The Hess Report

Friday, June 17, 2005

The Only Real Solution To Campaign Finance Reform 

I had begun a snarky, glib post about what would need to be done to fix our current Federal political system, namely the way that incumbents almost never lose, and get all kinds of crazy bribe money, both legal and illegal.

I'm not going to post it, as I just realized the other day the only real measure that will fix the system permanently. I mean, I still think that Congressional term limits and the abolition of Gerrymandering is a great idea, and something that should be fought for. But no amount of rule changes or legal restrictions are going to be able to keep up with the ingenuity of people who are chasing large amounts of money. Think of it like this: the entire polity, economy and government of the United States is like an Internet-style routing machine for money. People will find a way to the money. Or better yet, think of it in meteorological terms: people and organizations are the negatively charged ground; money is the positively charged sky. In both cases, people and money are going to come together, along the most efficient path that the laws of physics (or routing protocols) will allow.

And that brought me to the only solution that can last: get rid of the money in government. Not the campaign finance money, the hard and soft contributions, or the 527's. The more I tried to figure out what could be done about cutting off the routes through which people can influence the government, the more I realized that any kind of regulatory restriction on Americans speaking out for their chosen candidates either as individuals or as groups, in the form of donations or actual speech, was simply wrong, and counter to the principles to which I think we should adhere.

The money I'm talking about getting rid of is the money that the government has at its disposal. Why do lobbying groups spend millions upon millions of dollars every year just to influence one or two little phrases in a piece of legislation? Because those two phrases could amount to an even greater financial return for the organizations and people that those lobbyists represent. For them, the most efficient route to a higher profit happens to runs directly through Congress.

The logic would follow that the more you cut the scope of government, i.e. restricting its purchasing power by way of lower taxes and lower tax revenues, the less incentive people and organizations will have to spend their cash hoping to get more of that money back in return.

Let's say, just for fun, that both Social Security and Medicare have been privatized and removed entirely from the federal government's budget and purvue. Also gone are the ludicrous pork projects that the legislators use in order to look like heroes to their constituents, regardless of their actual political and ideological persuasion. What's left? Not a lot.

Would it be possible that, with only 1/3 of their original money to throw around and a significantly smaller legislative and bureaucratic footprint within which to hide abusive bribe-based legislation and regulation, we would see individuals and organizations focus their money-making efforts elsewhere? Company A or Donor B suddenly finds that the government not only won't help them out anymore, but simply can't because it doesn't have the funds or the authority. Once the return on the investment in lobbying stops becoming cost-effective, organizations will find other, more productive ways to invest that money, and the gravy train from said donors will suddenly disappear.

Where does that leave the rest of us? Better off or worse? It's true that with the profit motive removed from the majority of political advocacy (and helped along by term limits) that you would probably see people become involved with politics at all levels more for ideological than financial reasons. Would that only accelerate the takeover of the two main parties by their fringe of crazy-eyed zealots? Or would they, too, turn to other avenues of getting their message out when they find that the power of government can no longer help them in the ways that they thought it could?

It seems to me that there is no functional way to limit the expression of the people's political choices. That may never have been the problem, and all of our attempts thus far at campaign finance reform are just shooting at the wrong target. The problem has been, and even more so in recent years, that the government has too much power and too much money. Cut that to the bone and all of the distasteful things people have been crying about: corrupt money, the de-facto bribery, the... well, basically it all boils down to corrupt money. It all goes away, or at least drops to a level that would be tolerable to most people.

As the easy government money floats off into memory, I'd even be willing to bet that you'd see a shift in the tone of rhetoric. I realize that both Republicans and Democrats to a certain degree believe the things they say on the floor of Congress and to the TV news cameras, but I know human nature. And knowing that, I have to conclude that as much as they believe in their ideals, they are also influenced by the animal part of their brain into doing and saying things just so they can hold on to what may be the cushiest, most perk-laden job that an American can have. Threaten someone's way of life, and they'll become just as shrill and nasty as any Senator, Congressman or Presidential candidate that we've seen in the last twenty years. When the stakes aren't so high, there won't be as much reason to shed the tears and make the outrageous accusations.

Way smaller government. Way lower taxes. My plan for campaign finance reform. I don't think John McCain or Russ Feingold would like it.

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Thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 15, 2005

Not In Public, You Won't 

Lucy looooves the poopy talk. The rule at our house is that poopy talk is okay as long as: 1. no one is asking you to stop; 2. you're not at the dinner table. Other than that, we play it pretty loose. She knows that when she's out and about though, there's none of it at all.

At the reception for my sister's wedding this Sunday, we were at a table with my Uncle Ron and his wife Becky, my grandmother, and my brother Ben and his wife Jen. Later in the reception, Lucy was sitting with Ben, and it was suggested (by a party who will not be identified) that she sing the diarrhea song for him that she had recently learned. You know the one:

When you're sliding into first
And you feel it start to burst...
Diarrhea (cha cha cha!)
Diarrhea (cha cha cha!)

I thought she would jump at the chance to sing one of her new favorite songs and engage in the beloved poopy talk in public, having been given permission by both Joy and me to do so. But she didn't want to. Just shook her head. Sometimes she gets shy about singing in public, and she was getting tired, so we didn't encourage her further.

Later, I asked her if she was embarrassed to sing for Ben, but she said "No."

"Dad, it was in public. No poopy talk."

And, wow. Good for her. She took the rule more seriously than either Joy or I did. I think that a lot of people assume that children who are polite or good natured in public are probably just waiting to cut loose at the drop of a hat, because all kids are really wild hellions, don't you know? Apparently, they are not.

Sunday, June 12, 2005

Gun Week Concludes 

That's it for Gun Week.

For easy access, you can click the links below to get to any of the posts.

Monday: Zimbabwe and Why We Need Personal Artillery
About the ability of armed societies to avoid the predations of government

Tuesday: Yeah, But What Do You Need All of Those For?
An answer to people who ask this question about gun ownership

Wednesday: My Five Classifications of Firearms
A primer on different types of guns, for beginners.

Thursday: The Assault Weapons Ban Revisited or, How Stupid is Dianne Feinstein?
Looking at the AWB in light of the preliminary 2004 FBI Crime Report

Friday: Peace Through Superior Firepower (It's Not What You Think)
Zen and the art of blasting away

Friday, June 10, 2005

Peace Through Superior Firepower (It's Not What You Think) 

Several years ago, I learned Tai Chi from a Chinese IUP student whose English was barely intelligible. You've seen it on TV, of course - producers often use it as a background element to show Asian culture when detectives or someone needs to talk to an Asian witness or informant. Old grandmas standing around dressed in all white or black, performing slow, graceful movements.

Tai Chi is a form of exercise that is designed to also help center an individual both mentally and spiritually. When you do the Tai Chi forms, you are attempting to simultaneously control where your body weight is distributed, do the forms slowly enough that you have to concentrate to keep the motion smooth, and breathe correctly, all while keeping the muscles not actively engaged in balance as loose and relaxed as possible. The net effect after the fifteen to thirty minute session is an extreme sense of calmness and being (oh how I hate this sort of fruity terminology) "in touch with yourself." This is achieved through forcing yourself to concentrate with great discipline and by being aware of the minute mechanics of your own body, including your breathing. If you do it properly, that level of concentration pushes aside all of the other crap on your mind, focusing you on a non-stress-related goal for a small period of time. And, well, it's apparently good for you.

It's the same sort of thing that many people enjoy about gardening. Gardeners apply themselves to repetitive manual tasks whose outcome is non-stress related. Plus they get go make pretty gardens.

And thus it can be with firearms. A trip to the shooting range can match both Tai Chi and gardening in their final effect, with some added bonuses.

When you shoot properly, it is an exercise in concentration: you concentrate on composing the picture you see of the target and the sights, on a proper stance and grip, and on the proper firing motion and breathing. You also have to do some mental gymnastics to trick yourself into not knowing when the gun is going to fire. For those of you who have not shot: you don't just slam the trigger back. You apply steady pressure, slowly squeezing the trigger until the gun fires. You can't anticipate the shot, or you'll do some kind of subconscious motion that will reduce your accuracy. Of course, if you gain any familiarity with a particular weapon, you know when it will probably go off during the squeeze, but part of the concentration aspect is in temporarily forgetting/ignoring this knowledge. It's not the easiest thing to do, and I've found it very closely related to the feeling of performing the slow-motion, sometimes difficult Tai Chi forms while remaining relaxed.

As in Tai Chi, the goal in shooting is for this state to become second nature. If you do it enough, you become accustomed to pulling off this physical/mental feat, and most of the time can drop into the proper mental mode on a whim. This is a good skill to have, and can serve you well in stressful real world situations of all kinds. Of course, you get a benefit from shooting that you don't get from either Tai Chi or gardening. At the end of a Tai Chi form, you're just done. You've worked your body a bit, cleared your mind for a while, and then you head home. With gardening, you get a bit more. Many gardeners express the notion that they enjoy seeing a tangible product to their labor, and get great satisfaction from changing a weed-filled patch into something that is nice to look at. But with shooting, you get even more.

The end goal of shooting is to fling lead down the range. When the gun goes off, breaking you out of your purposefully duplicitous concentration, you see a hole in the target down field. That's the primary effect you're looking for. After you've practiced enough and are into a session, the physical actions that produce this effect kind of fade into the background, to the point where, as you shoot, it can almost seem like there's nothing between your consciousness and the target. When the hole appears, it's almost a surprise, and then for an instant the animal part of your brain makes the connection: brain+thoughts=hole in distant object. And to the animal part of your brain, that kicks fifteen different kinds of ass. You have expanded your sphere of physical influence to a great degree, and your that means a great deal to your cerebellum. The sensation is sometimes a kick, as it is the first time you put rifled slugs through a shotgun. But it is always, at some level, centering, satisfying, and, believe it or not, peaceful.

Of course, I'm not talking about inner peace of the God, the Universe and Everything variety, just the day-to-day kind that people often find in gardening, painting, shopping, Tai Chi or a couple of hours at the spa.

So do you want to relax, get yourself in a good frame of mind and practice an art form with a long-honored tradition of personal freedom and consciousness-raising? Skip the yoga. Head to the range.

Thursday, June 09, 2005

The Assault Weapons Ban Revisited or, How Stupid is Dianne Feinstein? 

Last August Sen. Dianne Feinstein's (D-California-Yikes!) "assault weapons ban" legislation failed to be renewed by the U.S. Congress.

In case you thought otherwise (or weren't aware of it at all), the assault weapons ban was legislation that the Senator started and managed to get signed into law under President Bill Clinton. All it did was to ban certain guns and gun features that differed only cosmetically from other perfectly legal "acceptable" guns. The banned weapons could not shoot more quickly or more accurately than the non-banned ones. They did not shoot any kind of special ammunition that non-banned guns could not shoot. In some cases, the addition of a different style of grip could change a gun from being a normal, acceptable weapon, to an evil, illegal assault weapon. Wow. I want one of those grips.

This ban didn't have anything to do with automatic weapons - actual machine guns, where as long as you hold down the trigger bullets keep flying out. But you'd never know that from the press coverage of the ban. News people and liberal politicians were fond of saying that the law controlled "military-style assault weapons", which was simply not true. Machine guns were already illegal, and the assault weapons ban had absolutely nothing to do with them. But why would the fine Senator write and push such a law? After all, she would have to know that the weapons it banned weren't really military-style assault weapons. Wouldn't she?

Well, the answer is clear, and in her own words: "If I could've gotten 51 votes in the Senate of the United States for an outright ban, picking up every one of them...'Mr. and Mrs. America, turn 'em all in,' I would have done it."

See, she doesn't want anyone to have any guns. I'm not making that up. It was her first step. But as of last August, it was over. Her legislative barebacking of the Second Amendment expired.

Of course, she has tried to get new legislation passed that would reinstate the ban. And what did she have to say about the expiration of the ban, and her failure to be able to renew it?

"This failure will have deadly consequences on the streets of America. It is time to re-establish the ban and help make our communities safer."

So, like, holy crap, we're ten months out for the expiration of her ban now, and I'm still waiting for the blood in the streets. And so is the FBI. The Uniform Crime Report for 2004 (still preliminary) indicates that nationally, murder was down 3.6%, robbery was down 3.6%, and burglary was down 1.4% in the past year. The trend in large urban areas (cities of over 1,000,000 people) was even better: down 7.1, 6.7 and 1.5% respectively. Those are some wild, deadly consequences, Dianne!

Now, I'm not claiming that having the banned weapons becoming legal again reduced crime. Not really. If there had been an effect, I'd have expected to see it in a more pronounced fashion in the burglary rates, as homeowners would be able to do a better job defending their homes with crazy-ass assault weapons, and would scare the criminals into committing fewer burglaries. But of course, there really is no functional difference between the previously-banned weapons and the non-banned ones, and the expiration of the law had absolutely no effect on anything, other than Dianne Feinstein's crack-smoking fantasies, because the law itself did nothing of substance other than take a first step toward the Senator's stated unconstitutional goal.

In that case, what's the point of even bringing up the FBI statistics? To show that Sen. Feinstein, with her "deadly consequences", is a complete and utter idiot. She was 100% wrong. But will actual reality change her mind? Or will she keep her internal model the same, and adjust her perception of reality to fit? I don't know.

Oh, who am I kidding? Of course I know. She'll make up some crap about this or that, and how there really was an upswing in unreported crime, and trot out some anti-gun politico from Chicago who will talk about how they're finding machine guns in criminals cars now. But it won't actually be related to reality or to anything that gun control legislation could really affect. You see, she's so enamored with the shiny fixtures in the throne room that she's incapable of understanding that her castle is built on a swamp. And man, that's just stupid.

Wednesday, June 08, 2005

My Five Classifications of Firearms 

First off, this is intended for the uninitiated. Those with a great, or even moderate, level of firearms knowledge can skip this without the fear that they've missed the chance to learn something new. I've always found, though, that a little bit of knowledge laid out clearly and simply can help beginners, as well as educate people who otherwise have only a glancing interest. I'll try not to be too geeky, and only lay out the basics.

There are a bunch of different ways to classify firearms, and gun geeks could argue about it all day, I'm sure. I'm going to give you the breakdown that is most useful to beginners, as it will give you a general overview of what is available and some of the terminology. What these categories don't include: old weapons that no one (except history buffs) use anymore (eg. muskets), and weapons that you and I cannot simply walk into our local gun store and buy (eg. machine guns).

Most knowledgeable gun owners would break this down into two groups: revolvers and semi-automatics (sometimes just called "automatics"). This isn't how I break it down personally, but in the spirit of education I'll do it that way, just for you.

Type 1: Revolvers

A revolver is a handgun whose bullets rest in a cylinder that rotates one position with every pull of the trigger. You've probably seen these most often in 1960s and 70s police shows, and as the weapon of choice for battered women in Made for TV Movies. People choose to use revolvers over automatics for a variety of reasons, mostly "tool" related, but sometimes for "fashion" purposes as well. Revolvers are super-reliable. A revolver cannot jam like an automatic (think war movies were someone yells "it's jammed!"). The mechanics are much simpler, and therefore significantly less prone to error or breakage. As tools, revolvers do their jobs time and time again without fail.

From a fashion perspective, some people simply prefer the look of a revolver to the look of an automatic. Some people find them less intimidating, and therefore are more likely to buy one and actually learn to use it. Of course, some people find the look of a revolver more intimidating, so your mileage may vary, just like it was, well, fashion or something.

Revolvers can hold anywhere from four bullets up to ten, depending on the specific type. Revolvers usually do not have a safety, which is a small switch that will prevent a gun from firing unless it is activated. This is not as scary or dangerous as you might think, though. Once you fire a bullet from a revolver, the next bullet does not come in line to be shot until you pull the trigger again, which takes some doing, as the pull of the trigger has to rotate the cylinder. Contrast this with the workflow of the semi-automatic below.

Type 2: Semi-Automatics

Semi-automatic pistols (sometimes just called "automatic") are the other half of the handgun population. Pretty much any pistol you see in a modern military or police TV show or movie will be an automatic. Semi-automatics have an advantage over revolvers in that they can hold more bullets (some can hold up to fifteen), and fire them more quickly too. Of course, this comes with the trade off of more complexity. Semi-automatics have more going inside mechanically, and are therefore more prone to failure. Now, a good quality automatic, like the Colt 1911 pictured above, will work flawlessly if proper maintenance is performed.

If your "tool" sense pushes you toward a semi-automatic over a revolver, there is a huge amount of leeway for your fashion sense. Semi-autos range from beautiful pieces of engineering excellence (like, once again, the above picture) to grotesqueries like this.

By the way, when you hear someone say that a round has "jammed", it means that for whatever reason, the gun failed to load a new bullet after the last one has fired, and that round is now stuck. The round will have to be cleared out, possibly by hand, before the gun will be able to fire again.

In contrast to the workflow of revolvers, mentioned above, semi-automatics reload the gun after every shot, making it ready for the next one immediately. That's both why they need a safety, and why they are called automatics. Get it? The gun reloads automatically. As the gun takes care of getting a new bullet ready for you, the trigger pull can be much lighter on an automatic. It doesn't have to spin a relatively heavy cylinder.

One further advantage that semi-autos have is that they can be made incredibly small. The lack of a rotating cylinder means that the gun can be made entirely flat and quite thin. The Kel-Tec P32 is so small that it will easily fit in the pocket of a pair of shorts, or even into a clutch purse. It's amazing how small it is.

Rifles are long guns that can shoot faster, heavier ammunition a greater distance than handguns, and do it much more accurately. As with handguns, there are two main groups in the Rifle categories, and it has to do with how they are loaded: manually, or automatically. There are a couple of other types (single-shot, lever action) that I won't go into, but they make up only a small portion of the overall modern rifle inventory.

Type 3: Bolt-Action

Every time you fire a bolt-action rifles, you have to raise the bolt lever, pull it back, and put in a new bullet (although many bolt-actions will pop a new bullet into place for you, you still have to move the bolt yourself). A person would choose to buy a bolt-action rifle for two main reasons: accuracy and reliability. Due to the fact that each round is loaded by the user, and not mechanically like a semi-automatic, the parts can be machined much more finely, leaving less wiggle room. This makes for a slightly tighter gun, with greater precision. Also, the mechanisms are very simple, and like the revolver, much less prone to error than its automatic counterparts. When it comes to machines, the simpler it is, the harder it is to break and the easier it is to fix.

type 4: Semi-Automatic

Not a whole lot of visual difference between this and the bolt-action, eh? You're right. The only thing that's missing is the bolt handle, and there seems to be a bit more visible hardware. Right again. Semi-automatics are just rifles that prepare a new bullet for you immediately after firing. They will fire as quickly as you can pull the trigger. I mentioned above that bolt-action rifles are considered more accurate. That's mostly true, but only in a small, small way. Most modern, good quality semi-automatic rifles will happily go toe-to-toe with their bolt-action counterparts in the accuracy department, so you don't need to worry that your semi-auto is going to be flinging bullets all over the place without your consent.

As with handguns, the same rules apply here. You can shoot more bullets more quickly with a semi-automatic, but you have to do the maintanence, and you run the risk of rounds jamming when the gun attempts to load them.

In this section, my mind is kind of spinning at the compression of so vastly many kinds of rifles into a single category, but I'm going to have to let it stand. I'll just say that semi-automatic rifles run the gamut from simple target shooting and hunting rifles to elaborate paramilitary monstrosities with all sorts of prongs, attachments and doodads sticking out of them.

Type 5: Shotguns

Shotguns are long guns, like rifles, but they were designed to shoot a bunch of small pieces of "shot" instead of a single bullet. These little pieces of shot can be smaller than BB's, or as big as 1/3" in diameter. Obviously, the smaller they are, the more you get with each shot.

Shotguns are ideal for two things: hunting and home defense. Due to the fact that the shot scatters a bit when you fire, it is great for bringing down fast moving targets like birds and small game. You don't need to be nearly as good of a shot as you would with a rifle. Using the heavier shot (or even slugs, which are a bullet-like single projectile you can shoot from a shotgun), a hunter can bring down deer or even dangerous, larger animals.

On the home defense front, shotguns are seen by many as the ultimate weapon. They are easy to operate, which is essential as you'll probably be crapping your pants if you ever have to use it for home defense. Likewise, they do not require pinpoint accuracy (think "just point it down the hall and pull the trigger"). Finally, a missed shot with a shotgun will be less likely to go through numerous layers of drywall and studs and into the rooms of the people you are trying to protect.

So that's my big five, right? Wrong. Being the practical person that I am, my five useful categories resemble, but are different from, these. I don't personally see the need for a revolver or a bolt-action rifle. I would divide the pistol and rifle categories not by their mechanisms, but by their usefulness. For me, pistols fall into the "practice/play" category, like my Ruger MKII which is great for cheap target shooting and handgun familiarization; and the "work" category, which would be something like a Kel-Tec P11 or a Makarov whose job would be to destroy and/or kill things if the need should ever arise. Same for the rifles: "practice/play" in the form of .22 (small, fairly low-powered) rifles which are once again cheap enough to shoot day-in-day-out without financial pain and are good for things like killing groundhogs; and "work" rifles like a semi-automatic .308 for, once again, actually destroying/killing things should that ever be the task at hand. Shotguns are still shotguns to me, and they make me smile.

Hopefully, this was little enough like a textbook that you were able to get through it without falling asleep. I'm also hoping you learned something, too.

Note to gun aficionados who have read this far: this post is intended as a primer for complete firearms noobs. I realize that many of things said here are simplifications, and that in many cases exceptions to my statements have not been mentioned. If you want to nit-pick, there are tons of gun forums on the Internet where people do that very thing every day. I invite you to go pick on someone somewhere else. If, however, you've noticed something here that is factually incorrect and could mess up the knowledge base of someone just getting started, then by all means, please let me know. Thanks - Roland

Tuesday, June 07, 2005

Yeah, But What Do You Need All of Those For? 

"Yeah, but what do you need all of those for?"

I've heard this question asked by folks near and far, both to myself and to others, both in person and in print. Why do you need all of those guns? Now, I myself only own two: a shotgun and a rimfire pistol, but the question has been asked of me nonetheless.

Think of it this way: guns, to those who are interested in them, are sort of like a cross between tools, shoes and pokemon cards.

In the strictest sense, they are tools, i.e. mechanical devices which enhance and expand a human being's ability to affect its environment. In the case of guns, that effect is one of putting holes, both large and small, in portions of the surrounding environment, but it qualifies definitionally as a tool. Much like other kinds of tools, there are several major categories of guns, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. Think screwdrivers: phillips, flathead, square, torx. They all do essentially the same thing, but you can't make a torx head fit into a flat slot.

Ladies (and some gentlemen), you no doubt have several pairs of brown shoes, several black pairs, a couple blue. And that pair you already have would look okay with your new purse, but this other pair would look better. It's not a question of necessity with shoes. It is a question of taste. And so it is with guns. You might carry a .40 Glock around with you all the time, but every now and then, you're going to take your 1911 out of storage, just like you'd pull out a pair of prized shoes that'll only go with just this one outfit that you adore. And I mean this analogy with no condescension. Really.

And finally, the Pokemon cards. It is true that a lot of people who are into firearms suffer from the collector's itch. Actually, I think that most people do, whether it be antique tin matchbox trailers that they seek, or a full set of a certain brand and style of kitchen gadgetry, or all the back issues of Hot Dog magazine, or the complete run of Sex in the City on DVD. Humans like to collect stuff. We like to get the complete set, even though 90% of that set is of redundant functionality and little utility. I know people who own over thirty guns. And they're perfectly normal people. Now to me, that seems like an enormous amount. I have no use for it. But that's because I'm an eminently practical person. I would consider owning one firearm from each of the major categories a complete set, as it were. That would satisfy (I think) my collector's itch to fill all the mental checkboxes. But, the people that I know who own this large number of firearms know each gun to a level of detail that differentiates them in their own experience. Just like a kid who would go to the mat to argue that having both Blastoise and Wartortle Pokemon cards was, in fact, not redundant. Or why having, say, a pairing knife and a chopping knife wasn't. Or two pairs of black shoes.

And the answer to the original question: What do you need all of those guns for? It depends on how you see them. As tools, you need a certain small number to acheive basic functionality. That accounts for, say, five guns. Then, as fashion, you might want a few more. Yes, this gun would be just fine, but that one would be slightly more suited to how I feel today, and it looks cooler, too. I'm not the fashion-conscious type, so this one doesn't apply to me, but I can see it accounting for at least one to two more guns from each group. And finally, as a collection, there really is no upper end to quantity of guns someone might "need," limited only by their financial resources. How many does a person need? Each person will have their own mix of the need for tools, fashion, and a complete collection.

Postcript: So, what are the major groups of firearms I've been talking about? Well, that's kind of subjective. I break them down into five groups, but it's not the five that most people would use. And why five? Being a practical person (tools), it's just the level of meaningful detail with which I choose to divide the categories. Some people would say there are three. I know folks who would probably break it down to eleven groups. Once again, it's in your level of perceived usefulness.

Anyway, you'll have to wait until tomorrow. If you are into firearms at all, it will be old hat for you, and you'll most likely disagree with the way I slice things - feel free to yell about it if it bugs you badly enough. But if not, tomorrow's post will be a great primer for you, and afterward, you might even be able to fake your way through a conversation with people who know something about guns.

Monday, June 06, 2005

Zimbabwe and Why We Need Personal Artillery 

Right this very second in Zimbabwe, you can see an object lesson in the values of the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. The situation: since achieving independence from the UK in 1980, Zimbabwe has been run as a Marxist state by Robert Mugabe. He's pulled all of the usual communist tricks: strict repression of political opponents (as in, putting them in jail and terrorizing them for simply being in opposition), seizing land from successful farmers and redistributing it to anyone who signed onto their plan, purposefully starving the population in areas of the country that oppose him. Yeah, he's a great guy.

Things are getting pretty bad there. Due to the foolish farm redistributions from people who actually knew how to produce food to a bunch of people who had no clue, Zimbabwe can no longer feed itself. So, it needs international food aid. Fine. There's plenty of food aid to go around, and liberals please take note: no one in this world starves because there isn't enough food on the planet to support the population. It's because evil shits like Mugabe won't let the food get to the starving people. That's right. Zimbabwe is expected to ask for 1.2 million tons of food aid, and Mugabe will most likely again, as he has in the past, distribute that food in a punitive fashion, based on political affiliation. That means that if people in your region or city have caused the dictator any problems, then you and your family are going to starve.

So what do you do? Well, if there were enough food being grown in your country, you could just go buy it. But by breaking up the farms, he took care of that. If you lived in the country, you could try to grow it yourself. Well, that's if the dictator had let you keep your land. If you lived in a city, maybe you could get some on the black market. But wait, Mugabe just started a military crackdown on black market food sales! So now, if you live in a city, you're completely screwed.

People like Mugabe stay in power by keeping the population hungry and defenseless.

Do you think for one second that a city of people and families would let the government shut down their food markets and essentially starve them to death if they could prevent it? Of course not. But what could they do?

I think you might be able to guess what I'm going to suggest. That's right, ye gun fearing wussies, ye hoplophobes of the world. Firearms. When certain folks actively attempt to starve you, your wife and your children to death, the only appropriate response is to put lots of little holes (anywhere between .22 and .50 inches will do) in those same certain folks.

In a recent and most excellent paper printed in the Washington University Law Quarterly (75 Wash. U. L.Q. 1237) called Of Holocausts and Gun Control, the authors present the fact that none of the twentieth century's many genocides were committed against populations that had a significant level of firearms ownership. You can read the whole thing here. They do a good job explaining exactly why this is so, in case you are the kind of person to whom this sort of thing isn't obvious. It is an excellent and clear example of how guns are a great equalizer amongst humanity: giving the physically weak, either in stature or numbers, a significantly greater chance against the predation of those of greater numbers or physical strength. Ladies who know that certain sense of fear when walking alone in a parking garage, please take note. "God created man, but Samuel Colt made them equal."

It pisses me off that the world is going to stand by and poo and fart and have meetings and get the vapors while we watch another genocide (wait, check that, it's a "mass democide", referring to the term coined by R.J. Rummel in 1992 for the government killing it's own people) go down on the African continent.

Let's get these people some guns already. Will that be nasty and bloody? Probably. Might the outcome be bad? Once again, probably. But without some means to defend themselves, the only chance they have of not starving to death in large numbers is that the U.N. or some other international organization will intervene and forcibly get the food to them. Oh. Yeah. That basically means they're dead meat.

And that's why an armed population is so important, and why I'm such an advocate of firearms ownership. The situation in Zimbabwe right now is really bad, and it might have to get significantly worse before it gets better, if it ever does. I contend that had the general population of Zimbabwe had firearms ownership patterns similar to those of the United States, there is no way it would have gotten to this point. The government would not have even tried to pull the kind of bullshit they've been getting away with.

We own guns so we don't have to fight. It might seem like a paradox to some people, but that is the fact of the matter, demonstrated quite amply in the twentieth century. More guns means less of a likelihood that you'll have to defend your family from the predation of your own government. The people of Zimbabwe now find themselves on the reverse side of that equation: they have no means of defense, yet they are now required to fight for their very lives; and without help, they will lose.

Gun Week 

I've decided that it's Gun Week at The Hess Report. I've been trying to write things a couple of days in advance, and the last couple of things that came to mind all involved firearms. So, I thought I'd issue myself a bit of a challenge and make myself focus on only that this week. So, each day, I'll have something relating to firearms and/or the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution. (Of course, now I'm thinking about doing a Graphics Week, a Cryptography Week, and maybe a Music Week).

Joy, I can see that you're thrilled.

Friday, June 03, 2005


For the second time ever, I was recognized for being on Jeopardy.

Last Sunday, a guy came up to me at church and asked if I'd ever been on TV. He had seen me around church, but felt that he recognized me from somewhere, specifically from TV.

I asked if he watched Jeopardy. He said yes. That was that.

Of course, he asked me what just about everyone who finds out I was on the show asks: "What's Alex like?"

And I gave the usual answer, which is: "He parties hard. We hung out, drank some Chivas, went to a strip club, got in a fight with some Hispanic gang members. Alex can really swnctia chain."

"Solid," said my fellow churchgoer.

Thursday, June 02, 2005

Seat Belt Nazis and Other Lowlife 

Things with which I am officially disgusted:

1. Pennsyvlania's children's bicycle helmet laws.
2. Click-It Or Ticket
3. The Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board
4. The Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission
5. PennDOT

Hmmm. All but one of those is transportation related. I wonder why? Could it be that transportation is one of the only areas of our lives where we have surrendered a significant portion of our personal responsibility to the government in the form of the whole Driver's License thing? I'm not bashing the licensing of drivers or even the need to do so. I've not given it careful enough consideration to rip it a good one yet.

But I am forced to wonder if the acquiescence of the population to licensing for something as basic as personal transportation hasn't resulted in the government simply having waaaaay to much power in this area. And we all now what happens, always always always, when someone, or worse yet, an organization, acquires too much power. They abuse it. You've heard their argument: Driving isn't a right, it's a privelege, so we have the right to regulate it. In whose world, exactly? Which of us doesn't depend for our very lives on our ability to get around in a car? I call bullshit. Moving yourself from place to place as you see fit is about as basic a right as there is. We need some rules (of which we have too many already), and some way to enforce those rules. But the licensing of drivers is not about safety. It's about control and about information.

Thanks, Tom Ridge, for making it a freaking law that my kids have to wear helmets every time they ride their bikes. Want to know a secret? I don't make them. I won't. The only time they'll have to wear them is when they'll be riding their bikes when they might be seen by the police. It's unnecessary. But even more than that, it's my decision as a parent, not the state's. How many kids a year were dying or being maimed in Pennsylvania before this law? What is the horrible price that has lead us to this? Honestly, I'd like to know. How many kids did Tom Ridge save by forcing my kids to wear a helmet? Tom Ridge, I'll call you a Nazi Schoolmarm just for that. He'd look good with a Hitler mustache and a Mrs. Doubtfire wig.

And thanks, MADD and SADD, and all of those other groups who couldn't stop at drunk driving awareness, and had to then go on Holy Crusades to compel people, under force of law (and remember: once a fine is involved, you could go to jail for not paying it; and once jail is involved, you could possibly be killed for resisting imprisonment; so any implementation of a fine by the government had better have a damned good reason), to do common sense things like wearing their seat belts. I think that not wearing your seatbelt is foolish. I also think that the police setting up roadblocks to check for seatbelt compliance makes me so angry that I almost lose my ability to reason and subsequently swerve off the road into the most visually attractive things available, which in this case is probably orange cones and flashing lights. If they were only a bunch of whining crying Nannies, it wouldn't be so bad. But now they're whining crying Nannies with the force of Law behind them, and it makes me want to bite through a steel cable or something.

Pennsylvania LCB? The Liquor Control Bullies? What exactly are you guys protecting me from? From being able to buy beer, wine, or liquor at a true market price, instead of at your Great Wise State Decided Socialist pricing? As I've pointed out before, you're nothing but a bunch of pirates (a large organization of swarthy individuals that takes your money, in this case the difference between the market price of the goods and the State price, without your consent and under threat of arms). Ahoy, mateys. Ye should be keelhauled. Then we'll pass the rum around.

Pennsylvania Turnpike Commission? More thieves. Never before has so much money been put to so little public use. The nepotism. The toll booth workers who bitch when they have to make any kind of change, even though they're making $18/hour. The pot holes. The chronic lane closures. What? Tolls just went up 40% last year? The Pennsylvania Turnpike is the Shame of the Nation, as far as I'm concerned.

PennDOT. I take back what I just said about the Turnpike Commission. PennDOT is the single most useless, corrupt organization to receive public money in the State of Pennsylvania, bar none. The only thing that would fix PennDOT would be to nuke it. Get rid of it entirely, then find the best, most cost-effective state DOT in the country, hire away their officials, and rebuild from the ground up. One rule: not a single soul that worked for the old PennDOT can work for the new one. Not a secretary. Not a contractor. No one. Every person who received money from PennDOT in any capacity was essentially stealing money right out of my pocket, and they knew it. Screw them.

I'm just glad that the DVR has been working well lately, because if I had to sit through a live "Click-It or Ticket" commercial, I'd probably go ballistic and start breaking things. I'm trying really hard right now to stop myself from saying nasty, awful, and possibly legally actionable things about our public officials. So I'm going to stop. And imagine that they're all raccoons, trying to get into my trash. And smile.

Another Year 

I completely missed the fact that last month The Hess Report finished it's second full year. Honestly, I'm a bit astonished that it's lasted this long.

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

Raccoons Are Better Than Terrorists 

The raccoons have been dumping the garbage again. I've taken many measures to secure it: building a level wooden platform for the cans to sit on, as opposed to the sloping grassy hillside; fastening said leveled cans to the fence with bungy cords; securing the lids onto the cans with more bungy cords. But nothing has worked so far. Several years ago, I even borrowed a box trap and snagged one of the filthy creatures. That stopped the spillage for a while, but they soon returned.

Of course, the neighbors all keep their garbage in their garages until garbage day. French!Joy suggested this, but it sure seems like surrender to me. Garbage is garbage. It is refuse, rubbish: unfit for a continued existence with mankind. It should not be in the house. It almost makes me think that the neighbors and my lovely wife have been cowed into obeisance by the furry raiders. Do we (the people) not own this land? Must we be forced to cohabit with our own filth by these marauders?

Like modern Europe, the neighbors choose to keep their trash indoors. Why, those raccoons will become someone else's problem! It's no matter that we cannot enjoy the full use of our sovereign lands. At least we never have to clean up messes.

And as I crouched near the fence in the rain Monday morning, scraping the trash back into the can, I came to realize why I'm different than my neighbors. They want to hide. I want to fight. I want to kill those raccoons. I want to hide under a dark blanket on the little deck I built, flashlight and pistol in hand. As soon as I hear them coming, the red dot sight goes on and then it's raccoons full of lead for as far as the eye can see.

But I should re-examine that, because I pretty much always want to fight, or at least engage in direct confrontation, when faced with a challenge. It is, as they say, my preferred method of conflict resolution. Therefore, just because it comes to mind first does not mean it may be the most appropriate response to the situation.

The part of me that is fighting!Roland has great difficulty in seeing the raccoons as anything other than feral terrorists, usurping our land rights in their quest for... what, really? Food. And that's where the argument that finally tips for me. The raccoons aren't terrorists. They're significantly better than the terrorists. Our murderous friends in the middle East engage in terrorist acts against us and our allies not for direct strategic advantage (i.e., to capture territory or useful supplies), but for an indirect victory which would be based on our overwhelming response to their atrocious attacks causing the populace (and neighbors) to eventually side with them.

Clearly, the raccoons are not raiding our garbage in order to gall me into setting the forest on fire, creating a reactionary feeling of solidarity amongst the other forest animals, who would eventually join with the raccoon resistance against their human oppressors, i.e. me. Right. They're just hungry, and are quite directly attempting to get food. That doesn't mean that they don't deserve to die. It just makes them (filthy, garbage-swilling beasts that they are) better than our current brand of middle Eastern terrorists.

So maybe putting the garbage into the garage isn't analogous to military surrender. Maybe I'll ammend my previous designation to "sensible!Joy" instead of "french!Joy", which was really out of line considering how I feel about the French these days. Things will quiet down. I won't have to pick up dumped, shredded garbage anymore. There will be peace in our time.

But at night, I will dream of elaborate traps involving trebuchets, motion sensors, crossbows, night vision goggles, and the twisted smoking bodies of raccoons. And smile.