Sunday, September 18, 2011

My First Skydive

My brother and I agreed to take my father skydiving a few months ago. We booked Saturday, Sept 17th at Skydance in Davis, and the day seemed to sneak up on me.  Around 48 hours ahead, I started realizing that I would soon be jumping out of an airplane. My first mistake was googling "skydance deaths", which caused me to seriously contemplate whether my affairs were in order. While statistically, I had read skydiving risk of fatality is roughly equivalent to driving 1000 miles in a car... it's still insane to jump out of a plane.

I felt relieved when arriving at Skydance, and seeing they had an established operation. Of course, they immediately have you sign two pages and signature 20 places saying you release all liability from your death. We waited a bit, then geared up. We were doing a 13,000 foot tandem jump (meaning with an instructor strapped to your back). My instructor seemed sober and experienced, but it unnerved me a bit when he was looking for a parachute pack... then went into a back room and seemed to grab whatever was lying around. Now, I'm sure they are organized and safe.... but I sure as hell would want to know exactly who packed my parachute if I hadn't done it myself!

We boarded the plane, and ascended fairly quickly. My father ended up towards the front, and my brother beside me. My brother's instructor had some fun with him, saying that my brothers straps were coming loose. I remember watching my father scoot to the edge of the plane, then off he went over the side and I thought "Damn, my dad is crazy!". The rest of them went one by one, then came our turn. My instructor rocked us back and off we went. Freefall.

My biggest misconception about skydiving was that it's just windy, based on the skydiving movie scenes I've watched like this and this. The entire freefall is intense, even after the initial acceleration. The ground is far below, but you can still see that it's speeding towards you. The cold air blasting your face and ears reminds you of your high velocity downward. Adrenaline surges through you. The 60 seconds feels like 10 seconds. The only two thoughts racing through your mind are 1) I am falling and 2) I hope the parachute works.

Around 5000 feet, I reached back and pulled the parachute release. It jerked us so our legs fell beneath us, and I looked up to my relief to see the stretched out nylon and yelled a "whoo hoo!". My instructor said "Wait, I have to fix something" and I felt him tugging and jerking at something. Then I realized we were still falling pretty fast and I heard a flapping sound from the parachute. Needless to say, I thought we were going to die and adrenaline surge #2 kicks in. After a few seconds of more jerking, I hear the instructor say "There we go." and suddenly we spin around as something unravels above us and we slow down to what feels like a normal pace. Wow.

I spent the next few moments catching my breath and was relieved when my instructor pointed down to a parachutes and said "There's your brother and your dad." We landed and what can I say... feels good to be alive!

Friday, September 2, 2011

Hypocrites

I recently read this article, and appreciated it because I've heard people attack libertarians with a 'hypocrisy' label or the 'love it or leave it' argument. For example, hearing: "If you are a libertarian then why don't you stop using the freeways/emergency services/library/post office/public transit/schools/etc?", or "Why don't you move to Somalia, they have no government?". I've replied with clumsy metaphors, such as "If someone stole your food and money, then threw a free buffet... would you be a hypocrite to eat?" However, I thought the article addressed the question more elegantly:


   "Suppose Z steals an apple from Y and then X comes along and takes this fruit away from Z. Did X do anything wrong? [...] Of course not [...] Z is the absolutely least deserving of this foodstuff."

and their conclusion...

"the more money you take from the coffers of the state the better libertarian you are"


A dictionary defines "hypocrisy" as "a feigning to be what one is not or to believe what one does not". Libertarians believe in individualism and property rights. So if someone steals from you, you are more than justified to steal it back... whether the thief wears a hood, badge, or uniform. However, after 30% of your income is taxed/stolen/redistributed to countless programs and government monopolies, it's hard to calculate precisely how much you are owed back after driving your kids on public freeways to public schools. So, it's a messy game - but I can pretty much guarantee that it will be nearly impossible for any productive, employed individual to get their money back from the system. So give it your best shot!


To net profit from a collectivist system (as difficult as it may be) would be immoral, but to deny that it is "mooching" must be either 1) ignorance, or 2) hypocrisy. I think hypocrisy is worse of the two because it's dishonest, rather than just lazy or dumb. I would shake my head at a welfare bum who said  "Hell man, it's crazy... but they just give me free money". However, advocating the system based upon some altruistic motives smells of lying or faking it. If a socialist can't outline to me why they don't altruistically share their relatively comfortable american lifestyle with starving african kids, then they're going to have to chew the "hypocrite "label.


There is nothing hypocritical about openly supporting a set of prioritized values, then pragmatically acting to serve those values. Suppose a self-proclaimed "pacifist" must kill a murderer to save their child. Calling the pacificist a hypocrite for saving their child is nonsense, and it would be a tragic sacrifice to allow the murder. Similarly, libertarians accept that limited government is a pragmatic solution which will better serve individualism than would anarchy (which would evolve into tyranny). It's not hypocritical for a libertarian to vote for a Republican or Democrat, the "lesser of two evils". See Duverger's Law (Actually, pragmatically there's nothing wrong with voting third-party, or abstaining... a bumper sticker probably has more impact than a vote.). I'll quote the article again for the real point here:  "it's not necessary for us to become martyrs". You can believe something firmly without throwing yourself in front of a tank for it. You must play the game that's being played... while at the same time trying to improve the rules of the game. So, if anyone ever calls you an "extremist" or a "radical"... take it as a complement. "Compromise" is a dirty word, unless it helps you get more of what you value for it. There is nothing to be proud of in calling oneself a "centrist" or a "moderate". That just means you are unsure and wavering in your values. In my book, that's only slightly better than being a hypocrite.