Tuesday, November 28, 2006

Speaking of guns...

Gonna change things up a bit, try to cleanse the palate. I want to talk a while about the proper use of handguns in personal defense. I'll try to avoid the question, my answer to which I telegraphed in a recent post, about whether using guns to defend yourself is at all acceptable. I'm going to assume it is for the sake of the argument--the Just War tradition is enough of a precedent for these purposes--and that it's legal in your state and town. Throughout this post you may be motivated to contemplate whether using guns in self defense should be done at all; this question is a good one to try to answer for yourself before leaping into the fray, but first, ask yourself if it's effective self-defense you may be unwilling to engage in, or do you just have a distaste for guns? If the former, I hope you came to that realization before you got a gun and were facing down an attacker; if the latter, I hope you have a black belt.

Before I get to guns, allow me to pass on some advice given to me by a few people I know who have had some training in personal defense. Before you even worry about packin' heat, there are two things everyone can do to minimize the likelihood of becoming a target.

The first is to practice positive situational awareness. The nature and degree of your alertness may depend a bit on your circumstances, but always try to be aware of what's going on all around you. Who's nearby? What are they carrying or wearing? If one of them starts causing trouble, am I near easy egress or some cover, so I can slip away or hide? If I'm getting sized up or picked out as a target, can I do anything to dodge this unwanted attention or protect myself? Does anyone else here seem to be thinking the same thing? Does anything else seem out of place? Does anyone look suspicious?

Don't worry if it seems like a lot of questions to keep in mind. Usually you don't have to go beyond "Who's around me and where are they?" when you're walking down the street; if you habituate yourself, the others will come to mind when appropriate. I'm not saying you need to be paranoid, even alarmed, all the time. Just take it all in and casually keep track of it, like how you should watch out for other traffic and pedestrians when you're driving. You don't even have to react; most people aren't criminals whether they stand out or not, which leads to the second thing you can do.

You can make it apparent that you are paying attention to your surroundings. When you see someone, go ahead and make eye contact, but don't hold it--staring seems threatening--and comport yourself as if you're not threatened by anything around you: you're not overly casual, which would make you an easy target, but you're alert and relaxed and you're not looking for trouble. When asked what kind of people they'd target for mugging, killing, raping, convicts consistently cited folks who appeared clueless or timid or both, regardless of size, build, appearance, age, race, and gender (well, maybe not for rape).

When it comes to using guns, remember that they are deadly weapons, and lethal force is generally not appropriate for defending property. I heard a story about a cop whose policy was, in the case of a break-in, to wait at the top of the stairs with a shotgun and warn the intruders that they could take whatever they wanted before help arrived, but if they came up to where the bedrooms were, things would get ugly very quickly.

Shooting someone is a gravely disordered act. Grave disorder isn't the same thing as sin, though, so you may be justified in doing so when you're reasonably confident that you or your charges will be harmed or killed if you do not act first.

I said "reasonably," not "absolutely." There's no way to be absolutely certain that someone is going to shoot you until he pulls the trigger, and by that time, it's probably too late. You don't have to wait until you're bleeding to death to try to save your own life or the lives of your family members; then, it would probably be too late again.

You might not have to shoot, however. It's possible that drawing a gun is enough of a deterrent. I wouldn't count on it, but if all you know is that someone's in your house, you don't want him to get the drop on you, and if all he wants is your TV, he's not going to be interested in dramatics. Indeed, a burglar who hears you yell from upstairs "I've called the police and I'm armed!" especially if he hears you rack a shotgun, may surprise you with the speed of his departure.

Still, don't count on it. Like I said above, firearms are deadly weapons. Don't carry one if you're not prepared to use lethal force, and don't take it out unless you think lethal force would be warranted. Your purpose isn't to kill, your purpose is to stop him from killing you; his death may be justified under double effect, since his life is proportional to yours, and force sufficient to kill him is necessary to prevent him from exerting force you believe will kill you.

Some people, in the interest of not appearing bloodthirsty or due to incomplete acceptance of what wielding lethal force means and what it requires (and what may require it), may suggest or admit to firing a warning shot, or shooting someone in the leg to incapacitate them. These sentiments are well-intended, but profoundly foolish on multiple levels.

First, if you fire a warning shot, what are you shooting at? Not the intruder. Up into the air? The bullet will come down with the same speed that it left the barrel. Into a wall? Better hope the wall's thick if you're not using hollowpoints, or you might be hitting people in the next room. The floor or something else hard? The bullet might ricochet or fracture, going who knows where. Off in the distance, past the intruder? Better hope there's no one downrange, just out of sight.

If this guy's not intimidated by the sight of a gun, which is common in habitual criminals who've been shot before, especially if they're hopped up on drugs beyond all reason or awareness of pain, he's not going to be impressed by the fact that you're willing to waste a bullet making a big, scary noise. You didn't show him you're not afraid to use it; all you did was show him that you're reluctant to use your weapon for its intended purpose, which means you're a much softer target than you appeared before you fired. If you just missed him, or if he thinks your warning shot was just a near miss, don't wait for him to make the next move; if he's not scared off, you don't want to give him the chance to start shooting back or take your gun.

Second, if you fire away from the perpetrator or try to shoot him in the leg, from a legal standpoint you're saying that you felt using a lethal weapon was appropriate, but actually using lethal force was not. If you're not in a position where putting a perp on the ground is necessary, then taking out your weapon in the first place is a clear and dramatic overreaction. Once you draw your gun, there are only two proper resolutions: you incapacitate him, or he runs off before you get the chance; no theatrics that allow him time to evaluate strategies for retaking the upper hand, no trying to use a lethal weapon contrary to its legal purpose (which is a standard even cans of spray paint are held to).

Shooting someone in the leg might not even stop an assailant. He'll probably go down, but if he's used to the pain, the two arms he has left would still be more than enough to shoot you back, and it's a risk you don't want to take. Ask any seasoned cop, especially one from a city with a gang problem, and he or she probably has at least one good story about "bullet sponges," people who have taken a lot of bullets--even to the head and chest--but just don't go down

Further, if you shoot him in the thigh, you've got a decent chance of hitting the femoral artery, or of breaking the femur, which itself is liable to lacerate the femoral artery (a broken femur may be the only "hurry case" in first aid involving a broken bone because of the likelihood of severe internal hemorrhaging from such a laceration), so your attempt to wound rather than kill may backfire: because of these dangers from a thigh injury, it might be interpreted by the authorities that you weren't trying to stop your attacker (since a shot to a limb is often not immediately incapacitating), but were to give him a mortal wound instead of subduing him.

Finally, some studies show that only 30% of bullets in a gunfight hit their target, even in close quarters with shooters aiming at center of mass. If you're aiming at a smaller target, you're going to be even less likely to hit it, especially if he's walking or running. With the chaos of the confrontation and your adrenaline and the recoil, don't count on having an accuracy anywhere close to what you might achieve under slow fire conditions at your friendly neighborhood shooting range; if you aim for center of mass and miss, you're still more likely to hit some part of him, and while a gunshot to the leg isn't great, it's more effective than nothing.

If you're not prepared to use your gun when you need it, don't even carry it. The last thing you want is someone frisking you, finding it, and shooting you with it. You really don't have to be bloodthirsty, but it's not some game; your mugger isn't a schoolyard bully you can escape by wit or brown-nosing. If I'm asked for my wallet at gunpoint, I'll let him have it; if my wife is told to get in the car with him, I'll let him have something else.

Sunday, November 19, 2006

Postmodern word magic: taking the realness out of reality

I think I need an editor. I thought I published this post back when it was still warm up north.

Something crossed my desk or my mind a while ago on gun control (Google "gun control logic" and look at the second item at the Freerepublic link, or the whole article at Posse Incitatus for a reasonable impression) that I kept forgetting to post about, and I was finally moved to try writing when I saw some adolescent on TV saying everything non-anarchic was fascist and yelling at people not to defend ideas she didn't like because the power of their words might compel others to believe them instead of believing the ideas she did like. Really high school caliber philosophy--which is only fair, despite how often I hear it from so-called adults on the Internet and elsewhere--but it captured the essence of a lot of what I see on the broader stage in the world at large: that facts don't matter as much as symbolic gestures. I've touched on it before, but I'm past due on making myself clear.

Well, as clear as I ever get.

Maybe the insistence of having reams of laws against guns, despite criminals not following them anyway, is based on this postmodern (although conservatives have their Orwellian moments as well, like the recent redefinition of torture) notion that words have power--not that they really have none, but the notion is that they have power above and beyond material facts. Thus the notion that it is not simply more convenient to suppress unwelcome ideas, lest someone be swayed by them, but actually better than countering them with words that are powered by such things as logic and truth; and efforts of pure propaganda are as valuable and effective as efforts of, well, work. Thus, banning guns makes neighborhoods safer, even though criminals will break laws anyway just to maintain a tactical advantage during a confrontation--or at least people will feel safer because something has been done--or at least people will feel useful because something has been done, and as long as it's a gesture towards safety of some sort, then the feeling of usefulness or accomplishment can be sublimated into the illusion of genuine safety.

A more accessible example may be free speech "safe spaces" on college campuses where criticism is curbed, but rather than guaranteeing the opportunity for dialog on unpopular issues, public opposition ends up being prohibited on the grounds that any critical rationale is itself suppressive or offensive, that the ideas that deserve to be aired also need to be protected from disproof all the more because the disproof may be so compelling. They say they're protecting free speech from being overwhelmed by some other kind of speech, but what's actually happening is unpopular speech is being protected from fair engagement. While it's true that unpopular speech might evoke irrational, drowning responses, there is a difference between giving unpopular ideas a fair chance to face popular ideas on a level playing field, and saying "Free speech means giving the unpopular idea the appearance of popularity; it will be protected and promoted, and popular ideas, which might run against it, will not be permitted to trample it." Almost a conceptual Affirmative Action.

Zombie has a good example (although the obscured sign's pretty tacky anyway) here.

After all, words are just labels anyway, or vice versa--trying to reclassify things that are offensive in PC terms to make people feel better (not that there isn't such a thing as tact); as if putting a good label on something bad heals it, and putting a bad label on something good taints it far worse than anything in reality could; or putting a label at all on something nebulous is what really causes it to manifest, as if we were God.

(Now that I think about it, I'm wondering: is this phenomenon of hocus-pocus relabeling, of making superficial gestures, with the presumption of a material improvement of some unjust situation even though the only apparent change is how we act around the situation, a mere coincidence, or is it a systemic mockery of a certain liturgical event where something changes substantially, at the speaking of a few words, into something greater, even though the change isn't visible?)

Philosopher Michael Levin made a similar point, particularly about language use and thinking. "The failure of 'comrade' and 'citizen' to induce political equality suggests that language does not and cannot shape thought in the manner or to the extent supposed by egalitarian reformers. Attempts to alter putatively biased thinking by altering the language which expresses this thinking reverse cause and effect." Positive thinking does have some power, but only God's will is sufficient to enact change by the strength of its own presence.

I saw such rhetoric in the Affirmative Action debates back when the University of Michigan's admissions policies were all over the news. Trying to correct, or even overcorrect, for systematic oppression is one thing, but they had folks who weren't just saying that a little reverse discrimination is the price we have to pay to rectify an injustice in our society, but were actually proposing that a little reverse discrimination was the magic bullet, an end in itself, because it gives the historically downtrodden minorities a tactical advantage, and it shows capable rich white students what it's like not to get what they want. At first I thought it was just anti-AA people tearing down straw men, but my impression wasn't entirely accurate.

Occasionally a dissenting professor would write to the local paper explaining how quotas hurt everybody, because students, who got quotaed all the way through grade school, would get quotaed--someone please suggest a better verb--into U-M (it seemed like usually the less affluent districts enacted such unnuanced policies themselves), so classes would fill up with students who didn't need a break from the admissions board so much as they got too many breaks in the classroom. Good, rich students had a harder time getting in. Even good, poor students got less help than advertised. What did the bad students who were admitted get? Lousy grades. They lacked the chops to handle college courses, not just the flowery extracurriculars that made kids in rich districts so appealing to the boards.

Before you ask, I'm not implying any connection between race and academic potential, or economic class and academic potential. I am only saying that when you favor nonacademic criteria, you tend to select against candidates who are more academically qualified, which should be self-evident to anyone but the most pathologically egalitarian. Preferential admission from a pool of qualified candidates may be a good thing to try; regularly cutting slack for individuals in underprivileged categories who've consistently underperformed is exactly the same thing that leaves colleges with all-star athletes who can't read or subtract.

So, what kind of response do these troublemaking professors get? A little bit of "We're stopping the buck with you. Find a solution; you're the instructor. Besides, social engineering takes time." Also a disturbing amount of "Shut up. We have Affirmative Action in place. The problem's solved, the trouble's over. The only thing holding us back is you saying otherwise." Not that "If it weren't for you" is exclusively a postmodern relativist's technique.

I guess it's only "fair," though. Smart kids end up without college degrees and jobs that don't make the most of their talents; illiterate athletes get sheepskins they don't need after getting professional contracts, or at the least don't deserve; mediocre students, having beaten out better applicants, drop out and fight smart, uneducated kids for so-so jobs or graduate with credentials that don't impress anyone and end up fighting smart, educated kids for so-so jobs.

Wow, am I being unfair? Life's unfair. Expect much from the one to whom much has been given; don't tear it away from him. I'm happy to help people who need it--which isn't fairness but charity--but rewarding people in inverse proportion to their achievements is even less fair.

We saw a lot of this "make a gracious gesture" thinking that valiant efforts are as important as--even the same as--successful efforts in the sentimentally pontificating "apology is policy" 1990s. The way the rhetoric was flying around ten years ago I wondered if people weren't so much interested in forgiveness and reconciliation as they were in getting a gesture at saving face in the public record.

On one hand, a little positive spin is fine if you want to do something like encourage an uncertain child in the face of an embarrassing situation, or to teach him that winning isn't everything, but finding the value in not winning is important because it's not the same as winning. A good coach, for instance, knows his athletes learn more when their team loses than when they win. He could fairly say that they're winners in different ways, like they learned something about themselves and probably gained a little humility, or by losing with dignity they've won some battle with themselves. If the coach claimed that they should go to the playoffs because they're the moral victors, though, he'd be laughed off the field.

May as well give every Little League team a trophy so they all feel like winners, or don't keep score so no one loses. Let 'em have fun but never let them experience anything akin to accomplishment! You're making the good effort, so the reality you choose to picture yourself in must conform to the success you desire. Let's see how well the kids who have never known defeat will handle it when they finally enter the adult world, fail to achieve what they want, and don't have someone to tell them how they're still good (or the other guy is good despite keeping the win from them) despite concrete signs that they're not the best. Yeah, let's give them a childhood free of any lessons like "there are hard things in life" and "you'll get over it," then we'll really shock 'em!

To be fair, I don't mean to pick just on contemporary feel-good relativists. "Be excellent to each other" theologians, not just politicians, need to try harder to explain why no one would come to a war if the U.S. just decided to stop hosting them, for one thing. For a lighter example, Christian rock bands also need to stop presuming that their music is better than secular artists' music just because it used a cliched, paraphrased pastiche of the Psalms for lyrics. Turning a traditional hymn into a power ballad is rarely an act of talent, nor of inspiration. If some people can praise God to a synthesized backbeat, good for them, but an artist should not come between his worshipful art and worship itself by doing things like butchering the art. I'll go with it in church because I'm worshipping too, but I won't buy it, and I wouldn't sell it.

Friday, November 17, 2006

You may be able to legislate morality, but you can't outlaw apathy

Sometimes someone will recommend compulsory voting to enliven the franchise. I'd like to discuss why I think it's as effective as using a sledgehammer to clean a window.

The motivating complaints usually include voters thinking their votes don't count (particularly when the candidate they vote for loses), or are ignored by the real decision makers, voters aren't interested enough in election issues to bother making the trip, and voters being so dissatisfied with all the candidates that they effectively vote against every candidate by staying home.

Well, we have mandatory taxation and jury duty, so why not command performances at the polling location?

Okay. Would it really help, though? How many people look closely at their taxes just because they're required to pay them? If the IRS filed 1040s for everybody and just sent a copy of the form with a check or bill for the refund or debt, how many people would really review every line to make sure every item was in order? I think someone's trying to make a horse drink, here.

"Oh, but you can still refrain from casting a ballot once you've gotten to the poll, if you want to abstain." If I am allowed not to vote, why should I have to show up to abstain? Is gambling on apathetic voters thinking "Well, as long as I'm here" really what we want? I'm all for an equal vote for every citizen, but how many citizens who wouldn't have bothered to vote are going to try to make a concerted effort in preparation and figure out how they feel about the current issues and candidates?

Not as many, I suspect, as the ones who vaguely recognize political headlines and sound bites that go into or run counter to the policies they already hold, and then try to find some way to apply it all to the unfamiliar-looking names and proposals they now see in the ballot before them.

People have the right to vote that way, but how is getting more people to vote poorly an actual improvement? Practical suffrage aside, there are many other important issues out there that I'm not involved in but could be. Maybe I don't have a knack for them, or I'm not interested, or maybe I can only spread myself so thinly. After a point, I end up accomplishing less by trying to do more. Perhaps I've underprioritized a few things, but being told or strongarmed into rearranging my priorities isn't what will convince me that a new arrangement is better.

Unless apathetic voters see good fruit come from being forced to show up at the polls, they're not all going to magically see the wisdom in executing their civic duties. Frankly, the problems that keep them away are not close enough to the polling locations for any meaningful connections to be made.

"Well, it worked in Australia! When they mandated voting in 1924, voter turnout rose from 60% of the electorate to 91%. It's never been below 90% since then, and is often even higher." Yeah, see, it's really funny, because enforced laws by their nature force law-abiding people to do what is prescribed. If you're forcing people to show up, you don't have a magical happy democracy, you've got fascism. I bet a lot more people would drive 55 mph on the interstates if we required them to do so, too.

It's that postmodern word magic again. A situation that is problematic as far as it's symptomatic of larger problems is identified, and corrections are proposed. The corrections, heavy-handed and blind as they are, achieve exactly what they were intended to do, no more and no less; and the bigger problem, now with fewer symptoms, is declared resolved. Whatever.

"Higher voter turnout, even if many voters don't actually cast ballots, legitimizes a political system and what comprises it." No, I'm afraid it doesn't remotely do so. Sure, it looks nice when fractions of the electorate near unity show up with enthusiasm and confidently vote for or against something, to the best of their judgment and desire, and if things actually happened that way, then they would actually be pretty good, but mandating an appearance isn't the same as mandating enthusiasm and diligent preparation. The former may fall within the bailiwick of Caesar, but the latter is impossible.

Saddam Hussein had great voter turnout, and he always won by a landslide. The only people who thought his self-perpetuating administration was above the board were in the throes of a rectal-cranial inversion.

Then again, we do pay people a pittance for jury duty. Maybe we could do the same for voting, or at least make it a national holiday. With some of the talk I hear about minimum wage and socialized medicine, it's a wonder nobody's made the argument that some people can't afford to stand in line and read a ballot for a couple hours, even just one hour, instead of working. There's a lot we could do to make voting more convenient, beyond opening the polls really early and closing them really late so people can stand in long lines before or after work.

Saturday, November 11, 2006

Political fallout from last week....

So many conservatives and others with traditional/Catholic values are looking at the election results as a major blow.

I'd just like to say "Yes, but."

Okay, I'd actually like to say a bit more, but you already know pithy ain't my strong suit.

Granted, things don't look great. The Dakotan abortion ban failed, Rick Santorum's out, and Missouri's amendment 2 passed. However, the margins were very small. See for yourself. Seven of the eight states voting to protect real marriage did so, some by wide margins and some by narrow margins; the eighth state, Arizona, had its marriage protection bill fail 49% to 51%, which is also quite narrow. What does it mean? It means we're on very even footing, not fighting a battle that would appear hopeless. The culture of death, having momentarily gained the upper hand, lacks what the GOP would have called two years ago a mandate.

What's that you say? Most of the governors, representatives, and senators are Democrats, too? Okay, I'll give you that much, but look again at the numbers: the Democrats control the Senate by one seat, and the House by 33. I'm not trying to equate the Democrats with death and the Republicans with life, but a few more of the big issues this season happen to fall on the right side of the aisle; if you saw fit to vote liberal because you believed there was more potential to accomplish good in other areas, I'm not faulting you. I'm just saying the pro-life movement did better than I, and probably a lot of other people, would have expected ten or even five years ago, considering what it's up against; marriage is being protected more often than not, and sentiments for abortion are dwindling, in some cases hanging on by little more than health-of-the-mother reservations...and Congress?

Democrats control both houses by small margins. Margins that are too small for anything to be accomplished without help from across the aisle. I'm going to hope that there aren't enough CINO (C stands for Conservative in this case) Republicans to cooperate when bills that look like they were written in Amsterdam make it to the floor.

Thomas Jefferson (or was it Thomas Paine?) said "That government is best which governs least." There is good the government can do, but I'd rather it have a hard time doing anything than an easy time doing ill.

It may be a very fine lining of silver, but I'll take what I can get.

Wednesday, November 08, 2006

"Don't like abortion? Don't have one."

When people make this argument, are they trying to say that abortion is only about what you or I like, not about something objective, or are they saying they believe that pro-life people are just wrong, and abortion is completely okay, so we should just mind our own business?

If it's the latter, then they should assert that argument. "Morality depends on your preferences" amounts to mob rule, not a principle of justice.

If pro-choice types were more bewildered at our opposition than upset, if they really were surprised by how seriously we were taking something they viewed as merely an incidental detail of lifestyle, then I would be willing to consider the former, but rarely is "don't do it if you don't like it" the most personal argument made for abortion.

I'm male, so I can't make a choice either way. Do I thus deserve no opinion? If not, aren't we back on "The Minutemen are not a legitimate voice in the debate on immigration," which falsely presumes that debate--even dialog--is just people agreeing with each other?

Let's apply this template to something more obvious:

"Don't like murder? Don't commit it."

Less compelling, isn't it? Maybe the tactic is robust enough for teaching your toddler the Golden Rule, but it's the beginning of conscience, not the end of it.

We could even turn it around. "Like murder? Commit it" clearly doesn't work, but it doesn't violate the original rationale. "Don't like it if I commit murder? I'm not murdering you, so mind your own business..." and we're right back where we started.

No reasonable person would argue that murder is right, so the last argument they come up with is "Buzz off, I'm not listening?" Pretty bottom-of-the-barrel logic. Hopefully yesterday's elections and the future ramifications thereof will just be a dead cat bounce, as far as early-life issues are concerned.

Thursday, November 02, 2006

How to vote (well, not which way to vote...)

With the elections right around the corner, I thought I'd cover a few things about voting. Some of them have been routinely covered elsewhere but deserve to be emphasized for completeness and, well, emphasis. Some seemed like no-brainers when I was getting my elementary school civics lessons, but I still sometimes hear them used as excuses for voting contrary to one's preferences, or for not voting at all.

Living in a democracy, we are generally obligated to vote, just as we're generally obligated to jury duty when we're called, to pay our taxes, to drive the speed limit, and so on. It doesn't mean we have to mark our ballot for every item we see; if we're ignorant of some of the issues, it's quite plausible that abstaining on one or more issues would be prudent.

There might also be a valid argument for abstaining completely, for exercising your right (it is treated more as a right than an obligation, generally) not to vote, but since you're effectively increasing the proportion of people voting against whatever you'd be voting for, I can't think of a scenario where total, active abstention would be a compelling choice. Feel free to chime in if you can think of any.

Don't listen to anyone who tells you to leave your religion or personal morals and beliefs out of the voting booth. In a free democracy, you can vote however you want. If you are conscientious, you will vote sincerely for the candidates or bills you believe are best for the common good, and against those you believe are not. "Best" may mean clearly and gravely good, and it may just mean minimal remote material cooperation with evil, to the best of your judgment. Voting what you believe is right is what voting is for. If someone has a good reason for you to vote the way he or she wants, against the way you want, let them try to convince you so that you are willing to vote the other way; don't let them convince you that you shouldn't vote a certain way, regardless of your belief that whatever you would vote for would be a good thing (or what you'd vote against would be bad). It's just another case of "tolerance for me but not for thee," or "You're not a valid part of this debate because your position is the one contrary to ours." You're not imposing your morals or religious beliefs on others, you're not obligated to separate religion from government. You're just trying to participate in the public decision making process about what's in the best interest of your society, and using your morals (and hopefully your reason, too) to make that decision, exactly like what the other guy's doing, only he's saying his morals aren't morals at all because they're not traditional, or that his atheistically rooted position alone is proper for informing government because if religion (not just an establishment of religion) shouldn't interfere, then an assertively anti-religious philosophy (which flirts with interfering categorically with establishments of religion). It's not your job to separate religion from government; it's the government's job to stay out of religion's way and to refrain from incorporating religion into itself.

If you hold what I'm calling unconventional morality or don't believe in God, don't be offended at my use of you as an example. I still want you to vote your conscience. I just see traditional people of faith told to vote against their consciences most often by people who claim to be beyond what the average person regards as morals and faith. Each citizen gets one vote, deserving of it or not, and each citizen can decide on his or her own where it should go, from all the options available. If a person shouldn't vote a certain way for reasons not grounded in the issues, if there are choices that would effectively be unconstitutional, then they should never have made it to the ballot in the first place. Once it's an option in the booth, it's fair game for the voter. Still don't like it? Contest it in court; don't interfere otherwise.

An election is a race of sorts, but you are not a competitor. You can't "waste" a vote by voting with the losing candidate any more than you can waste it by voting for a candidate who doesn't need your vote: a candidate who wins by more than a one-vote margin. The polls are about determining the will of the people. Everyone already knows that people generally want to win; getting on the bandwagon is just an abuse of the franchise.

Whether your candidate wins or loses, the margins can tell us something about the sentiment of the populace. Better to take a principled stand and throw in with an unpopular candidate who, you think, is right, than to fall for some celebrity-worship "I was on the same side as the guy who won" rationalization. You know those "Don't blame me, I voted for the other guy" bumper stickers? They may have a point, but a narrow victory can say more than a bunch of whiny post-election rhetoric; the former can indicate how public opinion is shifting, but the latter tends to make people just look like sore losers.

Cast your ballot on Tuesday. Vote for what's right, as best you can judge, and pray for guidance just in case. Abstain on an issue if you feel an ignorant choice would be worse than refraining from choosing, or if all the options are so qualitatively indistinguishable that you can't find a meaningful way to judge one better or worse than the other. Just don't treat your vote like a resource that can be squandered or a windfall that should be hidden in a mattress instead of invested.