Low Energy, Totally Uninspired

March 6th, 2016

trump_the_insult_dog

At this point, I can't see the math working out any other way.  Donald Trump is going to be the Republican nominee for President this fall.

That scares the living bejeezus out of me.  It should frighten any reasonable person.  Apparently, "reasonable person" excludes a large portion of the American electorate.

Let's be clear:  Donald Trump doesn't care about you.  He only cares about himself.  This is all a game to him, and one in which the most uncouth bully wins through sheer force of will.

The obvious retort is, "well, that's politics as usual."  It's not untrue, but this guy claims to represent a repudiation of politics as usual.  Right.  If anything, he represents an amplified version of it, filtered through the worst kind of populism I've seen since, well…

I'm going full Godwin here.  It's the worst kind of populism since Hitler.  There.  I've done it, and I'm not sorry.

I'm not making a direct comparison between Trump and Hitler as people.  That would be woefully inaccurate, and it would downplay the monstrosity of the latter.  The actual similarity is in how each man gathered power.

Like Hitler, Trump is pursuing political power by tapping into vein of powerful and largely generalized anger.  He's exploiting an unsettling undercurrent of xenophobia to scapegoat entire ethnic groups.  I'm still at a loss to explain how his candidacy survived the suggestion we ban people from entering the country based on their religion, but here we are.

Hitler abridged or suspended numerous civil liberties to serve his agenda.  In a way, Trump is worse:  he wants to do the same thing to suit his own whims.

When he decided he didn't like what the press was saying about him, he responded with this:

One of the things I'm going to do if I win, and I hope we do and we're certainly leading. I'm going to open up our libel laws so when they write purposely negative and horrible and false articles, we can sue them and win lots of money. We're going to open up those libel laws.

Read that again.  He wants to gut the 1st Amendment so he can get an easier payday.  It doesn't stop there.  He believes Apple should be forced to engineer a backdoor into their products so the government can more easily access private information.  There goes the 4th Amendment.  How about the insistence that he'll bring back, and even expand, torture for "terrorists?"  There goes the 6th Amendment.

His fans claim he supports the 2nd Amendment, but that's revisionist lip-service at best.  In his 2000 book, he supported waiting periods and a ban on so-called "assault weapons."  Prior to the beginning of his campaign, there is no record of him belonging to any pro-gun organizations or even giving them the most perfunctory nod.  He has given repeated monetary and political support for Charles Schumer, one of the most longstanding and ardent advocates for gun control in the Senate.

This guy wants to trample the Constitution, and he's not coy about it.  In spite of that, people love him.  What does that say about us?

Toute nation a le gouvernement qu'elle mérite, I suppose.  I really wanted to think we were better than this.

Is the Gun Industry Really Free of Liability?

January 24th, 2016

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Over the last couple of years, the Democrats have decided that gun control is no longer a toxic political issue.  In fact, they seem to consider it a vital imperative, and support for new restrictions has become something of a litmus test.  Presidential candidates Clinton and Sanders have both been strident in calls for new legislation.

One of their primary targets is the Protection of Lawful Commerce in Arms Act.  The claim is that the PLCAA exempts manufacturers and retailers from any sort of liability for their actions.  As Clinton put it,

So far as I know, the gun industry and gun sellers are the only business in America that is totally free of liability for their behavior. Nobody else is given that immunity. And that just illustrates the extremism that has taken over this debate.

This isn't just wrong; it's an utter lie.

During the late years of the Clinton administration, the Mayors of Chicago and Bridgeport decided to sue gun manufacturers for the damage inflicted by the criminal misuse of their products.  The whole mess culminated when Smith & Wesson, eager to avoid lawsuits, struck a bargain with the Clinton administration with a wide-reaching set of restrictions on the manufacture and sale of their products.  The provisions of the agreement were to be, oddly enough, enforced by the Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD).

HUD Secretary Andrew Cuomo (yep, one and the same) declared triumph and used the threat of costly litigation to intimidate manufacturers, gleefully warning of "death by a thousand cuts."

The problem is this:  they weren't suing the manufacturers for making defective products or for irresponsible marketing.  They were suing companies for making guns.

In 2005, the PLCAA was passed to clear this up.  It's not a blanket protection.  There are still provisions under which suits can be brought for design or manufacturing defects, transfer of firearms in violation of existing law, breach of contract or warranty, or illegal marketing.

What isn't allowed is suing manufacturers for the unforeseen criminal misuse of their products.  I can't sue Glock because someone stole one of their guns and shot me with it any more than I can sue Chevrolet because a drunk driver hit me with one of their vehicles.

This whole issue has nothing to do with removing a supposed extralegal protection.  It's about being able to bypass the legislative process via punitive lawsuits.

Executive Power and Gun Control

January 1st, 2016

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The President has announced that he's seeking to enact new controls without the cooperation or consent of Congress. I understand how this could be worrying on the surface.

The thing is, he really can't do that.  I've written about this before.  Whatever murky construct they may be, executive orders can't be used to enact or alter laws.  The chief executive doesn't have that power, and for very good reason.

It's unsettling that this President has repeatedly and publicly stated a desire to bypass our system of checks and balances.  Regarding economic relief in 2011, he said,

We can't wait for Congress to do its job. So where they won't act, I will.  We're going to look every single day to figure out what we can do without Congress.

Statements like that should be chilling to anyone, regardless of political affiliation.

With that said, we haven't seen the actual orders yet.  The main one rumored will redefine or tighten the definition of a "dealer" in firearms.  The existing definition under 18 U.S.C. § 921(a)(11)(A) is a bit ambiguous:

as applied to a dealer in firearms, as defined in section 921(a)(11)(A), a person who devotes time, attention, and labor to dealing in firearms as a regular course of trade or business with the principal objective of livelihood and profit through the repetitive purchase and resale of firearms, but such term shall not include a person who makes occasional sales, exchanges, or purchases of firearms for the enhancement of a personal collection or for a hobby, or who sells all or part of his personal collection of firearms

Principal objective and occasional sales can be hard things to clarify.  Are twenty guns a year occasional?  Ten?  Five?  One?

The President must know this will trigger a legal challenge, and I can't imagine the Supreme Court upholding it as constitutional.

So why is he doing it?  My best guess is that he wants to be seen as doing something near the end of his term.  A court challenge could take a couple of years, by which time he'll be out of office.  It's a cynical sort of political calculus, but it will appease the gun-control lobby in the short term, and he thinks he'll be fondly remembered for it.

The real historical lesson here should be his eagerness to abuse powers the Constitution never meant for him to have.

Weekend in the Commonwealth

December 26th, 2015

ironsides

I've been playing Fallout 4 obsessively over the Christmas layover. Of course, there's really no other way to play it, but I digress. Anyhow, here are a few screenshots I took during my stroll through the ruins of 23rd Century Boston.

One Way Around the Legislature

December 22nd, 2015

virginia

State Attorney General Herring has announced that he's cancelling reciprocity agreements with 25 states.  Those agreements allow permitted nonresidents to carry concealed firearms in Virginia.  The justification is that those 25 states have more "lax" gun laws than Virginia and that the measure will keep dangerous criminals from bringing guns into the Commonwealth.

Right.  Because dangerous criminals go through the trouble to get carry permits.  Essentially, he's punishing the people who've done nothing wrong, which is pretty much the central tenet of the gun-control approach.

Worse yet, he doesn't need the approval of the legislature to do this.  It just takes a pen stroke.  Hopefully, state lawmakers will intervene, but that remains to be seen.

It's not a novel strategy.  The President himself has threatened to bypass Congress in a similar fashion, though his legal authority to do so is questionable at best.  On one hand, the reluctance of lawmakers (who represent the wishes of their constituents) shows that the public doesn't support gun control.  On the other hand, it makes things difficult for gun owners while such measures meet legal challenges.

The dishonesty and pettiness isn't surprising, but it's certainly annoying.

Star Wars: JJ Abrams Gets It

December 18th, 2015

The-Force-Awakens-Poe-Dameron

I just watched The Force Awakens, and I'm going to get my thoughts out while it's fresh on my mind.

First off, it's good.  Not "good," as in, "well, maybe it wasn't a total trainwreck."  No, it's "good" as in, "tons of kids are going to emulate the new characters like my generation did with Luke and Han" good.

The visuals are impeccable.  Abrams doesn't feel the need to clutter every inch of screen real estate, so the creature and building designs really stand out.  The dogfight sequences are kinetic and exhilarating.  Poe Dameron is absolutely the man.

Which brings us to the dialogue.  The earliest comedic beat in the movie comes from his back-and-forth with Finn (actually, "FN-2187").  It the kind of dialogue at which Joss Whedon excels, and a minute worth of witty banter sets up their characters perfectly.

The humor?  There are no fart jokes or awkward mascot characters.  This is old-school Star Wars humor, and it comes off naturally.  The only real "cute" character is the droid BB-8, and she comes across as charming rather than slapstick.

John Williams' score continues to be an integral part of the films.  If you never noticed, every character has their own theme.  Rey's theme is a meditative one that feels like Ralph Vaughan Williams, while Kylo Ren's theme has an undercurrent of Wagnerian violence with just a touch of the Imperial March in the brass.  There was one spot in the climax (something big blows up) when the music felt a bit generic, but it's otherwise spot on.

The characters returning from the original trilogy all have good plot reasons for being there, and the Leia/Han dynamic…well, it's heartbreaking.  How much so?  Well, I'm going to spoil it from here.

Continued »

Due Process and "Terror"

December 13th, 2015

feinstein_ar15

The gun-control lobby is attempting to use the San Bernardino shooting for political fodder.  The problem is that the incident occurred in California, a state they consider to be a model laboratory for gun restrictions.

They've chosen to sidestep that issue, and they're proposing a new solution:  bar anyone on a terrorist watchlist from owning firearms.  If we don't look too closely, it seems sensible.  It also makes for good soundbites about security.

In practice, it's a terrible idea, and it's something that should offend anyone interested in civil liberties.

Consider the "no fly" list.  One has no way of knowing whether they're on it until they try to board a plane.  If they are, it's nearly impossible to find out why they're on it.  Aside from a feeble DHS program, there's no way to redress the situation.  Even that venue places the burden of proof on the accused.

It also bears mentioning that neither Farook or Malik were on the list.

It's troubling enough that such a system is used to interfere with air travel.  If it's used to strip enumerated rights without due process, it becomes something much worse.  Of course, gun-control advocates aren't letting that slow them down.  Consider Senator Dianne Feinstein's feelings on the situation:

(…) only individuals who are charged and convicted of a crime should be denied a firearm. That would be a critical mistake.

This is what comes of the "just do something" mentality.  It really has nothing to do with public safety–this is about getting a gun law, any gun law, passed while they can rely on public outrage.  Any rights trampled in the process are collateral damage.

…which is pretty much how we got the no-fly list in the first place.

Life on the Road

November 15th, 2015

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I recently switched careers, and I'm now training as an over-the-road trucker.  So far, it's been an intense learning experience.  Here are a few observations I'd like to pass along.

I'm driving a vehicle that can weigh as much as 80,000 pounds.  When that thing is moving at 65mph, it can't stop on a dime.  Physics doesn't work that way.

If you want to go faster than me, by all means pass me.  No, I want you to.  I'm travelling as quickly as conditions and the vehicle will allow.  If you do choose to pass, please make sure to leave some space before cutting in front of me.  See the previous paragraph for an explanation.  Your best bet is to wait until you can see the marker lights above my windshield in your mirrors.

If I can, I'll let you merge in.  Sometimes I can't.  I'm not going to slam on my brakes to do so.  On-ramps are called acceleration lanes for a reason.  Either get in front of me or fall in behind.

Don't tailgate me.  It won't make me go faster.  In fact, driving on my butt leaves you in one of my main blind spots.  That little underrun bumper with the reflective tape?  It's not very sturdy.  If I have to make a sudden stop, there's a good chance your vehicle is going under mine.

Stop texting while you try to drive.  Yes you are.  My seat rides much higher than yours.  Holding the phone in your lap doesn't hide it.

Did I mention that trucks are heavy?  I think I did.  Sometimes we have trouble in the mountains.  Gravity slows us down on upgrades.  That's why we're in the right lane with our hazard lights flashing in places like Monteagle.  We might lose speed.  What we can't do is go faster.  Take the left lane and pass.

Speaking of the flashers, they have a purpose.  If we turn them on, it's because there's a hazard present.  Pay attention.  Either we have a problem with the vehicle, or we've spotted a dangerous condition ahead.

So, who drives well and who doesn't?  Tennessee has generally courteous drivers.  The same goes for Kentucky, though they could be a bit better about using turn signals.

Folks in Missouri are good as well.  When there aren't traffic conditions, their overhead signs are programmed to read things like, "leave tailgating at the football game" and "the steering wheel is not a hands-free device."  Nice.  Sorry about East St. Louis, though.

Iowa…I like you guys.  I wish the roads weren't so craggy, but I understand the havoc constant ice wreaks on pavement.  Same for Wisconsin, though I wish they'd put reflectors on the white lines.  Those roads get dark at night.

Ohio drivers are OK.  That is, until you get into Cincinnati.  Seriously, two cars cannot occupy the same space at the same time.  I'd also appreciate you not attempting to prove that statement wrong directly in front of me.  The state has the nicest rest stops I've ever seen, though.  The entire east coast could learn from them.

Chicago is a festival of traffic suck, made even worse by aggressive and distracted drivers.  The rest of Illinois is pretty good.

New Yorkers seem to have an odd conditioned reflex.  When their left foot hits the brake, their right hand hits the horn.  I'm pretty sure they don't even realize they're doing it.  Perhaps they'd do it less if they weren't so obsessed with seeing just how close they can get to the driver in front of them.

The worst I've encountered?  Georgia.  Seriously.  Screw Georgia drivers.  No lane discipline, a complete unwillingness to use turn signals, and utter refusal to pay attention to surroundings.  I'm from Georgia, and I can honestly say it's the most dangerous place I've driven.  Note to the Camry driver who almost hit at least eleven cars in a two-mile stretch:  you can't eat a bowl of soup and drive at 80mph the same time.

With that out of the way, the open road is something I've always loved.  It's nice to have a job that lets me enjoy it.

An Alternative to Gun Control

October 3rd, 2015

ssri

In the wake of this week's mass shooting, we're going to hear calls for more background checks.  This, despite the fact the shooter underwent and passed several background checks when he purchased his guns.  This, despite the fact that Oregon passed more strict background check legislation only a couple of months ago.

Background checks don't stop these tragedies.  With the exception of Newtown, every mass shooter in the last two decades has purchased his weapons at retail and passed a check.  The lack of a deterrent effect is obvious.  Any other social policy that has failed this utterly would have been abandoned by now.

Of course, whenever I point this out, it's implied that I'm somehow obligated to provide a solution.  Well, OK.  Here's one that might actually help.

In 2013, Dan Roberts conducted a study on mass shooters.  Every single one of them had been on Selective Serotonin Re-Uptake Inhibitors. That category includes the ever-popular drugs like Zoloft and Prozac.  We hand them out for everything from generalized anxiety to sexual dysfunction.

So, here's my idea.  Any time a doctor prescribes one of these drugs, he must report it to law enforcement.  If the patient wants to own a gun, he has to show proof of a psychiatric evaluation.  While he's on SSRI's, he has to take further periodic evaluations.  If he doesn't comply, he's disqualified from possession until he's either off the drugs or resubmits.

Parents who'd rather dope their kids up than raise them correctly have a choice.  If they have a child on these drugs, they must ensure he's current on his evaluations.  Otherwise, they don't get to keep guns in the house.

The gun control lobby will scream discrimination.  Tough noogies. The dangerous side effects of these drugs are well documented.  Though we've yet to establish a causal relation to mass shootings, the correlation is impossible to discount.

That, or we can keep trying the same thing over and over again, expecting different results.  There's a word for that.

Trigger Warnings

September 27th, 2015

fahrenheit451

I went to high school in a somewhat rural area.  Local politics were steered by religion and conservatism.  Therefore, it should have come as little surprise that our library's copy of Catcher in the Rye had been subjected to extensive redaction by some busybody.  In fact, entire paragraphs of the book had been blotted out with magic marker.  The school librarian wasn't the least bit surprised or disturbed when I pointed this out to her.

I used to assume that book banning was the province of the Right.  That's no longer the case.  Liberalism has bred its own version, and it's just as reprehensible. In essence, the belief is that people should be sheltered from anything they find unsettling or even distasteful.

Case in point: the whole concept of trigger warnings.  The original idea was that victims of trauma shouldn't be confronted with statements or imagery that might provoke or aggravate emotional shock.  It won't do to make a veteran with severe PTSD sit through a screening of Apocalypse Now or force a rape victim to watch The Accused.

But we've now gone far past that.  Students in our colleges want Greek mythology and harmless statues removed from the environment because they represent "sexual assault."  The works of William Shakespeare should have warnings about racism and suicide.

It's gotten to the point that one can refuse to study just about any literature or history if it offends them.  They simply have to claim that a given work violates one of a rapidly-expanding list of "triggers," including legal drug use, skeletons, or "slimy things."

The counterargument is that it doesn't constitute censorship because advocates aren't demanding the removal of such works from the curriculum.  They are wrong.  It absolutely does.  If enough students refuse to read Ovid or Chaucer, professors will remove those works from the program.  The effect is the same.

And for what?  Are we to believe that a disproportionate percentage of millennials have been subjected to traumas that necessitate this?  How are our psych wards not overflowing with affluent suburbanites?

The answer is simple:  they haven't.  Political correctness has been taken to its logical extreme.  Combine that with a generation of people who've been raised to believe that their comfort and sense of fulfillment overrule everything else, and this is what we get.

Is Jenny really unsettled because of David's penis?  Does it inflict the male patriarchy on her?  No.  But she doesn't like it, and she's been raised to whine until she gets what she wants.  Combine that with a compulsion towards self-righteous meddling, and the calls come to take the statue down.

There was a time high-school students read Fahrenheit 451.  I don't know if they still do (images of things burning might trigger fears of…something, I suppose).  Reilly tells us that the banning of books didn't start with the government; it was demanded by the people.

We can slap as many pseudointellectual labels on it as we want.  This is no different than Southern fundamentalists burning Beatles records.  Only the framework for justifying it is different.

We're meant to learn from history, even when those lessons are unsettling, especially when they're unsettling.  Art is at its best when it forces us out of our comfort zone.  If we continue on our current course, we will lose all of that.

Crocodile Tears

September 27th, 2015

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There's a sad-sack story being circulated by gun-control advocates about Lonnie and Sandy Phillips.  In essence, the claim is that they're being bankrupted by an evil gun retailer who knowingly armed the Aurora movie theater shooter.

The truth is something altogether different.

The lawsuit itself [pdf] was an attempt to hold online dealers culpable because they sold ammunition without a background check.  There is no law in Colorado, or on the federal level, mandating such a practice.

Notice the "should have known" clauses:

Defendants in this case knew, should have known, or knew that it was substantially certain, that in his state of mental instability Holmes would present a danger to society if he were allowed to possess dangerous materiel. Nonetheless, Defendants negligently supplied and entrusted him with the materiel he used to launch his assault.

As an experienced ammunition seller, The Sportsman’s Guide should have known or knew that it was substantially certain that ammunition should not be supplied to persons who may pose a foreseeable risk of harm, including persons with dangerous mental illnesses such as Holmes.

By their logic, nobody should sell anything online, because it might be used to hurt somebody.  They should also have magic telepathic powers to know the intentions of buyers.

When they needed the publicity, the Brady Center claimed to be the actual plaintiffs.  If you'll check the top of the complaint, that is a lie.  Lonnie and Sandy Phillips were the plaintiffs.

Why is this important?  Because they lost.  Senior District Judge Richard Matsch threw the case out since it violated the PLCAA.  Considering the lawsuit frivolous, he ordered that the plaintiffs pay the defendant's legal fees.  The Brady Center doesn't want to be on the hook for that, so they're dumping it in the Phillips' lap.

That should be the real story.

But there's more.  The plaintiffs aren't just concerned citizens recruited at random.  Lonnie Phillips is the Operations Manager for the Brady Campaign, and Sandy Phillips is their Campaign Manager.  If the Phillips are going to hold anyone responsible for their legal bills, it should be their employer, who railroaded them into this irresponsible lawsuit.

I've asked this question of gun-control advocates before:  if your cause is just, and if you claim the support of the majority of the American people, why do you have to lie in order to further your agenda?

I have yet to receive a cogent answer.

Enough!

August 29th, 2015

trump

I get it:  Donald Trump is rich.  He managed daddy's real-estate business with some degree of competence, and it made a great deal of money.  Good for him.  That doesn't qualify him to be the President of the United States.

He has yet to articulate a single coherent policy position.  He says he'll "build a wall" and "make Mexico pay for it."  OK.  How is he going to get that done?  He won't say.  He claims he's going to "make America great again."  What steps does that entail?  No clue.

He claims to have learned about foreign policy by watching generals on television.  Let that one sink in for a moment.

If he thinks Megyn Kelly's question to him in that silly Fox debate was tough and unfair, wait until he has to deal with someone like Putin, Rouhani, or Lukashenko.  He has yet to face a real bully.

He spends all of his time chanting calculated and vague slogans, and he treats every speaking engagement like he's doing a standup comedy routine.  Who does that remind me of?

Yep, Sarah Palin.  Youbetcha.  What piece of weirdness has this whole farce been missing?  An interview between her and Trump.  I dare you to sit through all eleven minutes of surreal mutual fawning and grandstanding.

One thing stuck out for me.  She refers to Trump's campaign as "avant garde."  I really doubt she knows the meaning of the phrase ("it's a French thing, right?"), so she probably doesn't realize how utterly precise that description is.

Trump's campaign is a brilliant piece of postmodern performance art.  It's the comedian as political aspirant.  He's not just doing a sketch.  No.  He's actually making a show of running for the Presidency and gaining real support.  This is sharper commentary than anything Sacha Baron Cohen has done.

In the process, he's exploring how ludicrous the electoral process has become.  It's been fun, but he needs to go back to normal reality television, because it's getting hard to tell if he's satirizing the process or really running for the Presidency.

New Hampshire is only six months away, and the Republican party needs to get its act together.  It's time for him to bring his antics to a close and let them run.

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