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petronius's Journal
petronius's Journal
September 16, 2013

Plane Wreck at Los Gatos

by Woody Guthrie
The crops are all in and the peaches are rott'ning,
The oranges piled in their creosote dumps;
They're flying 'em back to the Mexican border
To pay all their money to wade back again

Goodbye to my Juan, goodbye, Rosalita,
Adios mis amigos, Jesus y Maria;
You won't have your names when you ride the big airplane,
All they will call you will be "deportees"

My father's own father, he waded that river,
They took all the money he made in his life;
My brothers and sisters come working the fruit trees,
And they rode the truck till they took down and died.

Some of us are illegal, and some are not wanted,
Our work contract's out and we have to move on;
Six hundred miles to that Mexican border,
They chase us like outlaws, like rustlers, like thieves.

We died in your hills, we died in your deserts,
We died in your valleys and died on your plains.
We died 'neath your trees and we died in your bushes,
Both sides of the river, we died just the same.

The sky plane caught fire over Los Gatos Canyon,
A fireball of lightning, and shook all our hills,
Who are all these friends, all scattered like dry leaves?
The radio says, "They are just deportees"

Is this the best way we can grow our big orchards?
Is this the best way we can grow our good fruit?
To fall like dry leaves to rot on my topsoil
And be called by no name except "deportees"?
September 1, 2013

On the contrary, the re-import ban is poor policy done for symbolism

and theater. The historical rifles it will affect are not more dangerous nor more effective than many currently available rifles, despite their military-surplus background. Equal and equivalent rifles can be bought new, and these exact same rifles can still be purchased directly from the government. Consider also that rifles are used only in a small fraction of gun-related crimes (or accidents), and these particular firearms are among the more rarely-misused in that already rarely-misused category. So there's really no reason to believe that blocking the re-import of this small set (nothing like a "flood&quot of guns has anything at all to do with public safety and crime prevention.

Analogies on this topic always end badly, but I'll essay one anyway: the idea that this re-import ban will help curb crime is like thinking that banning blue Honda hatchbacks would help curb vehicular air pollution...

August 31, 2013

"Do we need them?" isn't the question, the question ought to be "why not?"

Leaving guns for a moment, I will submit that any law or policy restricting any item or behavior ought to be based in a compelling societal goal. In other words, we should never ban anything unless there's a good reason for the ban - and a mere 'nobody really needs this action or item' isn't a good reason.

In the case of these particular rifles, there is no compelling societal reason to keep them out: they are not more dangerous or lethal than any other semi-automatic rifle (despite their 'military' background*), equivalent and identical rifles are widely available, and these are disproportionately under-represented in crime and safety issues. Public safety and crime prevention certainly are compelling societal interests, but the re-import ban doesn't serve those goals in any way.

Guns are common and legitimate items to own, and there's no real reason to object to this particular category of them. People want them (e.g. for target shooting and historical purposes), there's no reason to prevent them, and so the re-import ban is pure theatre (even if the act is "we have too many guns, lets block this tiny set of them to make a statement&quot . It has nothing to do with safety or crime, and is therefore bad policy...

* Elsewhere in the thread I've argued that the nonspecific use of "military" and "military style" is misleading in this context, as in others.

August 30, 2013

When the OP says "more military-style weapons on the streets", why do you

think that phrasing was selected? What impression do you think it was intended to convey? And based on the answer to those, do you honestly think it's "perfectly accurate" in correctly discussing the subjects of this re-import ban?

You know as well as I do what the purpose of the phrasing is, and it's not to be informative. Rather, the purpose is to confuse people into believing that these pre-Vietnam-era semi-automatic rifles are in fact the select-fire infantry rifles seen in Iraq, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. Which, we know, they are not. (But I'm actually not sure the OP knows they are not - looking elsewhere in the thread it seems he thinks these are modern infantry rifles. Which just goes to show that the spin and deceptive framing has worked.)

You also should know perfectly well that it's irrelevant to this discussion whether or not people like or desire military style or even 'badass looking' guns, because that taste - no matter how much you abhor it or how icky it makes you feel - is irrelevant to policy.

But the question still remains: if a rifle is functionally identical to many typical hunting rifles, and even looks like them, why does it matter that they are "military surplus"? In what possible way does banning the re-import of such rifles affect crime or safety, when exactly equivalent firearms are available from private dealers and directly from the government itself? The answer, obviously, is that it serves no purpose other than theatre, and the emphasis on 'military' is intended solely to influence policy opinions through fear and misdirection...

August 30, 2013

The re-import ban is pure theater, and will have no effect at all on

crime and public safety. The rifles in question are no different from many models that can be purchased today, are still sold directly to civilians through the CMP, are rarely if ever used in crime, and are largely of interest to collectors with a historical bent as well as target shooters. No useful purpose whatsoever is served by banning their re-importation.

I would suggest that "military" and "military-style" are among the most misused and misleading buzzwords in the gun control discussion. It seems that gun control advocates want to conjure up an image of a modern battlefield - with machine guns, heavy weapons, RPGs, and all that carnage - but the rifles in question have nothing to do with that anymore. If a rifle is functionally equivalent to to a bunch of other typical civilian rifles, what is the relevance of whether or not it's military surplus?

August 24, 2013

Truthout recently had an article about offshore fracking in CA

A Truthout investigation has confirmed that federal regulators approved at least two hydraulic fracturing, or "fracking," operations on oil rigs in the Santa Barbara Channel off the coast of California since 2009 without an updated environmental review that critics say may be required by federal law.

The offshore fracking operations are smaller than the unconventional onshore operations that have sparked nationwide controversy, but environmental advocates are still concerned that regulators and the industry have not properly reviewed the potential impacts of using modern fracking technology in the Pacific outer continental shelf.

--- Snip ---


And I also found a nice GoogleMap of offshore platform locations:


And here's a cool map of fracking locations in general:


From what I can tell, though, the platforms near SLO are not those where fracking has occurred (yet). And I'd be pretty leary of attributing any individual quake here to human causes; 4.2 quakes occur quite commonly without any help from us. But I agree that these fracking developments are advancing without proper oversight and analysis, and that is a cause for concern.

Hope the crows settled down without being too annoying...
August 3, 2013

It's shocking how bad some schools can be on this topic. These aren't

even cases of 'unfounded' accusations, this story references cases where the fact of the sexual assault or rape was supported to the satisfaction of Yale (despite their mealy-mouthed euphemisms). And they still came down with these non-punishments. IMO, there is only one appropriate administrative response to a finding of "nonconsensual sex" ( ) or "nonconsensual acts" ( ) - expulsion. Criminal proceedings should be on top of that...

July 30, 2013

I was thinking about this general topic the other day, in the context of LEOs

casually or needlessly killing dogs or other pets, and it seems to me that if we recognize harm to a police animal as something more than mere property damage (which I agree with), then we should equally-well recognize police-caused harm to a private person's pet or livestock as something more than mere property damage. There also needs to be far stricter investigation (and prosecution if applicable) into police officer claims of defending themselves against animals.

As a broad general rule, any protection given to police (or their equipment, or creatures), should be balanced by commensurate protection from police (or their equipment, or creatures). In other words, if shooting a police dog is treated as shooting a police human, then police shooting a family dog should be viewed as shooting the family child. 'Necessary self defense' may look a little different by that standard...

July 28, 2013

I think the overlooked question here is what does a degree mean, and what

is the value of a degree anymore? You mention that you love the MIT and Harvard open courses, and I take it that you value them as a venue to learn as an independent scholar. That is a major strength of MOOCs and online instruction, and it adds to the venues for independent learning that have always existed (e.g. libraries).

However, a degree ought to mean something more than passing through a series of instructional activities - there needs to be assessment, feedback, interaction. These things take place through the mediation of faculty, and work best when those faculty are responsible for relatively small numbers of students (certainly not 1000s).

My main complaint about the general trend of online education - towards cost effective delivery - is that it cheapens the meaning of a degree by automating the assessment and reducing or eliminating the critical feedback. A degree (or even a course grade) becomes more like those ridiculous online training activities that are common in the corporate and academic world - read a bunch of slides, pass a multiple choice quiz, be careful not to go too fast or too slow, print out your certificate...

Sadly, I think universities have been too complicit in this cheapening, and in a way we're reaping what we've sewn. Too much on-campus undergraduate education has shifted toward super-large classrooms, scantron exams, and a reduced emphasis on writing and discussion. When we do that in the classrooms, it's no surprise when people start thinking that the same thing can be done even cheaper online - but the question shouldn't be whether it's cheaper, the question ought to be whether this is a true university education at all.

So I really don't believe that MOOCs or similar online structures are the proper way forward. They provide opportunities for motivated individuals, and probably can produce some sort of basic employment-level competence in a lot of fields, but I'm not convinced they will provide what a university degree ought to represent. At most, they might reasonably fill in for some entry-level foundational courses, where lower-level learning objectives can be met and assessed in a more automated fashion.

That said, I do think some of the online pedagogies have value. The flipped classroom model, for example, strikes me as interesting, and many of the interactive tools such as Elluminate for online sessions are useful...

July 18, 2013

Philosophically, I lean more toward SYG than DTR: while I think the moral and

ethical thing to do is to avoid harming another person (i.e. to retreat) whenever possible, I don't think retreating should be codified into the law for subsequent second-guessing. If a person has a legitimate need to use self-defense - they are facing a genuine and imminent threat of death or harm - then I think they have the right to deploy that defense in the time and manner that best protects them.

However, it seems that having SYG articulated in the law perhaps can lead to problems. On the one hand, it may distract individuals from the actual question of self-defense - there have been news articles in which people who have wounded/killed seem more concerned with their right to stand their ground than with the question of whether self-defense was justified in the first place. Of more concern, it seems to encourage LE to drop investigations too early, on the presumption that a ground-stander must have been defending themselves.

So the point I'm at now is thinking it's better for the law to be silent on both SYG and DTR (as is the case here in CA). Focus entirely on the legitimacy of the self-defense itself: was the putative defender reasonably in fear of imminent and serious harm? (The exception I would keep is that civil suits should not be allowed to use non-retreat as a basis for a wrong-full death claim, in cases where the self-defense was found to be justified...)

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