Trade-offs and goals

If you want to save yourself some time by not read my late night rambling just read three sentences from Say Uncle on this topic.


As an engineer I make a lot of trade-offs. Execution speed and size (assembly language) versus code clarity and development time (high level languages) used to be a big trade-off. Calculating results every time you need them or caching them in RAM is a trade-off (it didn’t use to be that way but today the answer is usually you want to calculate them every time). Do you load everything in RAM for quick access or leave it on disk until you need it? Do you bringing a new hire up to speed or do you do it yourself?


I can whip out some code that will test a hypothesis in a few minutes or an hour and not worry if there is a single comment in it or if it handles a single error condition. To implement that same functionality in a product that literally millions of people will use, sometimes millions of times a day (or even per minute) may take weeks of effort by a team of people. It will involve specifications, design documents, a test plan, manual testing, automated tests, unit tests, code reviews by multiple peers, and alpha/beta testing by thousands or even 10s of thousands of end users. It only takes me a fraction of a second to decide how to proceed when I know the final goal for the task at hand.


Man minutes versus man months of time involved. Two different extremes in the effort involved in implementing, essentially, the same functionality. The difference is in what I was attempting to accomplish.


I’ve been making engineering trade-offs for over 30 years and most of the time it comes pretty easy to me. When my officemate, a very smart person but a fairly new entry into actually producing deliverable code, asks for advice on a trade-off it takes more time for her to ask the question than for me to arrive at the correct answer.


Another example comes from this morning. My boss came into my office and asked, essentially, “Do we ever return an answer of less than ‘X’ for condition ‘B’?” I knew my code didn’t do that directly but there were times when my code got the answer from the server rather than computing it directly and I couldn’t say for certain without checking with the server people. I started to go down that path and explain how the server might come up with a different answer and I barely got started into the fine details when he stopped me. “Let me give you some more context”, he said. The context was he was writing an email with the target audience of upper management who would not care about the fine details. When he asked the question I thought there was some bug that had been reported and he wanted to know if it really was a bug and if so who it should be assigned to. Without knowing what he was trying to accomplish I had made the wrong trade-off. I was giving him more and more detail when he really needed validation of his high level overview.


As a gun lobbying organization the NRA-ILA makes trade-offs too. What they are trying to accomplish is to improve, and in certain worst case scenarios minimize harm to, our specific enumerated right to keep and bear arms. Nearly all other considerations must be given a lower priority.


At the NRA Annual Meetings last month I spent a couple hours talking to a NRA board member. He explained why they had done certain things in the D.C. lawsuit (for the most part I am not at liberty to discuss them) and had avoided the U.S. Supreme Court for decades. The next night (or was it the night after?) I spend time with Alan Gura who had a different view of the NRA contribution to the D.C. lawsuit. It was Gura’s contention that NRA-ILA really knows their stuff in regards to legislation but the same people attempting to handle court battles results in people working out of their area of expertise with less than optimal outcomes. My simple take on the topic was that the NRA was trying to avoid a disastrous loss and Gura was trying to get solid win. They both have our best interests at heart but in certain situations ended up “fighting over the ball” and risked fumbling it for a loss.


I think the people that are upset with the NRA support of Harry Reid don’t really understand the trade-offs involved and what the NRA is trying to accomplish. To best support the members, the gun owning people of this country, they have to play a “chess game” where they can never take back a move, the pieces are clouding in smoke, the playing field is shifting, the rules are only partially known and subject to violation by the individual pieces at any time. Try thinking three or four moves ahead under those conditions and see how well you can do. The NRA plays that game very well. They are experts at it. Sometimes when an expert is at work you will be baffled at the moves they make.


To the simple minded observer if you put a “good conservative” in office you will automatically get support for gun rights, hence you should always give support to “good conservatives”. Even an amateur like me can see far enough ahead to see a problem with that in certain situations. There are trade-offs involved. With a ‘D’ beside his name and lots of seniority Reid has lots of power that someone with an ‘R’ and little (or no) seniority would not have. That is just one trade-off. Another is that in certain jurisdictions a “good conservative” is not electable. The demographics of that district are such that the NRA can curry favor with someone that will be in a position to help us or they can try to defeat them during the election then try to make up with them after the election. Another trade-off is that some people like everything, or most everything, the Democrats offer but support our right to keep and bear arms. To a certain extent I am baffled by both the Republican’s and the Democrats. I really don’t understand (and don’t think they do either) the philosophy behind their politics. My guiding political principles are pro freedom. Each party has something to offer and a lot they want to take away from me in this regard. There are trade-offs in who I vote for.


In the case of Harry Reid an NRA lobbyist said this about him in an email discussion:



I have candidates for office running against pro-gun Dems who expect that NRA is going to endorse them as the pro-gun Republican challenger over the pro-gun Democrat incumbent…and tout all of their other “conservative” positions as proof that they’re the better candidate. They get frustrated with me, but I have to remind them that NRA doesn’t use whether you are pro-Life and small taxes to determine your endorsement or grade — and a large number of our members appreciate that, because they don’t agree with conservatives or Republicans on anything but guns! 😉


Whether they like it or not, Harry Reid has voted with gun owners and NRA 100% and used his position in the Senate to advance gun ownership rights in recent years. The Obama Admin was forced to sign a bill with Guns in Parks because Harry Reid allowed the Amendment. The House is holding up DC voting rights because Harry Reid allowed the DC gun rights amendment to the bill.


If Harry Reid isn’t the Senate Majority Leader, we’d have Chuck Schumer or Dick Durbin — think we’re going to get any of those amendments on bills with THEM in charge? No — it’ll be more Lautenberg crap.


In the eyes of an expert political lobbyist the making of the decision about Reid took less time than it took to write the first sentence of the explanation and it’s clear that is the correct answer for gun owners. Those that try to change the NRA support of Reid risk fumbling the ball to the loss of all of us.

7 thoughts on “Trade-offs and goals

  1. What I posted on SayUncle. . .

    And political calculations as to what is best for gun owners in general can make for apparantly weird results, especially in a primary race.

    If a “B” or “C” candidate is facing an “A” (or more likely, “AQ”) candidate in a primary, but the “B” or “C” candidate is deemed reasonable electable, whilst the “A” or “AQ” candidate is deemed utterly unelectable, they may well endorce the lower rated candidate if the opposition in the general will be even lower rated.

    Additionally, they may endorse a “C” candidate over a “B” candidate, if the election of the “B” candidate might throw the senior position in that legislative house (and thus, control over legislation being introduced or quashed via parlimentary procedures) from an “A”, “B”, or “C” candidate to a “D” or “F” candidate. Would getting a freshman senator or representative with a high NRA rating be worth getting Feinstein or Schumer behind the driver’s wheel of all legislation for the next two years? probably not, in the big picture. . .

  2. And that rational is exactly how we end up with socialists running the government.

  3. We ended up with socialist running the government because people voted for Hope and Change. We can halt the march toward socialism and still keep Reid. There are good reasons to do that.

  4. Uh no, we can’t. And I wasn’t refering to just the nitwh in my previous remark. Obamacare, crap and tax, amnesty for illegels, etc; where was/is Reid on these minor issues again?

  5. And what, exactly, does the NRA care about ObamaCare, crap and tax, and amnesty for illegals?

    They are a GUN RIGHTS organization. A single issue proponant. They are not the right-wing equivalent of the ACLU, nor do they try, want, or pretend to be. They care about GUNS.

    If you want to find an porganization that opposes All Things Socialist, that would be something on the order of a POLITICAL PARTY.

  6. I’m a single issue proponent– Liberty. I advocate the radical concept of;
    “The Recognition and Protection of Individual Rights”.

    Those right all flow from the concept of property rights. I’m therefore, of course, in favor of the right to keep and bear arms, but that’s only a subset (thoughbeit a very important one) of the whole concept of rights.

    The NRA was founded so as to promote marksmanship among the general population, not as a political lobby group. That is still their main function, and they do a good job of it. That’s enough for me to support them.

    You have excellent points, Joe. I would only caution that this gaming strategy can, and does, go both ways. If we would support, say, a Joseph Stalin for example, because he strategically comes out pro-gun to get and hold office long enough, we have eventually thrown out not only our gun rights, but all the others.

    Once the coalitions of power necessary to bring about redistributive change (to use Obama’s words) have been put in place and entrenched, it isn’t going to have mattered which pro gun leftists were supported by the NRA, ’cause there isn’t going to be an NRA, or a 2A.

    So we have to look at short term goals and strategies, all the while keeping in mind, and weighing them against the long term strategies and goals.

  7. No sale. Look at McCain’s or HRC’s campaign ads. Crap, from the top people with all the best people working for them.
    When I see obviously crappy product, Occam’s razor doesn’t go to 3D chess in a fog of war, it goes to lazy half-assed indefensible crap.

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