Even the Libertarians Are a Sideshow

May 30th, 2016

If I were to sum up my personal politics, I hew most closely to the Libertarian platform.  The problem is, they can't put forth a candidate worthy (or likely) to be elected dog catcher.

Gary Johnson is this year's nominee for President, same as 2012.  Failing to secure the Republican nomination, he went to the Libertarian ticket as a consolation prize.  Johnson isn't bad; he's just uninspiring.  Still, he has more mainstream name recognition than anyone else in the party, so they might as well nominate him in 2016.

The big problem is his pick for Vice President.  William Weld was governor of Massachusetts for two terms in the 1990's.  During his tenure, he supported very strict gun-control measures and government seizure of private property under eminent domain.  Both of those positions run absolutely counter to Libertarian ideology.

Weld claims to have dialed back on some of those positions, but when pressed on his support for gun control, he gave Jake Tapper a response I find far less than convincing.

I'm a lifelong hunter and gun owner (…) I distinguish between, you know, hunting guns and guns that don't seem to have any hunting purpose or potential purpose.  That's an area where Gary and I can find common ground.

The "hunting purposes" rhetoric has long been a strategy of the gun-control lobby.  The idea is to drive a wedge into the gun-rights camp, separating the "hunters" from the supposed nutjobs who don't want to give up their "military" weapons.  Advocates of this approach usually resort to craven emotional manipulation about "compromise."

Notice that Weld spoke in the present tense in those comments.  He hasn't changed, and if Johnson can find "common ground" with that, he'll be selling out one of the central planks of the Libertarian platform.

It's sad to see the party decline from largely irrelevant to utterly surreal, especially when the mainstream choices are a dangerous blowhard with impulse-control issues, a serial liar who may find herself under indictment, and a socialist progressive whose own rhetoric makes him incompatible with the current political landscape.  With better nominees, Libertarians might have actually had a chance this election.

Autechre: elseq

May 28th, 2016

The last couple of years have been busy ones for Autechre.  Exai was an album of staggering scope, made even more audacious by the fact that it was uniformly good.  Not many musical acts in any genre can still turn out solid material with such consistency three decades into their career.

The group has always been known for its live shows, but they've never seemed keen on releasing recordings of them.  Then, without notice or fanfare, they released nine different live sets on the same day.

The marketing and distribution were interesting.  No physical copies are available.  The music can be downloaded off their website.  Grab whichever sets you want; they've said there's no specific order in which they're to be digested, and the sum of them is 8 hours of listening.

Needless to say, it was a huge surfeit of material.  Most artists would be content to sit back a couple of years while the audience digests that much.

Now they've released another dump of what is essentially five studio albums.  I really have no idea how or why they're suddenly working at such a pace, but the biggest surprise is how consistent it all is.

Essentially, elseq is broken down into five records.  Each one has its own character, but they all fit together as a whole.

I suppose going in numerical order is the best way to start.  The first record opens with "feed1," which sounds a bit timeless for them.  It could have fit in well on 1997's Chiastic Slide just as well as 2001's Confield.  It's grimy and largely amelodic without being abrasive.  Having set the tone, "c16 deep tread" flies in the other direction, feeling like a more playful track from the hip-hop influenced Untilted.  Ever wonder what the fractured melodies of Oversteps would sound like over the skittery beats of Quaristice?  "13×0 step" is just that.

"pendulu hv moda" may be the most melodic and openly emotional thing they've done in ages.  Sure, things are glitched out and smeared, but there's a real sense of drama and beauty.

The second and third records each contain three tracks, several of which are over 20 minutes long.  I still think "Sublimit" is the best long-form track they've done, and none of these quite matches it in terms of structure.  Still, "c7b2" is a fun romp in 6/8, and "mesh cinereaL" is a gorgeous track that makes excellent use of its 25-minute run time.

The fourth record is my favorite so far.  "acdwn2" starts a bit like Richard James doing acid house, but where James would play it straight, Autechre completely destabilize it and tear it apart.  It reminds me of L-Event a bit, and I'm pretty sure that's the bassline from "Calbruc."

"foldfree casual" is actually pretty.  It sounds a bit like Eno's work with Cluster in the 1970's, but with asymmetrical percussion towards the end.  The way the melody in "latentcall" turns melancholy and disintegrates makes me think they've been listening to Tim Hecker lately. Not a bad thing at all.

"7th slip" got on my nerves until it didn't.  I had to listen to it twice before I got what they were doing. It's like a broadcast of a 1930's swing radio station, intercepted and remixed by aliens.  Or Philip Jeck.

"freulaeux" is, I kid you not, an almost straightforward house track with a 4/4 beat.  The overlying textures sound like something from Draft 7.30, but there's no denying how…well, it's optimistic and sunny in a way that doesn't seem the least bit out of character.

I could go on, but it would defeat the point.  I get two impressions from the record(s).  The first is that there's a certain syncretism going on here.  I'm hearing elements from just about every period in their history.  Listen closely and you'll hear a bassline that wouldn't have been out of place on one of their Basscadet remixes.  In other spots, the melodic framework feels like something from Tri Repetae.  Structures and rhythmic elements from Chiastic Slide and Confield pop up from time to time.

That brings me to the second impression.  This feels like an improvised set.  Sure, it's obvious these tracks all had a general plan, but there's also a very loose feel to everything.  Despite its broad sprawl, Exai still felt tight and controlled.  This time around, things are much less formal.  I don't think I'd ever accuse Autechre of being sloppy, but I get a playful, relaxed feeling from this batch of material that's never really been apparent before.

I can't confirm it, but this all feels like they've taken the methods and software they use for their live shows and used it to create material in the studio.  I've always held the view that every Autechre record has a theme of sorts, and I'm going to venture that the theme for this one was studio improvisation.

So, is it good?  Yes, very.

Should you drop the money for 4 hours' material?  If you're a fan, yes.  There are a few so-so tracks, but this is solid work overall, with more than a few pleasant surprises.  If you're not, I'd suggest the first or fourth records to start.

Low Energy, Totally Uninspired

March 6th, 2016

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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.

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