Oh, hell.

Address Gun Violence in Cities: As president, Barack Obama would repeal the Tiahrt Amendment, which restricts the ability of local law enforcement to access important gun trace information, and give police officers across the nation the tools they need to solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade. Obama and Biden also favor commonsense measures that respect the Second Amendment rights of gun owners, while keeping guns away from children and from criminals who shouldn’t have them. They support closing the gun show loophole and making guns in this country childproof. They also support making the expired federal Assault Weapons Ban permanent, as such weapons belong on foreign battlefields and not on our streets.

From here. As an aside, does it disturb anyone else that there’s already a “change.gov” website for the president-elect?
Hmm, let me see if I can sum things up:

  • Open up gun trace data for political purposes (read: lies), as police already have access to trace data for bona fide law enforcement purposes.
  • Ban on private sale of firearms. (There is no “gun show loophole”.)
  • Mandating “smart guns” that don’t exist and probably won’t work.
  • Banning scary-looking guns, permanently.

That sounds remarkably like the list of talking points at the Brady Campaign.
It looks like all my friends who claimed Obama was a friend of the Second Amendment were wrong. I hate to say “I told you so”, but…well, I told you so.
Look, I agree that violent crime is reprehensible. I agree that violent criminals should have no business owning a gun. I agree that we, as a society need to work to reduce violent crime…but putting these restrictions on law-abiding citizens has no effect on crime. California’s banned the private sale of firearms, and it’s done nothing. There was a ban on scary-looking guns for ten years, and it did nothing.
Rather than pushing for these stupid feel-good measures which have been tried over and over and over (and have inevitably resulted in no change in violent crime rates) and which only affect law-abiding citizens, why not actually try to address the root causes of violent crime?
Update: Hat tip to Sebastian. It was bad form of me to not credit him first.

On Voting

Year after year, people line up in huge lines at polling places to vote. Some wait in line for a substantial fraction of the day.
What the hell is wrong with these people? Many states offer early voting, while nearly all of them offer absentee voting where you simply mail in your ballot.
I’ve been doing the absentee ballot thing for years now, and love it: I relax at home, drink tasty scotch, and vote. No lines, no obnoxious election volunteers, no last-minute stumping by various campaigns…what’s not to love?

Why I Love Blogs

I’ve long been of the opinion that blogs have revolutionized publishing. No longer are monolithic media companies the sole source for widely-distributed media — even individuals can publish material and, if people think it’s good enough, readers can subscribe to it to be notified immediately when new material is posted.
Truly amazing.
Even more amazing is that not everyone writes about trivial things of interest to only a small group of people, but rather breaks the news on major political issues like the evidently-fake “astroturf” group “Rednecks for Obama”.
Perhaps not surprisingly, the mainstream media didn’t bother to do any digging to find out if this group was legit or not. Yet a few bloggers took some time, did some digging, and found out the truth. Now that truth is published for the world to see and it costs nothing to access their findings.
We live in amazing times.

Troubling News from the UK

From the Guardian:

Everyone who buys a mobile telephone [in the UK] will be forced to register their identity on a national database under government plans to extend massively the powers of state surveillance.
Phone buyers would have to present a passport or other official form of identification at the point of purchase. Privacy campaigners fear it marks the latest government move to create a surveillance society.

It’s one thing for the government to monitor telephone conversations with a warrant from a judge. It’s quite another thing entirely to monitor calls without a warrant. It’s something new and exceptionally repulsive for the government to force citizens to comply with the monitoring of themselves.
Even more troubling is one of the comments on the article:

Fantastic idea. Better still, fingerprints should also be taken. Criminals will use false ID to get round the new legislation so the more we can do to slowdown or halt their movements the better. Most of us have nothing to hide and plenty to fear in terms of terrorism and everyday criminal behaviour.
-Pam, YORK

You want to force people to provide their fingerprints in order to purchase a telephone? Are you serious? If so, I’m terribly frightened. What amounts to an effective prohibition on guns hasn’t had any real effect on violent crime, as criminals break the law. Same thing with drugs. Do you really think that criminals and terrorists will be the least bit inconvenienced by a requirement to provide ID (or even fingerprints) before purchasing a phone new? I sincerely hope not. What next, straw purchases of cell phones?
The United Kingdom is, in theory, a free country. Why, then, is the idea of a huge government database of mobile phone users being considered? Why aren’t the proposals to have the government keep records of all calls, emails, and other communications for years being met with riots in the streets? Why is the widespread surveillance of the citizenry by ubiquitous CCTV cameras not met with public outcry?
People in a free country have the right to free speech and privacy. Arbitrary invasions of privacy restrict, by extension, the right to free speech; they exert a chilling effect on any number of topics that might otherwise be spoken about in private: politics, sex and relationships, financial issues, etc. Completely innocent phrases could be easily taken out of context and portrayed in a negative way.
The rights to free speech and privacy imply a right to anonymous speech. If an individual wishes to speak privately by means of an anonymous cell phone, they should not be restricted from doing so. If they are suspected of committing or conspiring to commit crimes, then by all means seek a warrant on the telephone in question, monitor their location, etc. Warrants require judicial oversight so as to prevent abuse. Such oversight is a Good Thing.
The UK is filled with wonderful people with a long and storied history, and good beer. But their nation is teetering on the very edge of becoming a police state, and watching this happen to such good people is highly troubling to me. While the situation in the US is troubling (Patriot Act and whatnot), it’s not anywhere near as far along as it is in the UK and there are a number of groups and individuals (myself included) who are doing what we can to stop things here from getting to be like they are over there.
If there are any UK-based readers who are concerned about their privacy and are looking for secure means of browsing the web, sending and receiving email, telephone calls, etc., please feel free to contact me by email and I’d be glad to provide some suggestions.

Boogeyman

Fark recently showed a headline about how the NRA just endorsed C-rated McCain over F-rated Obama, and the submitter worked in some bias implying that the NRA is basically a republican tool.
As is usual for Fark threads relating to political issues discussions on the internet, a whole bunch of crap started flying around the comment threads almost immediately.
Some choice bits, paraphrased:

  • The AHSA opposes the NRA. Since the tiny AHSA represents ordinary people (only they don’t -AZR), as opposed to the 4+ million-strong NRA, this clearly means the NRA is a bunch of extremists.
  • Scary looking guns (“assault weapons”) = machine guns.
  • References to male reproductive organs, mostly related to relative size as a function of number of guns owned.
  • Claims that Obama is pro-gun, has always-been pro-gun, and supports the right to keep and bear arms.
  • Claims that the VPC is actually better than the NRA, as the VPC wants to prevent gun violence.

While there’s a lot of partisan mud-slinging in the thread, a bunch of outright falsehoods, and so forth, there’s also a remarkable number of people who are calmly providing facts, references, and citations showing that the NRA has a long history of endorsing any reasonably-electable candidate (i.e. Democrats or Republicans, except in small elections) that is pro-gun, regardless of the letter that comes after their name.
I find it rather amusing that for anti-gun people, the NRA is some sort of extremist boogeyman, a tool of the republican party, and someone who wants to arm anyone, anywhere, anytime, with any gun.
For pro-gun people, the NRA seems to be considered to not be doing enough, too willing to make compromises, and while generally doing the right thing (promoting gun safety, helping range operations, etc.), not being pro-gun enough.
It’s more troubling that the AHSA is being quoted in media as being representative of moderate gun owners, rather than being a front for anti-gun groups. At least the NRA and other pro-gun organizations are clear about who they are and what they stand for. The media should be widely denouncing the AHSA for being devious and sneaky.
In this particular case, there’s no conspiracy involved: the NRA is concerned with guns, and McCain is more pro-gun than Obama. Thus, it makes sense that the NRA would endorse McCain. The fact that the NRA endorses more republicans than democrats is more a reflection of the fact that republicans tend to be more pro-gun than democrats, rather than any sort of political bias with the NRA.
In short, nothing to see here, move along.

Dear Congress

Dear Congress,
Want to know a little secret? You suck.
The majority of Americans disapprove of the way you’re running the country. If you were the Board of Directors for any company, the shareholders would have thrown you out long ago. The only reason that We, The People haven’t done so yet is because:

  • Your opposition, for the most part, sucks more.
  • While you suck, you don’t suck enough to justify us shooting you. (I’m channeling Claire Wolfe‘s “awkward stage” quote here.)

Personally, I’m of the opinion that essentially all members of Congress should be clapped in irons, taken out to the National Mall, placed into stocks, and have the citizenry directly petition their Congressmen for the redress of grievances. Hot tar and feathers will be sold by vendors for a nominal price.
Recall the response from the citizenry regarding the financial bailout bill? Surely you must –? the influx of emails crippled the House of Representatives email system. I was unable to submit an email, telephone call, or fax for two days due to the huge volume of inbound messages…the majority of which were strongly against the bill. What did you do? You voted for the damned thing. While my representative voted against the bill, he did so because the bill didn’t do enough. What the hell is wrong with you people?
Democrats, you’ve held the majority in the House and Senate for the last few years. What have you accomplished that differs significantly from the oft-maligned Republicans? As far as I can tell, nothing. Quit saying you’re for “change” when you’ve done nothing, even when you’re able to do so.
Republicans, until recently, you’ve held the majority in the Legislature, as well as having Republicans in key positions (the president, for example) in the Executive Branch for nearly a decade. What have you done over the last 8 years? Squandered huge amounts of money (yet you claim the Democrats are the “tax and spend” party), invaded the privacy of American citizens, and generally screwed things up. The only good thing I can recall you doing is letting the “assault weapons ban” expire in 2004…and that was mostly because nobody actually did anything except wait for it to expire. It’s pretty bad when you accomplish more good things by being apathetic than when you’re actually trying to be productive.
The federal government is now over $10.2 trillion dollars in debt…a number so great that the National Debt Clock had to add an extra digit to accomodate your fiscal irresponsibility. The annual budget of the federal government exceeds $3 trillion dollars. What the hell are you spending it all on? That’s a lot of hookers and blow.
In short, you all suck.
Get your collective heads out of your collective asses,
-AZR
P.S. Your roadside campaign signs, postal mailings, and telephone calls annoy me. That is, it makes me dislike you more.
P.P.S. Any candidate, ballot initiative, or other entity sending me unsolicited email immediately and permanently loses my vote. I may or may not vote for your opponent, but I certainly won’t be voting for you. My email box is mine, it exists for person-to-person and solicited bulk mail, and you need to ask for permission before using it to market to me.
P.P.P.S. I’ve already voted. Even if I wanted to change my vote, I can’t. Quit calling me and mailing me crap.

On the Importance of Elections

Why is it that every presidential election I’ve witnessed is always claimed to be “a very important election, quite possibly the most important one of our time”?
Granted, elections are important, but how much influence does a president have on the everyday lives of an everyday citizen? Essentially nil. Whether it was Reagan, Bush I, Clinton, or Bush II, the role of government in my life hasn’t changed much. Granted, I was born a year after Reagan took office, and my life as an adult is obviously different than my life as an infant, but that’s thankfully not something government had much say in.
More important would be for voters to look at the incredible flow of crap coming out of Congress and see how that affects their lives. I suspect that the effect that the actions of a president have on the lives of ordinary citizens pale in comparison to the actions of Congress.
Folks, we’re electing a president, not a king. Contrary to popular belief, the president is not personally responsible for all of the nation’s ills. A much greater amount of thought and effort should be put into choosing suitable Congressmen to represent you. That, and actually writing to your representatives to ensure that your voice is heard.
Again, elections are important. This one is no exception. But claiming that this election is the “most important of our lives” is silly; that same claim has likely been made about every election in every government since the dawn of governments. Get over it already.

Better Than Nothing

After several weeks, the Gallatin, TN police department returned ColtCCO’s 1911.
In an ideal world, this much time and wrangling wouldn’t be needed to get one’s lawfully owned property back from the police, but it sure beats having it “disappear”.

Uh, no.

The AP reports on this story for Helena, Arkansas of all places:

Officers armed with military rifles have been stopping and questioning passers-by in a neighborhood plagued by violence that’s been under a 24-hour curfew for a week.

Hmm. Ok, the rifles are a bit much and questioning passers-by seems borderline, but if this were happening in my town, I probably wouldn’t be bothered to write a letter to the mayor or the local newspaper.
However, when the mayor says the following…

“The citizens deserve peace, that some infringement on constitutional rights is OK and we have not violated anything as far as the Constitution.”

(emphasis mine)
…I get angry. (Cue “The Hulk” quotes.)
Any government official or employee who says that infringing on the Constitution — even to the slightest degree — is OK should be immediately fired from their job. While the official is clearing out their desk, the citizenry should be warming up the vats of tar and opening containers of feathers.

“As far as I’m concerned, at 3 o’clock in the morning, nobody has any business being on the street, except the law,” Councilman Eugene “Red” Johnson said. “Anyone out at 3 o’clock shouldn’t be out on the street, unless you’re going to the hospital.”

If a citizen is going about his business, regardless of the time, and is not disturbing anyone else, then it’s none of your damn business what that citizen’s business is. If someone wishes to have a 3am constitutional (no pun intended) and enjoy a walk about the town, you have no authority to stop them, question them, or have anything to do with them at all, Mr. Johnson. Standing peaceably in a public place is not a crime.
The ACLU is getting involved, as they should be. This is simply intolerable — didn’t we fight a big war against fascism a few decades ago? Why are we allowing even the smallest bit of it in our own country? Yes, crime sucks, but a police state is not the answer.