Echopraxia by Peter Watts

September 5th, 2014


Science fiction is often divided into two main genres: soft and hard. Soft science fiction tends to be more humanistic, with a greater emphasis on traditional story and character development. Ursula Le Guin, Theodore Sturgeon, and Cordwainer Smith are good examples.

Hard science fiction tends to focus on concepts, with more weight given to scientific rigor and speculation. Its lineage stretches from Asimov and Clarke to modern authors like Greg Bear and Alastair Reynolds. It's not to say these guys can't write stories, but this is primarily a literature of ideas.

That's where Watts comes in. His books are defined by pessimism towards the future and a density of scientific detail. He wants to make a point as well as tell a story.

Continued »


August 12th, 2014


Any time you want to stop the killings and coerced "conversions" of Christians would be great. For a bunch of guys who claim to be acting on the tenets of God or Muhammad, you're defying both.

Consider Muhammad's covenant with the monks of St. Catherine's:

No compulsion is to be on them. Neither are their judges to be removed from their jobs nor their monks from their monasteries. No one is to destroy a house of their religion, to damage it, or to carry anything from it to the Muslims’ houses. Should anyone take any of these, he would spoil God’s covenant and disobey His Prophet. Verily, they are my allies and have my secure charter against all that they hate.

Further, from the Pococke translation:

Whosoever shall annul any of one of these my decrees, let him know positively that he annuls the ordinance of God. (…) No one shall bear arms against them, but, on the contrary, the Muslims shall wage war for them.

This is all a callback to Surah 29, which states:

And do not argue with the People of the Scripture except in a way that is best, except for those who commit injustice among them, and say, "We believe in that which has been revealed to us and revealed to you. And our God and your God is one; and we are Muslims [in submission] to Him."

Many people claim that Islam is the cause or justification for the horrors being perpetuated in Iraq. Nothing could be further from the truth.

National Mutt Day

July 31st, 2014


They get their own holiday, too. Since Maia doesn't actually have a job, she doesn't get a day off.

So, mostly it's an extra popsicle and a bit more crotch sniffing than President's Day.

Maia on the couch

Fast & Furious: Unexpected Progress

July 31st, 2014


Two years ago, Attorney General Eric Holder was held in contempt of Congress. At issue was his refusal to turn over documents crucial to the investigation of the ATF's disastrous Fast & Furious operation. The President invoked executive privilege and refused to turn over the information.

Shortly after, the website Judicial Watch made an Freedom of Information Act request for those documents. Nothing came of it, so they filed a lawsuit in September of 2012. That lawsuit was decided earlier this month by U.S. District Court Judge John Bates, who ruled that the Department of Justice must provide a Vaughn index of the relevant documents.

The Supreme Court established the concept of the Vaughn index in Vaughn v. Rosen. An agency that wishes to withhold information must provide a detailed index and description of the information, state the statutory exemption claimed, and they must explain how disclosure would damage their interests.

Does this mean we'll get all the answers? No, but it will point us in the right direction.

10th Circuit Upholds Multiple Long Gun Reporting

July 28th, 2014


In 2011, the ATF began requiring dealers in Southwestern border states to report sales of multiple semiautomatic rifles to individual purchasers. The ATF doesn't have the authority to do this.* As such, the requirement has been challenged in the DC and 5th Circuit courts, but it was upheld in both instances.

Today, the 10th Circuit issued a ruling [pdf] affirming them.

Among the lovely chestnuts of wisdom was this:

A review of Project Gunrunner conducted by the Office of the Inspector General (“OIG”) indicates that tracing guns seized in Mexico can provide “crucial” information in gun-trafficking investigations and generate intelligence regarding trends in gun smuggling. (…) [Assistant Director of Field Operations William Hoover] explained that trace information helps ATF “reconstruct the flow of weapons along the border, how and where they are being purchased, and who is purchasing them.”

Yeah, because that worked so well when Project Gunrunner was active.

* Here's the multiple-handgun form [pdf]. It specifies "pistol or revolver." Nowhere does it grant them the power to demand reporting of long guns. If they want that, they have to get authority from Congress.

Can We Now Carry in DC?

July 28th, 2014


Miller has been involved with this for quite some time. She has more on the issue here. Lanier has also instructed police to allow any qualified nonresident to carry in the District.

(Edit: here's Lanier's actual order [pdf])

Here's the first catch: nonresidents are free to carry, but DC residents can only carry a gun that's registered there.  The registry in DC has been closed since 1976. The Supreme Court's ruling in Heller was supposed to change that, but it's still virtually impossible to get a handgun in the District. Gun shops are prohibited by zoning laws, so residents can't buy a handgun directly. There is only one FFL willing to transfer handguns in from out of state.

We're left with a system in which everyone but residents of Washington DC can now carry a handgun there.

Here's the second catch: the District has a great number of other restrictions. It's still illegal to possess magazines that hold more than ten rounds, and federal property is off-limits. Given that most of Washington DC is federal property, it's going to be hard to walk twenty feet in any direction without running afoul of the law. Since the ruling only affects handguns, Grisham's True Believers are also out of luck.

I'd caution against carrying there for the time being. Despite Lanier's order, we'll probably see harassment and arrests from cops on the ground.

Palmer v. D.C.

July 26th, 2014


In 2008, the Supreme Court ruled that Washington D.C. could not ban the ownership of handguns. The city responded by passing the hysterically-named Firearms Registration Emergency Amendment Act [pdf]. It created as many hurdles as legally feasible for would-be gun owners. and it prohibited the carry of firearms outside the home.

Alan Gura brought this case in response to the ban on carry. The District Court did its best to ignore it for two years. In 2011 Chief Justice Roberts intervened and ordered Judge Scullin to hear it. Then it seemed to disappear again.

As such, it goes without saying that today's opinion [pdf] was unexpected. Cue the highlight reel:

In light of Heller, McDonald, and their progeny, there is no longer any basis on which this Court can conclude that the District of Columbia's total ban on the public carrying of ready-to-use handguns outside the home is constitutional under any level of scrutiny. Therefore, the Court finds that the District of Columbia's complete ban on the carrying of handguns in public is unconstitutional. [p .16]

That alone is a huge win for us, but the orders given are sweeping.

Accordingly, the Court grants Plaintiffs' motion for summary judgment and enjoins Defendants from enforcing the home limitations of D.C. Code § 7-2502.02(a)(4) and enforcing D.C. Code § 22-4504(a) unless and until such time as the District of Columbia adopts a licensing mechanism consistent with constitutional standards enabling people to exercise their Second Amendment right to bear arms.

The relevant authorities are permanently enjoined from enforcing the District's ban on new handgun registration, the ban on carry by residents, and the ban on carry by nonresidents.

With no licensing system in place, the District is pretty much Arizona in terms of carry at the moment (though I would not recommend carrying there). That should light a fire under someone's posterior to get a permitting process passed with all due haste. Given how they did their best to flaunt the Heller decision, I'd expect a ludicrously strict and arbitrary may-issue system, which will have to be challenged in a different lawsuit.

The District can appeal, but the DC Circuit are the folks who handed us the win in Parker. We could win again there, which would make the Supreme Court the next step.

This last bit is speculation, but I'll allow myself a bit of optimism. The Supreme Court has repeatedly refused to hear a case on carry outside the home. Many of us questioned their motive in this. Considering Roberts' involvement, it could be they were waiting to hear this case.

Beretta Snubs Manchin

July 24th, 2014

west virginia

Beretta recently announced they're moving their manufacturing operations to Tennessee. Maryland's gun laws were quoted as the main reason.

Several states courted their business, including West Virginia. Beretta explicitly rejected West Virginia because of Senator Manchin's actions in furthering the "universal" background check law in 2013.

From their statement, courtesy of Sebastian:

Before considering any other location for expansion of any of our facilities we consider first the consistency with which a given state has supported Second Amendment rights. (…) Regrettable [sic], as a consequence of that analysis and especially due to Senator Manchin's recent legislative choices we have decided not to consider your state for future plans of expansion.

I've said before that Manchin and Toomey need to feel the heat for buckling under pressure, and it looks like someone's holding them to it. Let's hope the voters follow suit.

Christie and Clinton are both doomed in 2016

July 23rd, 2014


They are both losing in the polls to Boba Fett and Darth Vader.

Joe Biden fared worse than Emperor Palpatine, and only a little better than Jar Jar Binks.

Jar Jar Binks, people.

And what of Rick Perry? Elizabeth Warren? It's not pretty, folks.

My prediction: David Hasselhoff enters the race late in the game under the Green Party ticket and sweeps the election. Gary Hart will be his running mate.

About the Import Ban

July 17th, 2014

dont panic

Yesterday, the President signed an executive order that places Concern Kalashnikov (formerly Izhmash) on the Specially Designated Nationals (SDN) list. That means the importation of their products has been banned. It's rare for these orders to be rescinded, even by later administrations, so it's probably permanent.

Somebody's going to scream "back door gun control," but that isn't the case. This is a sanction on the Russian government for their actions in Ukraine. While the SDN list blocks assets and generally forbids Americans from dealing with the entity in question, products that have already been imported and paid for are unaffected.

How does this affect the domestic market? Not much at all. If you owned one before the order was signed, you can keep it. You can also sell it if you like. Retailers with existing inventory can do so as well.

Does this mean there's going to be a shortage of rifles marketed as "AK-47's?" No. Most such rifles on the market are the Century clones made in Romania or Bulgaria. Those are unaffected. The only banned products are those from Kalashnikov, notably the Saiga line of firearms.

As it is, there haven't been many Saigas on store shelves the last couple of years. The sporter line of rifles was a bit of a flop since they required extensive conversion to accept aftermarket parts and standard magazines. The Saiga-12 shotgun was a novel product, but they priced themselves out of the market during the 2013 panic.

Effectively, we'll see the Saiga-12 shotguns go up even further in price, but that's the net effect to the consumer. If someone wants a rifle that looks like an AK-47, there are plenty of options.

That, or they could get a real rifle instead of a crude piece of stamped sheet-metal hammered together by drunken Communists.

Threat and Response

July 16th, 2014

smok_ magneto_sm

The good folks at Nicorette have been running these ads in the English media and on subway trains:

Nicorette Ad

If they didn't feel their business model was threatened by vaping, they wouldn't be running this campaign. Why the UK? It could be due to the fact that authorities there are all but endorsing e-cigarettes as a cessation tool. That cuts into business.

And is Nicorette any safer than vaping? Not by a long shot if you read the ingredients [pdf]. Electronic cigarettes contain propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin, and nicotine. Nicorette QuickMist takes those ingredients and adds the following:

  • Anhydrous ethanol
  • Trometamol (which may cause birth defects)
  • Poloxamer 407 (which may cause liver problems)
  • Sodium hydrogen carbonate (baking soda)
  • Acesulfame potassium (basically Aspartame, with the attendant issues)
  • Hydrochloric acid

That last one should speak for itself.

Yet in the States, Nicorette has the wholehearted approval of the FDA and electronic cigarettes are on the chopping block. I suppose the potential to lose a chunk of a $206 billion settlement stings a bit.

That Explains It!

July 8th, 2014



I have to admit: it's not the loopiest hypothesis I've heard. For those concerned about drones, there's informative, if not misguided, information here.

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