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The Myth That the US Leads the World in Mass Shootings   Leave a comment

It’s a slam dunk case except for one thing: it’s not true.
To understand the misleading narrative, we must look to the era of narrative-driven journalism and the politicization of society, both of which subjugate truth to ideology and politics.

 

If you asked me this morning which nation has the most mass shootings in the world, I would have said, with perhaps a flicker of hesitation, the United States.

This is a tad embarrassing to admit because I’m pretty familiar with shooting statistics, having written several articles on gun violence and the Second Amendment. Below is a basic overview of gun violence in America. While gun homicides have been steadily declining for decades in the US, mass shootings have indeed been trending upward.

This fact alone probably would not have led me to believe that the US leads the world in mass shootings, however. An assist goes to the US media and politicians.

“Let’s be clear,” President Obama said in 2015 after a shooting in North Carolina. “At some point, we as a country will have to reckon with the fact that this type of mass violence does not happen in other advanced countries.”

Sen. Harry Reid echoed this sentiment. “The United States is the only advanced country where this kind of mass violence occurs.”

Media headlines have left little doubt that the US leads the world in mass shootings. In fact, according to CNN, it isn’t even close.

The comments and data seem to conclusively say that the US leads the world in mass shootings and the violence is unique, a product of “America’s gun culture.”

It’s a slam dunk case except for one thing: it’s not true.

Statistics on global mass shooting incidents from 2009 to 2015 compiled by economist John Lott of the Crime Prevention Research Center show that the US trails many other advanced nations in mass shooting frequency and death rate.

As Investor’s Business Daily noted on these findings, “Yes, the U.S. rate is still high, and nothing to be proud of. But it’s not the highest in the developed world. Not by a long shot.”

If this is true, how did the narrative that the US leads the world in mass shootings become the conventional wisdom? The myth, it turns out, stems from University of Alabama associate professor Adam Lankford.

Lankford’s name pops up in a montage of media reports which cite his research as evidence that America leads the world in mass shootings. The violence, Lankford said, stems from the high rate of gun ownership in America.

“The difference between us and other countries, [which] explains why we have more of these attackers, was the firearm ownership rate,” Lankford said. “In other words: firearms per capita. We have almost double the firearm ownership rate of any other country.”

Lankford’s findings show that there were 90 mass public shooters in America since 1966, the most in the world, which had a total of 202. But Lott, using Lankford’s definition of a mass shooting—“four or more people killed”—found more than 3,000 such shootings, John Stossel recently reported.

Who is to say Lankford doesn’t have it right and Lott is wrong? There’s just one problem: Lankford isn’t talking.

When findings do not mesh, scholars, in pursuit of truth, generally compare notes, data, and methodology to find out how they reached their conclusions. After all, who is to say Lankford doesn’t have it right and Lott is wrong? There’s just one problem: Lankford isn’t talking.

Lankford refuses to explain his data to anyone—to Stossel, to Lott, to the Washington Post, and apparently anyone else who comes asking, including this writer. (I emailed Lankford inquiring about his research. He declined to discuss his methodology, but said he would be publishing more information about mass shooting data in the future.)

“That’s academic malpractice,” Lott tells Stossel.

Indeed it is. Yet, it doesn’t explain how one professor’s research was so rapidly disseminated that its erroneous claim quickly became the conventional wisdom in a country with 330 million people.

For that, we must look to the era of narrative-driven journalism and the politicization of society, both of which subjugate truth to ideology and politics. Media and politicians latched onto Lankford’s findings in droves because his findings were convenient, not because they were true.

This is an unsettling and ill omen for liberty. As Lawrence Reed has observed, the road to authoritarianism is paved with a “careless, cavalier, and subjective attitude toward truth.” Yet that is precisely what we see with increasing frequency in mass media. (Need I reference the Covington debacle and the Smollet hoax?)

More than a hundred years ago Mark Twain noted, “A lie can travel halfway around the world while the truth is putting on its shoes.”

Lankford’s erroneous research had free rein for two years and was disseminated to tens of millions of viewers and readers before the truth finally got its shoes on.

Twain’s quote remains true even in the age of the internet. Lankford’s erroneous research had free rein for two years and was disseminated to tens of millions of viewers and readers before the truth finally got its shoes on.

If you ask most Americans today which country leads the world in mass shootings, I suspect a vast majority would say the US. And there’s always a price for the erosion of truth.

Source: The Myth That the US Leads the World in Mass Shootings | Jon Miltimore

Posted December 27, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Gun control

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Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here's What the Data Say   Leave a comment

From Parkland, Florida, to San Bernardino, California, the semi-automatic AR-15 rifle and its variants have seemingly become the weapons of choice for mass shooters in the United States.

Many people simply cannot believe that regular civilians should be able to legally own so-called “weapons of war,” which they believe should only be in the hands of the military.

According to Pew Research, for example, 81 percent of Democrats and even 50 percent of Republicans believe the federal government should ban “assault-style rifles” like the AR-15. Given the massive amount of carnage AR-15s and similar rifles have caused, it makes sense that the civilian population simply cannot be trusted to own such weapons, right?

Perhaps, but is it really true that the AR-15, a popular firearm owned by millions of Americans, is a unique threat to public safety, so dangerous that it deserves to be banned or even confiscated by the federal government?

It cannot be emphasized enough that any homicide is a tragedy, but in order to get a sense of how dangerous to public safety “assault-style” rifles are, it’s useful to compare their usage in homicide to other methods.

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) and the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI) are the two authoritative sources for homicide statistics in the United States.

According to the Bureau of Justice Statistics (BJS), the CDC reports “produce more accurate homicide trends at the national level” because they capture less under-reporting than the FBI statistics.

However, the homicide data recorded by the CDC includes all homicides committed by civilians regardless of criminal intent. The FBI data instead focuses on intentional homicides (i.e murder) known to law enforcement and excludes non-negligent homicide (i.e manslaughter.)

According to the BJS, the FBI data is “better suited for understanding the circumstances surrounding homicide incidents.” This is especially true given that the FBI, but not the CDC, records the type of firearm used in a given homicide. For the purposes of this analysis, the data from the FBI will be used.

There are two further limitations of FBI data worth noting.

Firstly, the FBI reports do not look at “assault-style” rifles specifically, but rather, murders involving all types of rifles, whether they are committed with an AR-15 or a hunting rifle.

Between 2007 and 2017, nearly 1,700 people were murdered with a knife or sharp object per year. That’s almost four times the number of people murdered by an assailant with any sort of rifle.

Secondly, each year there are a few thousand homicide cases where the type of firearm used goes unreported to the FBI. This means that some murders listed under “unknown firearm” may, in fact, be rifle murders.

To account for this under-reporting, we will extrapolate from rifles’ share of firearm murders where the type of weapon is known in order to estimate the number of “unknown” firearms that were in actuality rifle homicides.

If we take the time to look at the raw data provided by the FBI, we find that all rifles, not just “assault-style rifles,” constitute on average 340 homicides per year from 2007 through 2017 (see Figure 1.). When we adjust these numbers to take under-reporting into account, that number rises to an average of 439 per year.

Figure 2 compares rifle homicides to homicides with other non-firearm weapons. Believe it or not, between 2007 and 2017, nearly 1,700 people were murdered with a knife or sharp object per year. That’s almost four times the number of people murdered by an assailant with any sort of rifle.

Figure 1. The Relative and Absolute Frequency of Rifle Homicides 2007-2017

 

Figure 2. Homicides per year by weapon 2007 – 2017

In any given year, for every person murdered with a rifle, there are 15 murdered with handguns, 1.7 with hands or fists, and 1.2 with blunt instruments. In fact, homicides with any sort of rifle represent a mere 3.2 percent of all homicides on average over the past decade.

Given that the FBI statistics pertain to all rifles, the homicide frequency of “assault-style” rifles like the AR-15 is necessarily lesser still, as such firearms compose a fraction of all the rifles used in crime.

With an average of 13,657 homicides per year during the 2007-2017 timeframe, about one-tenth of one percent of homicides were produced by mass shootings involving AR-15s.

According to a New York Times analysis, since 2007, at least “173 people have been killed in mass shootings in the United States involving AR-15s.”

That’s 173 over a span of a decade, with an average of 17 homicides per year. To put this in perspective, consider that at this rate it would take almost one-hundred years of mass shootings with AR-15s to produce the same number of homicide victims that knives and sharp objects produce in one year.

With an average of 13,657 homicides per year during the 2007-2017 timeframe, about one-tenth of one percent of homicides were produced by mass shootings involving AR-15s.

Mass shootings involving rifles like the AR-15 can produce dozens of victims at one time, and combined with extensive media coverage of these events, many people have been led to believe that such rifles pose a significant threat to public safety.

However, such shootings are extremely rare, and a look at the FBI data informs us that homicide with these types of rifles represents an extremely small fraction of overall homicide violence. Banning or confiscating such firearms from the civilian population would likely produce little to no reduction in violent crime rates in America.

Image courtesy of Gun Holsters and Gear.

Source: Are AR-15 Rifles a Public Safety Threat? Here’s What the Data Say | Being Classically Liberal

Posted December 27, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Gun control

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Public Schools Are A Lot Like Prison   Leave a comment

Posted September 11, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in Common sense

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Consequences of Simplistic “Solutions”   2 comments

Reading with an open mind.

I’ve been rereading Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring and am amazed at what I’m finding there. When I was in high school and then in college, it was required reading in some classes and I admit it, I read it for the environmentalist message that I was expected to regurgitate in class and kind of ignored whatever didn’t fit that narrative, but on this “for my own information” reading, I’m seeing things with a different view, perhaps because I’m free to think rather than do what I’m told.

As a libertarian, I know there are multiple ways of dealing with the missteps we humans make. One strategy deals in cultural transformation. This could be applied to multiple topics, but let’s just look at environmental issues. Concerned citizens work toward environmental improvement by developing social awareness and making voluntary adjustments. The EPA admits that this decentralized approach of neighbor talking to neighbor, of scientists proposing corrections, of commentators writing critiques and of consumers and businesses altering their behavior over time improved the environment of the United States immensely in the 1960s BEFORE the National Environmental Policy Act was passed.

The alternative is political action – NEPA and its rabid offspring, including the Green New Deal, which looks to centralize the power to deal with a situation under a government “problem-solving” agency(ies). Most of today’s activists embrace the “all problems should be and can be solved by government” approach.

So, it surprised me to find that Carson blamed federal, state, and local governments for the wave of mindless environmental abuse she witnessed.

Go read the book before you argue. On page after page, Carson reviewed these damaging actions and time and again, there was government involvement – either directing the program itself or reinforcing a private program and refusing to listen to biologists or members of the general public who objected.

At one time, the federal government had a major effort toward sagebrush eradication, which of course affected grouse, deer, moose and beaver. This “appalling example of ecological destruction,” according to Carson, was carried out by the US Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. I find that ironic since the Forest Service now tries to blame ranchers for sagebrush destruction while not acknowledging its own history – a history I couldn’t find on the internet, but a cousin who is a North Dakota feed store owner confirmed for me.

Carson criticized local governments for the practice of spraying roadsides to kill weeds, even damaging specially designated nature areas. She specifically mentioned Connecticut’s Arboretum Nature Area. This practice, by the way, continues today, mandated by the US Department of Transportation for safety reasons. The chemicals are less damaging — we think.

In the 1950s, the US Department of Agriculture and state departments of agriculture carried out the aerial dusting of Aldrin to control a Japanese beetle infestation in the Midwestern states. When people began to complain about the toxicity, government agencies, including the Federal Aviation Agency and the Detroit Department of Parks, assured the public that “the dust was harmless.”

Carson is famous for her opposition to DTD, but she placed the silence of spring firmly on government shoulders. Federal government spraying against the fire ant caused massive bird die-off, according to Carson. Many city governments, on recommendations of the Department of Agriculture, sprayed DOT and heptachlor trying to control Dutch elm disease. Turned out proper pruning was what was necessary.

Carson had great disgust for Nassau Country (Long Island, New York), the US Department of Agriculture and the US State Department for conducting aerial spraying against the gypsy moth “showering insecticide over children at play and commuters at railway stations,” killing hives of honeybees and even a horse poisoned by its drinking water.

Carson does mention other actors as bearing some blame for this destruction of nature – consumers, sportsmen, farmers and manufacturers of pesticides were part of the problem in her view, but she overwhelmingly cites government as the principle offender. At least 90 times, she cited some level of government involvement, either carrying out the programs or reinforcing an environmental abuse.

Carson showed no sign of a libertarian bent. She didn’t see government as an inherently evil agent. She simply reported government’s dysfunctional actions from a naturalist’s point of view. If modern environmental activists want to avoid repeating history, they need to analyze what went wrong, rather than just resting on their presuppositions.

A spirit of crisis causes us to make policy decisions without thought for the long-term consequences.

Carson saw the government’s approach as simplistic overreaction. People respond to a “spirit of crisis” she said in describing the Japanese beetle infestation. The feeling of urgency favors a single-minded approach that ignores side effects and long-term arms. The dominate philosophy was “nothing must get in the way of the man with the spray gun. The incidental victims of his crusade against insects count as nothing.”

Once government had been captured by this philosophy, bureaucrats lined up behind the policy with thoughtless obedience. They didn’t question, they wouldn’t even listen to alternative voices. Carson expressed deep frustration at their closed-minded mentality.

Interestingly, Carson admitted that the pesticides had their uses. She wanted a moderation, not a cessation. She wanted us to think deeply and thoughtfully about their side effects and long-run impacts and to modify as needed – as sensible. That’s an important message for today. The 21st century environmental activities need to realize the world is a complicated place and policy interventions have many unexpected consequences.

We live in a world where screaming “catastrophe” and calling on the government to implement simplistic, sweeping measures can cause vast harm.

And it’s important to recognize that this rush to “DO SOMETHING”, demanding that government ram simplistic solutions through without looking at unintended consequences exists in a whole host of topics today. Is it caused environmental degradation? Could be, given the history. What we know is that it is causing economic and societal degradation and that the natural rights of individuals are endangered by the constant insistence that collectivization is “for our own good.”

Why do we assume that problems largely caused by government intervention will somehow magically be repaired by pouring more government intervention on the problem it caused?

Medical Insurance Is NOT Medical Care   1 comment

I know that flies right past the ears of many people, but take a pause and consider the implications of that statement.

Medical care is when you interact with medical providers and receive a diagnosis, surgery, therapy, a prescription and so on.

Medical insurance is how you pay for medical care.

Politicians use the terms interchangeably, but they are NOT the same thing. Whenever I hear someone use terms that mean different things as if they are the same thing, I become suspicious of their motives for conflating the two.

Of course, there are other types of insurance that we don’t do this with. Nobody confuses car insurance with vehicle maintenance, for example. I keep my own car clean and I pay out of pocket for repairs. If my car is damaged in an accident, my insurance covers the repairs, less the deductible, but I don’t call my insurance agent if I need an oil change or to replace my starter.

Homeowners insurance is similar. I don’t call my insurance company to finance painting the house. I call them when a tree falls on the roof.

Medical insurance ought to work the same way that car and home insurance do, but right now it doesn’t. Routine procedures, drug prescriptions for chronic disease, and a variety of other predictable and non-urgent procedures are all handled through insurance companies.

Now, take a pause and realize that one of the key differences between medical insurance and car or homeowners insurance is that medical insurance is a state-run and -regulated program with limited competition while care insurance has plenty of competition.

March is the month we renegotiate our car and home insurance and I received dozens of circulars in the mail offering me insurance plans that will meet my needs at a price I’m willing to pay. None of them offer to reimburse me for minor damage because they wouldn’t stay in business for long doing that.

Continuing this theme, repair shops, tire manufacturers, and other car-care providers all compete on price to get the largest possible share of the millions of car owners in the market for their products and services.

Meanwhile, the medical care market we currently know is provided by a mixture of public and private payers, and it funds a significant share of the vast majority of procedures. Providers don’t compete on price even for services that millions need on a regular basis.

When it comes to medical insurance, most people expect their coverage to give them more than they pay in. That makes no economic sense. If one person’s treatment costs $120,000 a year and they pay a monthly premium of $1,000, the company needs nine people to pay $1,000 a month, but those eight other people cannot consume any medical care services in order for the company to even break even.

The primary role of insurance should not be to pay bills. Insurance is customer peace of mind—a guarantee that a catastrophic event will not bankrupt us.

If medical insurance worked as it should, we would only use it for catastrophic medical needs. For more minor medical care services, we would be looking for the best-value care in the market because those costs would be coming out of our pockets. Yet the high levels of medical debt show that our current insurance system has strayed far from this model as the prices for minor procedures and treatments have gone through the roof.

Increased coverage sounds nice, but as our recent experiment in increased coverage shows, we’d still struggle with unaffordable copays and deductibles and staggering levels of medical debt. The first step toward obtaining an affordable medical insurance system that works for the maximum number of people is to let insurance be what it was meant to be: peace of mind against catastrophe.

Andrew Yang’s Math Doesn’t Add Up on Universal Basic Income | Jacob Dowell   Leave a comment

The UBI rests on the assumption that consumption spending grows the economy and drives production. Transferring money from savers to consumers, as Yang’s UBI hopes to do, does not grow the economy in the long run—it has the opposite effect.

Source: Andrew Yang’s Math Doesn’t Add Up on Universal Basic Income | Jacob Dowell

Andrew Yang, 2020 Democratic presidential candidate, has revived the debate on Universal Basic Income (UBI) with his proposed “Freedom Dividend.” His plan is to offer an alternative to the modern means-tested welfare state with one simple program to pay $1,000 per month, or $12,000 per year, to every American adult over the age of 18.

Yang has already received a thorough response from Gonzalo Schwarz. Though Schwarz’s response contributes important insights—such as the insignificance of technology replacing jobs, the self-worth that work brings, and the likelihood of a UBI supplementing rather than replacing welfare—I would like to contribute some further insights that more directly address the economic errors of Yang’s arguments.

First, let’s look at the funding. Yang says his 10 percent Value Added Tax (VAT) would raise $800 billion per year, save $600 billion per year from the costs of other welfare programs, save $200 billion per year from reducing the demand on health care services and incarceration, and eventually raise $600 billion extra per year from economic growth.

There is an even deeper flaw in the argument that the UBI would expand the economy.

Before the economic growth (which would not actually happen as I explain below), he has only $1.6 trillion of funds. Even after his expected economic growth, he will have only $2.2 trillion of funds per year, still far from the $2.8 trillionrequired excluding bureaucracy (234 million people 18+ at $12,000 per year). Yang never mentions debt as a means for payment, but his own math doesn’t add up.

Yang is also deceiving in his argument about the program’s impact on the economy. He cites a paper by the Roosevelt Institute that finds, at $12,000 per year, UBI would expand the economy by 12.56 percent over eight years. However, the 12.56 percent growth is under a scenario of a completely debt-financed program. The study admits that a completely tax-funded program would result in a 6.5 percent growth over eight years. Since Yang’s program is mostly tax-funded, it is highly deceiving to claim economic growth of 12.56 percent.

However, there is an even deeper flaw in the argument that the UBI would expand the economy. It rests on the assumption that consumption spending grows the economy and drives production.

The argument goes like this: By transferring money from those who save money to those who have a higher propensity to consume, there will be more spending on consumption goods such as food and clothing. This, in turn, will give an income to the shop owners who will spend their new profits on other consumption goods. And the circulating money creates more economic activity for the macroeconomy.

Transferring money from savers to consumers, as Yang’s UBI hopes to do, does not grow the economy in the long run—it has the opposite effect.

The “propensity to consume” as the cause of economic growth is a common Keynesian notion. But it’s dreadfully wrong. First, it is important to recognize that economic growth is not when everyone gets more money. Economic growth occurs when an economy produces more valuable goods. And what causes this? Capital goods.

Capital goods are the previously-produced goods that are used in the production process and that improve the productivity of workers and the general economy. The use of hammers and nails, for example, greatly improves a construction worker’s ability to build a house. Capital goods are created through savings and investment—the opposite of consumption. Without investment funded by savings, the production of capital goods will slow, causing economic growth to slow.

It may be argued that no one argues for 100 percent consumption spending and that since an individual business will be getting more money, they will be better able to afford more capital goods. But this argument still ignores how the capital goods were produced in the first place.

To create capital goods, someone in the past must have put aside resources to use for a line of production that would not create immediate value. To create a hammer, someone has to save and invest resources into mining iron ore, which then requires resources to smelt into steel. Someone must also have invested resources into tree-cutting for the wood to create the handle. Each of these projects, in turn, required resources for its production process.

In order to have economic growth, there must be a sacrifice of current consumption in order to fund the creation of capital goods.

All of these steps required the production of goods that did not serve any immediate consumption value. The steel and the wood are only a means of creating a hammer, which is itself a means of creating houses and other consumer goods.

The final consumption good, however, would not be possible without someone in the past saving resources to be used for a line of production that was not immediately serviceable but used for the production of capital goods.

In order to have economic growth—to expand production—there must be a sacrifice of current consumption in order to fund the creation of capital goods. Transferring money from savers to consumers, as Yang’s UBI hopes to do, does not grow the economy in the long run—it has the opposite effect.

A common argument against UBI is that it will incentivize people not to look for work. Yang answers this criticism, saying that $12,000 per year will still not be a good enough living for most people, so people will still be incentivized to get jobs and contribute to production.

However, there are still marginal effects at play that can add up to huge changes: 1) It decreases the incentive for workers to quickly find new employment once they’re out of a job, and 2) it decreases their sensitivity to income differences between jobs.

A UBI would skew choices towards enjoyable work rather than efficient or productive work.

The increased time between jobs means there will be lower employment at any given time and, therefore, less production. And the decreased sensitivity to higher incomes means people will be more likely to do less productive work for the sake of enjoyment. While it may be desirable for workers to balance their income needs and their work preferences, a UBI would skew choices towards enjoyable work rather than efficient or productive work. Yang even admits this: “UBI increases art production, nonprofit work and caring for loved ones.”

While these may be admirable activities, Yang is forgetting to consider the opportunity costs associated with them. While people will be more inclined to make art, write novels, and work less, the amount of needed goods in society will decline. This may be a worthwhile tradeoff to some, but when the main stated goal is to help those in poverty, producing less clothing and food is not going to achieve the desired ends.

Andrew Yang does bring up some admirable points about a UBI avoiding the welfare cliff and reducing bureaucracy. However, the overall greater expansion of the government, the even more massive resource transfer from savers to consumers, and the productivity-reducing effects on labor all toll to a huge loss for the economy in the long run.

Posted March 16, 2019 by aurorawatcherak in economics

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Oscar Wilde on Why Wanting to Be Left Alone Is Not Selfish | Jon Miltimore   5 comments

Individualism involves allowing people to flourish and think as they see fit, mainly by leaving them alone.

Source: Oscar Wilde on Why Wanting to Be Left Alone Is Not Selfish | Jon Miltimore

 

Confession: Oscar Wilde is one of my favorite writers. Though he was what Dostoevsky would have described as “a dedicated sensualist,” Wilde possessed a true creative genius perhaps unmatched among his literary contemporaries.

His essay “The Soul of Man under Socialism” is not, in my opinion, his best work. Written in 1891, it’s largely a stream of consciousness detailing what Wilde thought about art, capitalism, socialism, and—most importantly—Individualism.

Individualism is Wilde’s primary concern. What is it? Here’s what he had to say:

Art is Individualism, and Individualism is a disturbing and disintegrating force. Therein lies its immense value. For what it seeks to disturb is monotony of type, slavery of custom, tyranny of habit, and the reduction of man to the level of a machine.

Wilde’s ideas on government in the essay are a strange hodgepodge. He basically rejects both capitalism (too vulgar) and socialism (too authoritarian).

Still, the endgame of his philosophy soon becomes clear. Individualism involves allowing people to flourish and think as they see fit, mainly by leaving them alone.

Is wanting to be left alone selfish? Not at all, Wilde argues:

[U]nselfishness is letting other people’s lives alone, not interfering with them. Selfishness always aims at creating around it an absolute uniformity of type. Unselfishness recognises infinite variety of type as a delightful thing, accepts it, acquiesces in it, enjoys it. It is not selfish to think for oneself.

The tyrants, Wilde says, are those who demand of others to think as they do:

It is grossly selfish to require of ones neighbour that he should think in the same way, and hold the same opinions. Why should he? If he can think, he will probably think differently. If he cannot think, it is monstrous to require thought of any kind from him. A red rose is not selfish because it wants to be a red rose. It would be horribly selfish if it wanted all the other flowers in the garden to be both red and roses.

One could easily apply Wilde’s metaphor to the desires of many Americans today. Unfortunately, there seem to be legions of red roses demanding all flowers become red roses.

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