Thoughts on "The Riddle of the Gun"

My friend Matthew read about my exercise wager where the penalty is an NRA donation.

He wrote:

On the topic of firearms, however, I've become an unlikely late-in-life convert.  Flies in the face of my positions on virtually everything else, on which I've become increasingly liberal with age.
I think the best summation of my thoughts on the subject is this Sam Harris article.   Sam Harris continues to annoy me by being able to describe my own thoughts more completely and eloquently than me in a number of realms: 

So go read the Sam Harris piece!  It is super interesting.

Then come back and let me know what you think.

Here's my take.

First of all, it's very refreshing to engage with a rational mind on an issue that seems only to attract the crazies.

I suppose the good news is that gun deaths are such a small part of preventable death in Amerika.  I wish Sam had tried to grapple with the puzzle of why American gun deaths are so much higher than in other places.

He's an excellent writer, so it was only on the second reading that I noticed him sneaking back and forth between the ideal and the practical as it suited his argument.  It was most noticeable when he pointed out that it's impossible to prevent bad guys from doing bad things by taking their guns away, because there are just so many guns in America.  On the other hand, the only thing keeping us from putting an armed guard in front of every school is "entirely a question of money".

Is it not likewise a question of money (and political will, as with armed guards) to reduce the level of gun ownership among bad guys to whatever level we deem desirable?

However, my interest in achieving a satisfactory resolution to the gun debate pales in comparison to my interest in putting the gun debate in proper perspective among the other national debates.  It ranks about #100 on the list, well below another strong libertarian concern that happens to enjoy strong agreement among anti-fascist citizens of both the red and blue variety: namely, the extent to which our government should be allowed to unaccountably spy on us.

In other news, my buddy failed to exercise enough last week, so I've made my first-ever contribution to the NRA, in his honor, $25.

A Symbol of My Commitment to Personal Excellence

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Three Big Mistakes That Make Your Accounts Insecure, and one easy way to fix it

My childhood friend Betsy asked me about how to keep accounts secure on the Internet:
I ask because I believe it's way too easy for anyone who has access to a few basic sites to crack passwords based on finding common password patterns for the user. If you've thought about this, I wonder if you'd share with me what you do to ensure your own password security... I'd like to learn to be a better fortress.
She's right!  Here are the mistakes I see friends making:

1. Using the same password for all their accounts, including important ones like banking and email.
2. Writing down their passwords in a place everyone can see, like on a post-it note stuck to their monitor
3. Choosing short passwords that are easily guessed by a bad guy with a computer.  Most people's intuition about which passwords are good is exactly backwards.

To fix all three problems at once, I use LastPass.  My hacker buddy Marian turned me on to it.  LastPass makes it easy enough to have a different password for every account.  It keeps track of all your passwords on all the different sites you use.  So you only have to remember one master password  - the password to your LastPass account.  Their software can be installed on your computer, into your browser, and on your phone -- I do all three.

LastPass has a neat "generate password" feature that will generate a super-crazy strong password for you and keep a record of it.  They also will keep track of your credit card details if you like, and fill in forms for you on the web.  I use both of these a lot and it's a time saver.

I was a little scared at first about the idea of entrusting all my passwords to LastPass.  After researching them a bit and thinking about it, I realized that all the reasonable alternatives to LastPass are considerably less secure.  What other ways are there?

  • keep your own file with all your passwords - how are you securing that file?
  • use the same password on every site - hope none of those sites are run by crooks
  • remember all your different passwords - good luck!
  • keep your passwords on paper - what could possibly go wrong?

What do you think?  Do you have a password system you like?

ps. I should have mentioned one other thing you can do to lock down your important accounts.  It's a simple neat trick with a stupid name -- "two factor authentication".  What it means is that to get into your account, you need two things, for example both your password and your phone may be needed to log in to your email account.  That way, if the bad guy gets your password but not your phone, he's out of luck!  Gmail offers two-factor authentication, as do many banking sites.  Do it!