atomic_fungus (atomic_fungus) wrote,

#3754: Let's answer this in a post instead.

Comment to #3752: $33 for windshield wipers? Seriously?:
You are as provocative and lively as ever, Mr. Fungus. One comment and one question, though.

1. On the EU's "High Level Report on Media Freedom and Pluralism"
(First of all, after reading some of the nonsense in the UK's press, I'm often moved to contemplate reviving an old American custom and tarring and feathering a few of Her Majesty's deserving Subjects. I'm not saying it'd be right--I'm just saying it'd be fun.)

But anyway...

I think that this report is getting some serious misrepresentation right now. One of the main preoccupations of this report is with how to prevent political powers from manipulating libel laws to their own advantage: "Libel/defamation laws potentially being used to restrict the freedom of the press to report on possible misconduct by public and private figures, or – conversely – to muzzle politicians and prevent them from freely expressing their opinions." When it comes to journalistic responsibility, the document is concerned with newspapers publishing false information to manipulate economic markets (for the advantage of the newspaper's owners), and journalists committing personal libel and acts of harassment while hiding behind their claim to journalistic freedom.

The problem Europe faces is that there is an enormous amount of cross-border reporting without much in the way of uniform standards among individual nations, thus creating challenging legal problems within the EU. The Report talks about how to set up an independent media council to oversee standards without being subject to control or bias by particular political interests.
The press in Europe is astonishingly diverse. There are fascist newspapers and commie newspapers with enormous readerships, and everything in between. In many countries the freedom of the press amounts to what we in the U.S. would call the right to libel and utter journalistic irresponsibility; in a few countries, restrictions on the press are much greater than in the U.S. (For what it's worth, the U.S. is ranked 47th in the world for journalistic freedom by Reporters without Borders.)

2. On Molon Labe. I don't know if you've addressed this elsewhere, but my question for you is perhaps the obvious one. Where, specifically, would you draw the line on public access to weapons--as in, what level of firepower? I'm assuming you don't think that F-16s, Panzerfausts, nerve gas, rocket artillery, and tactical nuclear weapons should be available for purchase to any 18 year-old at the local Weaponz 'R' Us up on 64th Street in Chicago (or anywhere else). I'm not making any reductio ad absurdum argument here, but merely wondering what the logic is for what level of restriction. This is much unsettled in my mind.

The problems raised in the first part, about journalistic freedom, are largely similar to the problems we have in the US with our own press.

But the further problem is that--regardless--the "independent media council" is (sooner or later) going to end up being anything but. One way or another it'll be co-opted by some faction with an axe to grind; and when that happens one viewpoint will end up being pushed at the expense of all others.

We already see this happening in America without there being such a council--turn on the nightly news and you're most likely to get someone shilling for Democrats. It's been like this for decades--longer--but only recently has it become as blatant as it is now, with television newsreaders abandoning all but the thinnest veneer of objectivity. At the same time, Fox News provides coverage which tends rightward of most media and they're vilified as a wholly owned subsidiary of the GOP (which it is not).

Marxism has made its "long march through the institutions" and you can't swing a cat at a faculty party or a foundation fundraiser without hitting a dozen people who are openly communist; why would this "independent media council" end up any differently?

No. The better idea is to continue to allow freedom of the press limited only by the constraints of libel and slander laws; and if there is a problem in that regard it's better for the EU to look at making its libel and slander laws more uniform across international boundaries than it is to regulate the press--because otherwise they are merely emplacing a way to hand control over the "dialogue" to whichever group manages to get a majority first.

* * *

Gun control: where would I draw the line on citizens' access to weaponry?

In colonial America, I don't believe there was such a line drawn. If you wanted to own a cannon, and could afford to own it, you could. Why would be the question on everyone's lips, but there was simply less disposable per capita income before the Industrial Revolution and even the richest people had no really good use for a cannon.

I think I would draw the line at weapons of mass destruction, if only for a few important reasons.

1) WMDs require careful storage. You cannot store canisters of CX gas in your garden shed--well, you can, but only an idiot would do something like that. Where would you care to store your Trident warhead? It weighs a bit more than 350 lbs and while it's not going to give off much radiation it will represent a dose higher than background emissions.

Given that, how will you maintain it? A modern nuclear warhead may be a "boosted fission" weapon, which requires tritium--and tritium has a short half-life, so you need to replace it every so often. You gonna do that in your garage?

2) WMDs are disproportionately dangerous. You don't bust out a nuclear bomb to deal with a burglar. If your home is being invaded you don't whip out an aerosol can of sarin and hose him down with it, not even if you and your family sleep in bunny suits. (The kind with its own air supply, I mean, not the kind worn by Ralphie in A Christmas Story.)

3) WMDs are hideously expensive. Only a few people will spend the money to obtain them: the very rich and the very fanatical. Okay, Bill Gates, billionaire, with a nuke doesn't really bother me, not nearly as much as does Mahommed ibn Mahmoud ibn Falil al Saheeb Skyhook, Iranian "student", with a nuke.


I'm not worried about personal ownership of tanks, F-16s, machine guns, flame throwers, grenade launchers, mortars, bombs, rockets, grenades--I'm not worried about them because if everyone has access to them, everyone is safe. It's the same equation with concealed carry writ large; if you think that anyone could have a machine gun you're less likely to haul out yours and cut loose with it.

The big stuff is expensive, though. An F-16 costs a lot of money, and it's not a one-time charge because besides the fact that it's a complex machine that requires lots of maintenance, it also uses lots and lots of fuel when being flown. (There's a reason the military developed in-air refueling.)

If you want to own a tank, where do you park it? It's a bit big for your garage, and you don't want just to park it out in the weather, do you? And--again--a tank consumes a lot of fuel and requires a lot of maintenance.

Ammunition--ammunition is expensive, even in bulk, and the bigger the caliber the more it costs. What would a typical load-out for an Abrams M1 cost at today's prices when you're not buying it by the trainload?

But I'm all for letting law-abiding citizens own whatever weaponry they want to own, barring WMDs. If you absolutely must own an M1 with a fully-functional 50mm cannon, go for it--you'll have to save a lot of pennies to buy and maintain it, but if that's your bag, why not?

Fancy a surplus A-10 Warthog, and you've actually got a full instrument and jet rating? And several million spare dollars? Why not let you have it? The ammo for the 20mm cannon the thing is built around does not grow on trees--looks like $15 per round is typical--and it fires 50 rounds per second, so I do not expect that you'll pull the trigger very often. Shooting the gun costs you $750 per second. I suppose if you can afford to buy and fly the plane and already have your ratings, $750 per second won't be much of a barrier...but rich people don't stay rich for long if they are profligate. (Most rich people are surprisingly parsimonious. Just look at John Kerry: he docked his hyper-expensive yacht in Rhode Island to save himself a few million in taxes, and he's worth $190 million.)

James Bond notwithstanding, the super-rich are generally not bent on world domination, at least not the "wipe out civilization and rebuild it my way" kind. They have too much to lose; all that money is rendered worthless if the social order breaks down.

That leaves, then, only the well-financed maniac.

As we have seen, laws do not stop maniacs. They can't; in some ways the laws make it easier for maniacs to commit mayhem. Example: before 9/11 it was illegal for any airline personnel or passenger to try to fight hijackers, which made it possible for a handful of maniacs to take over four airplanes armed with nothing more than box cutters. Example: with one notable exception, all the mass shootings in the past several years occurred in places which were declared to be "gun free zones".

As things stand right now, if someone wants to get his hands on a Stinger missile, he can do it. He's breaking laws to do it, but he can; and the only thing keeping a bunch of people from doing it is the simple question What would I do with it?

Okay: it'd be cool to have something like that, but "cool" doesn't pay the rent or your kid's orthodontist bill. The average person doesn't need to shoot down airplanes, at least not at present; there's no need for it--and the individual's decision about what he needs will usually lead to a reasonable outcome.

The typical gun nut in Fungus-land--who can buy whatever weapons he wants--will probably limit himself to one or two full-auto machine guns, limited by his budget. Maybe one will sport a grenade launcher and he'll have a few grenades for it--but he'll only take that out to the range once or twice a year, because the grenades cost a packet.

But most of the time he'll limit his automatic firearms to shooting 3-round groups, because "full rock and roll"--while fun and cool--is a waste of money.

The average gun owner? He won't go that far. He'll probably have nothing that's not available to the average US citizen now; but he doesn't have to wait on a politician's pleasure in order to exercise his civil right to self defense.

Anyway, I hope that clarifies things a bit.

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