Joe Biden recently fired off both barrels when asked a question about guns and self defense. He said, “Kate,if you want to protect yourself, get a double-barrel shotgun, have the shells, a 12-gauge shotgun.”
This is the same advice he gave his wife, Jill: “I said, ‘Jill, if there’s ever a problem, just walk out on the balcony here. Walk out and put that double-barrel shotgun and fire two blasts outside the house’ … You don’t need an AR-15—it’s harder to aim … It’s harder to use, and in fact you don’t need 30 rounds to protect yourself. Buy a shotgun! Buy a shotgun!”
While Joe is often cast as a loose shotgun, his remarks are actually quite rational in two ways. First, he is right about shotguns. Second, while his remarks seem a bit wacky, they will held the administration.
Getting to the first point, Joe is right that a shotgun is a good choice for home defense. As he notes, a shotgun is very easy to aim-just point it towards the target and the pellet spread (assuming you are using shot rather than a slug) will probably hit the target. Shotguns also do good damage against unarmored targets, such as the typical intruder. He doesn’t mention that the pellets from a shotgun have less range and penetration power than rifle and even pistol bullets, but for home defense that is generally good. After all, a rifle bullet can shoot through walls (even exterior walls) and hit an innocent person in the next room, next house or even the next block.
His remark about firing a blast off the balcony is a bit wacky, but it does make a certain amount of sense-after all, if you can scare someone away without shooting them, that is probably good for everyone involved. Best not to use both barrels, though-unless you can reload quickly. Of course, shooting a gun off into the air could raise some legal problems and there is the obvious concern about where the pellets will fall.
In regards to the second point, Joe’s seemingly off-message remarks are actually useful for making the administration seem to be limited in its intentions regarding guns. That is, when Joe says “buy a shotgun!”, that is hardly anti-gun. Rather, he makes the point that he is not against guns in general but against assault rifles.
This may seem like an odd position-after all, he lauded the power of the shotgun as a defense weapon. However, it could be claimed that his position does make sense. After all, a person using a double-barreled shotgun will not be able to shoot as fast as a person with an AR-15 and this would, presumably, have a chance of reducing the damage done by a person in a mass shooting. Of course, it could be countered that a person armed with a shotgun could kill people fairly quickly and perhaps even more easily. After all, if a shotgun is easier to use, then someone who is not a good shot could actually do more damage with a shotgun than with a rifle or pistols.
In the previous essay, I wrote about the notion of a person having the body he deserves. In response to the original blog post, commentator T.J. Babson inquired about replacing “body” with “income.” As such, the question raised is whether or not a person has the income he deserves.
In the case of whether or not a person has the body he deserves, I argued that this is generally the case. After all, laying aside unfortunate accidents and illnesses, a person has (or is) the body that he has earned by his choices and actions. I also noted that the luck (good or bad) of birth can also be factored out in terms of what a person has earned-after all, a person would still get what he has earned given his circumstances.
Naturally, it can be contended that the same would hold true when it comes to income. After all, if unfortunate accidents are laid aside and the luck of birth is factored out, then a person surely gets the income that he deserves. After all, a person gets the income he has via his choices and actions, just as is the case with getting the body he has (or is). Thus, we all make what we deserve.
Or so it could be argued. However, there is the obvious question of whether the two situations are analogous. That is, whether the matter of deserved income is adequately similar to that of having the body one deserves.
One obvious difference is the nature of the how earning works in regards to the body and income. In the case of the body, getting the body one earns is a purely mechanical, objective and automatic matter. For example, if I choose to take in more calories than I burn, then I will start storing fat, thus altering my body in a way that I have clearly earned. As another example, if I do more speed work on the track, this will alter my body in ways that result in greater speed when running. As a third example, if I do more pushups and pull-ups, the strength of my body will increase. I get these results based entirely on what I do and they correspond perfectly to my actions and choices. As such, these results seem to be exactly what I deserve. After all, what I get stems from what I do.
In the case of income, getting what one earns is a matter of human decisions, is subjective and is not automatic. For example, my income is based largely on what other people who control the funds elect to pay me based on what they think I should be pay. This is presumably based on a subjective assessment of what I should be paid—most likely based on such factors as what they think is the lowest amount that will keep me from accepting another job and what they think it would cost to replace me with someone that could do what I do. My income is also not an automatic matter—I would not get an income just for teaching and so on. There has to be the conscious decision to provide me with the income. In the case of income, what I get might have little or even no connection to what I actually do. Thus a person might not get the income that he deserves.
A second obvious difference is that what a person gets in regards to his body is always perfectly proportional to his choices and actions. If I run X miles per week at an average pace of P, then my endurance will be E. If I spent H hours strength training at intensity I per week, then my strength will be S. Or, if I pack in E extra calories, then I get F fatter. As such, what I get from my choices and efforts is exactly proportional to the nature of my efforts and choices: what I do and what I receive are in perfect harmony.
In stark contrast, what a person earns in terms of income can (and often is) significantly out of proportion to the nature of her efforts and choices. For example, a professor might devote considerable effort to teaching her students and be very effective at this, thus creating educated citizens who go on to add considerably to society. This teacher might receive a rather low income. As another example, a professor might be clever at making connections and hit an academic fad at the right time and become a star. This star might spend his career pontificating at conferences and on talk shows, yet contribute little of lasting value to society all the while enjoying a rather nice income. As a third example, a person might develop a cunning way to create a financial instrument to hide toxic assets and engage in clever deceits when ranking said instruments, thus making a fortune for herself while contributing to a massive recession. In such cases, these people would not seem to be getting the income they deserve.
It could be countered that a person does get the income he deserves by definition. That is, one earns what one gets, thus it is earned. Being what is earned, it is what a person deserves. This is, obviously enough, what philosophers are often accused of: mere semantic trickery.
Also, to use the obvious analogy, this would be rather like claiming that a prisoner deserves her sentence on the grounds that it is the sentence she was given and it is thus just. Obviously, the mere fact that a person has been sentenced to a certain punishment or has received a certain income is not proof that either is earned.
It could also be argued that employers decide what a person deserves and that a person can decide if he agrees. If he agrees and accepts the income, then he gets what he deserves. While this has a certain appeal, it assumes that the person is not tricked by fraud or compelled to accept the income. To use an analogy, if I agree to give a person something based on a lie or because he points a gun at me, I do not thus get what I deserve when I lose my property.
In some cases, people do get to select their income without any fraud or compulsion and they have many opportunities available to them. In most other cases, people are at a considerable disadvantage relative to those who offer income. For example, a person who works for the state is often subject to the whims of those above them in power. If a newly appointed director decides that he would prefer to relocate his department in a city near his second or third house then the employees have to choose between uprooting their lives (and often families) and losing their jobs. If they lose their jobs, then they need to find another employer and hope that their new job will last.
It might be replied that people get what they deserve even in these cases. After all, if they were smart enough to see through the fraud or capable enough to avoid being compelled, then they would have a better income.
While this has a certain appeal when it comes to economic matters and matches the ideal of the rugged individual making her fortune, this would require accepting that a person who is deceived by another is responsible for his failure to detect the deceit and that anyone who is compelled deserves the results of that compulsion. To use an unpleasant analogy, this would be rather like blaming the victim of a date rape for being raped. After all, if she had been smart enough to see through his deceit to his true intentions or strong enough to protect herself, then she would not have been raped. As such, if she is raped, then she would have gotten exactly what she deserved. Likewise, if someone was smart enough to avoid deceit or strong enough to avoid being compelled economically, then she would not have a low income. After all, she should have been able to command a better income or start her own company. As such, if she does have a low income, she must be getting exactly what she deserves.
As such, while each person generally has the body he deserves, the same does not hold for income.
This short book presents a series of philosophical essays written in response to gun violence in the United States. While the matters of guns, violence and rights are often met with emotional responses, my approach has been to consider these matters from a philosophical standpoint. This does not involve looking at them without emotion. Rather, it involves considering them in a rational way and this requires considering how our emotions affect our views of these vital matters.
The book contains the following essays:
- Gun Control
- Costas & Guns
- When is it Time to Discuss Gun Violence?
- High Capacity, High Powered Semi-Automatic
- Mental Illness, Violence & Liberty
- God and Sandy Hook
- Mental Illness or Evil?
- Video Games, Movies & Violence
- Background Checks
- Dr. King & Guns
- Gun Rights & Tyranny
- Is the denial of gun rights, in and of itself, a tyranny?
- Is there an Obligation of Self-Defense?
- On Not Being Ant-Gun
- The Founders, the Future, the First & the Second
- Are Cars Analogous to Guns?
While driving to yet another committee meeting, I heard an advertisement for cool shaping, which apparently is some sort of method for shaping body fat to make a person appear less fat. What struck me about the commercial was the claim that cool shaping would give a person the body they deserve. While this is certainly a clever advertising phrase, it does raise a matter worth considering.
On the face of it, a person who has not suffered an unfortunate accident or illness would have exactly the body he deserves. After all, the body a person has is the body he has forged by his efforts (or lack thereof), diet and lifestyle. That is to say, the body one has is the product of one’s choices and is thus deserved in that it has been properly earned. So, if a person is fit and lean or soft and flabby, then he has just what he deserves. If this is plausible, then something like cool shaping would not give a person the body they deserve, since the person already has exactly that body.
It could be countered that a person could have a body they do not deserve by arguing that while a person does earn his body by his actions and choices, the body he starts with is not one that he has chosen. After all, a person is born with (or as, for those who are materialists in the philosophical sense) whatever body he happens to get and this body is not something a person earns or deserves. After all, one just get (or is) it. Naturally, it could be claimed that Karma or some other metaphysical system in which a person does get the body he deserves (such as being reborn as a banana slug)-but I will set aside those considerations and just go with the view that they body one is born with is not deserved.
A person born with a genetic predisposition towards packing on the pounds would not deserve this predisposition and hence, it could be claimed, would not have the body he deserves. However, this leads to the obvious question: what sort of body does a person deserve? Do people, in general, deserve to have better bodies than they have? Or is this absurd?
I am inclined to stick with my original view, namely that even though people just get (or are) whatever body they are born with without deserving it, people do (in general) end up with the body that they deserve in the sense that they get what they earn-and that is what deserving is all about. In fact, aside from cases of unfortunate accidents, diseases and other such dire undeserved circumstances, this is one of the rare cases in which a person does get exactly what he deserves-that is, the body he has forged.
After my three hour committee meeting, one of my colleagues, Steve, and I had a conversation that began with Twitter and ended up as a general discussion about the coming age of iSolation (trademarked).
Steve told a story of the eerie silence as he approached his classroom and how what greeted him was not an empty room, but a room full of students all interacting with their smart phones, tablets and other devices. No one spoke or paid the least attention to anyone around him or her. I added my own tale of feeling vaguely disturbed by students walking in groups, yet interacting only with their phones and not each other. Unless, perhaps, they were Tweeting or texting the people with them.
The conversation then turned to the push for online learning and how it might be the case that we will see the last generation of students who get to choose between being taught in person and being taught online. Naturally, the push for online learning is driven mostly by economic concerns: having masses of students enrolled in online only classes that are auto-graded (or graded by low paid graders) would replicate the exploitative or automated model (or both) of factories. This would mean far lower costs and thus far higher profits for those owning the machines of education and the lucky few left to run the process.
We did, however, set aside the economic motivation to consider an important question (at least for educators): would the online model be better than the traditional model in terms of providing quality education?
This sparked a side discussion about digital books and digital music. Steve is Jazz person and is of the school of thought that the analog approach is superior to the digital approach-not just in terms of the music but also in terms of the social aspect. He spoke of how he used to go to music stores and be able to discuss music with others of like interest. The idea of joining a Facebook group to post about Jazz had little appeal to him, perhaps even less than the vision of people downloading digital music in iSolation from each other.
I added in my view of books-namely that while I find the Kindle very appealing because it allows me to carry hundreds of books when I travel, I still value the experience of reading an actual book.
Thinking about this, I realized that my preference was based not in any rejection of digital books (I like my Kindle and love the books I sell for the Kindle). Rather, I value the full aesthetic experience of reading an actual book. There is, I contend, a different aesthetic experience when it comes to a physical book: its design, the weight in one’s hand, the act of turning the pages, and so on all create an experience that has aesthetic value and one that cannot be (as of yet) replicated by a digital book. In support of this claim, I made an analogy between seeing a movie and going to a play based on the same story. While the movie will provide an aesthetic experience, the play will provide a different one in virtue of its nature. Likewise, the same would seem to hold for digital books and actual books.
Being a philosopher, I did note that our concern over the shift to the digital world might simply be a manifestation of the usual lamentations of people as they grow older and things are not as they were when they were kids. I imagined my ancestors of long ago lamenting the kids and their new-fangled writing and how it would wreck everything. Why not, I imagined them saying, just stick with speaking and remembering? As such, I believe it is important to consider that my concerns are fueled not by reason but by feeling.
That said, I believe it is equally important to consider that my concerns might have a foundation-that is, the worries about the age of iSolation is not just a matter of yelling at the damn kids to get off my lawn, but a point of legitimate worry regarding the road we are now following.
In conclusion, buy my damn books. Then get off my damn lawn. :)
I was assigned to committee number eight at 5:00 pm today, so I’m facing a bit of a challenge getting regular posts completed on time. I’ve also got the seven year program review, 4 classes and much more…
But, since I am working on a book on rhetoric, I can inflict some rough draft material on you until I either a) get more time or b) die.
When I was a kid, people bought used cars. These days, people buy fine pre-owned cars. There is no difference between the meaning of “used car” and “pre-owned car”—both refer to the same thing, namely a car someone else has owned and used. However, “used” sounds a bit nasty, perhaps suggesting that the car might be a bit sticky in places. In contrast, “pre-owned” sounds rather better. By substituting “pre-owned” for “used”, the car sounds somehow better, although it is the same car whether it is described as used or pre-owned.
If you need to make something that is negative sound positive without actually making it better, then a euphemism should be your tool of choice. A euphemism is a pleasant or at least inoffensive word or phrase that is substituted for a word or phrase that means the same thing but is unpleasant, offensive otherwise negative in terms of its connotation. To use an analogy, using a euphemism is like coating a bitter pill with sugar, making it easier to swallow.
The way to use a euphemism is to replace the key words or phrases that are negative in their connotation with those that are positive (or at least neutral). Naturally, it helps to know what the target audience regards as positive words, but generically positive words can do the trick quite well.
The defense against a euphemisms is to replace the positive term with a neutral term that has the same meaning. For example, if someone say “An American citizen was inadvertently neutralized during a drone strike”, the neutral presentation would be “An American citizen was killed during a drone strike.” While “killed” does have a negative connotation, it does describe the situation with more neutrality.
In some cases, euphemisms are used for commendable reasons, such as being polite in social situations or to avoid exposing children to “adult” concepts. For example, at a funeral it is considered polite to refer the dead person as “the departed” rather than “the corpse.”
Examples of Euphemisms
“Pre-owned” for “used.”
“Neutralization” for “killing.”
“Freedom fighter” for “terrrorist”
“Revenue enhancement” for “tax increase.”
“Down-sized” for “fired.”
“Between jobs” for “unemployed.”
“Passed” for “dead.”
“Office manager” for “secretary.”
“Custodian” for “janitor.”
“Detainee” for “prisoner.”
“Enhanced interrogation” for “torture.”
“Self-injurious behavior incidents” for “suicide attempts.”
“Democrat” for “Communist.”
In 2012 I made about $6500 selling my 99 cent books through Amazon and Barnes & Noble (I get about 35 cents a book). On the plus side, the extra income offset the effective salary cut provided by Governor Scott of Florida. On the minus side, this royalty income is taxed using the self-employment rate. In 2012, the self employment tax rate was 13.3%. In 2013 it will be 15.3%. In contrast, Mitt Romney pays taxes at under 15%. If I only got royalties from non-work sources (like copyrights), I’d be paying much less.
Without this income, my tax software reported that I’d get back about $2400. With this income, I’ll be getting back $36. So Uncle Sam gets a nice chunk of my book income.
On the plus side, my modest stock returns were taxed at an incredibly low rate. This is not surprising since capital gains taxes cap out at 15%. Yes, I do endeavor to plow as much money as I can into increasing my capital gains. And into my IRA.
I’m not mentioning this to brag about my modest success as a writer nor to weep about my taxes. Rather, I am bringing this up to explain why I fully accept that the idea that the tax system in the United States needs to be overhauled. I have, of course, had a general commitment to the idea that the tax system is a needlessly complicated mess packed with unfairness. However, really seeing the disparities in the tax system shows there is a problem. After all, I am taxed rather differently for my normal wages, for my self-employed income, for my capital gains, and for my interest income. It seems rather odd to have so many different tax rates based not on the amount of income but where it comes from. After all, income should (in general) be treated as equal-after all, it is all income. It should not matter that a specific dollar came from my writing, my stock, my savings interest or my job.
Not surprisingly, income from work has high tax rates relative to the others (especially capital gains). Of course, this makes sense: congress members and their supporters make most of their money in the areas that enjoy the lower taxes while people who work for a living pay higher rates. However, this disparity in rates is unfair and should be changed.
I do also see the appeal of having lower taxes. When asked how I’ll handle the tax increase for this year, I had to say the obvious: I’ll have to spend less. Of course, I also recognize that there are legitimate expenditures for the state and, as a citizen, I am obligated (and proud) to contribute to the general good. I am not, of course, keen on having my money wasted. I only wish the politicians thought the same way.
While it will cost me more in taxes, I still encourage everyone to buy my books: My Amazon Author Page
This semester is a rather busy one for me. In addition to my usual four classes, advising, serving as the philosophy & religion facilitator, I have a few more duties. These include the program review and serving on seven (possibly eight now) committees. Two of these committees are hiring committees. I have had plenty of experience on such committees, but they are always a considerable amount of work to do properly.
Serving on a committee and assessing applicants is somewhat like grading papers-the idea is to assess the candidate on the basis of the materials provided. As with student papers, the application material varies considerably. However, there are some fairly easy ways for a candidate to put together a better application package.
One common mistake made by candidates and students alike is to
simply leave out things that are supposed to be turned in. I have seen applications missing a few things (such as transcripts) and others that are missing almost everything. While search committees will often review incomplete applications, some committees will not consider them-especially when they are large numbers of applicants to consider. Even if the incomplete application is reviewed, the fact that it is incomplete will mean that those reviewing it will have less information to go on and this will tend to result in a lower evaluation.
A second mistake common to applicants and students is turning or sending in too much. In some cases, people seem to have thrown anything close at hand into the envelope they send in. There are some good reasons to not send in too much material. One is, obviously enough, the extra cost of mailing all that extraneous material. An important reason is that some unfortunate person probably has to make copies of or scan all the material sent on paper to make it available to the committee. As might be suspected, pushing an entire dissertation through a scanner is not something most people enjoy. People enjoy reading through it even less and, as might be suspected, some committee members will elect to simply skip over all those extras. In most cases this is quite reasonable-after all, the committee is supposed to assess based on what is requested and not based on whatever an applicant decides to send in (apparently in the hopes of increasing his/her chances).
A third mistake is to send in the requested material, but to make it needlessly long, perhaps in the attempt to “pad” the application. While the material should present all that is requested and provide adequate coverage of what should be covered, making committee members plod through needlessly long material will tend to not contribute to the desired result. As with a good paper, the application material should do what must be done, yet remain as concise as possible.
A fourth mistake is have material that is poorly organized or unclearly written. As might be suspected, this sort of material makes it difficult for the committee members and does not create a good impression.
Back to work…
I’m currently reading Candida Moss’ The Myth of Persecution, which will be available March 5th. I’ll be posting a review of the book on March 6th. This book has, not surprisingly, got me thinking once more about the idea that Christians are persecuted in America.
I invite the readers of this blog to present their answers to the following questions:
- What is persecution (in this context)?
- Are Christians persecuted in America?
- What evidence is there for your view?
Naturally, I’ll present my views on this matter.
Persecution, in this context, would involve the widespread, active, systematic and persistent mistreat of Christians merely because they are Christians. Persecution, by its very nature, seems to require that the persecuted be victims of a more powerful group or groups.
Given this general definition, it would seem clear that Christians are not persecuted in the United States. While Christian groups might not always get what they want (such as a ban on same-sex marriages), this hardly counts as persecution.
In terms of the alleged evidence for persecution, proponents of this view claim that Christians are denied the right to pray, that states forbid the display of Christian symbols on state property (like the nativity scene), that there is a war on Christmas and so on. However, these claims are often unfounded (such as is the case with the alleged war on Christmas) or exaggerated. In any case, this is a factual matter and can be settled by empirical research.
In terms of the evidence against persecution, the majority of Americans claim to be Christians and the nation that is awash in churches. If Christians were persecuted it would seem odd that so many people would profess to a persecuted faith. Even more strange would be the claim that a minority of non-Christians would be able to persecute all the Christians. Of course, it is not impossible. After all, South Africa’s majority black population was cruelly oppressed by the minority white population. However, we do not see a powerless Christian majority in America that is being subdued by a powerful minority of non-Christians. Powerful and influential leaders, from the President on down, claim to be Christians. Churches with great wealth and influence abound. Christian business people, academics, scientists, lawyers, police, soldiers and other professionals abound. It is especially odd to see powerful Republican politicians and pundits speak of being persecuted for being Christians, given the fact that they are powerful and influential and thus exactly the sort of people who are not being persecuted. If all these Christians are being persecuted, they do not seem to show signs of this persecution and to allow it to happen in the face of their power, influence and wealth would show an amazing ineptitude on their part. There is also the obvious question of the identity of the persecutors. That is, who has the power to persecute the Christian majority of the United States? No one, it surely seems.
As such, there seems to be no evidence of widespread, active, systematic and persistent mistreatment of Christians in the United States. The fact is that Christianity is the dominant faith. There is also no war on Christmas.
This is not to say that some Christians do not feel persecuted. However, this often seems to be caused by a distorted perception of reality (like the war on Christmas) or by the belief that a failure to get what they want (such as prayer in schools) is a form of persecution. That is, they are mistaking frustration for persecution.
There are, of course, places in the world were Christians really are persecuted. However these places do not include the United States.