Outside the Asylum

Since I moved out of the United States I haven’t been following American politics as much as I used to. Most of the local media here is in German, which I’m not very good at reading, and I’ve been too busy to keep up on anything other than the major headlines from US and global English-language news.
Normally I’m not very involved in politics as I find the day-to-day workings of politics to be distasteful (not to mention that having political discussions with people is usually pointless and frustrating), but I had some free time recently and was catching up on news relating to the November election.
The Democrats haven’t really changed much, and have basically remained the center-right party (( For decades they’ve been “center-right” on a global scale. )) they’ve been for years. The Republicans, however, have lost their collective minds and are basically catering to the lunatic fringe. The Democrats haven’t really changed their message all that much, but the things the Republican candidates have been saying recently is downright chilling. Things really have taken a turn for the crazy recently, particularly with the Republicans. The Democrats have hardly been angels either, but Republicans at the national level have really gone off the deep end.
There has been a definite vibe of “I have to oppose $LEGISLATION, even though it may be beneficial and good, because $OTHER_PARTY suggested it!” going on in American politics, and it needs to stop. Politics should not be like supporting your favorite sports team and demonizing your favorite opponent (( My wife is a die-hard Boston Red Socks fan, and loathes the New York Yankees with the burning passion of a thousand desert suns. )) — there needs to be compromise, cooperation, and consensus from everyone involved.
Similarly, there’s a strong “Not Invented Here” thing going on: if a proposal is made based on something that’s been beneficial in Canada or Europe, it’s likely that many Americans will oppose it outright without really considering the idea. Sure, not everything that works in Europe, Canada, or other places in the world will work with the United States (( For example, high-speed intercity trains make a lot of sense in smaller, more densely populated European countries and in the Northeastern Corridor of the US, but are impractically slow for transcontinental passenger traffic in North America due to the great distances involved.)), there’s many ideas that make sense that simply aren’t considered. If the US is going to remain prosperous, we need to improve our country by considering good ideas regardless of the source.
While the two-party system that is firmly entrenched in US politics is unlikely to go away anytime soon (( Though it might be interesting if the US had a more “parliamentary-style” style of government, where the legislature is composed of many parties based on the percentage of votes and several parties need to form alliances to advance mutually agreeable causes, rather than just two parties where the “first past the post” wins. )) , this hyper-partisianship is damaging and destructive.
I recognize that politicians aren’t experts on all subjects (and that in general, experts on a particular subject would make terrible politicians), but wouldn’t it be better for everyone if politicians would consult experts before proposing legislation? It’s not necessary for someone to be an expert mechanic to operate a car, but having some basic operational knowledge about the subject (how to change a tire, knowing that it’s necessary to have the car serviced at regular intervals, etc.) is useful, as is having an expert that one can ask if one has car troubles.
Politicians shouldn’t need to be expert mathematicians, but it’s not ok for legislators to not know basic math. Similarly, I don’t expect politicians to be experts on internet infrastructure, but being proudly ignorant of how the internet works and actively shunning experts because their factual statements disagree with your ideology (or that of those who are making “campaign contributions”) is not ok.
Letting ideology and ego (not to mention corruption) get in the way of facts and good policy is terrible. Doing otherwise is an invitation to disaster.

Swiss no longer keep military ammo at home

It is well known that the Swiss are a prickly bunch: military service is mandatory for able-bodied males and those military members keep their army-issue rifles at home.
They also keep a sealed package of 50 rifle rounds to enable them to fight to the nearest armory if the need arises. Well, they kept ammo at home: during an enjoyable evening with a friendly Swiss couple in Z?rich the topic of military service came up. My friend mentioned that sometime last year, the military took back the sealed ammo box and soldiers no longer keep military-issue ammo at home.
Of course, privately owned ammo and firearms are allowed, and both recreational and competitive shooting is about as common here as baseball is in the US.
There’s been discussion in the legislature recently that military rifles should no longer be kept at home (for safety purposes, say advocates of the restriction), but not much progress has been made along those lines: keeping military rifles at home is widely felt to be a Swiss cultural institution.

Censorship

The House of Representatives and the Senate are considering several “internet blacklist” bills — “PROTECT-IP” in the Senate, and “Stop Online Piracy Act” (“SOPA”) in the House.
If passed, these laws would have a devastating effect on free speech, internet infrastructure, privacy, and current “safe harbor” provisions for websites all while doing little to stop the availability of pirated content.
To quote the EFF:

As drafted, the legislation would grant the government and private parties unprecedented power to interfere with the Internet’s domain name system (DNS). The government would be able to force ISPs and search engines to redirect or dump users’ attempts to reach certain websites’ URLs. In response, third parties will woo average users to alternative servers that offer access to the entire Internet (not just the newly censored U.S. version), which will create new computer security vulnerabilities as the reliability and universality of the DNS evaporates.
It gets worse: Under SOPA’s provisions, service providers (including hosting services) would be under new pressure to monitor and police their users? activities.? While PROTECT-IP targeted sites ?dedicated to infringing activities,? SOPA targets websites that simply don?t do enough to track and police infringement (and it is not at all clear what would be enough).? And it creates new powers to shut down folks who provide tools to help users get access to the Internet the rest of the world sees (not just the ?U.S. authorized version?).

I find it terrifying that the US government is even considering such a blatant censorship scheme. This sounds like something one would expect from oppressive regimes, not from a Western nation, and certainly not from the U
Please, contact your Representatives and Senators. This is a Big Deal.

Interesting Tax Receipt

For a while, I’ve wished I could get an itemized (or at least categorized) receipt from the IRS detailing where my various Federal (and state, though that wouldn’t be from the IRS) taxes go. It wouldn’t have to be incredibly detailed (e.g. $0.000013 of your taxes go to Private Snuffy’s food on June 12, 2011), but provide a reasonable breakdown.
Evidently the White House has had such a utility?since around the time of his State of the Union address. Nifty.

Gov. Brewer Vetoes SB 1467

The Arizona Republic reports that Governor Brewer has vetoed SB 1467, citing vagueness in defining “public right-of-way”.
That said, the definition is somewhat vague. A.R.S. ? 9-461 defines “right-of-way” as “any public right-of-way and includes any area required for public use pursuant to any general or specific plan”. Somewhat circular reasoning.
Naturally, all the anti-rights folks (both on-campus and off) are focusing on unexplained statements (( For example, “Guns have no place in school!”, without explaining how it’s fine for people to carry guns on a public sidewalk on any non-campus street in the state, but is somehow worse to have the same people carrying the same guns on a public sidewalk on-campus. )), emotional claims, and irrelevant refererences to the incident where Congresswoman Giffords and others were shot (( It’s already illegal to commit murder and attempted murder, yet that law didn’t seem to stop the shooter. How are stickers declaring a campus to be a “weapon free zone” going to be any better? Criminals would ignore them; only the law-abiding would obey those rules.)) as that incident and empowering the law-abiding to lawfully carry, if they choose, on public areas of a campus have essentially nothing to do with each other. Go figure.
The Arizona Republic also provided some interesting information:

Brewer’s office was inundated with calls about the bill.
Between April 7 and April 13, the Governor’s Office of Constituent Services received 904 calls, letters and faxes in support of SB 1467 and 951 in opposition to it, a Brewer spokeswoman said.

It’s rare to get actual quantitative information about support/opposition to a bill. While it’s unlikely that the absolute number of support/opposition letters had any direct bearing on the governor’s decision, it’s still nice to get some numbers of what was received by her office. Although I oppose the governor’s veto, the fact that this information was released is a good thing. Well done!
In addition, the governor vetoed the absurd “birther” bill that the legislature sent to her desk. Again, well done. The fact that such a bill was not only proposed, but actually passed out of the legislature is quite embarrassing and reflects poorly on the state and the legislature.

More SB 1467 Information

I’ve been getting a lot of traffic recently to my post about SB 1467 so I thought it would be prudent to do a follow-up with some (hopefully) useful information.
First off, while the bill is often publicized as allowing “guns in the classroom”, that is not the case. Rather, the bill simply adds a section to the existing law which says:

Notwithstanding subsection D of this section and section 15?341, the governing board of an educational institution shall not adopt or enforce any policy or rule that prohibits the lawful possession or carrying of a weapon on a public right-of-way.

In short, if one can legally possess or carry a firearm off-campus, one would then be able to possess or carry a firearm on a sidewalk, street, or other public place on-campus. Possession of firearms in the classroom would continue to be prohibited.
According to the Arizona State Legislature’s fact sheet about the bill, there are two caveats:

  1. The bill does not “preclude school districts from conducting approved gun safety programs on school campuses” which would presumably be held in classrooms and presumably involve the presence of actual (albeit unloaded) firearms.
  2. The bill does not “apply to private universities, colleges, high schools or common schools or other private educational institutions (A.R.S. ? 13-2911).”

Honestly, I can’t really see how this would be remotely controversial — law-abiding people can already carry in public places in Arizona, why should they be prohibited from carrying in a public place on campus? If one can legally walk down a sidewalk on a public street while discretely armed, why can’t one do the same on a sidewalk on a public university? It makes no sense for the same action to be legal on one side of a street, but illegal on the other side.
All the official information about the bill itself can be found at the Arizona State Legislature website for the bill.

US Diplomat in Pakistan shoots two, claims self-defense

From the BBC:

An American diplomat in the Pakistani city of Lahore has shot and killed a Pakistani motorcycle rider and his pillion passenger, police say.

They say that the consular official fired his pistol in self-defence. US embassy officials confirmed that an American was involved.
The men were pursuing the American in his car when the incident happened.
[…]
Weapons were recovered from the bodies of the dead men.

I’m sure that this is going to do wonders for US-Pakistan relations.
Even if the shooting turns out to be perfectly justifiable and legal, there’s going to be a lot of drama.

I Always Feel Like Somebody’s Watching Me

Evidently I (( Or, more likely, someone with the same name. )) am on some sort of government watch list.
The consequences of said listing seems to be limited to merely being required to get a boarding pass at the gate when flying, rather than being able to check in online. Naturally, this ends up with me being the last person on the flight. Somewhat annoying, but at least it doesn’t involve probulation or anything.
DHS has some cutesy-name appeals process (“Traveler Redress Inquiry Program” or “TRIP“) to explicitly whitelist a falsely-flagged individual. As annoyed as I am with the existence of the DHS, the TSA, and the process, I sent off the necessary paperwork and things should be cleared up in the next few months.
I wonder what could have caused this flagging to exist. I blog under a pseudonym, and in real life am an ordinary law-abiding guy. Of course, I was in the military for a few years, own firearms, use and strongly advocate the use of strong cryptography, have formal education in physics, and am applying to graduate programs in physics outside the US. I suppose that could be suspicious, but I doubt it’d result in something as minor as slight delays at checking in at the airport.

Puerto Rico Gun Law Changes

Here.
Interesting part:

[Justice Department legal adviser Amid] Torres said the measures will include a requirement that shooting ranges keep logs of how much ammunition their members use and cap the number of bullets each client can fire in target practice at 500 per year.
Police Department legal adviser Estrella Mar Vega voiced support for the measures as ?more specific and stringent controls to monitor whether people who say they acquire weapons and ammunition at shooting clubs are using them for such purposes.?The attorney deemed it necessary to limit the use of weapons and ammunition that licensed vendors can have and distinguish that from competitive target shooting and hunting.

I went through 150 rounds of 5.56mm ammo the last time I was at the range, and that was a pretty laid-back session. If I’m shooting .22LR, going through a brick at the range in a single day is not uncommon. I’m sure there’s plenty of people who go through 500 rounds in a day or two, let alone an entire year.
I fail to see what such restrictions would seek to accomplish.
In addition, this restriction stands out:

The measure will also limit the quantity of weapons that a person con posses[sic] to take to a gun club.
?It is imperative that we control the transfer from one place to another of the firearms that are owned in Puerto Rico. With this measure we avoid possible tragedies by gun accidents and thefts,? Torres said.

Yes, they want to limit the number of firearms one can transport from home to the range. What the hell will that do?

Despite some of the tightest firearms restrictions in the United States, Puerto Rico also has one of the highest homicide rates, with drug-related gun violence blamed for the majority of the killings.

Gee, ya think?
Violent crime is a symptom. Get rid of drug smuggling, and violent crime drops through the floor. Being that the drug smugglers have no qualms about violating prohibitions on drugs, I suspect they will continue to have no problems violating firearms restrictions. Once again, gun control only affects the law-abiding.
One good thing, however, is mentioned. They say that after the Heller case, there’s now 800 registered gun owners in DC. Yes, it sucks to have to jump through the outrageous hoops they put in the way, but at least some people are standing up for their rights.

Import oddness?

Sebastian comments on the impediments that the government is putting up to limit the importation of surplus M1s from South Korea.
I’m a bit confused, because the M1 that I bought in 2005 from the CMP was one the US had loaned the Greek government, prior to its return. I’d imagine that things would be similar with Korea. The CMP has been selling M1s to the public for decades without incident (( To the extent of my knowledge. )), so why would a government official think it’d be an issue now? I’m presuming that any M1s imported from Korea would go through the CMP or, at the very least, through an FFL — why would concerns about the guns ending up in the hands of bad guys be any different for these fine rifles than with any other type of gun?
If anything, you’d think it’d be a good thing for criminals to have M1s: they’re large, difficult to conceal, require a bit of training to use effectively (( For example, reloading quickly. )), are incredibly loud, have a limited, non-expandable ammunition capacity, and shoot relatively expensive .30-06 ammo.
They’d better not be cut up, crushed, or melted. M1s are fantastic rifles, and I would be hugely put out if they destroyed them.