to go get laid.  During the flirting we learn that the voyage has been “half a billion miles” in length.  That works out to forty-four light minutes which puts this moon near Jupiter.  Who knew?

While the captain is getting busy Shaggy and Scooby return to the chamber they were too terrified to enter before.  Now it’s full of melting goo.  True to form, Shaggy figures out how to smoke a joint in his helmet.  All that university was good for something after all!  Scooby spots an alien life form that looks distressingly like a giant penis until it changes to look like a cobra.  Scooby decides to pet it.  He gets what he deserves.  Then Shaggy gets his turn with the alien worms.

Back onboard ship David decides to see what happens if he exposes one of the human crew to the black goo.  He doesn’t want to endanger the mission so he picks the most expendable person aboard; Charlie.

In the medlab the three ladies on the crew are investigating the severed head that Lisbeth brought back.  The outside is sterile.  Thank the gods because we wouldn’t want to break quarantine would we?  They figure out that the skull is really a helmet.  When David takes the helmet off we discover that the elephantine space jockeys are really more of the Aryan Nation ET’s we saw in the beginning. 

Now Lisbeth goes all Mary Shelley and decides to stick an electrode into the ET’s two thousand-year-old brain.  They turn up the juice and the skull makes likes a Jiffy-Pop bag.  Good thing the helmet was sterile.

Lisbeth discovers that the Jiffy Dude’s DNA is identical to hers!  Separated at birth? 

Charlie gets all depressed that he won’t meet his maker after all (wait for it!) and gets drunk.  At last some behavior consistent with a background in archaeology!  David slips him the sea monkey goo.  Charlie and Lisbeth get all philosophical even though Fifield was the only one getting stoned.  We learn that Lisbeth is sterile.  Yeah, just like the helmet.  My foreshadowing sense is tingling.  Lisbeth had better grab a condom…too late!

The next morning Charlie discovers that there are alien worms living inside his eyes.  But he decides not to tell Lisbeth because she’s still pissed about that Chlamydia thing last year.  What’s the worst that can happen? 

Back to the dome!  They find Shaggy and Scooby dead on the slimy floor.  A penis monster jumps out of Scooby’s esophagus.  Charlie is really having a bad time with the whole “alien worms in my brain” thing.  Back to the ship!    

“Charlie’s sick, please let us in!”  “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin” says Vickers the Ice Queen.  She decides to resolve the whole leadership issue by burning Charlie alive in his environmental suit.  Who wants lobster?

Lisbeth wakes up on the same slab that the head of Jiffy Dude once inhabited under the tender care of David the android.   Bad news; her boyfriend’s dead and there’s gonna be trouble, hey-na, hey-na.  Good news; she’s three months pregnant!  Bad news; it’s hardly what David would call a “standard pregnancy”.

Lisbeth heads for the robotic Doc In a Box that Vickers just happened to keep in the lifeboat she uses as a cabin.  She requests an emergency C-section.  The Robodoc tells her that it is only programmed to cut open men.  At that point we learn that Old Man Weyland was a Republican and Vickers isn’t as smart as we assumed.  Unless this is like that film “The Crying Game”.

Lisbeth finally gets the right combination to get that operation.  What follows is completely, unnecessary, gratuitous, unadulterated nastiness.  The Robodoc delivers a bouncing baby Cthulhu.  Lisbeth gets all stapled up and leaves it in the lifeboat, which is kind of like a hospital I suppose. 

Lisbeth wanders from Vicker’s quarters into the super-secret part of the ship.  It’s Old Man Weyland!  He’s alive, mostly, and here on the ship.  He wants ET to give him more life.  I seem to recall this theme from another Ridley Scott film.  I’m sure this time it will turn out better.

David tells everyone that he has found an iced Aryan in the dome and the guy is waking up!  Let’s go see him!  Because of the wonderful things he does.  David will ask for a heart, Weyland will ask for a factory rebuild and Lisbeth will ask for some better pain meds. 

Oh yeah, Weyland had a daughter and she grew up into Vickers.  I’d leave Earth, too.

Weyland straps on a powered exoskeleton for his lower body.  To walk, you perverts!

They wake up Mighty Whitey the Aryan ET and he is pissed!  I think David told him how much the bounty hunter wanted for the Wookiee.  Whitey rips off David’s head and beats Weyland to death.  Lisbeth runs away.

That’s no dome, it’s a spaceship!  Whitey plays “The Final Countdown” on his iPod and sets course for Earth.

Ships crash together, Vickers gets squashed by Auntie Em’s house and Lisbeth returns to the lifeboat.  Baby Cthulhu’s awake, and he’s hungry.  It’s a good thing that Junior likes white meat, because Mighty Whitey shows up to use harsh language on Lisbeth.  If Junior wants a hug, Junior gets a hug.

Like all androids in the film franchise, David can get along perfectly well as a severed head.  The trick, Dr. Shaw, is not minding that it hurts.  He convinces Lisbeth to take him along so they can explore the galaxy in the spare alien starship that just happens to be left behind.  She wants to go find the Engineers, because if she tries hard enough, she knows she can change them!  

The film made no sense!  The allegation is that the goo was some sort of biological weapon that was supposed to be used to exterminate all life on Earth.  But it could just as easily been an alien form of beer yeast that they were getting ready to distribute from the microbrewery onboard the ship.  We'll never know because Ridley didn't bother to explain.       

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Murder in the Second Degree

That's the charge that Special Prosecutor Angela Corey delivered against George Zimmerman for his role in the death of Trayvon Martin.  This after exculpatory evidence of his injuries was presented.  It's a clear-cut case of self-defense, right?  How can Ms. Corey press charges?  Surely this is a political witch hunt!

Maybe, maybe not.  In many cases the difference between a justifiable homicide and murder is the intent of the killer.  And George Zimmerman's actions on the night of February 26th are murky enough that his intent could be taken either way.  Don't believe me?  Here's another version that fits the events as disclosed just as well as Mr. Zimmerman's account:

George Zimmerman is patrolling his neighborhood.  There have been burglaries and he is frustrated by the lack of progress in solving them.  He sees a young man walking in the rain.  George is a good neighbor.  He likes kids and even volunteers his time helping them.  He knows most of the kids in the neighborhood.

But he doesn't recognize this young man.  It's late, wet, and George can think of no good reason for a stranger to be walking through his neighborhood.  George dials 911 to report the sighting.  He articulates his suspicions.  "They always get away", he complains to the dispatcher.  He appears to suspect that the young man he is following is one of the burglars plaguing the gated community.  Is this racial profiling?  If so, then Jesse Jackson himself had admitted to the offense in the past.

By this time young Trayvon has noticed that he is being followed.  What's wrong with the driver?  Is he a gang member, or possibly a serial killer?  Following people on foot in a car late at night is not normal behavior.  It's suspicious.  Trayvon is now profiling George Zimmerman based upon the normal rules of society that say that following strangers is not a good thing.  Trayvon is talking to a friend on his cell phone.  He should have called 911.  Trayvon does the sensible thing and tries to get away.  On foot, he is able to move out of George Zimmerman's sight.

George continues to actively search for the young man, even after the dispatcher advises him that, "we don't need you to do that."  In short, he is hunting Trayvon at this point.  When asked for an address he stops the car and gets out so he can better read the signs.

The confrontation occurs.  Whether George sees Trayvon or Trayvon charges George, the outcome is a struggle that leaves George Zimmerman battered and bloody.  George fires a single shot, mortally wounding Trayvon.

Zimmerman's injuries appear to be consistent with having his head repeatedly pounded against concrete.  His life is in danger; just ask Natasha Richardson or Billy Mays.  Blunt force trauma to the skull can and does kill people.

We lack some key details.  What was the distance between the two men when Zimmerman fired the shot?  Was Trayvon standing up at the time?  These are key questions.  Let's say the Trayvon has decided that he has beaten the stranger sufficiently to now make his escape.  As he is backing away, the man pulls a gun.  According to the affadavit Trayvon's mother has identified the screams for help heard on the 911 call from one of the witnesses as coming from Trayvon.

This completely changes the nature of the encounter.  Trayvon has disengaged, he is no longer the attacker.  If George Zimmerman, his head swimming from concussive trauma and adrenaline pulls the trigger, he is no longer acting in self-defense.  If done accidentally, this is now manslaughter.  If done deliberately, this is murder.  What matters is the intent.

What can we surmise about George Zimmerman's mental state that night?  We know that he was frustrated and angry.  We know that he made the conscious decision to hunt for Trayvon, even leaving the safety of his truck to do so.  We know that he was armed.  We know that he was severely beaten.

Is it unreasonable to believe that George Zimmerman may have pulled the trigger in anger after the confrontation was over?  The investigating detective appeared to believe so.  He recommended that manslaughter charges be filed but was overruled by the Chief of Police.

I'm not surprised at the charges.  George Zimmerman's actions that night can be interpreted in at least two different lights depending upon the assumptions made by people deliberating the evidence.  George Zimmerman may have acted in an adrenaline-blurred rush of terror.  The investigators have the advantage of hindsight and no immediate possibility of death.  There are no winners in most self-defense shootings.  There are only survivors.

Let's spend a moment examining the possible motivations of Angela Corey.  Vociferous members of the electorate are agitating for justice as they see it.  There have been demonstrations and random acts of violence done in Trayvon's name.  Alleged "leaders" of the civil rights movement are making vague threats of dire consequences if Zimmerman is not elected.  Even the U.S. Justice Department is taking a look.  It's enough to give any elected official the sweats.

Ms. Corey's thoughts are known only to her.  But I would like to point out that the "Stand Your Ground" statutes came about because enough legislators believed that prosecutorial decisions were being made for political purposes.  Think about that before you demand the laws be changed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games: Dystopia or History?

We saw "The Hunger Games" Friday night.  My girls really liked it.  I appreciated the film but the setting provoked a visceral reaction from me.  I had to sit still and try to wait out the adrenaline spike that the scenes in Capitol evoked.

I thought the director did a great job of giving us a thumbnail sketch of the society of Panem.  I haven't read the novels so I don't have a great deal of context.  Prior to seeing the film I did read several reviews and comment threads where people argued whether the film's anti-tyranny message was aimed at Republicans or Democrats.  I can take a stab at answering that.

The people in District 12 live an existence straight out of the late nineteenth century rural America.  The men go to work in dangerous coal mines while the women try to feed the family on rations barely above starvation-level.  Hunting is apparently illegal so unsurprisingly a brisk black market trade exists in small game.  From a passing comment I learned that additional rations are available to young people if they are willing to enter their name additional times for the annual Reaping.

The inhabitants may not leave the confines of their District upon pain of electrocution from the border fences or capture and death from the security forces.  Technology is deliberately kept at pre-electronics levels with the exception of media controlled by the state.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the Capitol live a sybaritic lifestyle with all of the wealth and advanced technology available to an advanced society.  Consumption is conspicuous and flamboyant personal fashion is the norm for the elite.  The working stiffs in Capitol have to make do with white jumpsuits and hair in colors that nature intended.

Sounds like something right out of the Roaring Twenties, right?  Rockefeller Republicans living large while the proletariat huddles in the dark, starving.  The parallels are there, but what is missing is the iron fist of the state carefully tending to the status quo.  For that, you have to have to go to the other side of the globe.

The world of Panem bears a striking similarity to the former Soviet Union.  Travel controls, deliberate starvation of the peasantry, the unavailability of modern luxuries to all but the social elite, it's all there.  Even The Reaping is a shadowy reflection of universal conscription into a military that places absolutely no value on the lives or health of the conscripts.

The games themselves are reality TV mixed with spectacle that would have been immediately familiar to Emperor Trajan.  Bread and circuses have been with humans for thousands of years and reflect a darker aspect of our natures that enjoys seeing arterial blood on the sand.  But what I saw in "The Hunger Games" seemed to go deeper than that.  I saw a segment of a society so jaded by their sybaritic lifestyle that nothing short of child murder could elicit a genuine emotional reaction.  Perfectly coiffed plastic faces that respond like trained seals to the clumsy emotional manipulation of a master of ceremonies.  People going through the motions of human behavior that can't actually feel anything because nothing is truly real anymore.

One of the things that bothers me about so-called "reality TV" is the artless creation of artificial "drama" which inevitably manifests as interpersonal conflict.  Whether it is cliques ostracizing the goat, screaming matches over who used the last of the dish soap, or media-whoring executives barking "You're fired!" the result is the same.  The audience experiencing a frission of glee at "real people" fighting for their entertainment.

I am impressed that Suzanne Collins was able to take the complex themes above and integrate them into teen fiction aimed specifically at young women.  I took my daughters to see the film, despite the awful content of children murdering children, because I thought the meta-themes of individual human decency and the importance of resisting peer pressure to give in to our darker natures.  Empathy is what makes us human, and that transcends monkey politics. 

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Self Defense and the Law

One night back in 2000 I was awoken in the middle of the night by a scratching sound coming from the bedroom window.  I opened my eyes and saw a man silhouetted against the moonlight.  To get there he had to squeeze between the apartment building and the five-foot tall hedges planted a few inches away.

My wife and infant daughter were in the next room.  I rolled out of bed and keyed the combination into the small safe next to the bed.  It only took a couple of seconds to retrieve the Glock semiautomatic pistol stored inside the safe.  As I pointed the muzzle at the man on the other side of the window I remember noticing how brightly the tritium sights glowed in the darkness.

“This is it”, I thought to myself, “If he breaks the glass I’m going to shoot him.”  I remember feeling almost nauseated, even though my hands were steady.  I’m lucky in that way, I always get the shakes after the emergency is over.  Fortunately for the both of us, the man moved away from the window.  As I lowered the pistol I finally noticed the loud shouting coming through the interior walls from the unit next to us, including threats of violence.  I did what every rational person should do, I called the police.

I’m fairly certain the man in the window was another tenant of the apartment trying to figure out where the shouting was coming from by squeezing along the building until he found the right window.  I never saw his face and I don’t believe he saw me pointing a gun at him.  He was stupid and almost paid for his stupidity with his life.

I bring this up in light of the fatal shooting of Trayvon Martin by George Zimmerman in Sanford, FL.  The local PD initially ruled it a justifiable homicide, based upon Florida’s “stand your ground” statute.  Further investigation revealed troubling details about Mr. Zimmerman’s actions just prior to the shooting that cast doubt upon the justifiable nature of the homicide.  Mr. Zimmerman has not yet been arrested or charged but I wouldn’t be surprised to see an indictment for at least second degree murder.

It appears to me that Mr. Zimmerman validated the axiom that people who go looking for trouble can usually find it.  He ignored three fundamental pieces of common law that determine whether a homicide is justified or murder.

1)     Standard of care:  The law recognizes that citizens who decide to go armed should be held to a higher standard of care in their personal behavior.  If I instigate or escalate a confrontation that results in me using deadly force against another, I have forfeited the mantle of innocence for my motivation.  The “stand your ground” law does not mitigate this.  The defender must be completely innocent of responsibility for whatever attack led to the use of deadly force.  This means the defender cannot respond to insults with insults or vulgarity and cannot lose his or her temper during the confrontation.

2)     Duty to retreat:  Prior to the passage of “stand your ground” there was an expectation that the defender was required to retreat from the attacker, assuming that such a retreat did not compromise the safety of the defender or another innocent party.  The classic example of the duty to retreat is the driver stopped at a red light or stop sign who is assaulted by a man with a knife or a baseball bat.  If the driver could drive away without putting himself at risk, the law expected him to do so.

“Stand your ground” laws came about because unethical prosecutors applied an unreasonable standard to the duty to retreat and prosecuted innocent people who were only trying to defend themselves.  Now we have the opposite problem; people using the color of law to avoid the consequences of committing murder.  Mr. Zimmerman chose to exit his car prior to the shooting and this placed him in close proximity to Mr. Martin.  Even if Mr. Zimmerman’s claims are true, his decision was tactically and ethically stupid.  Unlike a sworn police officer, he was under no requirement to challenge Mr. Martin even if the young man had been committing a crime.  He chose to place himself in the confrontation under circumstances that cast doubt upon his motivations.

Mr. Zimmerman will probably get to be a test case to the degree of immunity from prosecution that the law provides.  I’m betting he won’t like the answer.

3)     Reasonable degree of force:  I’m a large man and I would probably have difficulty justifying using a gun to defend myself against the unarmed attacks of another man my size or smaller.  If I were a tiny woman, that equation would change.  Justifiable use of deadly force requires that the defender reasonably believe that he, she, or another is in immediate danger of death or serious injury.  This is a sliding scale that factors in the capabilities of the attacker and the capabilities of the defender.  It also factors in what the defender could reasonably believe at the time of the attack.

In my story if the man had stumbled and fell against the window, breaking the glass, I probably would have been justified in shooting him.  Even though he did not intend to harm me or my family, I could not know that at the time and my perception of a midnight home invasion would have been reasonable under the circumstances.

There is no evidence that Mr. Martin was armed at the time of the attack.  So according to Mr. Zimmerman we have a situation where a lone unarmed man attacked him.  Mr. Zimmerman apparently felt confident enough in his ability to protect himself to take on the role of captain of his neighborhood watch.  I don’t know if he equipped himself with a less-than-lethal means of self-defense, but the reasonableness of his decision to open fire appears problematic to me.

I’ve been lawfully armed in public for almost twenty years.  The incident at the bedroom window is the only time I have ever pointed a loaded gun at another person.  I have made it a point to obtain training in the justifiable use of deadly force.  I exercise a great degree of care in avoiding situations that could result in confrontations not because I am afraid of the people around me but because I recognize that my actions will be judged in the harsh light of perfect hindsight by people who can only guess at my state of mind and intentions.  I still carry a large general liability insurance policy because I recognize that circumstances may result in that bullet costing me and my family hundreds of thousands of dollars even if no criminal charges are levied.

I accept the responsibilities that my decision to go armed entails.  It is a social compact that I make with legal system and I personally believe that it is a duty of citizenship.  I don’t consider myself to be a vigilante or some sort of volunteer police officer.  I think the concept of a citizen’s arrest is extremely dangerous and best left alone.  So it pisses me off to see people like Mr. Zimmerman appear to cavalierly dismiss the duties that going armed require.  I refuse to be associated with people like that and I hope that the legal system works as it should in these cases.  If a jury acquits Mr. Zimmerman then I will accept that as a decision of those better informed than I am of the details.  But I do not believe that Mr. Zimmerman acted under the color of the law when he shot Mr. Martin.

/rant off/        

Friday, March 16, 2012

When All Hell Breaks Loose

No, this isn't a rant about electoral dysfunction.  It's a thumbnail review of a great book that could literally save your life!  Anyone who has seen The Discovery Channel's program "Dual Survival" will recognize Cody Lundin.   He is the braided, barefoot "Bush Hippy" half of the duo.  Cody is an expert on primitive living and outdoor survival skills.  He may look like a Hobbit that went to Woodstock, but his creativity and effective use of applied physical science deeply impressed me.
Cody is an author of multiple books, including the one I'd like to discuss here, "When All Hell Breaks Loose:  Stuff You Need To Survive When Disaster Strikes".  This isn't a how-to manual for surviving a zombie apocalypse or an invasion of blue-helmeted peacekeepers.  It is a series of chapters on how to use materials that are probably already in your home to meet the basic survival needs:  shelter, water, food, hygiene/sanitation, illumination, cooking, first-aid, communications, etc.  There is even a brief chapter on self-defense.

The first twenty percent of the book is devoted to mindset; the mental strength and perspectives necessary to prevail when the basic infrastructure that most of us depend upon is unavailable.  From there he discusses each of the previously mentioned topics in a thorough but easy-to-read style.  Cody is not a gear-whore.  He will recommend good equipment, but he is an expert at utilizing common household items in surprising ways.  Some examples: 

How to pasteurize contaminated water using only clear plastic soft drink bottles and direct sunlight.

How to use clear plastic sheeting to build a surprisingly warm shelter.

How to construct an efficient sleeping bag from trash bags, duct tape, and newspapers.

How to safely build a latrine that won't kill everyone around from typhus.

The point of this book is to help you get through whatever disaster has broken down our comfortable utilities safely and in good health.  I encourage everyone to at least read this book once.  It costs less than having a pizza delivered and having it in your home could save you a lot of grief when that hurricane or that ice storm leaves you without power or running water for a week straight.

Buy it.  Read it.  Be prepared, not scared.