Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Some Perspective

It seems like half the news items and half the posts on Google Plus for the past few days have been centered around the gun control debate. The shooting at Sandy Hook elementary has sparked a firestorm.

Gun control advocates say it's high time we addressed an issue that kills thousands of Americans every year. It's high time we stopped being afraid of the powerful NRA lobbyists, which have been known to spend as much as $100,000 on a single election. It is no longer enough to simply grieve while we accept the status quo. Homicide rates per capita in the United States far exceed those of other nations, especially those committed by firearms.

On the other side, Second Amendment enthusiasts are pushing to allow more guns in schools, in hopes that someone might be on hand to shoot back if this sort of thing ever happened again. Why punish the millions of law-abiding gun-owners, on account of the few nutcases? They argue that if someone wants to commit an atrocity, they'll either acquire guns illegally, or find some other means of harming people: our best defense against such attacks is an armed and trained citizenry.

This topic hits as close to home for me as it does for most Americans: a man was shot in front of our house this year with a gun that was purchased legally, but stored without sufficient safeguards. As much as anybody, I would like to know that my wife, three-year-old son, and soon-to-be-born baby will be safe from such things.

But I think we as human beings have a predilection for reactionism. Some dude makes a stupid movie, and the entire Muslim world is up at arms. Some dude tries to blow up a plane with a shoe bomb, and the entire nation takes off their shoes when we go to the airport. We human beings just love to react--and overreact--to sensational attacks.

Is this a good opportunity for us to talk openly about gun control? Absolutely. I'm ready. But how many other topics are we going to ignore while we wage this particular battle? We Americans largely ignore the enormous death tolls inflicted by wars and other conflicts outside our borders, and even the thousands of innocents that are killed by our own military. Beyond that, there are so many silent killers in the world that destroy lives bit by bit, one at a time, and they go largely ignored because they never have a spotlight moment. Here's just one example:

How many of the people calling for stricter regulation on guns are also calling for stricter regulations on alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs? In my personal experience, some of the most vocal advocates of increased firearm regulation are also the most vocal advocates of drug legalization. And yet, many of the same arguments have direct application in both areas. "We already tried prohibition: it didn't work." "People will just turn to the black market." "At least this way we can collect taxes." And so on.

There's a perception that people who smoke (or do drugs, etc.) are only hurting themselves, and the government should stay out of their business. Others would argue that "no man is an island," and that since society as a whole has to pay for the astronomical medical expenses of smokers, the government has a right and a duty to regulate such dangerous substances.

Aside from those arguments, let's just look at how many people die from second-hand smoke each year in the United States.
So while most of the 443,000 smoking-related deaths could be compared with suicides--in that the smokers are effectively killing themselves--smokers also kill 42,000 other people each year: more than all the firearm-related deaths combined.

Isn't it ironic that over eleven thousand people are murdered with guns every year, but it takes one guy walking into a school and killing twenty children and six adults to spark national outrage? Suddenly there's a hue and cry for background checks on gun buyers (even though the shooter stole the guns from his mother, who probably would have passed a background check). Then isn't it even more ironic that second-hand smoke kills nine hundred babies, every year, but any adult can buy as many cigarettes as they want at the local gas station?
So am I ready to reevaluate our nation's gun laws? Sure. 85 preschool-aged children killed per year is 85 too many. But let's not get so distracted jumping from one sensational news story to the next, that we forget to look at the big picture. Let's get a little perspective. Let's not allocate our precious time and energy, and our legislative human capital, in a way that is orders of magnitude out of proportion with reality. Let's take a proactive, or even a reactive--but not a reactionary--approach to legislation, politics, and everyday life.


Sunday, June 17, 2012


Last Friday, while I was getting ready for the day, a very dark feeling suddenly came over me. I felt very vulnerable, and I wasn't sure why. I offered a brief, heartfelt prayer, asking that God would protect me and my family, and the feeling went away.

That evening, as my wife and I were getting ready to go on a date, a man was shot on the street in front of our house. My wife called 911, and I administered first aid until the paramedics arrived.

Since then, I've had a few neighbors say, "So, I hear you're the hero." That seems weird to me. I didn't do anything brave. If I had seen any reason to believe the situation was dangerous, I don't think I would have rushed outside. So I've been thinking a lot about what it means to be a hero. This Father's Day, I'd like to take a moment to publicly thank some of the real heroes in my life.

Dad: thanks for being such a great dad. I know I can always look to you for an example of what a man ought to be.

I'm thankful to all the fathers who teach their boys that real men don't use violence to deal with anger. Thanks to them, most people can expect to live their whole life through without having to see a bullet wound in person.

I'm thankful to the men that willingly gave their time to be my scout leaders. They helped me to be prepared to face a medical emergency calmly and correctly.

I'm thankful to the men that act as role models for other people's children. It takes a whole village to raise a child.

I'm thankful to my step-dad. I value many of the lessons he taught me.

I'm thankful to my father-in-law, for raising a daughter that somehow always knows how to bring out the best in me. I'm thankful that he was willing to entrust her to me.

I'm thankful to the men who would be fathers, but haven't been given that blessing yet. Live your life like a righteous father should, and I believe you will be blessed with the children you long for: if not in this life, then in the next.

I'm thankful to the men who find themselves to be fathers unexpectedly, and who are man enough to step up to the plate and be a real dad for their children.

I'm thankful to the men who, when they realize they cannot offer their child the love they deserve, are man enough to let them be adopted by someone who can.

I'm thankful to the police officers, paramedics, and all the public servants who so often give up their weekends, and sometimes even their lives, so that the rest of us can live be safe and healthy.

I'm thankful to the men serving in the armed forces. They are willing to take a bullet to protect us and our freedoms.

Finally, I am thankful to my Heavenly Father, for answering my prayers and keeping my family safe when danger passed so near to us.

If being a hero means that your efforts save lives, then these men are the real heroes in my life. God bless you all.

Monday, February 13, 2012

Lessons learned in water filter shopping

Liz and I just spent our evening researching water filters for emergency preparedness, and hopefully we can save other people some time by sharing what we learned.

First: a filter needs to be 0.2 microns or smaller in order to reliably get rid of giardia and cryptosporidium spores. Most of the filters we found only made it down to about 3 microns (over ten times too big), and would only filter 20 to 50 gallons before you have to replace the filter.

However, Sawyer has a line of systems with a 0.1-micron filter and a "million gallon guarantee." After mulling over the various options, we finally narrowed down our search to these two products:
  1. Four-way 32-ounce system: Comes with a 32-ounce water bottle and adapters for camelbak-style bladder bags and standard kitchen faucets.
  2. Squeeze system: Comes with 3 squeeze bags (1/2 liter, 1 liter, and 2 liter), which can easily be rolled up for compact storage. The filter's can also attach directly to a standard 2-liter bottle.

Both have excellent (though sparse) reviews on Amazon. We ended up going with the first option because of the various adapters that it comes with. For serious hikers, the second one is probably the way to go.