Thursday, March 28, 2013

Grandfathering Guns

Assume for a moment that less guns in public hands means higher levels of public safety. I know that studies have not shown this and there are few data points that even support this, but for the moment, pretend this is so.

Grandfathering is a tool of scoundrels when it comes to gun restrictions.  The point of putting gun restrictions in place is usually touted as being for public safety. "It's for the children." "If it saves one child's life its worth it." However, the politicians that propose these laws and then include a grandfather clause show their true colors.  The 1994 AWB had a grandfather clause, the SAFE Act and the Colorado laws have grandfather clauses.

As an aside, "grandfathering" got its start as a technique used by Democrats in conjuction with other laws to ensure that whites could vote (because their grandfather did) while blacks couldn't (because they couldn't pass a reading test or pay a poll tax).  Since gun control has its roots in racism, I find it appropriate that the technique of grandfathering would be included.

Back to the topic at hand.  What are the true colors of politicians who propose such laws?  Well, just take a look at what is said to pass the law and what the law does.  The law is said to increase public safety because these guns or magazines that are being banned are so much more dangerous than "safe" guns.  Yet because of the grandfather clause, the public is allowed to keep the ones that they already own.  Furthermore, since many laws don't get enacted for 30 days to 180 days after passage, people are allowed to stock up on the items that will be banned, but aren't yet.

So which is it?  If the guns and magazines that are being restricted are so dangerous and public safety will be increased so much more by passage of these restrictions, then why would you allow people to continue to own the firearms in question. If the public is still allowed to own them and stock up on them in the days before the ban starts, then why bother with the ban in the first place?

Put simply, if the politician really cared about public safety and they really thought that restricting certain guns would increase that safety, then they would call for a confiscation.  Except they have said they aren't going to confiscate anyone's guns.  Which means there is no reason to restrict them in the first place.

Any gun law that has a grandfather clause in it should be voted down by gun control supporters, because it obviously isn't going to increase public safety.  However, if control of the populace and not public safety is the chief concern, then vote for it. Vote for everything that restricts the people.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Chewing Guns Can Be Dangerous

Every now and then, misspellings can lead to hilarious headlines.  Found on Drudge yesterday:

"Does chewing gun help colon recover from cancer surgery?"

Where does masticating guns fall under the rules of safety?  And why so narrowly focused on helping your colon recover from cancer surgery?  Does this mean it is not helpful for after having a colonostomy or a prostate exam? Does it matter what type of gun? What about the parts: is the barrel more effective than the butt stock?  How does this differ from those who just chew on trees or scrap iron?  There are a lot of questions that this headline brings up.

Most important though, we need to find out where this kind of research was funded.

Good Deals for the Taking

I love to get a good deal. What most people don't realize is there is a lot of work involved to get a good deal. You may think that you are getting a good deal, but unless you have done your research, you probably just got what looks like a good price.

So how do I get good deals? First, I have to identify what is worth getting a good deal on. Milk may be $2.99 at WalMart but only $2.29 at Aldi. With that kind of minimal price difference, I am not going to go out of my way just to save 70 cents. It may be more in gas just to get there (although where I live right now, Aldi's is right next to Walmart). On the other hand, a quality dining room set may be $1200. If I can find something equivalent for $800 or less, then I have found a good deal. Finding a good deal starts with knowing what is worth looking for the good deals.

Second, you need to figure out what a reasonable price is and what you are willing to spend. These can be two separate things. For instance, $500 for an iPhone is reasonable. On the other hand, I am not willing to spend more than $200 since I wouldn't use it enough. Hence, I don't have a iPhone. Reasonable prices can be found by shopping (not buying). Stores, internet, and classified ads can all give you an idea of what things are selling for. The key here is to remember to factor in all of the costs (shipping and taxes). After seeing what a reasonable price for something is, it is now time to do the emotional decision and decide what you are willing to pay.  It is important to set your price limit before you start looking for the good deal.

Third, the fun part begins - finding the good deal. This phase could take a day or years, depending on what you found in step two above. A good deal should be at least 25% less than what you are willing to pay (which hopefully is less than a reasonable amount). A lot of people stop when they find something less than their reasonable price and buy it then (even if it is only a few percent). Really, you should hold out for the good deal. Patience is key. While you made an emotional decision about what you are willing to pay, at this point emotion should no longer be a part of your decision. If the price isn't at least 25% less than your reasonable price, it's not a good deal.

Some may say that I am being stingy by trying to get such a low price. Actually, I am doing a net benefit to the economy. For one, by spending less money on each item, I am able to buy more, thereby spreading my dollars to more establishments. Second, a lot of the good deals happen on closeouts/inventory reductions/slightly damaged/etc. By me buying them, I am helping to clear out their inventory and giving merchants the chance to stock newer items. By me not buying more expensive items, I am allowing the supply to be available for those who just have to have the item at any price.

One of the great things about getting a good deal is you get to hear more sales pitches than ever before. I love salesmen, they have a job to do and their goal (in spite of what they may tell you) is to get you to buy as much as possible. Because of this it is always funny about some of the things that are told to you to "close the sale." I should start recording sales pitches to share some of the ridiculousness that is heard.  Let me share some of them:

When we were shopping for a piano, the music store salesman told us that they were the "17th largest music store in the nation." I guess if you are in the 148th largest city in America, then this might mean something. Honestly, how "big" you are doesn't matter. What matters to me is price. I don't shop at WalMart because they are the largest retailer in the nation. I shop there because they have the right price for the things my family buys.

In looking for a hotel I am amazed that the rooms will be advertised with such amenities as a hairdryer or marble sink. 20 years ago, the major draw to motels (based on their advertising) was free HBO. The other thing that I laugh at is seeing them "brag" about their 250 thread count sheets or even 350 thread count sheets. I'm sorry, at home I sleep on 650 thread count sheets (and I don't want to go back to anything less - I splurged one year for our anniversary). If your business is going to brag about something, be sure that it is worth bragging about.

The last part of finding a good deal is to make sure you check the non-traditional places. Ebay & Craigslist are great resources. I once sold a pool table on Ebay for $350. It came with the house I bought and was really worthless to me. The person that bought it probably would have paid $600-$1000 for a new one. He got a good deal. I got it out of my house. Both of us were happy with the transaction. Another place my wife and I have found good deals is at Aldi's. We bought a breakfast nook (seats 6) for $170 (we had budgeted $700). I found out it is renamed from another company's brand which sells it under their label in department stores for $450-650.  That breakfast nook has served us well for more than 5 years and still is going strong.

Shopping just to shop, I can't stand. Finding good deals while shopping I can handle.

Friday, March 22, 2013

Who is Supporting All the Spam???

I don't think that I am alone in saying that the vast majority of my email is Spam. Even with the Junk filtering tools of Thunderbird, I still get the privilege of deleting 30-50 messages a day from my various emails. While I understand that sending Spam is free, I have wondered who is buying the products that are trying to be hawked.

Spam comes in various forms. There is the phishing spam. This is meant to get you to give them your data to some bank or other account that has money that the perp will then access and clear out for your convenience.

Next is the porn spam. I understand this completely. Some people just have a need to see some girl named Natasha take it all off.  Yahoo is big on this, everytime I log in there are 50 bazillion chat requests from "girls in my area."

Now on to the spam that I don't understand. The sad story/joke/incorrect blurb spam. This is usually sent by well meaning friends and family to let you know that an angel is watching over you, or that some political figure is trying to take over the world, or the signs of a redneck. The reason why this stuff is so annoying is in many cases the sender never bothered to remove the long list of headers that were left by all of the other morons who forwarded it. Also, spelling and grammar were not on anyone's priority list. Finally, I would estimate a good 95% of the time they are false to begin with. I rarely read forwarded spam, but when I do one of the first places I look is This website does an excellent job of fact checking on all of the various urban legend emails that are out there. For a while I would reply back to whoever sent the email with the information from Snopes. Since I still keep getting the same kind of junk from the same people, I gave up on that.

The stock picks of the day. Why would anyone buy an investment based on an email that was unsolicited. Most of what is advertised needs to be capitalized on daytrading (or week trading). I am not that kind of guy. In the last 5 years, the only stock that I sold was TXU and that was really because they were bought out (so I really didn't sell it, the new company just bought it and I am forced to pay taxes on my windfall). Here is a hint. The last place you should look for investment advice is your Inbox.

Next in a similar vein is the Rolex/Breitling/Viagra/Cialis/other product. More often than not, one of the words in the subject is misspelled or numeralized on purpose to avoid the spam trackers. Who in their right mind is buying expensive watches from an email? Unfortunately there has to be one or two people, otherwise we wouldn't be getting all of these emails. As for drugs, don't you think you should maybe be getting them from a pharmacy rather than the world wide web? If you need the Viagra that badly, maybe you should click on the porn spam a little more.

Finally, the foreign language spam. This comes in two forms, one that my computer can understand and prints out the characters (in Russian, Chinese, Korean, Tamil, etc) and the one that my computer can't understand which usually results in boxes or wingdings. If I knew what these said I could probably classify them as one of the others above. As it is, they just simply get deleted.

Facebook has largely replaced a lot of the spam.  Now, instead of seeing it in an inbox, you can view it on your timeline.  There has to be some scientific studies out there about the social drive to create spam, because we have been doing it for at least the last 100 years (possibly even thousands of years if we had better records to review).  It has come in every communication format that we have developed and I see no sign of it slowing down.

Thursday, March 21, 2013

GUN "Almost" FACTS 101: Can Terrorists buy guns in the US?

There is a series of videos from the organization "Protest Easy Guns" titled Gun Facts 101 that can be found on YouTube. Comments are not allowed so originally I had the idea of fisking them with my own video. Alas, that takes way too much time. So I just will do a line by line analysis of the "Almost Facts" (in italics) that are presented. This one is on Terrorists and Guns.

Absolutely, in fact Al Qaida training manuals were found that recommended that potential terrorists acquire weapons inside the United States.

I can’t really deny this. Not because I have seen the training manuals, but because it makes logical sense. Do you know what else makes logical sense? If you are going to operate in Britain, wait until you are in Britain to acquire your weapons (even with their draconian gun laws which don’t seem to keep guns out of the hands of their criminals – as seen by their rising gun crime rates). If you are a terrorist from say Saudi Arabia, and are assigned to carry out a mission in the US which won’t take place for another year, does it make any sense to risk your capture by trying to smuggle weapons into the US (unless you happen to be a professional weapons smuggler)? Or would it make more sense to enter the US with a clean record, and get the weapons needed later (because the only weapon you may need is a boxcutter and they sell those at hardware stores in every one of the 50 states)?

Do you know what else the terrorist training manuals recommend? Blend in. Don’t be overtly “muslim”. Don’t attend mosque. Wear western clothes. Hang out with westerners. Heck, even indulge in some of the western vices like alcohol. So, with this logic, we should be targeting everybody in the US who DOESN’T look like a terrorist.

They specifically mentioned how any type of weapon is available at gun shows.
They would be gravely mistaken then. Probably got that misinformation from the US media though, so it is understandable. Unlike the writers of these terrorist manuals, I have been to gun shows. You can’t buy any type of weapon there. What you can buy are knifes, revolvers, pump shotguns, lever rifles, semi-auto shotguns and rifles, and ammunition. You know the kind of weapons you can buy in sporting goods stores across America. No grenades, no rocket launchers, no C4, not even a fully automatic machine gun.

But what about all of those books that tell you how to convert your semi-auto into a fully automatic bullet hose? Well, have you ever read any of them? Some of them aren’t illegal to do – because they don’t work! Some of them will turn your $500 rifle into a $500 paperweight. And some of them will actually make a fully automatic rifle (its still illegal in the US). Unfortunately, the books don’t tell you which kind they are. And even if they did, there is this wonderful thing called the internet, it is available in nearly every library across the nation – no criminal background check required. And even if the internet wasn’t invented, a basic knowledge of how semi-autos or full autos work will be enough to allow a passably mechanically inclined person to make their own.  They make fully automatic weapons with hand tools in the caves of Afghanistan and Pakistan.  This isn't rocket science people.  It is a technology that is older than the moveable type printing press.

In fact around our country we offer a virtual flea market for terrorists because we can buy assault weapons, 50 calibers, concealable assault weapons, handguns, and we offer them whatever they want.
Like boxcutters. In spite of the fact that boxcutters were the weapon of choice in the largest terrorist action in the world, I can still buy them at a dozen places in my city and never have to show an ID. This country also provides a virtual flea market for terrorist who wish to construct explosives or poisonous gas. I know how to make both from components I can buy at any grocery store, and I didn’t even read a terrorist manual.

In fact we offer them conversion kits, so if they want to make their semi-automatic weapons into automatic weapons they can buy that here too.
Really? Where are these conversion kits? Does Wal-Mart stock them? I am not saying that people can’t turn their semi-automatics into automatics (which is still illegal), what I am saying is there is not a market that someone can buy a conversion kit off of Ebay and be set to go. Semi-to-full auto conversion kits are sold in this country, both above ground to FFLs that are allowed to make full auto (for law enforcement) and on the black market. Terrorists wouldn’t be going the FFL route since they are not law enforcement. Which leaves the black market. Besides Vatican City, which country doesn’t have a black market?

It just seems absolutely outrageous that at a time when we are taking off our shoes in the security at the airport lines,
Perhaps it is the taking shoes off that is outrageous. There are 700 million airline passengers a year in America. Taking our shoes off and then putting them back on probably only takes 30 seconds on average. That is 5.8 million hours of time. At a wage rate of $20/hour, we are spending minimum of $100 million/ year of lost productivity to do what? There was one instance of a terrorist trying to ignite his shoes on fire (before the taking off of shoes at screening). He was subdued by passengers. In fact every terrorist attack against airlines since 9/11 has been stopped by the passengers on the aircraft. Funny how knowing that you will die changes your perspective and what actions you are willing to take in an emergency.

The TSA likes to brag about all of the weapons that they confiscate in airports each year including loaded guns.  However, having read several of the tests that have been done of airport security and the abysmal pass rate, there are probably hundreds or thousands of passengers a day that have something illicit on the airplane.  Yet there haven't been an uptick of airplane bombings - because the people have no ill intentions. Likewise before the TSA found all of this stuff, it was likely getting past security and on to planes. Yet there wasn't a rash of airplane bombings before either.  Terrorist attacks on airplanes happen to be a rare event both before the TSA and after the TSA.

and just yesterday morning I was pulled aside because I had a tiny bottle of water that I had forgotten about in a bag that I was taking on a plane,
And that tiny bottle of water posed no threat. In fact, it was so dangerous that they simply tossed it in the garbage can near the screening line. Do you know why a terrorist hasn’t just waited for a packed security line and detonated a bomb there. 1) its not flashy enough, terrorists want to get noticed, and right now the gold standard was 9/11 – unless they can top that, they aren’t going to get the publicity they want 2) while it would provide a temporary disruption at that airport, what are we going to do, move the security barrier back farther? 3) we have already disrupted our economy enough with air travel through the TSA, I doubt that attacks at airports would have any other effect.

so we go through all these measures for security and yet terrorists can come here and acquire weapons in great numbers.
"Measures for security" do not mean that security is present, only that there is the outward appearance of doing something.  Do you want to see real security?  Go to a Las Vegas casino.  Except that you won't "see" it.  Doesn't mean that it isn't there though.

Part of living in a country of immigrants that is open to visitors is the fact that some of those immigrants or visitors might not have the best of intentions. The only 100% effective way to stop this is to stop all immigration and tourism. I don’t think that is going to work and I happen to like the immigrants and the tourists. Besides, terrorists can come here and acquire gasoline in large volumes. Is there a push to limit the sales of gasoline or even tanker trucks?

And if you put the availability together with the fact that Congress and the current president have long advocated destroying gun background check data after 24 hours
There is the law, which says we will not have a national gun registry, and to meet this law, we destroy the records that could be used to assemble that registry.

that has gotten in the way of law enforcement who have been trying to get leads on potential terrorists and go after them.
Huh? There is no question on the form that you check if you are a terrorist. Terrorists are not buying guns in large numbers. At least not in the US. If they were, we would have had terrorist shootings all the time, instead we have one – which the US government won’t recognize as a terrorist action, and which very well may have been a lone wolf with terrorist sympathies. The federal government has far better databases to check for terrorists – they are called visitor visas.

When the background checks that are conducted when that data is destroyed right away we are losing an opportunity to go after terrorists.
No, we are preventing a registry of gun owners from being formed. But using this logic, by not having a background check for boxcutters, we are losing an opportunity to go after terrorists. By not asking everyone if they are a terrorist, we are losing an opportunity to go after terrorists.  There are only a finite number of resources that can be used.  It is to our benefit to use those resources in a way that will provide the best results. 

So certainly in a time when library records are being looked at with greater scrutiny and other personal information on Americans yet somehow gun information is held sacred and destroyed because nobody can see that.
Perhaps we need to hold more information sacred. Why does the federal government or any government care what library books I check out (besides, this is so easily bypassed by just reading the books in the library and never checking them out)? The outrage shouldn’t be that gun information is held sacred, the outrage should be that all of our personal information is not held sacred. We live in a society where we are innocent until proven guilty. Furthermore, without a suspicion of guilt and some corroborating evidence, there is no reason for any government agent to go snooping around looking for more evidence of illegal activity.

So again you put that together with the availability and you have a definite destination for terrorists.
No, America is a destination for terrorists because we represent everything they hate. We don’t subscribe to the philosophy that if you don’t follow X group’s interpretation of Y then you are an infidel and deserve to be killed. There is no more better definition of barbarism than that. America has been dragging the rest of the world away from barbarism for a long time – it doesn’t mean we haven’t had our faults or backsliding but the world looks to America as the antithesis of barbarism, otherwise they wouldn’t come running to us when trouble happened. (I mean really, even Great Britain asked us if we would side with them over a second war for the Falklands – thankfully we have said we would stay out of it).

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Mayor Confused by Article?

Mayor Nutter wants an investigation because of an article? Well, there must be something very controversial so I decided to read the article. Now, having never lived in Philadelphia, I am looking at this as an outsider.  In fact, the largest city I ever lived in was Tulsa, and even then, I lived right at the edge of town (or at least at the time it was the edge of town, it has grown since then).

The article about Philadelphia is rather interesting.  Let me sum it up some.  Philadelphia has gone through a large demographic shift since the 1930s.  Some white people have no problem interacting with the black people in their neighborhood.  Some white people do.  Some black people have no problem interacting with the white people in their neighborhood. Some black people do.  So where is the controversy?

This isn't a story about race relations in Philadelphia so much as it is a microcosm of race relations everywhere in the world, throughout the history of the world.  Some people don't like to mix with others not of their "race" while others don't mind at all.  We look at race as a black/white issue primarily in the US, largely as a relic of our slave history.

But go to Africa and talk among the Tutsis and Hutus. They hate each other.  Well, some of them hate each other. To the point that they are willing to slaughter each other. They can see differences between themselves, but I doubt many westerners could. 

In the US we like to lump Asians together (because they aren't that large a percentage of our population).  But in many cases their families have been in America more than 100 years (which is longer than some of my family has been here) and only genetically resemble their cousins from across the Pacific.  Furthermore, try telling a Chinese person they are the same as a Korean or a Japanese (or vice versa), and don't ever think of lumping them in with Thai or Vietnamese.

So what investigation needs to occur?  How about none.  How about we recognize that some people are different.  How about we realize that we don't live in a Utopia.  How about those of us who don't care about the color of the next person's skin continue on with life and enjoying each other's company.  How about we just leave those that do alone, they are the ones missing out on friendships.

There is nothing controversial about this article. I didn't learn any new general ideas from it.  What it did tell me is the specific opinions of several different people around Philadelphia and how they look at race.  I wasn't suprised to find that their opinions run a broad spectrum.

Monday, March 18, 2013

Recycled Blogging

I started blogging in 2007.  Actually, I more started dabbling in blogging.  Really, it was mostly just dipping my toe in the water. I wrote two blog posts in 2007.  2008 was a much more productive year, I wrote 9 blog posts.  Naturally, back then I didn't have a lot of people reading.  Looking over the statistics, it is interesting to see that the vast majority of my posts were read by less than a dozen people.

So, I thought I would be lazy and recycle some of them.  Recycling a blog post is easy.  Pull it up, up date the information on it. And then slap a new publish date. BAM! New blog post.  In case you are one of the 5 people that may have read it in the past, I am not trying to insult you.  It has just been a few years, and some of the posts are still relevant today.

And that's OK, because its my blog. And since so few read them the first time, it will probably be new to you anyway!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Cost of Universal Background Checks

The Senate now has a bill that would require universal background checks in the hope that this will keep guns out of the hands of criminals.  While we can all admit that it won't keep all of the guns out of their hands (afterall, Great Britain's criminals have had no problem getting their hands on guns), we should ask ourselves two questions before considering whether this is a viable solution 1) How much is this going to cost (and to whom)? 2) How many guns is this going to keep out of criminals hands (and thereby how many crimes are averted)?

OK, that is 4 questions.  And I haven't even brought up the 2nd Amendment.  Let me look at this issue universally so that it could be applied whether there was a 2nd Amendment or not and whether people had a natural right to self defense or not.  In other words, if it passes the "economics" test we can consider it and debate other issues, if it doesn't then there is no need to debate this further - i.e. it is unicorn rainbow farts. 

Obviously, I am prejudiced.  We all are.  The dispicable ones are those who don't admit it.  I am prejudiced for facts.  I am prejudiced for truth.  So, before you say that I am opinionated and discount my opinion, back up your opinion with facts.

Lets start with question 1) How much is this going to cost?  Well, last year there were 19.5 million NICS background checks.  Not all of these represent a single firearm purchase.  Some of them are for carry permits.  Some of them are for multiple firearms.  Some states allow firearms to be bought with a carry permit without another NICS. This number averaged between 8 and 9 million from 1999 to 2005.  It appeared to level off at 14 million in 2010, then election season came. The three highest months were Dec 2012, Feb 2013, and Jan 2013.  So, if this keeps up all of 2013, we could see NICS checks of 25 million.

For simplicity sake, lets say the multiple gun sales cancel out the carry permit checks. Also, lets assume that NICS checks are artificially high.  Therefore, I'll use 15 million firearm sales checks a year as the baseline.  Now, the figure I have heard most bandied about is 40% of firearm sales are in the secondary market (i.e. no background check).  Since this is an unregulated market of no records, there is really no way to verify this one way or the other. So without any other information, I'll accept this as is.  Coincidentally, I did a tally of my firearms and just under 40% were bought on the secondary market.

So universal background checks will cover an additional 10 million sales. Now the states that already require all private transfers to go through an FFL as well as internet sales give us some idea of what the pricing will be.  I have seen rates from $25 to $50 as the basic charge.  So, I'll use $35 as the average.

How much is universal background checks going to cost? $350 million a year. This of course assumes that none of the transfers are exempted (which the current bill allows) and that the secondary market isn't depressed because of the increased cost (why would you buy a $75 used rifle if there is going to be a $35 mark-up when you can buy the same rifle from an FFL for $105). So let me cut this down to $200 million for a more realistic idea of what the price entails.

Which leads us to the next question 1a) Who is paying this?  Well, that would be the people who are buying guns. What was the problem trying to be solved? Oh yeah, criminals getting their hands on guns. So, how does charging gun owners more money help decrease criminals getting their hands on guns? 

Let's go to our next source of information, the Department of Justice report about Firearm Use by Offenders.  This compared survey results of incarcerated criminals in 1991 (before background checks) and 1997 (after background checks).  Now, I have taken the liberty to do some corrections because the background check requirement didn't go into effect until 1994.  Also, some of the prisoners in 1991 would still be prisoners in 1997.  So, I am going to assume that 100% of the prisoners from 1991 are still serving time in 1997, therefore, I'll subtract out their numbers from the 1997 numbers and re-calculate (there were significantly more prisoners in 1997 than in 1991, and significantly more prisoners that had firearms in 1997 than in 1991) ro get an approximate idea of how the background check requirement changed the procurement of firearms.

Reputo Estimate w/ NICS
DOJ FUO 1997 Inmates
DOJ FUO 1991 Inmates

Assuming that all of the friends and family abide by the new law, and assuming each of the 500,000 crimes involving firearms each year represent unique individuals/firearm acquisitions, then 41,000 * $35 = $1.4 million will be paid by the people purposefully supplying firearms. $1.4/$200 million is 0.7% of the total cost will be shouldered by the portion of the population who may be responsible.  99.3% of the additional costs to this are paid for by law abiding gun owners.  Can you imagine if we charged the everyone in the country $10 a year to pay for the costs of car accidents, regardless of whether they drove or not or how safe of a driver they were?  That is what is being proposed here.

And a reminder for those anti-capitalists.  All of this money is not going to crime prevention.  All of it is going to FFL dealers.  I don't fault them for charging whatever the law will allow.  I fault the law for being stupid.  Continuing on.

Question 2 How many guns is this going to keep out of the hands of criminals?  Well, looking back at the chart above, the DOJ report provides evidence that prior to the background check requirement, 21% of criminals bought guns from retail outlets (I included flea markets and gun shows because they only made up 2% of this figure).  After the background check requirement, it appears that the number dropped to 14%.  Except that we have the problem of substitution.  Because if you will notice Friends and Family had an increase of 6%.  But that is a 1% difference still, right? Not quite, at the end of the report it identifies standard errors of up to 2%, for these numbers. So 6% and 7% for purposes of this report are essentially equal.

Remember though that a lot of those criminals in 1991 were still in prison in 1997, so if you look at my estimate, then yes, the background check was very effective at driving criminals away from both retail outlets and friends and family.  So, the question then becomes did the number of guns decrease overall?  Simply put, no.  In 1997 there were 70% more prisoners than in 1991.  Furthermore, those prisoners who had a firearm during their latest crime also went up (Table 3).  If a larger percentage of criminals have firearms, you can't really argue that a particular gun control measure has been effective at reducing the number of guns criminals get a hold of.

Well, surely we can crack down on the Retail sales to criminals? No, because criminals are already prohibited from buying guns (whether retail or private party).  The current background check already drove them out of the retail market.  What about that 7.6% that are still buying from retail? Well, take a look at Table 7.  25% of inmates were first time offenders and 20% of them had a firearm for their most recent crime.  Which means that they would have passed a background check so buying at retail was not a problem.  25% * 20% = 5%.  Close to 7.6%, then if you recognize that using a fake ID and lying on the forms will also get you to pass a background check and the last 2.6% (if it isn't statistical noise anyway) is easily explained (Table 9 .

What about the family and friends aspect?  Won't universal background checks prevent those people from providing guns?  Probably not.  Look at the table again.  Using my estimate, the introduction of background checks also drove people out of the family and friends market.  Why? Increased enforcement of straw purchaser laws, increased publicity of the fact that providing a firearm to a felon is illegal already.  I don't know specifically since you would have to do a survey of family and friends of criminals.  The fact remains though, friends and family who were selling firearms to criminals before the background check system were breaking the law.  If they were willing to break the law before, what is going to prevent them from continuing to break the law.

Finally, it should be noted that the illegal market has shown that it can adequately supply the firearms needed by criminals.  In 1991 it accounted for the largest percentage.  In 1997 it was equal with Family and Friends (which had a significant rise). My estimate based on the DOJ numbers is that the illegal market is already supplying the vast majority of firearms, 84%.  This market will be unaffected by the universal background check law.

In summary, universal background checks are going to cost about $200 million per year.  They won't prevent criminals from getting guns and the vast majority of the cost will be paid by law abiding gun owners.  Retail outlets already do not sell to criminals, and law abiding friends and family don't either (those that do are criminals themselves).  The illegal gun market has always been a sizeable amount of the source of guns for criminals and could easily expand. So, universal background checks don't pass my simple economics test, therefore, it is a form of sniffing unicorn rainbow farts (don't worry while sniffing farts may not sound appealing, unicorns are imaginary and rainbows are just the reflection of light through droplets of water, in other words a mirage).

Thursday, March 14, 2013

Economies of SodaStream

Soda Stream appears to be making a splash in the beverage market.  I'm not much of a soda drinker so I don't know. It is a way to make your own carbonated beverages and hopefully save money.  So, does it really save you money?  As with all things, it depends.

There are three major costs to Sodastream.  I used the Target website to find the information I needed to evaluate this. The initial machine is about $80 (although some models go up to $200) which comes with flavor packets and a carbonation tank.  There are the carbonation tanks which run $15 and carbonate up to 60 L of drinks.  And finally, there are the flavor packets which run from $5 to $12 for about 12 liters of servings.  So then, how much soda does one have to drink to make this economical?

Total Liters Made
$5 flavor Cost / 2L
$12 flavor Cost / 2L
 $      3.50
 $       4.67
 $      2.00
 $       2.58
 $      1.78
 $       2.56
 $      1.67
 $       2.54
 $      1.60
 $       2.53
 $      1.56
 $       2.52
 $      1.52
 $       2.52

Now, like I said, I am no soda connoisseur, but I am pretty sure that those prices are much higher than what I can buy in the store.  So I looked.  Sure enough, name brands go for $1.50 to $2.50 for 2L bottles and generics for $0.50 to $1.50 for 2L bottles at the local grocery store. But the next question would be at what consumption is this economical?

That depends on the durability of the machine.  The $1.50 for generics is broken at the 480 L level.  Assuming a 3 year life, this is almost 7 Two liter bottles every month (our family maybe goes through 7 in an entire year - unless I am buying them for Mentos geysers in which case I'll go through 7 in about 5 minutes, but I digress).  But that is the top of the generic price level.  Unfortunately, because of the cost of the carbonator and flavoring, the cost for 2L will never be less that $1.33.  For name brand it looks even worse, the flavoring and carbonator make the bottom price $2.50 per liter.  So I would judge this as not that much of a money saver.  It is almost always going to be cheaper to pick up your soda at the store - even with ridiculously high deposit fees. 

Let me alter that statement: Unless you are accustomed to drinking premium sodapop, this is not a good buy.  However, if you like the flavors or like to make other things carbonated, then have at it.

About 20 years ago, I was at a party where a friend had something similar.  We were using it to make carbonated eggnog.  It worked sporadically at best and made a mess when not used exactly right.  I have no idea whether the Sodastream has similar problems.  My guess is that the fad will wear out within a year or two as machines break down and people realize sugar, water, and carbon dioxide are REALLY cheap to mix together (which is why they have specials for 2L bottles as low as 33 cents!), ergo not worth the time to do it yourself.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Movies to Cry Over: Here Comes the Boom!

My wife cried at this movie.  I know that sounds weird.  How can you cry during any movie that Kevin James is in?  I don't know, but she did. 

I loved this movie. Kevin James was his usually hilarious self and even got a scene in of some dance moves (a reason in and of itself to see Hitch).  Salma Hayek was her normal gorgeous self.  It's great how Kevin James always gets the hot girl!  I first saw this movie on an airplane coming back from LA and told my wife about it.  She picked it up from Redbox for our date night movie.

The best part of this movie was the fact that it has the whole "based on a true story" feel without being based on any true story.  Reading over the actual incidents that resulted in "based on a true story" movies, this one could have been slapped with that label and been just as truthful.

My wife's big comment was "Wow, he actually has some muscles!" Now, he is no Arnold Schwarzenegger, but it was apparent that a) he did a lot of working out for this role or b) they hired an awesome team of post-production video editors.

Naturally, the climax occurs when he has gotten beaten to a pulp over two rounds and his friend gives the inspirational speech that they have accomplished their purpose and inspired the students. (This is the speech that my wife cried at and admitted to, she had been having allergies for the last few days so she could have used that excuse.)  He then pulls out a Rocky in the third round to come up with the knockout.

Tuesday, March 12, 2013

GUN "Almost" FACTS 101: Waiting Periods

There is a series of videos from the organization "Protest Easy Guns" titled Gun Facts 101 that can be found on YouTube. Comments are not allowed so originally I had the idea of fisking them with my own video. Alas, that takes way too much time. So I just will do a line by line analysis of the "Almost Facts" (in italics) that are presented. This one is on Waiting Periods.

The waiting period can make sure that the individual involved takes some time to think over their purchase.

Buying a firearm is usually a big ticket item. Typical quality handguns run the gambit of $500-$1000. The most popular rifle in the US, the AR-15, runs around $1200 (although the recent buying spree has jacked those prices up to $2000 or more). So, buying a gun is not like buying a candybar. But few people I know – let me rephrase that – no one I know buys guns like candybars. I have thought over every single purchase of a firearm I made. Usually for days or weeks before. Afterall, I am basically spending the equivalent of a month of food for my family to buy a gun. That being said – a government mandated waiting period is crap! Do you support a government mandated waiting period before buying a car? What about a waiting period before visiting a doctor (I know Obamacare is sort of making that a default)? How about a waiting period before paying your credit card bill? All of these are major decisions that people should take time to think over. Of course, that is part of being an adult, knowing when you should take some time and when you don’t need to. We don’t need the government to tell us.

You can avoid some impulse purchases by imposing a waiting period.
This is absolutely true. But it also assumes that it is to your benefit to wait all the time. It isn’t. One time I decided to buy a Saiga-12 at a gun show. I went there specifically for it. I had researched it for two months before hand (a self imposed waiting limit). While there, at another vendor I saw a Saiga 7.62 for an excellent price. I took another stroll around the tables and impulsively decided to buy that one too! Good thing, I haven’t found it since for any less than $100 more than what I paid. Impulse purchases are good sometimes. Not everyone is a criminal. In fact, very little of the population are criminals that need guns (less than a couple percent of the population). Can you imagine if we had laws to control all the bad things that only apply to 2% of the population? (Murder, rape, and assault are already illegal, yet that hasn’t caused them to decrease). That would not be a fun place to live in this country. There are more drunk drivers than criminals with guns and yet we still allow alcohol to be served freely.

Sometimes with gun crime, especially in cases of domestic violence, we see an impulsive action.
Ummm … NO! What you see in domestic violence (according to the UCR and NCVS) is a long pattern of escalating violence. Sometimes just from one party, but in many cases from both parties (yes, that would be women beating up their husbands). The current law prohibits persons convicted of domestic violence (even misdemeanors) from possessing firearms (although in California there is a backlog for confiscating them so what good does the law do?). The problem here is that in the vast majority of cases where the police are called to a home for domestic violence, no charges are filed. Ergo, no conviction. Plenty of spouses have shown that if a gun isn’t handy, they will just use a kitchen knife or a baseball bat. The one thing they are not doing is leaving the home, driving down to Walmart, buying a gun, driving home, and shooting their husband. This is the only time a waiting period would be effective, yet the number of times this scenario has happened in the US is probably less than 5. Ever. On the other hand in states that do have waiting periods, there have been plenty of times when someone took out a restraining order, tried to buy a gun, had to wait, and while waiting, they were assaulted (in some cases raped and murdered) by the person who didn’t bother to obey the restraining order. Funny how criminals don’t follow the law. Now, in the case of these dead people, you can’t say that having a firearm would have made the situation worse?

It gives the purchaser time to cool off.
See above. For the vast majority, 99.99999%, of purchases, there is no cooling off needed, because there is nothing to cool off from.

There is potential depending on the state and local laws involved for a background check to go further than the instant background check or if there are questions that are raised in the instant check they can be addressed.
The instant background check is already set up to address this. If it comes back as a hold, then the purchase isn’t made. Law enforcement has 72 hours to make a final determination. If they don’t then the firearm can be sold. If law enforcement does nothing, then this obviously isn’t a priority for them (probably because 99.99% of the time there is no issue – Bayesian logic).

One of the critical things is that this is a very serious purchase and an individual should not be able to just, especially someone who is in an agitated state, the fact that they can just go in and buy a gun and act on that impulse.
My guess is that the agitated impulse buy is a creation of Hollywood. I know that I have seen it at least 3 times on different crime shows. I honestly have never read of a single incident like it in a newspaper or on the internet. All of the gun stores I have been to, and the vendors at gun shows had responsible sellers. As a businessman, I highly doubt that any of them would sell a firearm to someone who is visibly agitated.

There is a home near where I live, a mansion. More of a mega mansion. It is completely not appropriate for the neighborhood and looks out of place in a big way. After two years, no one had moved in and I asked around and found out the backstory. There was a couple who were going through a separation/divorce. Apparently the wife built the mansion as a means to get revenge and tie up a significant amount of the couple’s funds. Should we have waiting periods for things like this also?

But most important of all, waiting periods have not been shown to have any affect on the crime rate. That is not me talking, that is the National Academy of Sciences and the Bureau of Justice Statistics. If things don’t work, we shouldn’t do them.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Motivational Posters: Teacher Edition

With South Dakota passing a bill to allow teachers to be armed, my supermodel wife was willing to pose for another round of photos.

We home school our kids, and they are surrounded by a wide array of armament at all times of the day.  Most of it intellectual, but there is some metallurgical stuff too!

Trust, that is what allowing people to be armed is about.  Why would you trust a police officer any more than you would a teacher?  More than likely, your child will have very few interactions with a police officer in his/her life.

There are all sorts of subjects that can be taught with a firearms theme.

Educate the children.  There is nothing better you can do.

And just to whet your appetite, I got Russian Origami shirt (from Linoge) for my wife and she has consented to photos of that as well.  I just need to think of some clever phrases (I'm willing to take suggestions).

Friday, March 8, 2013

My Tax Return Savings Account

It is interesting how the circumstances one finds oneself in can dramatically change their opinion of something.  For instance, 15 years ago, I was adamantly against tax refunds.  Not getting your money back, just the concept that people wouldn't pay enough attention to their finances such that they would receive thousands of dollars as a overpayment (or more likely an overwithholding) of taxes.  At the time it was obvious to me that it was much more profitable to scrutinize and adjust your withholding on a regular basis (every couple of months) so that at the end of the year you were as close to breaking even as possible.  I could put this money to work for me by investing it or at the very least put it in a savings account earning interest (as opposed to the interest free loan I would have been giving the government). I was pretty good at it for a few years, netting myself refunds of a couple hundred dollars or having to write a check for a couple of hundred dollars.

Then times changed.  I started making more money and my taxes became more complicated.  Now, at first glance one would think that making more money would be an incentive to implement my strategy above even more so.  Afterall, 15 years ago, I was only making about $25K a year.  My opinion on this issue has changed 180 degrees. Now, I would laugh in your face if you suggested the strategy above.

There are several factors that go into this.  While there is some profit to be made from investment, it doesn't come without it's own cost, namely the time necessary to adjust your withholding (or in the case of quarterly tax filers, the amount of time - ergo rigor - into estimating the taxes owed).  Couple this with exceedingly low interest rates and put a dollop of the ever changing tax code as politicians try to curry favor with this group or that group each year and you are left with a much more complicated task - so the rewards better be worth it.

In 2004 and 2005 I started a different job that had a significant amount of money made from bonuses and overtime.  Because of tax law, this income was withheld at a higher rate (remember withholding, tax owed, and tax paid are completely separate concepts and not necessarily related).  So, while my base pay was withheld at the legal minimum for federal income tax ($0), I was still being withheld on my bonus and overtime income.  And there was no way to not have it withheld.

My time was also more valuable, while as a college student I might jump at the chance to earn $10-$15/hour, I was making much more than that.  To put it in perspective, if my base rate was $30/hour and my boss wanted me to work overtime, he would have to compensate me for my time, usually at a rate of $45 per hour.  So, in effect my leisure time was worth $45 per hour.  On the other hand, if I wanted to make more money, I had to go and find that work and I might only be able to find something for $10-$15. 

The only "extra" work I ever did during this time was I was an usher at Texas A&M football games.  I was paid $50 per game (and I didn't have to spend $50 per ticket).  I was able to see most of the game - in particularly the 4th quarter since my shift was done at the end of the 3rd.  I did have to show up a couple of hours before the game, and the game was 3 hours, so figure about 5 hours total.  For $50-$100 of value (since I would have bought tickets to go to the game anyway).  And the first couple of hours, I brought a book or headphones to do what I normally would be doing at home.  This was a great gig.  To bad I didn't find out about it until my senior year.

So, only on rare occasions have I been willing to trade my leisure time for less than $25/hr.  When faced with a job that was out to defeat my tax philosophy, I decided to evaluate and determine if it was worth it to find some way around it.  Turns out, in my situation (and the vast majority of Americans situations), it's not worth it.

Let me illustrate.  For the last 8 years, I have been getting tax refunds of $3000-$7000.  Well above the national average of $2000 to $3000.  The question one has to ask is what would you do with the money if instead of getting it in one big lump sum, you got a little bit more in every paycheck?  Investing in the stock market historically has been the best performer.  I assumed that I get a refund of $5200 each year (it makes it easily divisible by 26 paychecks a year).  So each paycheck I would have a theoretical $200 to invest in the stock market (I'll use SPY the S&P 500 ETF).

$ Increase
% Increase
2005 S&P
2006 S&P
2007 S&P
2008 S&P
2009 S&P
2010 S&P
2011 S&P
2012 S&P
2005-2012 S&P

Basically, at the end of the year, hopefully you have more money than you put in.  Now, in order to game the tax withholding every couple of months you are going to need to go through and project what your tax return is going to look like at the end of the year (taking into account the money you have not yet made and the changes that the politicians have not yet proposed). Then you can adjust your withholding allowances/exemptions to change the amount that is withheld. Bear in mind that you probably want to err on the side of caution because while there is no bonus for having too much withheld, there are penalties for not having enough withheld.  So, I conservatively assumed 10 hours per year spent analyzing and adjusting your tax withholding to calculate how much per hour this is equal to.

You can see from the list above, there are only three of the eight years in which crunching numbers for 10 hours a year would exceed my $25 free time price.  Yours may be lower, but there were still three of eight years when the ROI was negative, so no amount of tinkering would have made it worth your time. Overall, $11.39/hour average doesn't sound too shabby - but remember, I make enough money to have $5200 refund each year, if you are only getting the national average of $2600, then cut this $11.39/hr in half and you have something that is less than minimum wage - in other words it would be more profitable for you to just go out and get a job at McDonalds for two days (five hour shifts) each year and then quit rather than try to monkey around with your tax withholding throughout the year.

But the 2005-2012 S&P line can be misleading.  This is calculated by just adding up each of the yearly amounts.  I did this since we plan our tax refund into our budget and mainly have it targeted to pay for big ticket items (replacing roof, buying car, etc.) that we know are happening in the next year.  What about if you plan on saving this for the long term, there could be a lot of good benefits, right?

$ Increase
% Increase
2005-2012 S&P Yearly
2005-2012 S&P Combined

Well, the Combined column (assumes you don't spend it each year) is starting to look really good.  $89/hr is a heck of a lot more than I make.  Obviously, if the S&P 500 does average or even good in 2013, then this doesn't change the rosiness of this picture.  But what if instead 2013 becomes another 2008?

$ Increase
% Increase
2005-2012 S&P Yearly
2005-2012 S&P Combined
One More Bad Year
One More Bad Year Combined

So, I calculated for one more bad year, assuming that you spend it every year and it is bad, but if you were using it as long term savings, then that $89/hr turns into -$146/hr.  In one year, of course the next year may be better than before. Or it could be worse.  You don't really know, so, I would suggest not using this as the basis to make a decision.  Don't get me wrong, I invest in the stock market and encourage others to as well. Its just not a place to put money that you may need in the short term.

So, let me look at something that is more stable, like bank interest rates.  I can count on this to always be positive. 

$ Increase
% Increase
1% Savings
2% Savings
3% Savings
4% Savings
5% Savings

Nope, this certainly doesn't change things.  Unless interest rates are astronomically high, there is no sense in me using my leisure time to play with taxes.  In fact with some of these, I know my daughter has made more operating a lemonade stand.

So, for the last 8 years, my opinion has changed.  At one point in my life the $25 extra a year in interest I might have made sense, but I had a whole lot of extra time back then. Yes, I have been giving the government an interest free loan for thousands of dollars, but on the flip side, the actions I would need to take to not give them that loan are not worth it.  If there was no penalty for underpayment, then I wouldn't because it would make the decision easy (arrange to have nothing withheld and just write a check on April 15th).