Sunday, July 28, 2013

Lies, Damn Lies, and Statistics

Mark Twain (or was it Benjamin Disraeli?) famously said, "There are three kinds of lies: lies, damned lies, and statistics". This is the quintessence of statistics-as-lie.
Four out of 5 U.S. adults struggle with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for at least parts of their lives, a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream.
Four out of five...struggle...with joblessness, near-poverty or reliance on welfare for...wait for least parts of their lives. Wow! That sounds really terrible. Foreboding even. But it's bullshit. Total and complete bullshit.

See, this pasture-pies-masquerading-as-science study includes people like me, who 30+ years ago was a struggling 23-year-old newly married guy, living in a crappy part of Sacramento (on the edge of Oak Park, a notorious crime-ridden part of town), making under $10K per year. At that time in my life, it's safe to say that I was living in "near-poverty". But is my situation in 1982 really "a sign of deteriorating economic security and an elusive American dream"? No more so than my economic situation now is a sign that Obamanomics lifted me from poverty to prosperity. 

I'm not sure whom I'm more disgusted with: the quacks who published this study, or USA Today for giving it credence.


Monday, June 3, 2013

What constitutes a "home town"?

The other day I received a notification from Facebook that I had notifications pending. Facebook is funny that way.

I went to Facebook to review said notifications. The application, apparently tired of my incomplete profile, began to pepper me with questions: What high school did you go to? Where did you go to college? What is your home town?

The first two were easy: Alhambra High School, and the School of Hard Knocks. But the last one registered a big, fat, null pointer exception in my brain (sorry for the nerd reference - didn't know how to describe it in people terms).

After some thought, I entered "Sacramento, CA", and closed Facebook.

My dad apparently received a notification from Facebook that he had notifications pending, because he looked at my new Facebook profile entries later that same day. I don't think he much cared for my choice of home town. The following exchange occurred.
[Dad] I am puzzling over the the entry on Facebook that says your hometown is SACRAMENTO? Were you born at the age of nine?

[Vulture] Meh. I lived in so many places that "where I was born" hardly seemed like a "home town". I could just as easily have picked Frederick.

[Dad] Whatever inflates your sails.
A little background. My dad was born in Southeastern Idaho, and lived there continuously (minus a two-year military stint) for 32+ years. Ask him his hometown and he'll say Roberts, Idaho, where he spent almost his entire childhood and where he lived until age 18. He's very proud of his hometown. I guess he thinks I should be proud of mine.

But..........what is my home town? I haven't a clue.

Yes, I was born in Idaho Falls, Idaho. But I lived a nomadic existence for the first half of my life. By the time I was 18, I had lived in 15 different residences in 9 different communities in 2 different states. I went to 9 different schools from Kindergarten through High School. Home town? How can I even begin to answer that?

I lived in Southeastern Idaho for 8.5 years. For those of you keeping score, that's nearly four score years ago. Is Idaho Falls (or Shelley, where my parents lived when I was born), my home town? I have no connection with Idaho Falls. I have few memories of Idaho, other than walking home from school and finding chin-deep snow in the driveway when I got home, or climbing large piles of snow to play. Snow memories. That hardly makes for a home town, does it?

I picked Sacramento primarily because I lived there twice, as a youngster (11-14), and again as a young adult (23-28). I picked it because Sacramento was the place where I first established my identity as a person, developing my love of music and sports and offbeat humor as a youngster there. I picked it because Sacramento is where I started my career as a computer programmer. I picked it because it had so much to do with defining me, a lot more to do with defining me than where I was born.

So you tell me. Am I wrong to say that my home town is Sacramento? Should I defer to the place I was born? Do I really have a say in the matter?

Inquiring minds want to know.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

All states are not created equal

I found this interactive map which graphically represents how states stack up against one another with regard to how much personal freedom their citizens have in comparison with residents of other states. Not surprisingly, Maryland, my former state of residence, came in at a pathetic rating of 44 out of 50.
Where Maryland fails is the personal freedom dimension, where it is the second-worst-ranked state. Maryland boasts the seventh-strictest gun control laws in the country: carry permits are expensive and rarely issued; “assault weapons,” cheap handguns, and large-capacity magazines are banned; sales are banned unless by licensed dealers; and so on. Its marijuana laws are fairly harsh as well, except that the first offense of high-level possession is only a misdemeanor, and the state has an almost-useless medical marijuana exception. Maryland’s impositions on personal freedom also include extensive auto and road regulations, tight gambling laws, a ban on raw milk, a law allowing police to take DNA from certain felony arrestees, burdensome private and home school laws that require private school teachers to be licensed and effectively subject curricula to government approval, very high drug arrest rates (though incarceration and other victimless crimes arrest rates are low), lack of same-sex marriage or equivalent status (since enacted by the legislature and confirmed by popular vote), high tobacco taxes, and an airtight, statewide smoking ban. The only personal freedom on which Maryland is better than average is the freedom to consume alcohol: taxes on booze are low.
The low taxes on alcohol are just common sense; drinking heavily makes it easier to deal with the gross impositions on personal liberty.

How does my new state of residence, the Commonwealth of Virginia, fare? A vastly superior ranking of 8 out of 50.

What's most interesting about this survey is the direction each state is trending. Virginia went from 9th to 8th since the previous survey in 2011. Maryland, of course, went the other way - dropping from 42nd to 44th.

Looks like I made my move just in the nick of time.


Saturday, May 11, 2013

Escape from the People's Republic of Maryland

I was a resident of the People's Republic of Maryland (motto: if you can imagine it, we can tax it) for 26 years - longer than I lived in my birth state of Idaho by 18 years, longer than I lived in my adopted home state of California by 8 years...bottom line, a long time. I like Maryland. It's quirky, like me.

But Maryland has......issues.

In the 26 years I lived in Maryland, I worked inside of the state for barely 3 years. The rest of that time I worked in DC (1.5 years) and Virginia.

See, the PRM isn't a business-friendly kind of place. Hell, even the federal government prefers to expand further and further into Virginia rather than attempt to expand in that tax-gouging "workers paradise".

So I've spent the better part of 26 years enduring commutes of 1-2 hours each direction - simply because that's where the work was. I put up with it as long as I did because I liked where I lived.

But then insult began to be heaped on top of injury. As I posted one year ago, Governor O'Malley and the state legislature decided that those of us in the state still actually working needed to pay still more in taxes (or, as Iowahawk put it, "Maryland raises taxes on $100k+ earners stupid enough to live in Maryland").

I'd had enough, but, more importantly, Deadeye had had enough of me getting home late, exhausted from a hell commute. She pushed for us to sell the house and move to Virginia, and, after a six month adventure, we have done so. We're now residents of the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Bottom line, we love it here. My commute now is under 20 minutes each way. And we're not subject to punitive taxes for the crime of being successful.

Blue states like Maryland view people as static actors who won't change their behavior or circumstances regardless of how much their tax policies punish them and drive away employers. They think wrong. As much as I loved living in Maryland, it wasn't enough to justify a perpetual hell commute and punitive taxation.

I'm a Virginian now, and I'm thrilled about it.


Friday, May 10, 2013

Is it back?

It's been over six months since I last posted. Hard to believe. I mean, I didn't even post during the 49ers Super Bowl run!

For a while I thought I'd hung up my keyboard for good. But as circumstances have evolved, I started to get the itch to write again, if for no other reason than to blabber about said changes.

Yes, the world is still going to hell on a rocket sled, and there's nothing we can do about it, which, as a point of fact, was the primary reason I stopped posting; the way I saw it, why try to persuade others to embrace libertarian principles when it's already too late to salvage what's left of the Founders' vision?

But that doesn't mean I can't make fun of the mental midgets driving the rocket sled, or otherwise make a nuisance of myself, right? So, I'm gonna give it another shot. Don't expect a torrent of posts out of me, at least not initially. A post every few days, once a week, at odd steps. Let's not strain something here!

The Vulture is back. You've been warned.


Saturday, September 29, 2012

Thomas Fullmer, 1962-2012

I got caught in the worst kind of traffic yesterday. It took over 30 minutes to go 1/4 mile. I thought that was the worst thing I would experience on a Friday. It wasn't.

When I got home, DeadEye told me the bad news: my brother, Tom was dead.

Talking to my mom on the phone, it took every ounce of strength for me to choke back tears -- hell, what I feared would be SOBS -- to be strong for her. I thought I was prepared for this. I wasn't. There's no such thing as being prepared for the loss of someone you love so much.

Understand, Tom had been dying or in the throws of death for 20+ years. First it was the ultra-rare blood disorder that knocked his white cell count down to around 35. Then, after a near-miraculous recovery as a result of an experimental drug, the so-called "side effects" of said miracle drug began to finish the job the blood disease started.

After a few short years of good health, Tom developed polycystic kidney disease. Literally hundreds of cysts grew in and around his kidneys, most small, but some as large as grapefruit. The tumors pressed against his internal organs, crushing them and causing incredible pain. Worse, they made it difficult for him to keep his meals down.

And yet, he lived another 15 years. For 15 years he defied death. Even when his kidneys began to fail, he defied death. It took liver failure to finally bring him down.

It's fitting that he defied death for 15 years. Because the man Tom Fullmer was one tough hombre. In his youth, when he was healthy, he was the manliest of men. Women wanted him. Men wanted to be him. Hell, I wanted to be him.

His was a life filled with irony. He was terrible in school. But, after taking an entry-level job as a laborer, he worked his way up to carpenter, and then to licensed electrician. I've looked at schematics. There are no stupid electricians. He wasn't dumb. He just didn't get school, and school didn't get him.

He read voraciously, particularly books of history. He was as knowledgeable about the history of Europe from Roman times to the present as anyone I've ever known. He was even knowledgeable about Nordic mythology: he is the only person I've known besides Internet Superintelligence Vox Day who could speak knowledgeably about Radnarok.

His diseases were especially cruel. He was robbed of his home, his marriage, his ability to work...but never his dignity. His mind remained strong, albeit dulled by the drugs, right up until just recently.

He had the ability to make everyone around him comfortable. He made everyone laugh with his funny stories, goofy faces, and general outgoing nature. He remained upbeat even in the face of incredible suffering.

I loved and respected Tom. We weren't especially close as kids, due to the fact he was 4 years younger than I and 5 grades behind me (do YOU know any high school seniors who hang out with their 7th grade brother?). That was my mistake. Tom, it turns out, was an indispensable friend and mentor.

Tom helped me through the tough times I experienced after I got dumped by my girlfriend of several years, dropped out of college, and lost my faith in God (and pretty much everything else). He shepherded me through times when I didn't much care if I lived or died, until I could get my feet back under me. We effectively swapped roles; he was the big brother, and I followed his example.

I will miss Tom, more than I can express in mere words. If there is a heaven...if there is salvation (and I believe there is)...then Tom is in the loving embrace of his Savior right now.

Tom, your 50 years on this earth were too short, and too filled with pain. But what you left behind -- your legacy -- will live on and on.

You once told DeadEye that you loved her and thought of her as a sister. She was lying in bed last night SMILING at that memory. Your legacy lives on with her.

You taught my boys how to handle weapons and shoot. They loved and admired you with all of their hearts. The men they have become -- that, too, is your legacy.

As for me? I might not be here now if it wasn't for you. I certainly wouldn't be the man I am now without your influence. 

Tom is free of the pain now. Free from suffering. Free from this maddening world. Rest, strong man. Know you were respected in this life. Know you were loved by family and friends. And know that you WILL be missed.

I love you, my brother, my friend, forever.