Saturday, April 19, 2014

 When I was 11, my family bought a house in the black section of town. A handful of the white kids told me stories about how the black kids would come and peek into your windows at night, or climb into the attic and hide. I was scared to death. I had no opinion about black people per se but the idea of having somebody peeking into my windows at night was scary, and for the first year that we lived in that house (especially before Mom got all the curtains up), I spent about an hour trembling with my head under the blanket struggling to go to sleep.

 When I was in my twenties I moved to Boston, once in a while people I talked to back home in the south would say "whew boy I bet the traffic's bad up there" or "man there must be a lot of Yankees up there".

 When I was in my thirties, I moved my family from Boston down to Northern Virginia. A handful of the people I knew from Boston told me stories about how hated gay people were in the South, or about how they were going to teach my children bad things in the schools, and vague scary things that the college Republicans were going to do to us. The consensus among these people was basically that a program of intense religious indoctrination would be carried out by the schools on my children.

 How did it turn out? Well I know it's a cliche to say "I have black friends", but I guess when the families in your neighborhood are all white, all black, or a mix of both, it just turns out that your friends will be white and black or both. In most cases its probably safer just not even to say what race your friends are because you never really know, and anyway it doesn't make any difference unless getting DNA tests or something is a routine part of friendship. Regardless, nobody peeked into our windows. One time a kid broke into our house, but he was white, and had developed an unfortunate opioid dependency, and was very apologetic about it later.

 The traffic was bad in Boston; the southerners were right about that, I guess. I don't know if I met any Yankees, but there were a lot of Irish and Brazilians and man did I ever like those people. I'm still not sure what would make a person a Yankee and whether it's bad in some way.

 I never saw any gay people being abused in Virginia, although there was always a stir about the marriage laws on the radio. I guess if you were listening to the radio exclusively and not actually living in NoVA you might get the impression that gay people were swinging from trees or something.

 The program of religious indoctrination did not proceed, mostly because white religious extremists were a tiny minority in the school, which was about 1/4 Spanish-speaking Catholics and the rest was a diaspora of foreign nationals. They told us at orientation that they had a panel of translators for 42 different languages, many of whom got called in when it was parent-teacher conference time.

 I did meet a few people who were more public about their religion, but at least one of them became a very close friend. The others built a mosque around the corner from our house. Some kids broke into it and did some spray painting, but they got caught, and the guys building the mosque forgave them. Tricia did complain that the priest at the Catholic church in our neighborhood was the kind who shamed everybody who only came on Christmas and Easter.

 In my late thirties I moved to Texas and now that I'm here, people I know will tell me stories about the terrifying things that the people in Texas might do, and it makes me chuckle. Fortunately I'm a grown-up now, and scary stories don't bother me, the way they used to.   

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Followup to previous post.

The Universal Background Check itself is not useful without a means to enforce it, but enforcement ultimately requires a registry. That in itself is not a grounds to oppose the UBC, however:

The number of privately owned firearms in the US is in the vicinity of two hundred and fifty million, in the same order of magnitude as the number of people in the US.

No national registry of firearms currently exists, although there are a hodgepodge of databases; the national stolen firearms database, ATF's database of background check requests (since that went into effect in the last 15 or 20 years). Since private firearms sales have never been regulated, the existing databases are not usable on their own, since selling and trading of firearms is routine.

The task is therefore to do something roughly equivalent to the US census; visiting (roughly) every home in the US, to retrieve the serial numbers of 250 million firearms. More likely, the codified law would make owners self-report, and the punish them later if they're ever found to be in posession of an unregistered gun. I think it is reasonable to expect that the majority of weapons that went on to be used in crimes would likely not have been voluntarily reported to the registry.

Lets say that we succeeded beyond our wildest dreams and managed to get 200 million firearms registered nationally, and we estimate that 90% of all private firearms transfers are now being recorded into the national firearms registry. My napkin calculation is based on 2012 firearms sales of about 10 million and a private transfer estimate of about 40% of annual retail sales, so 4 million.

So this means a few things:

When any gun crime occurs in the US and the firearm is recorded in the registry AND the defendant is not listed as the current owner of the firearm, prosecutors may elect to charge the registered owner with something along the lines of "failure to report a stolen firearm", since they have negative incentive to disclose who they actually sold the firearm to.

 When the current owner of the firearm actually IS the defendant, there would be no additional charge.

 Last, even with an optimistic 90% reporting rate for private transfers, that still leaves us with something like 400,000 background-check-free transfers between individuals annually.

 Therefore, the reason that I disagree with UBC is that, when weighed against the number of illegal firearms it would allow to remain in circulation, the enormous cost and complexity of establishing and managing a national registry and UBC infrastructure is not very compelling, if my main objective is to reduce the number of murders. Further, I think the actual participation rates would be much lower than my examples, which makes things more disappointing.

 Also, I think that the effort to make a national registry would be divisive and destructive. As much as right wing gun nuts bother left wing liberals, raving gun nuts are extremely unlikely to commit gun violence. They're mostly in it for the politics. Again, if our aim is to reduce murder, starting a jihad between Barbara Feinstein and Ted Nugent is destructive to our cause, because is is destructive to our union.

 Actual tactics for reducing rates of murder are well-understood and thoroughly documented (google Bill Bratton for some very interesting articles on the subject) and would be vastly more effective than expensive and complex systems like UBC which are targeted at individuals who attempt to purchase weapons legally and where mental illness is more likely to be prevalent than a history of violence.

The Reality of Universal Background Check Laws

 Let's say you've got two people. Mr Green has a pistol that he bought 5 years ago from a dealer, so recently enough to have gone through the current federal background check process. Mr Brown has an M1 rifle of unknown origin. He bought it from an uncle who traded it from a friend and beyond that nobody knows its history.

 The "Universal Background Check" law passes and a few weeks later there's a big shootout and the pistol and the M1 show up at the scene, and the guy who did the shooting (Mr Yellow) is killed.

 The investigators check the serial numbers. There is no record whatsoever of the M1 that Mr. Yellow used in his rampage. Next, they look into the pistol, and they find they find the record of when Mr. Green got backgrounded for it when he bought it from his dealer.

 Now things get complicated. Let's say that Mr. Green did sell the pistol to Mr. Yellow, but ignored the law that said he needed to have a background check run against Mr. Yellow first. The investigators pay Mr. Green a visit, and they encourage him to tell what he knows about Mr. Yellow. Mr. Green is no dummy, however, so he simply looks in his safe and feigns shock upon realizing that his pistol appears to have been stolen! Unless the Universal Background Check law also includes a rule that makes it a crime not to report the theft (some states have done this), then the investigators are at a dead end. Unless they can somehow prove that Mr. Green is lying about the theft, they can't charge him with breaking the background check law.

 Mr. Brown's position is also interesting. Even if the police learn that he was once the owner of the rifle, he might simply say that he sold the rifle to a buyer he met through the local trader magazine. Since this was before the background check law went into effect, he cannot be charged with violating the law unless the police can somehow prove that he sold it after the law went into effect.

 In fact, Mr. Green could have just skipped the lie about the gun having been stolen. He can just say that he sold it to a stranger any time before the background check into effect, and unless someone can prove otherwise, the background check law will be useless.

 The problem is that ANY gun that was purchased before the background check law was passed cannot be used to implicate anybody in violating the background check law, because private sellers were never required to record these transactions. Only people who buy guns after the law was passed will have to worry about it, and only then if they're in states that make it illegal to have your gun stolen without notifying the police. And even then, you'd need only file a false police report if you wanted to sell your gun to someone you knew would fail the background check.

 In Mr. Brown's case, because no record of the rifle EVER existed, there is simply no way to charge anybody with violating the background check law. The number of firearms that fit into this category is massive.

 There is only one way that the Universal Background Check law could yield up the rich source of prosecutions that the people who are attempting to pass it are looking for. They would have to:

 1. Make it a crime to have your gun stolen, whether you know about it or not 


 2. Require that as of a certain date, all firearms owned by anyone be registered with the police.

 Without these provisions, it won't be possible for prosecutors to figure out who is eligible to be charged when a non-original owner uses a firearm to commit a crime. 

 In the new system, if Mr. Brown handed over the serial number to his rifle, Mr. Browns ass would be in a sling if it was every used in a crime by another person and there was no record of him making a "legal" sale of it to someone else, even if it were stolen without his knowledge (which is a serious problem for people who have large collections). Given this liability, people like Mr. Brown have no incentive to participate in the big gun registration, and unless the police decide to go door to door, if the M1 ever winds up being used in a crime, his unregistered rifle will lead investigators to a dead end.

 My point here is that this supposedly innocuous "Universal Background Check" law relies absolutely on mandatory registration and criminalization of becoming an unwitting victim of theft. Those laws are definitely not innocuous.

Monday, February 7, 2011


Can't cope with Facebook or Twitter any longer, going back to writing in this thing. See you soon.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Linux taking over "the desktop"

In the past 10 years I must have seen a hundred articles titled along the lines of "Will/Has/Could/Can Linux take over the desktop?". This evening I saw another one somewhere, and it occurred to me what a weird question it is, because as far as I can tell, Linux had utterly demolished everything else in its segment at least 8 or 9 years ago.

There used to be these things called "Workstations" that cost a fucking fortune, were not advertised in any of the pop-computer magazines like Computer Shopper or PC World, and were used by everybody who was anybody in the computer business. PCs were toys; if you wanted to do any serious work your company shelled out serious coin to buy you a Sparc Station. Or perhaps you were a DEC shop, and your desk included a rip roaring DECstation running Ultrix. A really lucky bastard might have his own SGI Iris, while the poor sod at an IBM shop had to settle for an RS/6000.

The workstation business was gigantic, but you never saw ads for these things because nobody could possibly afford them; they were all sold at golf courses or in hotel rooms at trade shows. It was also an incredibly exotic business; comparison shopping amongst PC brands was like trying to decide between a toyota corolla and a honda accord. The workstations were as different from one another as a Porsche and a Ferrari. They chose you.

Anyhow here it is, 2011, and someone is still seriously writing a shitty blog post about whether Linux will some day conquer the desktop.

Are you high? Seriously, look up "Chapter 11" on wikipedia, without a doubt there'll be a link to a page with a list of the myriad manufacturers of Unix workstations circa 1990, all of whom are as dead as doornails. SGI, DEC, Sun, Apollo, NeXT, Cray, TMC, they are g-g-g-g-gooooone. buried. And these dudes did not switch to Windows NT. Well some of them maybe.

Back then, you spent huge sums of dollars for incredible hardware that you could run some shitty Unix on. Now, you spend virtually nothing for some generic POS intel motherboard that runs a really kickass Unix that works with everything.

And you're still lucky if the sound works and you can print.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

In the history of this publication there must have been, 100 stories about me being sick. Since I really began to neglect writing in it, I know there have been some doozies, see the entries in March 2008 for example. Now I'm sick with my second Sinus Infection this Fall, because one skull crushing Sinus Infection was not enough to convince me of the importance of boiling the plastic bottle from my sinus rinsing kit. Now the bottle is in the trash and I have 500 packets of salt that I can use in an emergency.

There are so many things I'd like to tell you about. In case an archeologist from Sagittarius stumbles across a copy of this web site in the year 3128, it is no coincidence that blog posts started to peter off around the same time. Some mongoloids invented Facebook and Twitter and two things happened:

1. People got addicted to cruising Facebook looking for pictures of people who got fat after high school, or where part of their tits are visible in some photos. When the run out of photos to look through they try to outwit each other pasting pithy two line messages.

2. People too cool for Facebook spent all their time aggrandizing their accomplishments/travel/eating, etc.

They are both positively awful. The level of narcissism on twitter makes Usenet look like Pre-Cana, so it is relatively easy to ignore. The opportunity to revise ones level of popularity amongst former High School classmates is too hard for anyone to pass up though, so it has obliterated webpages and blogs altogether, but man does it suck. If you wrote so much as a paragraph there people would blacklist you.

So that just about covers 2008-2011, the lost era. Posting this to Facebook would be like dirty whoring; I don't know if I can let the two mix. I'm sure I will.

Now I have a cramp from writing a whole page so I should probably go and ice my hands down and take an Aleve.

Saturday, March 27, 2010

how to make a pizza

I know I've written this down before, but I can't find it.

Get the biggest stone that will fit in your oven, and a wooden pizza peel. It is folly to use something other than wood for this purpose.

Turn on the oven as high as it will go. If its a gas oven, put the stone on the floor of the oven and take the bottom rack out. If its electric, put the bottom rack down as far as it will go and put the stone on that.

_do not_ make the pizza on the stone and then put the stone in the oven. The stone and the crust will fuse together and you'll need a jackhammer.

Make a batch of dough:

I drop the whole big ball of dough into my can of flour and roll it around a little.

I usually cut the ball into quarters, then drop the small balls into the flour can.

I mash the ball down in the middle then flatten it out, then go around in a circle stretching the edges out. I also use a rolling pin, pizza snobs can blow me.

Once I have something pizza like in shape, I put it on the peel and stick it in the oven for 2 or 3 minutes. I don't bother with corn meal or flour. This bakes the bottom of the crust so that it wont stick to the peel while you're putting the stuff on top. When you start to see huge bubbles forming in the crust you can take it out.

Put all the stuff on it and bake it until the cheese starts to brown. I usually move mine up off the stone and up to the top oven rack once the cheese has melted. It browns faster that way and you can start the second pizza once the stone is freed up.