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Archive for April, 2009

Not expecting the obvious

April 21, 2009 Leave a comment
19 April 2009 Target

It’s slowly coming to me that my poor performance in last week’s IDPA match isn’t necessarily because I wasn’t putting enough effort in to individual shots and I ended up missing. It’s not that I was failing to take the time to hit, it’s that often I couldn’t hit if I wanted to.

This realization comes out of a day spent at the range with my dad (see right, my shots are circled in blue, the rest are his) that taught me a bit more about shooting. I’m still at that stage where any experience at all is a learning experience. And what this weekend’s experience taught me is that even in perfect range conditions with no stress, I’m not guaranteed to hit.

Now, this is something of a sort of revelation for me. On a subconscious level, when I write phrases like “pistol marksmanship is more complex than just putting the front sight on target and pulling the trigger,” I say to myself, “Duh.” That sort of thing seems self-evident. But in practice, I find myself surprised at the difficulty of actually consistently hitting a target.

The majority of the problem, I think, is lack of practice, but a large contribution originates in not having practiced marksmanship (IDPA so doesn’t qualify) in two months or so. And somewhere along the line, it got in to my head that I was a competent pistol marksman.

This is false.

And so I’m falling, I suppose, in to the same trap as before: I think I don’t have to concentrate as hard, that I can just let my muscles do the work of keeping me on target. But my muscles aren’t that well-trained yet, and so more often than not I relax and let the muscles take over, and the muscles say “Whatever, dude!” and my barrel drops and I get fliers like on the leftmost and rightmost black dots in the middle.

I am also coming to an interesting realization, one of those epiphanies achievable only through personal experience: shooting well is friggin’ hard. It takes a lot of work to “simply” be able to reliably and accurately hit a target. Just putting sights on target and squeezing, without a well-honed grip, will result in shooting like this past weekend.

Or maybe I should just blame the rental gun.

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Understanding is a three-edged sword

April 17, 2009 Leave a comment

I routinely find myself rhetorically paralyzed by a question that I don’t think really can ever be answered, and I’m a little embarrassed to put in to words. Mostly because it’s the sort of question that Simon Pritchett would ask:

How do we know what we know?

Now, this is less a question of metaphysics and more a question of reliable information gathering, because this question always comes up in my mind in the context of debates and discussions on political or philosophical matters. Essentially, on any topic that is infeasible to directly experience.

Case in point: at a recent Society of Independent Thought meeting, we were discussing human rights, in relationship to torture. A weak form of this problem arose when the topic of whether torture actually works came up. One party argued that it would be simple enough for the tortured to fabricate whatever fictions the torturer wanted to hear and thereby escape punishment, the underlying argument here being that torture on the whole is a rough and barbaric practice with unreliable results.

I ended up taking the other side, and from a practical perspective pointed out that torture has been in use by human civilizations for at least six thousand years (dating it back to the Sumerians, at least). Why would humanity still be using torture today if it didn’t work?

But the flaw in both of these arguments is that they are philosophical posturings about something which the members of the discussion, college undergrads all, know virtually nothing. How would you definitively settle the argument over whether it works or not? You would need an expert. Someone who knows torture and has used it, right?

But isn’t a torturer always going to say that his work is effective? And it shouldn’t be too hard to find someone to argue the other side, who’s written some papers and read some books to point to some studies that say that torture never works and kills more than it saves and so forth.

It’s easy to extrapolate this out to the attention being paid to the prison at Guantanamo Bay. The FedGov and the .mil have a distinct incentive to make sure that there’s no proof of torture that comes out of there, if it’s happening. And the human rights watchdog groups have to find something to crow about: they’re never going to say “Okay, we’re all nice enough people, let’s all go home.”

So both sides have good reasons to say there is or isn’t torture going on there and there’s no independent way to verify either way (i.e. normal people can’t just stroll through and see for themselves.) Something that is infeasible to directly experience.

The other discussion where this problem weighs heavily on me is the recent publicity blitz over guns being bought in America and smuggled to Mexico to be used by their drug cartels:

The fact is that out of 29,000 firearms picked up in Mexico over the last two-year period for which data is available, 5,114 of the 6,000 traced guns came from the United States. While that is 90% of traced guns, it means that only 17% of recovered guns come from the United States civilian market.

. . .

Surprisingly, a significant number of the arms are coming to the cartels via legitimate transactions. They are produced and exported legally every year, regulated by the State Department as Direct Commercial Sales. FY 2007 figures for the full exports are available here [That doc lists some 10,500 “Nonautomatic and semi-automatic firearms” legally sold to Mexico/Mexicans in 2007 alone. -HZS] . . .

And there are a number of people pointing out how widespread this disinformation is. For their own reasons, many media outlets as well as the FedGov are very interested in promulgating this idea that Mexico’s drug war is our own fault1.

And when you have media outlets and the government (the former ideally acting as an analytical watchdog for the latter) forming a consensus and peddling what seem to be lies together, it’s hard to be sure that we can really know anything any more.

I mean, it’s not hopeless: the entire notion of the (original, conservative/libertarian) blogosphere was disgust with the modern media outlets. And in many ways it’s working: I only know about the “Mexican Gun Canard” because a few bloggers have championed the cause, backed up by boots-on-the-internet research.

But the fact of the matter is that to gain this sort of less-biased approach, you have to care a lot. To circumvent conventional news media and try and get the “real story” from various blogs and internet sources requires rather a lot of work. And for those who aren’t all that interested, it’s not worth it.

The service that the news media provides that I have yet to find a good replacement for in the blogosphere is condensing everything from the day down in to a compact, skimmable package. You open the paper, read the articles that catch your eye. You put the evening news on while you make dinner.

And I think the problem here is that this variety of information condensation implies a certain infiltration of personal bias in to the format of the news. NC State’s student paper, the Technician, has an unsigned editorial in the paper every day, written about whichever topic the editors think is most important. Interestingly enough, it seems that this same topic is often the front-page article2.

The people who distill your information for you will always bring to the top the issues they think are most pertinent. So, again, for the end-user, non-journalist citizen, just going about his day and trying to keep a handle on what’s really going on in the world, how does he do it? Is there a better way?

I really don’t know.


1. Which it is, in a different way. I subscribe to the notion that keeping drugs so severely illegal grants these cartels license to operate. Big Business might not be too popular in America right now, but at least if they were manufacturing our weed for us there would be much less financial incentive to be as evil as these cartels are.

2. The one exception to this in recent memory is Thursday’s paper which had a cover story about the incoming Student Body President and a large interior article about the Tax Day tea parties, with the unsigned editorial applauding the notion of citizen activism. Because the tea parties weren’t really an NC State thing, I guess they didn’t merit front-page coverage.

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Fun with data

April 15, 2009 1 comment

When all is said and done with the IDPA match, all the scores are tallied up and put in to a giant spreadsheet that gets put up in various places. Being the recreational statistician that I am, I always want to toy with the data, so this time I did.

So, for the first item, I took a number of different shooters’ scores and put them side-by-side on a good old stacked-bar graph to give a pretty good impression of where things went wrong:

I even managed to put the best shooter (David Bramble) right next to the worst (myself). Whoops. Anyways, I think this is actually a pretty good indicator of where things went wrong. Things just broke down on stages 3 and 4, and they were complex enough that my score was a real problem. On average, 2.3 times as long as the average shooter on a given stage, but on Stage 3, that jumped to 3.4 times the average time. That stage was when I really started figuring things out. And it shows. My times, relative to the average, improved significantly on the last two stages.

But the real question is: what happened to Brian on Stage 4? Well, a mixture of weapon malfunctions and hits on non-threats ended up giving him the worst overall score for that stage of anyone in the match, by far:

Name Overall 1 2 3 4 5 6
Brian Buczkowski 175.85 18.71 19.76 23.47 98.69 8.76 6.46
Average 124.15 19.28 23.62 32.76 30.694 10.19 7.58

He was consistently below average time on every stage but that one. So what happens if we find the ratio of his time versus average time on every other stage? Well, that number is .94, meaning that he was just a hair faster than average overall. (Looking at the stats, a dismal Stage 1 ruined that ratio which would otherwise be closer to .85.) So multiply the average Stage 4 time by .94, and we get the new Stage 4 time:

Name Overall 1 2 3 4 5 6
Brian Buczkowski 106.07 18.71 19.76 23.47 28.1 8.76 6.46
Average 124.15 19.28 23.62 32.76 30.694 10.19 7.58

Wow, that’s a heck of a difference. Eyeballing the list of overall times, that bumps him up from about 20th percentile to 60th (where 50th percentile is the average score).

I probably could have gotten more accurate answers if I remembered how to do normal distributions (i.e. not just using a simple average where a single outlier–me–can slant the outcome heavily). I’ll have to see if I can figure it out for next month. Until then, may your R-squareds be indistinguishable from 1.

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Gun Stuff, Part II

April 14, 2009 1 comment

Addenda to yesterday:

On it’s face, I was on board with the idea that convicted felons shouldn’t be allowed to own guns and that the permitting process (a la NC’s pistol permits, NICS checks) preventing that was admirable and the option for a felon to get a gun from a private seller with no such check bothered me.

But on reflection, it actually seems pretty silly. Primarily because if the felon is still a violent danger, why isn’t he still in prison? It’s the same sort of once-a-criminal, always-a-criminal mentality behind sex offender registries. It essentially says “these people can never be reformed or better themselves and become second-class citizens”. If they can’t be reformed, why do we send them to jail for non-life terms? What you do with incorrigible societal threats is you either kill them or put them in a cell and throw away the key. Any sentence with a possibility of parole has an underlying subtext that reform must be possible, if not the goal.

So remind me again why we’re stripping these released felons of their right to vote and their right to own a gun? I guess it’s for the same reason we have the sex offender registries: they’re easy targets to disenfranchise and there’s no convicted felon or sex offender lobby group.

Also, I ran across a comment that reminded me of something said at dinner after the IDPA match: “Reloading ammo doesn’t save you money. You just end up shooting more.” I can only hope.

Man, I’m glad my blog isn’t like Twitter or I would start getting some super-fun followers among the sex offender and felon communities.

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Gun stuff

April 13, 2009 1 comment

Satruday, I ended up shooting in the local range’s IDPA match, an informal shooting competition of realistic (as much as you can get on a firing range) situations based on actual self-defense scenarios. Lots of fun. At a couple of points, I did my best to get discouraged, but I never did manage it because of the other folks there.

I found I didn’t have as much trouble as I expected with a number of basic things: operating the thumb safety on the 1911, malfunction drills, keeping my finger out of the trigger guard while moving (Rule 3), and shooting on the move when required.

The main problem was my own complacence. When I judged that certain targets would be “easy”, I didn’t give them much concentration or effort, and did abysmally on them. On the ones that I knew were going to be tough shots, I spent longer and focused harder and hit with a reasonable degree of accuracy. I probably could benefit from more basic marksmanship practice, but at this point probably the best practice I could get is shooting more matches. And taking some classes, of course.

On a completely different tack, I also ended up watching 20/20’s hit piece on civilian gun ownership, titled “If I Only Had A Gun” that was basically attempting to dispel the idea that armed citizens can stop mass shootings. There’s a live-blog/summary posted by “Eseell” which pretty well documents how terribly biased the piece was. The problem is that the whole piece actually, I think, had some good points. But they wrapped it up in so much fearmongering that it will only persuade based on fright, not on reason.

The program’s main thrust, though, seemed to be disproving the idea that an armed student can stop a classroom shooter, done with a number of students, and with some glaring flaws. In essence, the entire thing was essentially a giant constructed anecdote. And as the inestimable Kim du Toit loved to say, the plural of anecdote is not evidence.

The thing that I find particularly repellent about the whole thing is that the unstated message throughout is that cops are the answer here: essentially, only cops can be well-trained enough to respond to the situation. The overarching theme is: trust the cops and don’t defend yourself.

Another segment (“experiment”) in the show tricks fifty or so college students, in pairs, asked to clean out a garage with two loaded and disabled guns squirreled away in a drawer. Being untrained, most of them, as Eseell says, “pull a number of classic idiots with guns stunts”. And then later they show kids being asked to find the gun their parents have hidden, and when the kids find them, they run away in terror.

I’m not sure what message ABC is trying to promote here (“Guns are so dangerous even kids know to be afraid”?) but what I take away from it is train your kids how not to be a danger to themselves and others with a gun. Probably not what they were trying to get across.

And I think there’s a point to be made about training: by the letter of the law here in NC, only a one or two day course dedicated to the topic of concealed carry is required before you are qualified in the eyes of the law to get your concealed carry permit. And for many people, that’s all the training they have.

On the other hand, I don’t think I would feel qualified to carry with just that as training, which is one of the reasons I plan to shoot IDPA matches as often as I can manage (the other being that it is damn good fun). Therefore, do I think that not regularly practicing practical shooting makes someone unqualified from carrying concealed? Yeah, probably. Regular training of some sort is, I think, necessary.

The problem is, I can’t come up with any sort of system for enforcing that rule that does not involve a gigantic bureaucratic boondoggle that wouldn’t actually accomplish its goal. Let’s say you have to compete in an IDPA match every three months to stay current on your practical shooting training, and that doing thusly is a requirement for keeping your concealed carry permit. Who certifies IDPA matches as up to the government’s standard? A huge regulatory body would be required. From there I can only foresee a decline in overall scenario quality because of the regulatory strictness until eventually the program gets defunded and we have no more practical shooting training. A little hand-wavy and apocalyptic, but suffice it to say that I have no faith in the government in this area.

Similarly, I find it hard to believe that there is a viable solution to the “anyone can buy a gun from a private seller” problem that makes it possible for a felon to get a gun this way. For one thing, it feels a little futile: as long as there is such a roaring trade in black market guns, it seems like gun shows are the wrong place to look for the supply of “crime guns”. The obvious solution of having the ATF track who owns every gun everywhere in the country is… difficult to stomach. Once again, no faith in the government, bureaucratic boondoggle.

Overall, though, I think the program made me feel better about my choice to own and become proficient with a gun. If anything, what America needs more of is responsible gun owners, and fewer ignorant jackasses.

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Notes from the road

10:53 PM, 8 March 2009, Just North of South of the Border

I just was driving home from spending Spring Break in Savannah (during which Georgia seamlessly transitioned from winter to summer) and thinking back on the drive down. You see, my longtime romantic interest Mandy attends the Savannah College of Art and Design, so if it is not one of her breaks from school, she is a five-hour trip down I-95 away.

I’m actually beginning to lose count of the times I’ve made this trip, some solo and some with friends & family to help move her in and out of the dorm. But this latest trip, and particularly this return leg of the sojourn has brought home something I had only casually noticed before: the drive back to North Carolina is always easier — which is to say that it passes quicker.

This can be easily ascribed to not having anything to look forward to, which is true: I have about two hours more driving, and after that homework, class work, and work work awaiting me. However, on this particular occasion, I remembered something that hadn’t crossed my mind before.

A few months ago, when David, a newly found friend, was teaching me to shoot, he related an experience to me:

I was taking a precision rifle course some time ago, and I was having a miserable time. It was raining and had been raining long enough that you couldn’t find dry earth for half an hour in any direction: East, West, North, South, or down. And as I lay cold and soaking in the muck, trying to hit a target that was only visible with optics, I hated it.

But then, I came to love the moment. I stopped wishing that I was anywhere else and was suddenly utterly happy to be in that ditch for as long as I needed. I loved the moment, and I was happy to take all the time in this tiny little world of a moment line up my shot and hit the first time. I stopped being eager to pull the trigger because it would mean I could leave, and became eager to pull the trigger on a well-aimed shot because it was the only logical thing to do.

That seemed like a very powerful experience being retold, but I think only now can I truly understand, because this time, on this return trip, I have come to love the moment. I am not anxiously awaiting arriving home, just a David ceased to await pulling the trigger. For as long as I care to remember and as long as I care to look forward, I have been and will be driving. And I love it. That is the key.

Other thoughts: Bob named his recent musical collection after a roadside pitstop on the way from Columbia to Rock Hill along I-77, the modestly understated and somewhat ironically named Grand Central I-77. On my journey from Raleigh to Savannah, the best landmark is the sarcastically overstated South of the Border. I think I got gypped.

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