Gizmonic Feedback Alterator #3

August 7th, 2017

Some days, you just feed some material into the machinery. Some of those days, something interesting comes out. I've no idea what to call it, so here goes.

Trump's War

April 8th, 2017

It appears the Syrian government has used chemical weapons, namely Sarin, on its own citizens. It's only human to feel grief and outrage. Something needs to be done.

The frustrating truth is, we're not the ones to do it. Sryia poses no direct threat to the United States or its interests. Military action on our part is simply not justified. It would be nice to see the United Nations grow a pair and intervene, but we have no real authority to act on our own. To do so is to engage in exactly the sort of overbearing forced regime changes we so resent Vladimir Putin for doing.

It is also a complete violation of a very significant campaign promise made by Donald Trump, which gives me pause. Trump ran on the idea that we wouldn't get involved in things like this, that we wouldn't become the world's policeman, and that he'd pursue a Wilsonian "America First" sort of isolationism.

That appears to be out the window. But why, and why now? The Syrian government has been killing its citizens for seven years. The whole time, President Trump told us it wasn't our fight. Am I to believe that a picture of a dying child changed his entire world view?

Perhaps. The man is a living Markov chain, often appearing to run on the whims and impulses of the moment. The idea of such a man sending our soldiers into war is very unsettling.

I suspect it's worse, and here comes the fun part: in which I lament the loss of Steve Bannon, of all people. Bannon was a huge influence on Trump's policy vision, and at the center of that was avoiding foreign military intervention. There have been innumerable reports of him openly feuding with the hawks in Trump's circle. I have a very difficult time accepting that his ouster from the NSC yesterday doesn't have something to do with Trump's sudden, rash decision to order missile strikes on Syria.

In short, I think somebody got to Trump. I mentioned Wilson before, and his early term is worth revisiting. He ran on a populist, isolationist platform, much like Trump. He won reelection with the slogan "he kept us out of war." He even pursued a position of neutrality when the Lusitania was sunk with 128 Americans on board. We're expected to believe a single telegram from Germany to Mexico suddenly swayed a nation from neutrality to a war stance.

I doubt it was that simple then, and I doubt it now. The timing of Bannon's departure lines up too well.

So now we're committed, and we're very likely alone. Ambassador Haley has already told the UN that we'll continue to strike if Assad crosses ill-defined red lines. Well, as of today, Assad has resumed his bombings of civilian targets. If we fail to respond, we look weak, and that's not something this President will abide at all.

We've no justification and no coalition. All this does is edge us closer to a repeat of our Cold War bush wars with Russia. What's worse is that we live in a time when wars never end. We still have Afghanistan on our plate, and it's not as if Iraq is stable. There is absolutely no point and nothing to be gained by us opening a third front in Syria.

I don't know who's whispering in Trump's ear right now, but it isn't Bannon and it certainly isn't Maddis. This whole fiasco suggests that Maddis is somehow out of the loop, and that frightens me most of all.

It's a morbid parallel that the strikes occurred one day after the 100th anniversary of our entry into World War I.  116,000 Americans died in those trenches, driven to madness, choking on poisoned air, aching with starvation, and ultimately cut down by the brutal machinery Europe had adopted to carry on their petty centuries-old grudge matches.

We had no place settling the world's scores then, and we have no place doing so now.

It Looks Like Private FFL's Are a Thing Again

December 29th, 2016

Once upon a time, you could order a gun through the Sears catalog and have it mailed to your door.  Contrary to much of the political rhetoric you may have heard, that's no longer the case.  In fact, it hasn't been since 1968, when the Gun Control Act mandated the requirement for a Federal Firearms License (FFL) to transfer firearms.  Essentially, one had to acquire the license to "deal" in firearms, and the licensee would act as a gatekeeper between manufacturers and the general public.

Many collectors acquired the license and used it to transfer firearms to friends and other collectors.  That was, until Josh Sugarmann of the Violence Policy Center decided he didn't like that.  Among several of his odious initiatives, he successfully badgered the Clinton administration into wiping out non-profit, or "kitchen table," FFL's in the 1990's.  Since then, common wisdom was that the ATF would not issue a Type 1 FFL to anybody who was not "engaged in the business" of selling firearms for a profit.

Then it came up that Sugarmann himself has had an FFL for quite some time.  Let the hypocrisy sink in for a moment.

I filed an FOIA request to the ATF in 2010.  Then I did it again.  And again.  A few months back, I finally got someone at the Bureau who was interested in helping me.  The resulting document dump is here.  It's a bit large if you're on a slow connection.

The upshot is this:

  • The FFL was issued to the VPC
  • It was denied at first because they are a declared nonprofit, and not "in the business"  (Notice Sugarmann resubmitted the application and checked the box saying he did intend to make a profit.)
  • Sugarmann responded that he was a "firearms expert in design and manufacture," and that he needed the FFL for the "examination and publication of written material" on the subject.  He explicitly states, "no firearms or ammunition will be sold."
  • The ATF decided that was acceptable criteria, and the FFL was issued.  It continues to be routinely renewed.

Well, huh.

I reached out to the ATF and asked them how one gets a Type 1 FFL if he's not running a for-profit business.  This was the initial response:

Thank you for your recent inquiry to the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (ATF).  This is in response to your email, in which you inquired about whether a nonprofit organization may be issued a Federal firearms license (FFL) for the purpose of publication of research and whether there are any licensing exceptions that exist for nonprofit organizations who are not engaged in a firearms business.

There are no exceptions to the Gun Control Act of 1968 (GCA) allowing organizations who are not engaged in in the business to obtain a Federal firearm license (FFL).  We recommend that you obtain any firearm needed for your research from a local FFL.

There was a back-and-forth in which they dug their heels in on this and insisted that there was no exception.  I then brought the VPC FFL to their attention. Either they do this or they don't.

Then I got an email from a L. Babbie, Firearms Enforcement Specialist. Apparently, there is an exception.  It's ruling 73-19.  According to Mr. Babbie,

You may record “N/A” to that question [on making a profit] and attach a sheet of paper to explain the nonprofit nature of your business.  A local ATF Industry Operations Investigator (IOI) will call you to schedule a meeting after your application is received at the local ATF office.

So…if I say I need to receive and ship firearms from my home for research purposes, I can have my own FFL.  I suggest everyone with the interest and time to do so apply immediately and quote this exception.  If you write about guns for a blog, that's research.  If you know a manufacturer who wants you to test out their products, that's research.

If the ATF decides they don't like the situation, they can rescind the ruling, in which case it would be reasonable to expect Sugarmann's FFL will also be voided.  If they issue denials in an inconsistent manner, there's definite potential for an equal protection claim.

I regret that I don't have the time to pursue this as I'd like.  To be honest, getting a response at this late a date was something of a surprise.  I ask that anyone with interest in the matter pass it along to as many people as possible.  I have one attorney looking into it, but the ideal would be to flood the ATF with this in order to push a resolution.

I do find it deliciously ironic that the guy who killed kitchen-table FFL's might be the avenue through which we get them back.

Edit:  Nick Leghorn at TTAG has picked up on this, and there's more input on the Reddit thread here.

How Trump Happened

November 18th, 2016

We've heard the blame shifting.  We've seen the finger pointing.  By now, you've no doubt heard the theory from the Left:  Donald Trump won the election because of uneducated white males, which is liberal codespeak for racists.  Apparently, there are 60 million or so of them.

When the last shred of an argument one has is a shockingly and unfeasibly large allegation of racism, it's time to reconsider strategy.  They were wrong, so wrong it cost the Democrats everything.  Hillary Clinton must be fuming that she not only lost–she lost to Donald Trump.

Just consider that.  He's the most ridiculous and inept Presidential candidate we've ever had.  Any one of his stupendous blunders or unearthed scandals would have been enough to destroy any other campaign.  How did he get this far?

The answer is simple: anger.  Not just the kind that makes people throw a vase and feel better, but the kind that gets deferred.  The kind that festers.

The people the Democrats wrote off as trailer-park hicks are the majority of this country, not the liberals in affluent, coastal (and overwhelmingly white) intellectual towns.  And they've been ignored and let down for too long.  They've endured decades of a Democratic party that abandoned them in the sixties, paid them only cursory lip-service when it needed to pad margins with the "bubba" vote, then mocked them for being too bourgeoisie and unimportant.

That's why Wisconsin, Ohio, and Pennsylvania went to Trump.  I know. I'm in those places.  I talk to those people all the time.  They're sick of watching pensions dissipate and jobs disappear while all they get from Washington are empty promises.  They're so frustrated with the system they want someone, anyone, to come along and break it.

And they're not just white males.  I suppose nobody wants to actually travel to Montgomery, Shreveport, or Gary to work the exit polls.  If they did, they'd find the Trump coalition to be much broader than they imagined.  I've talked to black and hispanic Trump supporters, male and female, in those states.  They know Trump has a blind spot for race, and that he's got a reprehensible attitude towards the fairer sex.

The thing is this: they were willing to overlook that.  That's the ultimate indictment of the system as they see it.  They didn't elect Trump because they think he's a racist or a misogynist–they voted for him in spite of those things.

That's just how wretched of a candidate Clinton was.  That's just how wretched the Democratic party is at this point.

And yet, they refuse to see it.  They blame the Klan, the Russians, James Comey…oh, come on.

2016 was the year their complacency, their smugness, their illusion of inevitability came back to bite them.  But they're too arrogant, too assured of their own self-righteous correctness to admit it, much less accept it.  They ignored the people who actually work for a living, the people who have real struggles, in favor of spoiled brats who have to seek out conceptual struggles on Facebook and Tindr.  And now those people are rioting in the streets.  How charming.

They deserved to lose, and badly.  Still, I didn't expect it to be this much of a bloodletting.  The Clinton dynasty is done, having effectively aged out with a feeble whimper.  Their candidate hadn't even written her concession speech before all the sycophants, allies, and pundits turned on her and blamed her for the utter crash the party endured this week.

I almost pity her.  I almost pity the Democratic party.  But they created this situation.  Whether or not they'll learn from it depends on whether they have a shred of humility left.

In the meantime, let's hope President Trump doesn't get too frisky with the nuclear codes.

Y'all $#*%ers Need Talos

November 7th, 2016

So, the Skyrim Special Edition is out.  PC players have long had access to graphical upgrades and community mods, but the SE brings those to console players.

Some of the graphics updates are subtle, while others are still quite noticeable.  While the frame rate is still locked at 30fps, load times are drastically reduced.  That said, this is still Skyrim, so some of the character models are janky, and many of the glitches are still there.  Expect to see the occasional mammoth falling out of the sky and such.

The mods are an inexhaustible supply of novelty, though.  The unofficial patch fixes a great number of nagging issues.  Others offer everything from small tweaks (realistic weather effects, better companion dialogue) to entirely new quests and cities.

If you never played this game when it came out, this is a good chance to rectify that mistake. For those of us who did, the upgrades and mods certainly make it worth revisiting.

Here are the obligatory screenshots.  I decided to do something different and run them through the G'MIC filters to give them an oil-painted look.

Do Let's Shut Up

October 9th, 2016

I'm sick of the manufactured outrage this election.  The American public was fully aware what kind of people both Presidential candidates were when we nominated them.  We have only ourselves to blame.

Let's be honest and stop with the fist-waving and name-calling.  We relinquished that right with an enthusiasm and abandon that should trigger nothing but shame in retrospect.

Donald Trump is, for lack of a more articulate adjective, an asshole.  He's the spoiled rich kid, the bully, the fraternity jock who hopes a comely cheerleader will get drunk enough not to remember who took advantage of her in the morning.  The evidence of his disdain for nonwhite elites is apparent to anyone who knows how to use Google, and it always has been.

Those who voted for him in the primaries should have known this.  The only explanation is that we're truly desperate or that we chose to disregard that in favor of bumper-sticker slogans.

The Left doesn't get a pass.  To them, Trump is a blessing.  Hillary Clinton should get on her knees every morning and thank whatever higher power she believes in that she has him for an opponent and not a competent politician.  Let's be honest: in their backrooms and meetings, her campaign staff celebrates every time some woeful piece of his past comes to light.

So does the press.  When a new bombshell drops, they high-five each other.  When the cameras roll, they smooth their jackets, put on an air of righteous indignation, and pretend to be appalled.  If they had a shred of integrity, they'd admit they are absolutely loving this.

The fireworks have an ancillary effect of distracting the public from what an awful politician and human being Hillary Clinton has been.  Is it really coincidence that Trump's soap opera comments fell into the hands of CNN the same day transcripts of Clinton's Wall Street speeches were leaked?  Really.  Come on.

I remember the 1990's.  I remember when Ms. Clinton did her best to discredit and slander the women her husband abused.

I remember when she urged him not to intervene in the Bosnian genocide because it was potentially "a Vietnam that would compromise health care reform," which was Ms. Clinton's pet project at the time.

I remember her full-throated support for the 1994 Violent Crime Control and Law Enforcement Act, which increased our minority prison population by 60%.  If there's a candidate who should be pilloried by criminal-justice reformers, it's not Trump.

Then there's the whole issue with the personal email server.  Petty Officer First Class Kristian Saucier could face up to thirty years in prison for mishandling classified information, even though there is no evidence he planned to share it with anyone outside the chain of command. Clinton did the exact same thing, but on a larger scale, and for a longer span of time.  She got a pass from the FBI because there was no evidence she meant any harm.

The double standard, and the obvious fact that the FBI investigation was managed by the administration, doesn't seem to bother anyone, least of all her supporters.

Why?  Because they believe her personal reinvention as a "progressive," or because they simply "want to see a woman President."   To this end, they voted for her despite the fact she's pretty much the monster Trump is.  His crime may be that he's an incompetent and awful person, but hers is naked corruption.

So, here we are.  Both choices are wretched, but let's at least show some sliver of honesty.  There were other candidates, but this is what we chose.  Voting has its consequences.  Not voting has its consequences.  We get the government we deserve, and in 2016, this is apparently it.

The Lonely World of No Man's Sky

August 21st, 2016

This may be one of the most hyped media properties of the last two years. There was no way the finished product would live up to expectations, especially when those were built on unrealistic assumptions.

This isn't an outer-space shoot 'em up. Players looking for a fast-paced action game are going to be disappointed. Is it the fault of the developers? No. They promised an exploration game built on a dynamic, procedurally-generated universe. On that score, they delivered.

What we do get is a haunting, quiet experience. It rewards, well, just walking around and enjoying the world it creates. There are no easy answers, and the player is expected to figure out the mechanics and lore himself. Its only presumption is that we simply live in it, which is a brave design choice on its own.

The Democrats don't care about gun violence

July 24th, 2016

Oh, sure, they pretend to.  They make sure the media sees their crocodile tears following every public shooting.  They do their little sit-ins for measures that gut due process, and they push selective gun bans that do nothing about the underlying madness that grips our society.

But when it comes to initiatives that actually reduce violence, they clam up.  Case in point:  current Democratic Vice Presidential nominee Tim Kaine.  As Mayor of Richmond, he backed a program that actually reduced gun violence, and now he's taking flak for it.

That's not Alanis Morissette irony; it's the real thing.  Democrats don't really care about inner-city violence, which represents the vast majority of firearms-related homicides in this country.  They care about symbolic gestures that score them political points.

Among other things, Project Exile was notable for receiving the support of both the NRA and the Brady Campaign (then known as Handgun Control, Inc.).  It was hailed by law enforcement.  So, what happened?  Within four years, it withered away from a lack of funding and complaints that people who actually committed crimes with guns were receiving stiff prison sentences.

Another effective strategy was Operation Ceasefire, a deterrence program lauded by the DOJ for reducing Boston's juvenile homicide rate by 63%. The so-called Boston Miracle was empirically verifiable, and its results were repeatable.

So, where are we on that now?  Interest waned, and the money followed.  Then the Newtown shooting put guns back on the political radar.  The President said he wanted a "conversation" on gun violence, and that all the cards were supposedly on the table.

California pastor Michael McBride approached Vice President Biden with the idea of more funding for Operation Ceasefire on the premise that, well, it actually worked to reduce gun violence.  The response from the White House was a total lack of interest.  Apparently, the only cards on the table were limiting the amount of rounds someone can have in a magazine and a expanding a background check system that is routinely ignored by gang members.

This is the grim calculus of the gun-control lobby.  The vast majority of homicide victims are minorities in our inner cities, but Democrats only get their hackles up when it happens to suburban whites.

Black Lives Matter: We All Deserve Better

July 8th, 2016

This group has been a problem since its inception.  It is a leaderless, anarchical mess.  Their juvenile shock tactics have dismayed established civil rights leaders, and their constant drumbeat of hostility towards law enforcement has now inspired outright murder.

That's it.  We need to be done with them as a country.

It's hard to write that because I'm well aware of the sources of their anger.  The unconscionable killings of Tamir Rice, Eric Garner, and countless other black men by law enforcement are unacceptable.  The disproportionate prosecution, ridiculous mandatory sentences, and deficient legal representation black men receive in our justice system is a travesty, and it is utterly unAmerican.

Of course, to hear representatives of Black Lives Matter tell it, I don't get to have an opinion because I'm white.  That's preposterous and dishonest.  I don't need to be abused by a rogue police officer to tell that there are elements of our system that are terribly broken and in need of reform.  The implication that I somehow lack compassion because of the color of my skin is, succinctly, racist.

And that's the paradox.  Who's in charge of the movement?  Poor, inner-city folks?  Nope. Their founders are well-heeled, suburbanite intellectuals who probably enjoy a higher standard of living than I do.  They can shut the hell up about that.

In fact, they can shut the hell up, period.  They have screwed up in every possible way a fledgling activist group possibly could.  They came to prominence by hyping the "hands up, don't shoot" meme following the Michael Brown shooting.  That very slogan turned out to be an utter lie, the "eyewitnesses" supporting the narrative were shown to have perjured themselves, and the physical evidence overwhelmingly supported the officer's version of the event.

The result?  The officer's life is ruined, and Ferguson burned in subsequent riots.  And it only got worse from there.

Besides media attention and social media validation, exactly what is it they want?  I couldn't tell you.  Their message is muddled and seems only to unify around hatred of law enforcement.  They have no professional spokespeople in the media.  They have no competent litigators.  They have no lobbyists to propose or guide legislation.  They're a hashtag that inspires people to break things.

In short, they exist to gripe about the problem and assign blame, but they have no solutions.  The issues they're protesting are real, but these are not the right people to address them.

I would wholeheartedly support a professional, civilized group wishing to address these issues, but that isn't Black Lives Matter.  The brand is too tainted at this point.  They have only themselves to blame, and they deserve only our scorn.

Hollis, Again

July 7th, 2016

Less than two years ago, a guy named Jay Hollis brought a case to the Texas District Court challenging several aspects of the 1934 National Firearms Act and 1968 Gun Control Act. Long story short, he wanted to build a machine gun for personal use, and the ATF said no. He then filed a rambling, poorly argued case, despite knowing that his actions were illegal before he began this whole endeavor.

I predicted then that it would fail on the District level.  I was correct.  I predicted he would appeal to the 5th Circuit, where he would also lose.  I was correct on that as well.

Well, yay for me, I guess.

He needs to put a stop to this right now, before he causes us all serious harm.

If this case goes to the Supreme Court, Justice Breyer owns it.  He'll have Sotomayor, Kagan, and Ginsburg in his corner.  Without Scalia to act as a counterweight, Kennedy will swing to the other side.  Roberts will probably waffle since this involves machine guns, which are pretty much the third rail in the gun debate.

That leaves Thomas and Alito, who I'm sure will write eloquent (but futile) dissents.  Even if the world's most pro-gun associate Justice gets confirmed in time, he won't have the clout Scalia had.  That's the important part.

We'll be stuck with a majority opinion that machine guns are "dangerous and unusual," and that "weapons of war" or somesuch do not deserve constitutional protection because public safety and think of the children.  That leaves the door open to the constitutionality of bans on high-capacity magazines and semiautomatic "assault weapons."

This is the sort of case Breyer and Ginsburg have been waiting for.  They've both gone on record extensively, saying that Heller was deficient and they'd like to see it rolled back.  The Hollis case doesn't quite do that, but it does let them box the right to keep and bear arms into exactly what Heller said and not one bit more.

Does Hollis care?  No.  Judging from his statements on the matter, his only concern is that he be allowed to build a machine gun.  He seems to be under the impression that if he loses, the only thing that'll happen is that he can't do that.  He doesn't understand, or he just doesn't care, about the horrific long-term consequences he could leave us stuck with.

The aspect that bothers me the most?  The younger generation of gun owners won't listen to our warnings.  They think the courts work like a retail transaction, and the only reason the NFA is still in existence is that us old fogeys haven't bothered to challenge it.  They have no sense of scale or history, and this is where that naivety and unwillingness to listen to reason becomes a real problem.

False Flags, Part 641

June 27th, 2016

There's a website up today asking that gun buyers "share the safety" by sharing guns with people in "impoverished" areas. The shared guns will supposedly go to "locations with highest incidences of police, security guard, and vigilante violence against unarmed citizens."

Yes, it apes the NRA's website design. Yes, the links all take you to legitimate sites. No, it's not real.

Both the NRA and Smith & Wesson have denied knowledge of it. I don't see how it doesn't constitute libel.

The bigger question is, why stoop to this? That site cost money and effort. It isn't a weekend project by some college student. It's obviously fronted by one of the major groups, but the whois information for the site is redacted.

This isn't the first time they've done something like this, even in the recent past. The question remains: if the arguments of gun-control advocates are so compelling and (they claim) resonate with a vast majority of the public, why do they have to resort to these sorts of deceptions?

EDIT: Fake spokesman Hensley Cocker is actually Jacques Servin in a fake Santa beard. No, really. Among Servin's many endeavors was the fake gunshop ad starring an actor from Grand Theft Auto, which he did in cooperation with States United.

Lies, More Lies, and the Liars Who Tell Them

June 24th, 2016

This has been a tough week for gun-control advocates.  We had the worst mass shooting in American history, and they just couldn't seem to exploit it.  They had a cute filibuster in the Senate, and they got the vote they wanted.  Problem is, it didn't go the way they wanted.

The plain fact is, the general public doesn't consider gun control a pressing issue.  We all grieve at the horrors of Newtown, Aurora, and Orlando, but gun-control advocates would have us believe they grieve even more.  The rest of us just don't feel it as much as they do, and anyone who suggests their hasty "solutions" might be defective gets labeled as stupid, bigoted, or lacking in conscience.

And let me tell you, nobody has more conscience than a bunch of progressives craving attention.  So, this week, John Lewis decided to stage a sit-in on the floor of the House of Representatives.

This isn't a soda counter in Montgomery in the 1950's.  We're not talking about the dehumanization and marginalization of a whole race of people.  No, Mr. Lewis feels slighted that he hasn't had enough of a chance to show us how much he cares about gun control.  So, he and his friends parked their butts on the floor, had Starbucks and catered food delivered, and took a bunch of selfies.  Look how much fun he's having with Elizabeth Warren and some guy who looks like Andy Warhol.

Oh, and they also used the event as a fundraiser, because it's expensive to care more about things than the common folk.  That doesn't diminish it at all.  They promise.

There's an underlying irony that can't be overstated.  They law they want?  The source of all this angst?

Oh, this is good.  It would make people on secret government watchlists ineligible to own firearms.  They want to exploit one of the most vile aspects of the PATRIOT Act, a law they claim to abhor, signed by a President they despise, in order to abrogate the exercise of an enumerated constitutional right.  I guess it's copacetic as long as it suits their agenda at the time.

But that's not all, folks.  There are cakelike layers of irony here.  The crumbs at the bottom?  The fact that John Lewis himself is on the no-fly list, as was the late Edward (Ted) Kennedy.  Who else is on it?  Who cares!  It's something they can use to get what they want.

After all, the logical endpoint of the gun-control agenda is a total ban on civilian gun ownership.  They can't get that through legislation, at least not directly.  However, this works even better.  Consider:

  • make a secret list, over which nobody has oversight
  • ban people on the list from owning guns
  • put everybody on the list
  • profit!

If I have any of this wrong so far, by all means correct me.

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