Scary Movies as Kids

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Seeing as this is an interesting topic and was an issue in our household, let’s discuss viewing horror movies as children. I know I did, from seeing the Twilight Zone movie in the theater (age 7) to watching The Shining, A Nightmare on Elm Street, and Jaws when they came to television (elementary school years). Were they scary? Hell yes! I had nightmares about Freddy Krueger, used to run up the basement stairs after being down there and having to turn off the light, and refused to swim in Hawai`i for a while out of fear of sharks. I’m scarred to this day by some of them, especially the long hallway scenes of The Shining, but I absolutely love the adrenaline rush of a good scare (or creep factor) gives me.

Seeing as my daughter went from an “immune” 10-year old (laughing and ridiculing old horror movies) to an overly-frightened 11-year old (getting pissed off at being purposefully scared and crying at the slightest thing), my question is this: is it the generalized child or the specific individual? I’m told it’s because she’s 11, yet I (and many others) watched scary movies at that age and earlier. Not to mention the fact that not 6 months prior we were watching such movies regularly without so much as a peep. I’m told it’s because shes a girl, yet I have many female friends who grew up just like I did.

I know some friends of mine don’t watch horror movies, but I remember far more who had the same experiences I did. So, let’s hear it from the peanut gallery. What were your experiences? Did Rachel truly lose her resistance and is acting normal for her age? Or is she being overly-emotional, milking the sympathy thing, and needs to get some thicker skin?

Gun Debate: Facts (Not Opinions)

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After many discussions over this topic, I have found that much of the debate is fueled not only by personal bias but by complete ignorance regarding the matter. We certainly are all entitled to our opinions on civilian firearm ownership, but what we are not entitled to are our own facts. I have talked to too many people who take a stance based on misunderstanding, misinformation, or outright lies, including personal friends who truly thought they understood the issue. That is why I am putting this together, to hopefully clarify some of the most common misconceptions and to hopefully encourage some critical thought among friends.

As an aside, If you are reading this I ask that you try and put aside your personal opinion and take an objective view of the matter. I also ask that you read this as if from an independent source; I have been directly told by a personal associate that cannot be objective because I am a gun owner. There is no place for such ignorant, ad hominem attacks in intelligent discourse. Whether a person participates in a given activity is irrelevant and we should judge the words… not the messenger.

1) Semi-Automatics are not “Military Weapons”

Some of the most common statements I hear is “no one needs a semi-automatic”, “semi-automatics belong in the hands of the military”, and “the only reason to have a semi-automatic is to kill as fast as possible.” These statements show a complete ignorance of what a “semi-automatic” is, including the basics of firearm technology and the history of guns. Whenever I hear people say these terms, all I can think of is that lovely geek quote: “You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.”

A semi-automatic firearm simply means the gun contains mechanical parts that allow the weapon to ready another round for firing without additional work from the user. It does not mean the weapon fires a spray of bullets, which is known as “fully automatic”, as the user must still pull the trigger again for each bullet. The rate of fire from such a weapon depends on the user and will fire no faster than their skill. Amusingly, semi-automatic and single-action firearms shoot at the same rate (one bullet per trigger pull), the only difference being the latter usually are 6- to 9-round capacity revolvers.

Semi-automatic firearms have existed since the 19th century. They are the latest in a long line of firearm mechanisms that helped make them more efficient. Originally, firearms (such as black powder weapons) required anywhere from 30 seconds to several minutes to reload. The advent of integrated cartridges (what most recognize as “bullets”) and revolvers (which hold more than one round) in the 19th century, reduced time between shots greatly. The first semi-automatic firearms appeared in 1885 Germany, and by the turn of the century manufacturers like Remington and Winchester sold hunting and sporting rifles using this mechanism. The semi-automatic was a complex, costly system and was not regularly used by the military until World War I.

The majority of modern firearms are semi-automatic weapons. Almost every civilian pistol is semi-automatic, for ease of use. The majority of sporting rifles are semi-automatic, including the popular .22-caliber rifles used by many youth organizations, sports tournaments, and the Olympics. Even many hunting rifles are semi-automatic, so that a missed shot does not mean you lose your prey and have to begin waiting again.

2) “Assault Weapons” are commonly confused with “Military Weapons”

The term “assault weapon” is a controversial term that has had many definitions. The original definition of an “assault weapon” was no different than a “military weapon” and referred to a variety of devices with fully automatic firing capability. This term was not applied to semi-automatic weapons until the 1980’s, with the advent of increased gun control legislation. At this time, several gun control advocates began using the term “assault weapon” to refer to any weapon that either belongs in the military or looks like it does. By 1994, the term was applied to a variety of (previously legal) firearms that were no different from other rifles but contained cosmetic features that gave them a “military” appearance.

In 1994, the Federal Assault Weapons Ban (AWB) was passed, based on these cosmetic features. Contrary to popular belief, the AWB did not ban machine guns or fully automatic weapons. These firearms had been restricted with two previous acts in 1934 and 1968. The only thing the AWB did was restrict a variety of semi-automatic rifles based on their appearance. No firearm restricted by the AWB was a “military weapon” and none of them were any more or less dangerous than other firearms. Amusingly, studies by the CDC, NRC, DOJ, and NIJ found that the effect on crime was negligible, as the restricted firearms were rarely used in most crimes to begin with.

3) Civilians use “Assault Weapons” for legitimate reasons

As some latch onto the misunderstanding of the first two questions, they often conclude that a civilian has no use for something like an AR-15 rifle. Even those who recognize the difference between a semi-automatic “assault” rifle and a full-automatic military weapon still wonder why a person would ever use such a weapon. After all, they say, if it looks like a military weapon it still must only be used for military applications. These people then conclude that no reasonable hunter, target shooter, or home defender would ever need such a weapon.

Unfortunately, this train of logic is full of ignorance and fallacy. The AR-15, and similar rifles, are quite popular in all three legitimate pursuits. These rifles are very light weight and easily modified, with adjustable stocks and pistol grips making them ideally suited to people who have problems with standard rifles. People with small or light builds (including many women), individuals with handicaps, competitors with unique shooting profiles, etc. all use rifles like these because they can be adapted to their specific requirements. Similarly, the adaptability of an AR-15 makes them ideal for sporting and hunting across a variety of environments. Finally, for home defense, an AR-15’s appearance makes it ideal because it looks like a “military weapon”. Firearm classes teach you that shooting a firearm is the last thing you want to do, and that intimidating the opponent is far better.

4) More gun control does not necessarily mean lower crime, particularly in the United States

The main reason for most gun control legislation is to reduce crime (including mass shootings), which is a noble cause. The long time thought was that increased gun control would reduce crime, which is a reasonable hypothesis. However, any theory needs to be tested using empirical evidence, and unfortunately… the evidence doesn’t hold up.

I created a database comparing each state’s firearm-related crime (per 100,000 people) to how strict its gun control laws were. The former was determined using 2011 crime data collected by the FBI; the latter was a more subjective number determined using the Brady Campaign’s rating of each state. When compared to each other, there was little correlation between gun control laws and firearm-related crime rates. The ten states with the lowest crime included three of the strictest states (Illinois, Hawaiʻi and New York) and three of the loosest states (North Dakota, Iowa, and Utah). Similarly, the ten states with the highest crime included one of the strictest areas (Maryland/DC) and two of the loosest (Alaska and Louisiana). When the two sets of data were plotted on a chart, the correlation coefficient was -0.05883… which is practically no correlation at all.

If there is no correlation between gun control and crime rates in our own country, people sometimes look to other countries as examples. Unfortunately, this is often hard to do as many countries do not provide the required information to do an accurate comparison, particularly among many developing or war-torn countries. Despite this, using similar techniques (but not as reliable statistics), I compared firearm ownership (per 100 people) to firearm deaths (per 100,000 people). Once more, the data reveals no support for the theory that stricter gun laws lead to less gun deaths, with a correlation coefficient of -0.05196.

Now, to be fair this does not mean that less gun control reduces crime either. There is simply no evidence either way that gun control has any influence on crime rates. Instead, the only conclusion is that there must be other factors that are influencing crime rates, including justice systems, cultural factors, urbanization, and even types of crime. The main thing to take away from this, though, is that we cannot say that increased gun control will reduce crime or prevent mass shootings. Speaking of the latter…

5) Mass shootings are more likely to occur because of mentally ill individuals than because of “assault weapons”

Renewed interest in gun control legislation occurred because of the Sandy Hook shootings, as well as those prior to that tragedy. Many of these proposed bills were encouraged as a way to prevent further shootings. However, like the aforementioned section on crime, the legislation is misguided on what actually would prevent such incidents.

“Assault weapons” are one of the primary firearms targeted, because they were used at Sandy Hook and the Aurora Theater. However, “assault weapons” constitute only five of the 27 shootings in the past decade (19%), with three acquired illegally and one an assigned weapon of a police officer. Only a single mass shooting involving an “assault weapon” was performed by a legal, civilian owner of the firearm. The vast majority of mass shootings involve handguns, which constitute 59% of these tragedies.

“High capacity magazines” are also targeted, because they are believed to allow faster shooting and cause more deaths. However, these magazines were only used in three of the 27 shootings in the past decade (11%), and one of those was a pistol with a 33-round magazine. The deadliest shooting in recent history, the Virginia Tech Massacre, involved pistols with standard magazines (10- and 15-rounds)… the shooter carrying 19 of them.

In contrast, 21 of the 27 shootings in the past decade (78%) were performed by people with histories of mental illness. Despite their histories, 15 of them acquired their weapons legally, either because their information was not updated in the Federal database, they purchased them through person-to-person transfers, or they were never formally diagnosed or committed despite their behavior.

Further Discussion

I’m sure there will be comments. I’m sure there will be debates. As I compile more information on the subject, or run into regular misinformation, I will post it here. I do ask that comments be intelligent, reasonable, and objective. As with all things in life, we should use critical thinking and logic to determine the best possible route behind any issue.

This is not a “Christian Nation”

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I hate to break it to people but we are not a Christian nation. No matter how much people may want to believe we are founded on Christian principals or that our Founding Fathers were Christian, the fact is that is not entirely true.

First of all, as for the laws that make up our country, they could be said to be based on Christian principals… in as much as Christian beliefs influenced the entirety of Western Civilization. Certainly we find much of what America was founded on in the Holy Roman Empire… but “Holy” is only one aspect of that. Much more of what our laws come from is based on the other part, i.e. the “Roman Empire”. Therefore, our laws go back much further than the rise of Christianity to the practices of Ancient Rome and (before that) Greece. Thus, our government and its legislation are not based on Christian values per se, but on the practices of Western Civilization (of which Christianity is one aspect that influenced it later on).

Second, certainly many Founding Fathers practiced the Christian Faith, but they were Deists first and Christians second. The Founding Fathers lived during the Age of Enlightenment, a period that espoused science and reason over blind faith. Many of them railed against Christianity and the Church, believing God to be beyond the mundane world. The Founding Fathers opposed the trappings of religion and claims of supernatural activity, declaring such things to be no more than dogma promoted by Man.

Third, the Constitution was written with this philosophy in mind. The First Amendment clearly states that “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof”. The Federal Government would not create legislation that caters to any specific religion and in return no one shall be prohibited from practicing their own faith. This division between Government and Religion was reiterated in Thomas Jefferson’s famous letter, in which he wrote:

“I contemplate with sovereign reverence that act of the whole American people which declared that their “legislature” should “make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof,” thus building a wall of separation between church and State.”

Finally, in case people need to be clear on what the Founding Fathers said on religion and Christianity (in addition to Jefferson’s statement above), here are their direct words:

  • “I do not find in orthodox Christianity one redeeming feature.” (Thomas Jefferson)
  • “I almost shudder at the thought of alluding to the most fatal example of the abuses of grief which the history of mankind has preserved–the Cross. Consider what calamities that engine of grief has produced!” (John Adams)
  • “Religious bondage shackles and debilitates the mind and unfits it for every noble enterprise.” (James Madison)
  • “Lighthouses are more helpful than churches.” (Benjamin Franklin)
  • “The study of theology, as it stands in the Christian churches, is the study of nothing; it is founded on nothing; it rests on no principles; it proceeds by no authority; it has no data; it can demonstrate nothing; and it admits of no conclusion.” (Thomas Paine)

There is nothing wrong with being Christian. There is nothing wrong with accepting the contributions to our nation’s founding and culture. What’s wrong is trying to shoehorn the past into supporting our own misinformed beliefs about history and America. Our founding fathers did not create this nation solely based on Christian ideals. Our government is not created to support Christian ideals over others. And most important, we are not a Christian nation.

Why I support Same-Sex Marriage

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I’m tired of reiterating the same points across multiple posts and blogs, so I will compile my statements in one area. Feel free to discuss or disagree, but please use critical thinking and post intelligently.

1) Christianity does not define marriage. Nowhere in the Bible is the word “marriage” defined. Although the Bible does define several acceptable unions between two or more people according to Abrahamic law, “marriage” is not the word used in the original text.

2) Unions between two people have been practiced since long before the Abrahamic religions. The word “marriage” finds its origin in Ancient Rome and several Latin terms (such as marītus and mātrimōnium) and was used to represent a variety of unions. According to studies of Ancient Roman culture, most marriages were secular; they were unions performed as legal contracts for a variety of reasons (breeding, politics, etc.). Although most marriages were between man and woman, there were exceptions, including marriages of Heads of State to their male lovers that used all the pomp and ritual of any other marriage.

3) Christianity does not hold sole ownership or usage of the word “marriage”. The term is used globally in English translations of unions from almost every culture and religion. English-speaking governments recognize unions in non-Abrahamic faiths without concern or care for their individual definitions of the union. Considering that the combined populations of Hindus, Buddhists, European Pagans, and the indigenous faiths of all the Continents outnumber Christians this suggests that Christians are not the majority and do not get the “vote” on what marriage is.

4) The government does not define “marriage” in a religious form; it is forbidden from doing so by the Constitution. A Christian marriage is no different from a Hindu marriage, a Wiccan marriage, a Universalist Unitarian marriage, or a non-religious marriage. The government’s definition of marriage, in keeping with the origins of Western society, is simply a legal contract that provides benefits for those who have signed it. For the government to define marriage solely by a select group of Christians (not even representative of every Christian in the US, let alone the world) would be illegal according to the laws of this country.

5) There is no evidence that homosexual practices lead to the destruction of society. Many ancient cultures, at some point in their history, accepted homosexual or bisexual behavior without it being a contributing factor to their downfall. Even to this day there are indigenous cultures that accept these same practices as has been part of their tradition since long before the presence of Westerners.

6) There is no evidence that homosexual practices directly cause negative effects in the individuals involved. Studies of the psychosocial health of homosexual individuals have shown a high correlation with stress, depression, suicidal tendencies, and a variety of psychological disorders. However, correlation is not causation and the larger context must be understood. In a society that is hostile to LGBT individuals, where abuse, oppression, and even assault occurs, it would be completely understandable why members of this minority group experience these negative psychosocial effects. Is it moral, ethical, or just to blame the victim for their state and ignore the perpetrator?

7) There is no evidence that homosexual parents negatively affect their children’s development. The last major study (by Mark Regnerus from the University of Texas) was severely criticized because the sample population was almost solely children of previously heterosexual divorced parents who later entered homosexual relationships. A child from a broken home (of any kind) is going to show a higher rate of negative psychosocial factors than those who grow up in a consistent and stable home (of any kind).

8) There is evidence that homosexual tendencies are an inherent trait rather than learned behavior. Although Dean Hamer’s “gay gene” study has been criticized, repeat studies of twins and homosexual behaviors has shown that heritability is a factor. Even more-so, repeat studies of the general population show that, although strictly homosexual individuals are a minority, bisexual thoughts are far more prevalent than expected. What this means to me is that the concept that homosexuality or bisexuality is “unnatural” and that the behavior is solely learned is a fallacious statement at best.

Therefore..

  • If Christianity does not define or own the term “marriage” (which it does not)
  • If government recognition of marriage is secular and does not support any given faith (which is true)
  • If homosexuality does not directly harm society, the individuals, or any children they raise (which it has been proven not to)
  • If sexual orientation and/or gender identity are likely inherent traits rather than learned (which modern science suggests is the case)

…then the only logical conclusion is to let people be who they are and enjoy the same benefits as everyone else. This is not only a moral and ethical conclusion, but a legal one as well as the laws of this country prevent discrimination and do not support a “separate but equal” mentality.

Music Genres and Devout Fans: Evolutionary Dead Ends?

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I’ve been thinking about (and occasionally dealing with) people who are completely devoted to a specific genre or era of music. I watch how they fervently talk about the history of their favorite music, name every band (and most band members), etc. and wonder something about myself. I definitely have a great love for music (I would rather go blind than go deaf) and always thought I appreciated the art form. Am I missing something by not being completely obsessed with a single genre? Is there any genre greater than all others that come after?

This train of thought eventually led me to a conclusion based on evolutionary comparisons. If you look in the wild, there are animals that adapt to very specific environments. I’m not even talking about general environments (such as the desert or the forest), but very specific environments (such as a particular area in China or one zone in the oceans). If you think about it, often these animals die out over time. Their environments might be ruined by invading lifeforms or changed as the world shifts. Either way, many of these animals become evolutionary dead ends, eventually disappearing and leaving nothing behind but fossils. Meanwhile, more adaptive animals survive to breed and continue to evolve and change. They take over the positions in the food chain left behind when the previous species went extinct.

In the end, I think it’s best if one follows this same idea in music. Be open to multiple genres and prepared to “survive in any environment”. Appreciate changes in music and “adapt to new environments”. Otherwise, those too focused on their one, “superior” genre… may end up going extinct.