Sunday, February 14, 2010
If you're interested in getting your own Kalashnikitty T-shirt, Eric sells them 3-4 times a year, so I'll let you know when to email him next.
Saturday, February 13, 2010
1) Shoot hand thrown clays with the single shot 20 gauge. I shot clays for the first time over Thanksgiving and found out that my skills at "Duck Hunt" don't transfer over so well. So much for video games "honing" my killing instincts. I figured hand tossing them would be easier to get my tracking/leading skills practiced so I can impress my brothers the next time we shoot clays. Plus, I didn't want to have to reset the clay thrower each time.
2) Try out the CZ-82 that I just obtained. This was dependent on the store having Makarov ammunition.
3) Test out the bore sighter I recently purchased using the Saiga 7.62 and Highpoint 9mm Carbine.
4) Shoot the crap out of an old computer case filled with stuffed animals. The computer case is from our old computer in which I sold off all of the components and probably made 25% more than just selling the computer (Ebay is great!). The stuffed animals were once my kids. I intend to use most of them for the cannon, but after practicing with the cannon in January, one stuffed animal can survive multiple flights! So I combined these two. Computer case with stuffed animals.
So, I loaded up the car and I was off. There is lots of snow on the ground and it was just below freezing. Good day to go to the range, mainly because no one is there. The one I went to is about 25 minutes from my house and off the beaten path. There is usually not much traffic to bother you and on cold days there is usually not many others. As I drove past the rifle and pistol range towards the shotgun range, I saw no cars parked. Good sign. No one was at the shotgun range either.
Now, my first fear was getting stuck in the snow of the gravel lot. The road in had nicely packed snow which allowed me to drive comfortably at 50 mph, normally without the packed snow I can only do 35 mph. However, since the parking lot for the range had so little usage, there was only tire tracks in the 4 to 8 inch deep snow. In fact, I think I saw my tire tracks from when I was here last month. So I began by doing some donuts, peeling out quite a bit and generally clearing the area so that I would have an easier time of going forward from a stop. Then I carefully backed into a spot.
It was looking good. I opened the back door and carried my box of clays to one of the shotgun positions. All I needed now was the 20 gauge and the shells which were locked in my trunk. One thing to understand here is my car is 18 years old. The automatic trunk release did not work when I bought the car 8 years ago. In the last year or two, the trunk has remained stuck shut even when the key turns and the proper application of mechanical force needs to be applied to open it while maintaining the key in the "Open" position. So when I turned the key and it was stuck I expected this. I applied the proper force and the trunk opened.
I did have a sick feeling, and as I looked at the keys in my hand, my fear had been realized. The key had broken off in the lock. But at least the trunk was open! I did mention before on JayG's blog that I don't have a cell phone. When asked what I would do if I was stranded somewhere, I said I would walk (sort of like what they did for the last 500,000 years of human history).
I stood for a moment and had a quandry. As I mentioned before, the shooting range is rather remote and it could be a while before someone drove by (no one was going to be stopping though). I could start with my shooting plan and then flag a car down or I could start walking. I decided that it would be most responsible to do the shooting first and then worry about a ride home. After all, there were around 2-3 thousand rounds of ammunition and a half dozen firearms. So, if I was going to have to abandon the car, (I wasn't going to trek down the road with a couple of rifles and shotgun slung over my back and some pistols in my belt) it would be best to use up the ammunition so that on the unlikely chance that some miscreant did decide to wonder out into the boonies, break into my car, and steal some firearms, he'd still have to stop at WalMart to buy ammunition. Besides, I could always remove the bolts, slides, and cylinders and the firearms would be pretty useless (and that is a lot less weight to carry).
I pulled out the 20 gauge and a box of shells and headed over to the shooting station. I had decided to use the single shot, since it was very light so I could comfortably have it ready with one hand, and I bought it for $35 so if it got ruined in the snow, it is not a great loss. I may just abuse the thing one day to see what extent I can take it and it will still fire. I don't like to see guns destroyed (that is one of the saddest things to see on Mythbusters), so I don't plan on it any time soon.
I was using #7 steel shot (because that is what I had in the ammo cabinet - yes, I have an ammunition cabinet, it also happens to be the gasoline, motor oil, and any other flammable/explosive stuff cabinet that I don't want the kids to easily get their hands on). The trick with shooting clays is to line the barrel up with where the clay is going to be when they meet. Unlike what you may have learned from Hollywood, a shotgun does not throw up an impenetrable curtain of lead. A good rule of thumb is that the shot will spread about 1" for every yard. I estimate that I was throwing the clays about 10 yards in the air and out another 10 yards so depending on where I took my shot, I had a spread of 10-15".
What can make shooting clays difficult is that they are moving in three dimensions (and if you think about it, so is the shot). If the clay is still rising, you want to be pointing slightly above it, if the clay is falling you want to aim below it. Add to this a horizontal movement factor and that if as the angle the shotgun to the ground increases (i.e. pointing more upward), you need to compensate by pointing more above the target.
Mathematics wise, I can figure out the ballistics on paper, the reason why I am not competing in the Olympics is because you have to put that in practice, and you don't have to know jack about math to get into the Olympics. Practicing worked well. I was hitting about 2/3 of them and even had a string of 6 with no misses. It is very satisfying to see clays explode into dust. You definitely know when you have hit them.
While I was going through the first box of shells, a truck started coming down the road. I set the shotgun down and ran out to the road. (It is usually not a good idea, especially in rural parts of the country to run at vehicles while holding a firearm.) The man was nice enough to let me use his cell phone and my wife said she could be out there in an hour or so. We chatted briefly and he went on his way while I went back to practicing.
After a box of shells, I would go out on the range and pick up unbroken clays (no sense in leaving them out there without having served their purpose). Then start a new box. After two and a half boxes (about 65 rounds) I had made it through half of the box clays (about 45). I still had 10 rounds left and decided to try something different. I had a computer power supply with a big long strand of cords. The cords made a great handle to throw and I shot that a few times. Birdshot doesn't go through the metal case.
After finishing off all of the shotgun ammunition I had brought, I had another dilemma. I couldn't drive down to the rifle and shotgun range, and I had at least another 45 minutes until my wife got there. To wait in the car would be really boring (since there was no key to start the radio). So I made a compromise. You're not suppose to use rifles and pistols at the shotgun range (hence the name "Shotgun Range"), however, I was in dire circumstances. So I made a compromise. I decided I would only use the revolver (that way there would be no brass flying everywhere).
So I set up the computer case and started plinking away. I was using a European Arms Bounty Hunter .22 LR Single Action revolver. It has fixed sights. I was very pleased with how accurate it was (even with bulk ammunition). I was able to make a 1 inch group of six at about 7 yards.
Also, the ammunition wasn't penetrating the computer case (except after multiple hits in the same location. The baked on coating did make for a decent shoot & see target as the dark gray enamel would be chipped off, leaving a shiny dent. I went through about 150 rounds until my wife got there and was able to practice two handed (isosceles and weaver), strong hand, weak hand, point shooting, and rapid fire (which is fun with a single action). With the key from my wife, I decided to come home. I'll just have to save the computer case with plush toys for another day.
Turns out, she left the cheesecake recipe lying out which I saw as I washed my hands. When she asked after dinner and revealed her cheesecake if I was surprised, I had to admit that I saw the recipe lying out. She was mad (she has been trying so hard all of our marriage to surprise me).
Friday, February 12, 2010
With all of these, one has to wonder what ISN'T a threat to national security? And who gets to be the final arbiter of what is and isn't? Perhaps we need a "Threat to National Security Czar" to sort it all out. Maybe we need a standardized definition of what a "threat to national security" is? Of course, if we did that most of the boogey-men would go away.
I am just going to start laughing at anyone that mentions "threat to national security." If anything can be construed as one, then the phrase is meaningless and just being used to scare people into action. It only took about 50 years of using the race card before it became meaningless. The national security card has bested that by becoming meaningless in less than 10 years. What's next?
Friday, February 5, 2010
Thursday, February 4, 2010
For those who don't know, I obtained my FFL C&R License last year. As such I am legally allowed to buy certain firearms online and have them delivered right to my front door. The C&R License came about as a result of the 1968 gun control act. Basically, before 1968 there was not much regulation of firearms dealers. Anyone could open a Sears catalog and buy the firearm of their choosing and have it shipped to them. The 1968 gun control act instituted the licensing scheme we have now.
So to sell firearms you need one type of license, however for collectors (such as myself) they created the Curios and Relics license. This license allows us to purchase firearms off of the Curios and Relics list (in a nutshell firearms over 50 years old), without having to go through another licensed dealer (which would increase the cost of the firearm). As such, we have to submit to a background check and are subject to inspections (not more than once per year) by the ATF.
The great thing about C&R firearms is there are so many of them (and perfectly functional too). One of the things that the Russians and Germans were good at (particularly when they had planned socialist economies - yes the Nazi's were socialists) is producing far more firearms than they could possibly use. The CZ-82 is the Czech version of the Soviet Makarov. It was produced up until shortly after the end of the Cold War.
An important part of having the C&R is it allows you to buy handguns across state lines. Without one you would only be able to buy them within the state that you reside. By being able to buy across state lines you are able to shop around and get the best price. That is free market capitalism (buying and selling communist guns), although it is rather disappointing that you need a license to engage in it.
Another "stick it to the man" point is with a C&R License you are able to bypass certain state laws. For instance, where I live you need a "Pistol Purchase Permit" to buy a handgun. However, for C&R guns since it falls under Federal Law, you don't need one when using your C&R License.
In semi-related news, my wife received her passport as well. It is a lot thicker than mine, although mostly because the jacket is triple thickness to have room for the microchip that is in it. We are wondering though why they didn't send her birth certificate back with the passport. In case you didn't know, when you apply for a passport you have to send in your original (or a certified copy) of your birth certificate. It is a little unnerving not having a clue where your birth certificate has wound up. If it isn't here by the end of the week, we are going to have to raise some Cain.
So there you have it, because of our gloriously efficient government I can have fully functional firearms shipped to my front door and they get the privilege of losing a primary form of identification (that most identity criminals would pay money for)!
UPDATE: The birth certificate came today. At first I thought maybe the application went to one center and the birth certificate went to another (you know, so that you could create more jobs). Nope. Both came from the same place. The passport came Priority Mail, the birth certificate came First Class.
The Federal Budget - An Introduction
The Federal Budget - Federal Debt
The Federal Budget - Social Security and Medicare
The Federal Budget - My Budget
Projections of receipts and outlays are usually done for five years (plus the current year in progress) for each budget report. There are some hunches that I have about the projections based on my theory of government and bureaucracy. For this, I gathered together the projections from the last 10 years of budgets (2000-2009).
1) The receipt projections will be higher than actual receipts.
This is relatively easy to show. On average, the 5, 4, 3, 2, and 1 year estimates were 4% to 6% higher than the actual amounts. The current year estimate is about 0%. This makes sense, during the current year, you have a much better idea of the economic situation and revenue (tax receipts) is a fairly good correlation to the economic situation since 90% of receipts are from corporate and individual income taxes or social security taxes. Whereas it is difficult to predict booms and busts 5 years and even 1 year in the future.
2) The outlay projections will be lower than actual outlays.
This is also relatively easy to show. Estimates of outlays start at 10% under actual 5 years out and slowly decrease to 2% above actual in the current year. In other words, politicians get cold feet on a small portion of their spending during the current year as they are hammered about deficit spending.
An additional tidbit is that politicians tend to be overly optimistic on both ends, but consistently so on outlays. For the 50 estimates (10 years x 5 year outlook), 28 receipts were optimistic (predicting more receipts than actual). The difference is in the magnitude though. Optimistic predictions averaged 14% (i.e. they estimated 14% more receipts than actual) while pessimistic predictions averaged only 7%. On the flip side, only 3 of 50 estimates for outlays were optimistic (i.e. less outlays than actual) with an average of 3%. The pessimistic estimates were off by 8%.
The graph below shows the average receipt and outlay differences and their cumulative effect on the deficit predictions. Negative values indicate that the estimate was less than actual.
Now that I have a rough idea of how the projections have worked historically, I can make my own estimates of how the future budgets will look. So, I added up the FY11 budget deficits (the difference between receipts and outlays) and found that for 2010 through 2015 there is a projected total deficit of $5.8 trillion. Compare that to my guesstimate of $7.7 trillion without a year below $1 trillion. This is done by adjusting the budget estimate by the average difference that was found for the previous 10 years. Its not rocket science.
One last point is to look at the rosiness of the projections. Politicians don't want to say that the economy is going to be in the dumps for 5 years, so every budget that comes out may have it declining for a year if we are in a recession, but then it snaps back better than ever. 2009 saw a year over year change in receipts to the federal government of -17%. 2010 is projected to change by 3% and then 2011 is estimated to increase by 19% (i.e. 2011 will bring in 1/5 more money into federal coffers than 2010) and then by another 14%in 2012 . How realistic is this? Well, in the last 50 years it has happened once 1977-78 (19% and 12%) and 1969 it went up by 22%. This time, the budget expects it to happen during the same time as a major tax increase (or the expiration of the Bush tax cuts). How has the receipts of the country faired with major tax increases to dramatically increase revenue? Well, 1993-94 revenue increased an average of 7.5% each year, 1991-92 revenue increased an average of 4.5%, 1942-43 revenue increased an average of 66%, 1936-37 revenue increased an average of 23%, 1932-33 revenue decreased 21%, and 1917-18 revenue increased an average of 135%.
So, it appears that in times of a World War, raising taxes will increase revenue (of course if you look at the size of the tax increases during those times, they far outstripped any tax hike we have now). However, other issues were in play as well. In World War I, the income tax was new and it was relatively easy to include a whole bunch of the population that previously had not been paying taxes into the tax system under the guise of patriotism. In World War II, the Social Security taxes were just ramping up and people are more willing to pay taxes to finance a war. Other than that, major tax increases have only had moderate effect (nothing close to the 16.5% average that is estimated in 2011-12). In fact, based on the 1932-33 numbers, this tax increase could result in a large decrease in revenue.
In conclusion, the spending projections (and accompanying receipt projections) are a fantasy. They only faintly resemble reality, but that is what is used to make promises of "X billion invested over the next X years." In the end, a current Congress cannot bind a future Congress to do anything.
The Federal Budget - Spending Projections
The Federal Budget - Federal Debt
The Federal Budget - Social Security and Medicare
The Federal Budget - My Budget!
The first thing to understand about the budgeting process for the federal government is that it isn't anything like budgeting for a company or yourself. Definitions of terms are very important. So I'll try to define them as I go through. Some may argue that the budgeting process is designed to hide what politicians don't want us to see. This assumes that the federal bureaucracy is an calculating, efficient, well-oiled machine! This flies in the face of everything we see the federal bureaucracy (or any bureaucracy) do for that matter.
I am a firm believer in the idea that the government and its bureaucracy is slow, dim-witted, and wholly inefficient. Furthermore, I would postulate that this is exactly the way that the founding fathers intended. As such the government is incapable of "hiding" information from us. The best it can do is obscure it with their bumbling. They can't even do this very well.
Frankly, the two areas of government (politicians and bureaucrats) have competing interests based on a similar goal. Politicians, by and large, want to be re-elected (job security) and must hide information from the public that would hinder their ability to be re-elected. Bureaucrats want to keep their jobs, and in so doing must produce something to justify it. Their products (i.e. reports) invariably have the exact information that some politician doesn't want you to have. It may not be in the most convenient format, and it may be rather redundant (hence production of even more reports of the same, ergo job security).
The annual Budget Report is a perfect example of this. Year to year, probably about 50-75% of the report is identical. Once you get back to the historical tables (where comparisons can actually be made), you find that the same information is repeated about 30 different ways. And most of those show the complete ineptitude of the federal government.
Why is the federal government so inept and how can we make it efficient? Well, that assumes that you want it efficient in the first place. As I said previously, our federal government was designed to be slow and inefficient. The Founding Fathers did not want to have power focused at the federal level, but rather at the state level. As such, they gave a limited set of powers to the federal government. All others were reserved for the states or the people (note not given; rights can be delegated to a government by people; government gets all power from the people and therefore has no ability to take away rights, only infringe them; this is true for all governments throughout the world, those people who knowingly accept the infringements of their government are accomplices to it).
For about 100 years, the states guarded their powers jealously from the federal government. Unfortunately, through times of crises like the Civil War, World War I, the Great Depression, and World War II, those powers were ceded to the federal government by the states. This then increased both the amount of federal spending and the amount of federal taxation.
How we fund our government has radically changed. When the Income Tax amendment was passed one of the arguments for it is that it would only affect the rich (doesn't that sound familiar). When Social Security was enacted, it wasn't targeted to the entire population, only a small subset (the rich and their employees). In the last 75 years, how we fund our government has radically changed.
Based on the OMB historical numbers, in 1934 more than 70% of the government's receipt were through excise taxes, gift and estate taxes, and customs duties (except for estate taxes, all voluntary activities that one could choose to participate in). Approximately 15% of the government receipts were from individuals in the form of income taxes and social insurance or retirement taxes. By 1970, those roles had been reversed and in 2009, more than 80% of government receipts are from individuals and less than 8% are in the form of excise taxes, gift and estate taxes, and customs duties.
So read on in the series to see my thoughts about the federal budget.
Wednesday, February 3, 2010
The report on Iraq was written the semester before they invaded Kuwait, and it in I predicted that they would invade Kuwait. Now before you thing I am some sort of national security genius, there were a lot of people predicting that Iraq would invade Kuwait. Reviewing over the news sources available at the time gave all the facts one needed to draw that conclusion. I followed this up with a riveting short story about the US ambassador to Kuwait having his daughter kidnapped by the Iraqi Republican Guard. The DisneyWorld semester was not near as exciting, but I know far more about DisneyWorld than I ever thought possible.
I'm not sure my 10th grade English teacher knew what to do with me. The one piece of writing that stuck out was a Japanese Epic about the descendent of a ninja who must return to his roots in order to save the world. The girl that I traded stories with to grade (she read mine and I read hers), was not at all impressed. In fact, she didn't understand it at all. That's OK, I didn't understand hers. In World History, she also didn't understand how my friend and I (who were playing the role of Israel) were able to conquer the entire Middle East (minus Egypt because they played nice), all while the students playing the part of the Americans were trying to decide whether to come to the aid of Israel after we took a pre-emptive strike. It was a risk like game that our teacher had made up complete with 4 ft x 8 ft game board.
Anyway, later in high school I would definitely reach an apex. In the Bible Belt of Oklahoma, one of my first English writing assignments included a requirement to include a reference of religious literature (aka Bible - it was unspoken but clearly understood that is what the teacher meant). Again, having the problem with authority that I do, I decided to outdo myself. I included references from the Torah, New Testament, Koran, Book of Mormon, Bagavad Gita, a saying of Confucius, and a Navajo legend. I mentioned to the teacher that there were at least a dozen other references I could have used, but felt that they were too esoteric. No other assignment that year required a religious literature reference. Not sure if that was by design or because of my turpitude.
Twelfth grade saw an explosion of writings. At one point a friend of mine had collected all of them into a binder as the pre-cursor of a book. They involved everything from ramblings of a drug crazed insomniac, to the description of a Pyrrhic battle between a troll and an ogre, to poetry that described what the underlying meaning of the peom was (there was none - which is what the closing line said). My favorites though, were for the asinine books we had to read. Jane Eyre is the only one that comes to mind (probably since I have blocked the memories of the others out of my mind). I never read Jane Eyre. I admit it. I couldn't even get through the Cliff Notes on it. I did however write a fantastic report "The Roller-Blade Conspiracy." It was a detailed account (from a first person perspective) on how some of my friends had colluded to keep me from reading the book so that I would fail. The teacher loved it and even read it in class. Alas, since I didn't do the actual assignment, I still got an F.
The pinnacle of my writing for the year was near the end of the year. We had been reading (in my case casually glancing over) "great" works of literature throughout the year. Now it was our turn to do a juxtaposition of three pieces of art. They could be any medium of art: music, movies, books, sculptures, etc. Our assignment was to identify similar themes between them and describe how those could be interrelated. We had about a month to work on it. After two weeks we had to turn in an outline to our teacher. I'll admit again, I procrastinated until the period before (not the day before, the class before). During Biology while the instructor was going over the ADP cycle of energy production, I wrote up my outline.
My three works of art were: 1) the book "Cardinal in the Kremlin" by Tom Clancy, 2) the movie "Dave", and the song "Blood on Blood" by Bon Jovi. From the description above, you might guess that a lot of thought was meant to be put into selecting "art" that was related. I basically wanted to prove the point that looking for symbolism and themes was worthless, since the descriptions and ideas that constituted one's analysis were so amorphous that they could reliably be applied to just about anything. The reason I chose the three was, I had just finished reading the book, the movie was the most recent movie I had seen, and I love Bon Jovi so included one of my favorite songs that I don't think was ever released as a single.
My teacher was skeptical to say the least of my outline, but let me proceed. True to form, the night before the report was due, I wrote it. The entire thing. And I still was in bed by midnight. And this was in the days before the internet could be used for research. My report ended up being 5 pages longer than the next longest report. I'm not sure if the teacher read it or just weighed it and assumed there must be some substance to it. But I received an A+! (Which probably helped me pass that class).
Now, in spite of not having English in college, I still had plenty of opportunities to have fun. I remember one activity I was at where we were writing stories en masse. Basically, for 2 minutes (or five minutes) you write a story and then pass on the paper to the next person to continue on the story, and on, and on ... It was rather humorous because we were sitting boy-girl-boy-girl and by coincidence most of the girls were liberal arts, education or business majors and all of the guys except one were engineering or computer science majors. Without coordinating our efforts, the guys managed to sabotage the frilly love stories that the girls started with and confuse them with our technical jargon about nuclear reactor theory and the operation of MOSFETs. It was a blast to read the stories out loud in the end.
The crowning writing achievement of my college career took place in my final semester. It was senior project and because of when I graduated, I got stuck on a project I didn't want. So I picked the team that was most applicable across other industries: fasteners. I already knew a lot about fasteners as I had become the "thread expert" at work (threads as in screws, nuts, and bolts). Now, most of the senior project reports were made up of 5-6 teams and entailed a final report that was about 200-300 pages long. At the mid-term, our fastener team dropped off our copy of the fastener section to the team lead. He asked how long it was (hoping for somewhere around 20 pages). "67 pages, without the charts and graphs that go in the appendix." His mouth dropped open and then he said, "You guys wrote 67 pages about screws?" Yep, and that was only the half of it.
My wife was due to give birth at the end of the semester so I had convinced my team that it was in all of our best interest to finish our section of the report in as short an amount of time as possible. So the day before Thanksgiving, our section was done: 131 single spaced pages of the report with an additional 75 pages of charts, graphs, and references to boot. All about screws, nuts and bolts (and various other fasteners that were going to be used on the project).
So, after loathing English for all of my elementary and secondary schooling, now I find myself writing more in one month for work than I wrote in all of high school. But it is not without it's fun. One time in high school, I was able to convince everyone in the class to use the word "plethora" in a short composition that would be read at the front of the class. In a play on that, most of my writings are written at about a 10th grade level (by design). I always try to push the envelope and include words or phrases that are not commonly used. Words like "ergo," "heft", or "complicit." Usually these get axed in someone's review of the report before it gets published. A month ago, I wrote up one 2 page report with the phrase "post hoc." Latin phrases never get through and my associates all agreed that it would get changed before publishing. However, on the day of publishing, I looked at it and "post hoc" was still in the published report. Victory to me!
Today, a co-worker and I were discussing the acronym SMART in relation to goals (specific, measureable, accountable, reasonable, timely). We decided that there should be an acronym for DUMB that is opposite to describe bad goals. I took it upon myself to create one. In 20 minutes I had it ready:
Dispensable - can be eliminated with little or no consequence
Unrealistic - the goal is not a reflection of reality based on the resources and circumstances
Mal apropos - it is out of place and untimely
Boundless - there are no true limits to it
After seeing this I have decided on two new goals: 1) get "mal apropos" published in a report and 2) use the acronym DUMB in a published report. These cannot be done by trial and error as the editors have memories and after they have rejected a word in one report, they are not likely to allow it again; so I have to wait for the right moment when there is no other way to describe it. "Mal apropos" will be much easier (although difficult nonetheless) because it is French phrase and doesn't have the derogatory tone the DUMB has. But I will try and report back on my success!