More Fun with Roman History

February 14th, 2015

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Picking up from yesterday, we're left with vastly differing accounts of the emperor Numerian's death.  Which is correct?  The easiest way to solve this is to run down a simple timeline.

Malalas' Chronographia makes the following claims:

  • Saint Babylas (then patriarch of Antioch) refused to admit an emperor to the church
  • the emperor executed Babylas
  • the emperor went to war with the Persians
  • said emperor was captured following a siege at Carrhae

It becomes apparent he's referencing three distinct emperors, all of whom predate Numerian by a generation.

Continued »

Fun with Roman History

February 13th, 2015

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I recently got around to reading Peter Heather's Fall of the Roman Empire.  It's an excellent read for the layman, and he poses some interesting debates for the historian.  One interesting theory he suggests is that the Huns had an indirect (and earlier than usually assumed) effect on Rome as their migrations forced the Goths to rush the borders and clash with the Empire.

But my area of study is the 3rd Century crisis, and that's why I noticed an odd and unorthodox account of Numerian's death.

Everyone remembers the famous emperor Numerian, right?  He's right up there with…well, don't feel badly.  They don't teach much about the 3rd century in school because it was such a mess.  Rome's borders were crumbling under the weight of Germanic invasions, and the empire was in a state of nearly constant civil war.  Dio (as in Cassius, not Ronnie James) remarked that Rome had descended "from a kingdom of gold to one of iron and rust."

From the death of Alexander Severus in 235 to the coronation of Diocletian in 284, there were 26 confirmed emperors and over 50 usurpers (Gallienus succeeded in winning exactly one thing in life–he had as many as thirty).  Approval by the Senate was an afterthought–the armies were the kingmakers for the empire, and their favorite generals were the only men deemed fit to rule.

Continued »

Piling On

February 9th, 2015

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OK, I'll join in on the Brian Williams meme train.  Here he is reporting from Dallas on November 24, 1963.

You Only Get One Chance At This

January 13th, 2015

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A police officer in Glasgow, Kentucky is suing Barren Outdoors.  The employee handed him a loaded gun, which he failed to check, and he blew off part of his left index finger.

Go ahead and laugh:  he's going to win.

Note to gun store customers:  putting your hand over the muzzle won't stop a bullet and it doesn't exempt you from Rule #2.  Don't point the weapon at anything you can't pay for.  Nobody wants to hear, "it's unloaded."  I've lost count of how many times that phrase has turned out to be a lie.

Note to gun store employees:  clear the gun before handing it to a customer because the customer won't check it.  Seriously, 87.4% just of them just start dry-firing away with wild abandon as soon as they've got their sweaty mitts on it.

Note to gun store owners:  you can and will be sued for this.  Comparative negligence might mitigate the damages, but you're going to have some of the liability.  You can quote Rule #1 to a jury until you're blue in the face.  It won't help.  It's not normal practice to hand someone a loaded gun.

There were many mistakes in this situation, but the chain of events began with the employee failing to take his responsibilities seriously.  It just takes one lapse.

Sigelei 100W Plus

January 4th, 2015

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Vaporizers have come a long way over the last five years. In fact, they've seen a vast improvement over the last few months alone. A year ago, most power-regulated devices topped out at 11 watts or so, and they wouldn't fire atomizers with a resistance of less than 1Ω.

The alternative were so-called mechanical mods, which used no circuitry and drew power directly from the battery. I could build lower-resistance coils to cheat more output, but the quality (and quantity) of vapor tapered off as the battery wore down over the day.

Better chips have since been developed over the last few months. Several manufacturers began using the Evolv DNA30 and DNA40 chips early last year, and now companies like Sigelei are using the newer Yihi sx330 chip to generate higher output.

Sigelei 100W Plus

Yes, this thing can go up to 100 watts. No, I haven't run it that high. In fact, anything over 40 watts gets pretty overwhelming. But that's not the point.

Continued »

The Compass Flower

January 4th, 2015

A Mask for Janus

SAF Brings Suit against I-594

December 31st, 2014

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The press release is here. The filing itself is here [pdf].

Their argument is that I-594 is unconstitutional because it is too vague, both facially and as applied.

I-594, with its amendments to RCW 9.41 relating to non-commercial transfers of firearms, as well as Defendants’ enforcement of the same, prohibit, substantially interfere with, inhibit access to, and infringe upon the right to possess firearms and thus infringe Plaintiffs’ rights under the Second and Fourteenth Amendment of the U.S. Constitution as well as the rights in Article I, Section 24 of the Washington State Constitution.

Specific examples of infringement include the criminalization of  shared firearms in the same home, the impractical burden on firearms training, and the inability to retake possession of a gun previously loaned to another.

They point out that the Washington State Patrol will not be enforcing the law because they can't prove what is or isn't a transfer. Most sobering is this bit from the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife:

On December 2, 2014, the Washington Department of Fish and Wildlife issued guidance on I-594 that it had formulated “in close consultation with our legal counsel in the Attorney General’s Office.” The guidance was focused on the Department’s hunter education and stated, in part, that transfers between the Department’s volunteer hunter education instructors and their students are exempt because the instructors are agents of the Department, which is in turn exempt as a law enforcement agency. The guidance goes on to note, however, that transfers between students would not be exempt, but that instructors could avoid liability under I-594 by engaging in a straw-man transfer by taking the firearm from one student and handing to to another.

The need for such an exception, and the roundabout way in which it must be exercised, should highlight the absurdity of this law better than anything else.

Undeserved Celebrity

December 23rd, 2014

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Apparently, all it takes to become an "activist" in 2014 is to get a Twitter account and make an insipid YouTube video. In a matter of days, this person has gone from being a selfie-obsessed nobody to an internet celebrity based on this video this video.

(The gun is actually a Crosman C-11 pellet gun, but that is a real charter school.)

Angry gun owners unwittingly fed into her narcissism, and even the CSGV has thrown its hat into the ring. Notice the conciliatory and respectful tone:

This was an audition for Michael Bloomberg's money, and thanks to the outrage, she probably passed.

(This afternoon, she pulled down the original video and re-uploaded it at a different address. The link above is to the new address.)

Vultures

December 12th, 2014

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A group of families, organized by the law firm of Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder, is planning to bring a wrongful death suit against Bushmaster Firearms because one of the company's rifles was used in the Sandy Hook shooting. In theory, such a lawsuit would be forbidden by the Protection in Lawful Commerce in Arms Act. In practice, it's not as clear.

A Bushmaster rifle was also used in the 2002 DC Beltway shootings. The Brady Campaign brought suit against them, and the company eventually settled. Doing so set a terrible precedent, and the lawyers smell blood in the water.

Koskoff, Koskoff & Bieder has taken a keen interest in product-liability lawsuits against gun manufacturers, and their campaign contributions run a close parallel to those of the Brady Campaign. I expect to see a statement from the latter supporting this in the coming days.

BTW, the screen grab in the header was from a loopy media campaign the Bradys did a few years back. The domain must have lapsed at some point, and now…well, now it's something in Japanese about exterminating ants with a flamethrower.

The Markus Kaarma Case

December 5th, 2014

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Self-defense statutes commonly known as "stand your ground" laws have come under a great deal of scrutiny the last couple of years. Though not a stand your ground case, the George Zimmerman situation was quoted as proof that Florida's law was unfairly biased against minorities. Michael Dunn's attempt to cite the law in his defense made things even worse.

Now we've got a case in Montana that critics are attempting to lump into the same category. The issue at hand doesn't involve stand your ground laws, which generally cover self-defense outside the home. Kaarma is claiming immunity under Montana's castle doctrine law, which covers the defense of home.

Castle doctrine is a much older legal theory, and one about which there's less controversy. It hinges on the idea that there are certain privileges and immunities regarding the use of force in defense of the home. However, Montana's law is quite clear that lethal force is only allowable to prevent an assault or forcible felony.

Laying a trap for someone and laying in wait to shoot them doesn't fit that bill.

According to the court filing [pdf], Kaarma had been a victim of prior break-ins. An exchange student named Diren Dede entered Kaarma's garage, and Kaarma fatally shot him.

What was Dede doing there? Well, Kaarma's wife left a purse in the garage, with the door left open. In and of itself, that casts Kaarma's motivation into question.

In addition, Kaarma made comments to responding officers that he didn't want the burglar to escape and that the police couldn't catch the burglar in the act. That's strike two, and it's eerily similar to George Zimmerman's "these punks always get away" utterance to 911 operators prior to the shooting of Trayvon Martin.

To worsen things, he'd made prior statements to a hairdresser that he was waiting up at night with a shotgun to catch and kill potential burglars. Whether or not he meant to, he tainted his defense, perhaps hopelessly.

He will likely claim that he made these statements under emotional stress and that he didn't mean them. Even if we assign some truth to that, there's an abject lesson here: after a shooting, make no statements to responding officers about motive.

Here's lesson number two: watch the chest-beating rhetoric. In a homicide case, prosecutors can and often will scour social media and other online communications. A track record of statements like "I don't dial 911, I dial 1911" and suggestions that certain people deserve to be punished with violence isn't going to play well for a jury.

I'm Five Years Old Again

November 29th, 2014

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The first trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens is live. Here's what we've got:

  • John Boyega as a stormtrooper. The armor's new, and it's a first to see one of them as person. Rumor has it he's a protagonist.
  • A beachball-shaped R2 unit. It's less annoying tha Jar-Jar. Then again, so are head lice.
  • Menacing stormtroopers being airdropped somewhere. Does this mean some remnant of the Empire is still around?
  • Daisy Ridley riding a giant speeder bike. Is that a lightsaber lashed to the side?
  • A desert planet, but possibly not Tatooine. Notice the single sun in the final shot.
  • X-wings skimming over a lake. The pilots' uniforms look familiar, but the s-foils are different. Freakin' x-wings, dude.
  • A creepy guy with a red lightsaber. It looks more like a heavy claymore than the agile swords we're used to seeing. It also looks angry.
  • Cue up the John Williams and ermagherd the Falcon. This is where Abram's style shows up. It looks like it's actually cutting the air, and the way the camera follows loosely it through its roll feels great (also, lens flare). It looks like Han replaced the radar dish Lando wrecked during Jedi.

So, yeah, Abrams. Don't screw this up too much and we'll throw unimaginable amounts of money at you.

Weasel Words

November 27th, 2014

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"Scientists say" is an ambiguous and manipulative phrase when not backed up by actual data. It's right up there with "according to experts" and the ever-popular "studies have shown."

Today's exhibit is a hysteria-inducing broadside regarding e-cigarettes. Apparently, scientists say they contain ten times as much formaldehyde as cigarettes. So, where's the data? The article, of course, doesn't provide it.

It comes from a Japanese study, available here. The methodology is questionable, and the results contradict what we've been hearing from other scientists, like this guy I'm citing. It should be mentioned that this comes from a nation with a male smoking rate 60% higher than that of the United States, and one in which the government controls the tobacco industry.

The real motivation behind things like this is economic. Tobacco marketers [pdf] and pharmaceutical companies have long held monopolies on nicotine products. They're not happy to see an open-source alternative biting into their market share, and they're doing everything they can to kill it.

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