Monthly Archives: May 2012

The Progressive Gas Guzzler

ProgressNowColorado just launched an awesome new fundraiser offering a “Progressive” bumper sticker for the low, low price of $5 (or, for the real bargain shoppers out there, two for $10).

My favorite aspect of the campaign is that the featured image shows one of the “Progressive” bumper stickers on the back of a V8 Toyota Tundra. (See my screen capture on Picasa.)

Talk about a carbon footprint! This glorious gas guzzler gets an impressively low 16 miles to the gallon for city driving. (The figure varies slightly by model.) I definitely have some energy envy; my Honda Civic gets 50 percent more miles to the gallon. Foiled by the progressives again! I may have to take some extra leisure drives up to Boulder just to keep up the pace.

Can I trust that Colorado’s so-called progressives will now stop haranguing people for their gasoline consumption? Now that would be progress.

Why We Don’t Need Avengers

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published May 25 by Grand Junction Free Press.

There’s a great scene in the Avengers film where the villain demands that a group of people kneel before him. One elderly gentleman refuses, saying he remembers what happened last time a dictator demanded the people kneel. Just as the villain prepares to kill the man, Captain America intervenes with his protective shield. The symbolism is moving.

But in the real world we don’t need magical shields and hammers, super strength born in a laboratory, or super-powered suits of armor to protect us from those who would do us harm. For we have the firearm.

Because we remain largely free, our society has the wealth to outfit our military with the best tanks, airplanes, rockets, and other machinery to protect us from foreign aggressors. Still, the basic tool of the soldier remains the rifle. The men and women in uniform serve as our real-life “avengers,” not in the sense of taking revenge, but of protecting the innocent from aggression. And they do an amazing job; the real Captain America walks among us. (Indeed, our military’s biggest obstacle is not the enemy but Washington’s policies and rules of engagement that often prevent soldiers from acting in America’s self-defense.)

Domestically, firearms allow civilians to defend themselves against burglars, rapists, and would-be murderers. Guns are the great equalizer, empowering the smallest women and those with disabilities to successfully defend themselves against the strongest criminals.

Even if superheroes existed, they could respond only to a small fraction of crimes in progress, as is the case with the police. Those at risk of attack don’t need Thor’s hammer if they have a reliable Glock 9 mm or Colt .45 and know how to use it. Notably, the mere possibility that a potential victim might carry a gun deters many criminals. And, once a criminal realizes his intended victim carries a gun, usually the criminal flees without a shot fired.

If we were to plan our own movie featuring these tools of self-defense, we might include a couple scenes based on real-life events.

Picture a lonely agricultural road on a beautiful spring day. Our heroine enjoys a lovely walk. But as she rounds a street corner, two large pit bulls come within feet of her. Just that morning she had seen the news that a pit bull had mauled a woman to death in a neighboring city. The dogs become aggressive. Our heroine draws her pistol and aims it toward the dogs.

Later she recounts, “I don’t know if they smelled the gun oil or could smell that I was fearful but determined to defeat them, but they backed off. I was shook up, and I don’t know how I would have reacted if I hadn’t had the pistol. I knew that if I had tried to run the dogs likely would have pursued me.”

Next picture a dark moonless night in the Colorado mountains. A couple pulls their car into a lonely restroom at the top of Vail Pass. As the husband walks out of the restroom, he encounters three terrified young women. They say young men in another car had been harassing them as they drove along the interstate, and they had stopped seeking help. The husband tells the women to go into the women’s restroom and come out with his wife. While they are in the restroom, three hot-headed men park at the facility and storm out of their car.

The husband later recalls, “The three men eyeballed me up and down, but I just stood there against the wall calmly. I had my pistol safely concealed, so I knew I had the ability to protect myself and the others if I needed to. My wife and the three young women came out of the restroom. My wife and I never so much as mentioned that we were armed. We escorted the young ladies to the next town, and that was that.”

If our movie were a documentary, we might interview John Lott, author of the book More Guns, Less Crime. His findings suggest that the high rates of gun purchases in recent years is nothing to fear but rather something to welcome, as armed civilians deter crime. Moreover, he finds that minorities and women tend to benefit the most when legally allowed to own guns for self-defense.

We also might interview Alan Gottlieb, author of Politically Correct Guns. He reports a variety of interesting facts. For example, gun-banner Dianne Feinstein got her own permit to carry a .38-caliber revolver. Nancy Reagan sometimes slept with a .25-caliber handgun on her bedside table. Other famous Americans to have obtained gun permits include Bill Cosby, Donald Trump, Howard Stern, and Joan Rivers.

Thankfully, civil arms are not fantasy but reality. Guns are not restricted to an elite few with special powers; rather, any peaceful citizen may obtain one (though some American cities continue to make that extraordinarily difficult). So go and enjoy the movies, but then appreciate the real-life tools of self-defense.

Beating the Monty Hall Problem

A couple friends of mine described the so-called “Monty Hall Problem” to me a few weeks ago. (I’d probably heard about this long ago, but if so I’d forgotten about it.) The problem, named after “Let’s Make a Deal” host Monty Hall (pictured here), is a puzzle of logic and statistics.

Here’s the problem (in my own terms): Imagine a game show where you’re trying to win a car. The game works as follows. There are three doors on stage. Behind one door is the car. Behind the other two doors are goats. (Or you can imagine whatever other prize and booby prize you like.) You get to make an initial selection of one of the doors, but you can’t see what’s behind it. Then the host shows you which of the other two doors opens to the goat. Then you get to stay with your initial choice or switch to the other unopened door. What should you do?

When my friends suggested to me that the correct move is to always change your selection to the other door, I thought they were nuts. I thought they had fallen for a logical trick. After all, once we know that one of the doors opens to a goat, we’re left with only two choices: our original choice or the other unopened door. There’s a fifty-fifty chance of guessing correctly.

I couldn’t quite put my finger on the error that I thought was behind the advice to always switch, but I thought it had something do to with confusing the two time sequences (the initial versus the final choice of doors).

But then I was reading through Sam Harris’s The Moral Landscape, and he uses the Monty Hall Problem to illustrate the dangers of always going with our “gut” reaction. How, I wondered, could an intelligent neuroscientist fall for this same trick?

So I decided that, by God, I was going to figure out what was wrong with the standard Monty Hall analysis. What better way to do that, I thought, than by running my own trials? (The Wikipedia entry on the matter suggests that others have run simulations and even let pigeons have a go. Apparently the pigeons tend to switch to the third door.)

I rolled a die to determine which door hid the car and which door I initially selected. Then it’s easy to figure out if, by switching, you get the car or the goat. By always switching, I ended up selecting the car 17 times out of 30 trials, which was not very helpful given it’s about halfway between 15 (fifty-fifty odds) and 20 (two-thirds odds).

But running the trial quickly gave me the idea of what’s going on. In my first trial, I selected Door 1, while the car was behind Door 2. That means that “Monty” reveals a goat behind Door 3. By switching from Door 1 to Door 2, I get the car.

In my third trial, I selected Door 1, and the car was behind Door 1 as well. Thus, when “Monty” reveals a goat behind Door 2 (or Door 3), I switch to the other door and end up with the other goat.

Here’s the general idea. Every time you initially select the door that happens to hide the car, you switch to another door and get a goat. Every time you initially select a door that hides a goat, you switch to the door that reveals the car.

Or, in other words, by switching, one-third of the time you’ll end up with a goat, and two-thirds of the time you’ll end up with the car. (If this is not now obvious to you, I suggest you run your own trials to get the hang of how it works. In rolling the die, I assigned sides 1 and 2 to Door 1, sides 3 and 4 to Door 2, and sides 5 and 6 to Door 3. Or you could set up actual doors if you want to get fancier and more concrete.)

So what’s going on here? When “Monty” reveals one of the remaining doors to contain a goat, he is introducing new information into the process.

To make this more obvious, we can imagine a game with more doors. (Wikipedia suggests this.) What you’re really doing in making your initial selection is forcing “Monty” to reveal additional information about the remaining doors. So let’s say there are more doors, and “Monty” has to reveal the rest of the doors except for one.

Let’s say there are six doors, and you initially select Door 1. Let’s say “Monty” reveals goats behind Doors 2 through 5. The car, then, is behind either Door 1 or Door 6. What do you do?

Your three basic choices are these. Always stick with your initial selection, which, in this case, gives you a one-in-six chance of getting the car. Or you can choose randomly between the remaining two doors, which gives you a fifty-fifty chance of getting the car. Or you can always switch to the remaining door, which is the prudent move.

I actually ran a new trial with six doors (using a six-sided die to determine the door with the car and the initial selection). Out of 18 trials, I got the car 17 times by always switching (which is even better than the statistical prediction). (I didn’t really need to run the trials at this point, but I figured I’d follow through with it.)

Or you can imagine 100 doors. If you want to run trials for this, you might use the real random number generator. The outcome follows the same pattern. If you always stick with your initial selection, you’ll end up with the car about one out of a hundred times. If you always pick randomly between the final two doors, you’ll increase your odds to fifty-fifty. If you always switch to the other door, you’ll increase your odds to 99-in-100. The only time you’ll lose out is if by luck you happen to pick the door with the car in your initial selection, then switch.

Realizing that you can increase your odds by moving away from the strategy of always sticking with your initial selection, to picking randomly between the final two doors, to always switching, should disrupt your initial “intuition” (if you had it) that the odds are always fifty-fifty.

Of course, I’m pretty sure the game shows have figured this sort of thing out by now.

What Skeptics and Conservatives Can Learn from Each Other

The following article by Linn and Ari Armstrong originally was published May 11 by Grand Junction Free Press.

What do skeptics from Denver and conservatives from the Heritage Foundation have in common? More than you might initially guess.

We suppose Ari is one of the few people to have attended both a Heritage event and a Skepticamp (a day filled with talks critical of mysticism and the paranormal). He may be the only one to have done so on back-to-back weekends.

During the last weekend of April, Heritage sponsored a two-day event in Colorado Springs for free-market activists. On May 5, Denver-area skeptics organized a Skepticamp in Parker. Ari attended both events, and the juxtaposition of ideas merits some discussion.

Of course the huge disagreement between the conservatives and the skeptics concerns the reasonableness of believing in a supernatural entity. Most of those who attended the Heritage event believe in the Christian God. Probably everyone at Skepticamp, on the other hand, believes that no god exists, and that neither the evidence nor any rational argument supports a belief in God’s existence.

That is a huge debate, and one’s beliefs on the matter impact one’s entire worldview. By the time people reach adulthood, they usually settle their beliefs on the matter; we doubt that anyone who attended either event will seriously consider changing positions.

While we cannot understate the importance of the debate over God’s existence, nevertheless beyond that issue many conservatives share much in common with many skeptics. And we think the similarities are just as interesting.

We hope the skeptics would have been impressed by much of what Heritage historian Matthew Spalding had to say. Spalding sees America’s founding as rooted in the Enlightenment, a movement that recognized the power of human reason to advance science and governments. Spalding described the core principles of America—equality under the law, a recognition of the facts of human nature, and government rooted in the consent of the governed—and argued that everyone, whether pagan or Christian, can discover these truths through reason.

True, skeptics would disagree with Spalding’s view that “reason and revelation agree” about such things. Nevertheless, Spalding resisted the views of some that American principles flow only from the Christian tradition. Spalding pointed out that the Constitution is not a sectarian document, and that Jefferson and other Founders drew on the ideas of Aristotle, Cicero, and other pre-Christian thinkers.

Spalding also spoke about the profound importance of religious liberty and freedom of conscience, ideals many skeptics also support. For example, Spalding praised George Washington’s “Letter to the Jews of Newport,” written early in the great man’s term as president.

Washington wrote, “The citizens of the United States of America have a right to applaud themselves for having given to mankind examples of an enlarged and liberal policy—a policy worthy of imitation. All possess alike liberty of conscience and immunities of citizenship.”

We are proud to call ourselves liberals in this Washingtonian tradition. And both conservatives and skeptics who follow Washington in supporting freedom of conscience are to that degree liberals in the truest sense.

Many skeptics could learn a thing or two from Spalding about the profound importance of economic liberty. While skeptics claim to be critical thinkers, some unthinkingly embrace leftist political goals emanating from the disturbed mind of Karl Marx and the so-called “Progressive” movement that he inspired. To take but one example, some skeptics seemed to support censorship of political speech by individuals interacting voluntarily in groups (“corporations”).

Spalding spoke eloquently of the Founders’ respect for property rights, economic liberty, and the rule of law that protects equality under the law, not “equality” of resources that others produce. As Spalding argued, such liberties flow from natural facts about people and the use of reason to recognize those facts and their proper political implementation.

Unfortunately, sometimes skeptics and American Christians make a comparable error. Some skeptics see the cause of economic liberty as bound up with the religious right and reject both. Some Christians think that the problem with Communism was its atheism, rather than its reliance on a secularized version of religion that treats the collective as a mystical superentity. Capitalism—the system of individual rights (including economic liberty)—finds its defense in reason based on the evidence of the natural world.

But many skeptics do indeed endorse economic liberty. Last year Barry Fagin, a free-market writer for the Independence Institute, spoke at Skepticamp. This year, Robert Zubrin spoke about his new book, “Merchants of Despair: Radical Environmentalists, Criminal Pseudo-Scientists, and the Fatal Cult of Antihumanism.” Strikingly, while some of the conservatives made disparaging remarks about Charles Darwin, the greatest biologist of human history, Zubrin explained how leftists misapplied Darwin’s ideas to promote programs involving eugenics and population control.

If every conservative would attend a Skepticamp, and every skeptic would attend a lecture by the likes of Spalding, the world would be a much more interesting place—and we think a much better one.

Linn Armstrong is a local political activist and firearms instructor with the Grand Valley Training Club. His son, Ari blogs at AriArmstrong.com in the Denver area.

Note: Heritage paid most of Ari’s expenses for the event in question (not that that made any difference to the contents of this article); see Ari Armtrong’s Disclosures Unjustly Compelled by the FTC.

Image of Matthew Spalding from the Heritage Institute

Hayek and the Tea Party

On April 2, I participated in a panel organized by Matt Kibbe of FreedomWorks for the Association of Private Enterprise Education. (FreedomWorks paid my way to the event.) I filmed the talks, and now I release them with Kibbe’s permission.

First, Matt Kibbe discussed the decentralized nature of the Tea Party movement:

Second, Trey Fleisher, an economist at Metro State, offered a somewhat pessimistic take on the Tea Party, noting that individuals often lack the incentive to take up political causes:

Third, Wayne Brough, an economist with FreedomWorks, argued that new technologies make it increasingly easier for individuals to participate in politics:

Finally, I reviewed Hayek’s 1949 essay, “The Intellectuals and Socialism,” talking about how ideas spread through a culture generally and how they spread to and throughout the modern Tea Party:

My April 2012 TOS Blog Posts

Following are links to all of my Objective Standard blog posts for April of this year. I’ve put an asterisk by my personal favorites. Henceforth, I plan to publish updates every week or two. See my TOS category for a complete listing.

April 2, 2012
Reason Ralliers Need the “How” of Reason-Based Rights

April 5, 2012
Freedom-Loving Americans Must Condemn DOJ’s Bullying of Book Sellers

April 6, 2012
Court Tosses Colorado’s “Amazon Tax,” Injustice Remains

April 6, 2012
Penn & Teller Merge Entertainment with Big Ideas

April 7, 2012
* President Obama: The Preeminent “Social Darwinist”

April 9, 2012
New Jersey Government Begins Outright Theft of Gift Cards

April 10, 2012
The Evolution of the Tea Party

April 11, 2012
Freedom Rises in Guatemala

April 12, 2012
* States Join Extortion Racket Against Book Publishers

April 13, 2012
Kibbe: Tea Party Aims for “Hostile Takeover”

April 14, 2012
Henderson Shows “How Property Rights Solve Problems”

April 15, 2012
Soviet Mass Murder for Fun and Games?

April 16, 2012
Pull Peddling Intensifies in Washington

April 18, 2012
Stop the Fracking Controls

April 21, 2012
Week in Review for April 21, 2012
The Antritrust Assault on Apple
Colombian Hookers, Las Vegas Clowns, and Your Tax Dollars
The Intensifying Assault on Free Speech
Food Stamp Program Stomps Harder on Rights
A Feckless Effort to Strip Stripper Welfare
A Call to Lift the Prohibition on Drugs
Increasingly Ominous Tax Day

April 22, 2012
* Marxism “Begins with Theft and Ends with Murder,” Shows C. Bradley Thompson

April 23, 2012
Reflections on “Earth Day” 2012: Americans Begin to Wake Up

April 25, 2012
* Is the Next Era of “Big Stuff” Upon Us?

April 26, 2012
“Crucify” Energy Producers: EPA Administrator Confesses Agency’s Goal

April 28, 2012
Washington’s Spending Problem and Other Matters: TOS’s Week in Review for April 28
Washington’s Spending Problem
America Deploys its Most Advanced Fighter Jets Near Iran
Obama’s Hit List
Judges Should Actively Uphold the Constitution
Marxist Surprisingly Surprised by Marxist Evil
So Long, Hotel California

April 30, 2012
Will Bork Convince Romney to Select Anti-Liberty Judges?

My March 2012 TOS Blog Posts

Following are links to all of my Objective Standard blog posts for March of this year. I’ve put an asterisk by my personal favorites. Once I catch up, I plan to publish updates every week or two. See my TOS category for a complete listing.

March 1, 2012
Judge Tosses Rights-Violating Cigarette Labels

March 1, 2012
Geithner and “Progressives” Favor Expanded Involuntary Servitude

March 2, 2012
Happy Birthday, Dr. Seuss—And Thanks for My Love of Reading

March 2, 2012
Limbaugh’s “Slut” Comment Typifies the Wrongs of the Right

March 4, 2012
Oscar-Winning Hugo Celebrates Creative Genius of Méliès

March 4, 2012
In Fight for Property Rights, Institute for Justice Tops “Pyramid of Moral Endurance”

March 5, 2012
Why the Outrage Over Welfare for Strip Clubs?

March 6, 2012
Judge Nixes Maryland’s Rights-Violating Handgun Restrictions

March 7, 2012
Write Us a Song, and That’s Lucky Too

March 8, 2012
Absurd Bill Sought to Ban “Discrimination” Against Raunchy Biker Attire

March 9, 2012
Temple Grandin, Justly Awarded and Profoundly Inspiring

March 10, 2012
Hope and Help for Africa Rests with Embrace and Example of Rights

March 11, 2012
Justice Department Unjustly Attacks Apple

March 11, 2012
Kudos to the Colorado Supreme Court for Upholding Concealed Carry On “Public” Campuses

March 12, 2012
Obama Administration Cuts Illegitimate Program, Conservatives Complain

March 13, 2012
* Anticapitalist Lorax Succeeds . . . Thanks to Capitalism

March 14, 2012
* Fonda’s Call to Censor Limbaugh Stems from Government Control of Airwaves

March 15, 2012
Encyclopaedia Britannica Ceases Printing, Marks Advance

March 16, 2012
What do Rick Santorum and Jane Fonda Have in Common?

March 18, 2012
African Slavery Highlights Evil of Involuntary Servitude

March 19, 2012
Scientists Need Not “Study” Psychic Nonsense to Reject It

March 20, 2012
Amazon’s Robots: “Raising the Productivity of Your Time”

March 22, 2012
Supreme Court Properly Slaps Down EPA’s Assault on Property Owners, But . . .

March 23, 2012
* Bernanke Defends Fed Policy that Turned Dollar Into Four Cents

March 24, 2012
“Best Friends” Ban in UK Schools Mirrors Ayn Rand’s Anthem

March 25, 2012
* Hunger Games a Worthy Addition to Dystopian Corpus

March 27, 2012
* From Morning Brew to Space Exploration, Good News Is All Around

March 29, 2012
* Force Begets Force Under Health Mandates

March 29, 2012
Proposed Ban on Words Assaults Reason and Life

March 30, 2012
* Memo to Justice Kagan: Taxes Are Coercive

My February 2012 TOS Blog Posts

Following are links to all of my Objective Standard blog posts for February of this year. I’ve put an asterisk by my personal favorites. Once I catch up, I plan to publish updates every week or two. See my TOS category for a complete listing.

February 1, 2012
There is No ‘Right to Work’ Against an Employer’s Consent

February 8, 2012
Liability Reform Shouldn’t Be Limited to Space Industry

February 8, 2012
End Tax Favoritism for Wind Energy

February 8, 2012
* Not Only Catholics Should be Angered by Birth Control Mandates

February 11, 2012
In Birth-Control Insurance Fight, Planned Parenthood is Anti-Choice

February 12, 2012
As Kodak Exits Camera Business, Remember the Genius of George Eastman

February 13, 2012
* Oil Shale Politics Points to Problems of Federal Land Ownership

February 13, 2012
* Modern Greeks Destroy ‘Foundations of Justice’

February 14, 2012
Facebook Provides an Enormous Value

February 14, 2012
* Ignore Santorum’s Depraved Prescription: Have Sex for Pleasure this Valentine’s Day

February 15, 2012
‘Keep Your Eyelids Up,’ Dr. Seuss Implores

February 16, 2012
Government School Steams Parents Over Lunch Controls

February 17, 2012
* The Problem of Gary Johnson’s Libertarian Affiliation

February 19, 2012
Mysticism Claims More Victims

February 20, 2012
Washington Guided the Constitutional Convention

Februrary 21, 2012
Education “Stimulus” Thwarts Education

February 22, 2012
Fear Not “Satan” but Santorum

February 23, 2012
Moral Justice Requires not Shuffling but Eliminating Corporate Taxes

February 24, 2012
Happy Birthday, Steve Jobs—and Thank You

February 24, 2012
Why Greece’s and America’s Economies Stink

February 26, 2012
Pope Immorally Condemns “Artificial Fertility”

February 26, 2012
Afghan Riots Indicate Deadly Consequences of Loving Our Enemies

February 27, 2012
Independent Reasoning, Not Prayer or Groupthink, Guides Fight Against Ravages of MS

February 28, 2012
* “Zombie Mohammed” Case Shows Western Capitulation to Islamist Barbarism

February 29, 2012
Santorum “Throws Up” on Separation of Church and State