Wednesday, April 22, 2009

A Small Victory for Privacy Rights

Amid all the other excitement this week, I almost overlooked another civil-rights victory. In Arizona v. Gant, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled that police need a warrant to search the vehicle of someone they have arrested, if that person poses no threat to officers. While this decision doesn’t moot searches for “officer safety” permitted under Terry v. Ohio, it is a small step forward for Fourth Amendment protection of privacy rights.

Watch where you park.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

The Information Revolution

By now, it should be clear that an information revolution is in progress. Just 15 years ago, information was still a relatively scarce and well-controlled commodity. The economic and legal barriers to reaching a wide audience were substantial, and access to information and other intellectual capital required persistence or money or both.

That has all changed. Now, information is abundant and often available at little or no cost to the user. The institutional barriers that once controlled the flow of information have been largely circumvented. The information economy is rapidly adjusting, and the value of intellectual capital is falling—but that is a topic for another post.

The mainstream media are struggling to adapt to the new paradigm. Where once the publishers controlled the supply of information and thus the architecture of any related public debate, the consumers have now freed the market. Web logs and on-line discussion forums now rapidly spread the news that some traditional media outlets still try to conceal, minimize, or distort due to their own political agendas.

Yesterday’s historic court decision in Nordyke v. King is a perfect example. This morning, there is nothing in the Los Angeles Times on the story, but there is an article about the 10th anniversary of the shootings at Columbine High School and the drive for tougher gun-control laws. In contrast, the right-to-arms community on the Internet knew about the decision within minutes of its announcement, and we had known that it was coming for months.

Similarly, ABC’s recent gun-control propaganda piece was a traditionally massive exercise in broadcast “journalism.” It might have stood on its own, but on-line communities mounted an immediate challenge. Discussion forums and web logs quickly and effectively refuted ABC’s deceptive, politically motivated reporting.

And who can forget that it was bloggers who took down CBS’s Dan Rather? A distinguished journalist ended his career in disgrace, because he let his political agenda get in the way of his objectivity … and because he failed to realize that his powerful television network no longer controlled the information.

This then is the true power and promise of the Web 2.0 paradigm. Information wants to be free.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Second Amendment Comes to California

Today, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit ruled that “the Fourteenth Amendment [to the U.S. Constitution] incorporates the Second Amendment and applies it to the states and local governments.” While 14th Amendment incorporation is a profanely legalistic concept, the way has now been opened to challenge unconstitutional gun-control statutes and regulations in California and beyond. The case in question was Nordyke v. King.

U.S. Court of Appeals for the Ninth Circuit
In a clever bit of jurisprudence, the court ruled against the plaintiffs (gun-show organizers) while settling the incorporation matter. Alameda County was the “winner,” so it cannot appeal the decision. The right to arms is now the law of the land, at least for much of the western United States.

This is wonderful news for the civil-rights movement, but the fight is really only just beginning. Prepare for an onslaught of litigation over the next few years.

Baby Boom

The United States saw a record number of births in A.D. 2007. That bit of news confirmed my own hypothesis that we are in the midst of a new baby boom. At Sea World this past weekend, I certainly saw quite a few women who were already working on their second or third contributions to the trend.

I grew up in the so-called baby bust of the 1970s. Besides my brother and me and our friends down the street, there were very few younger children in my neighborhood. Now residential streets are alive with the voices of children at play—my own daughter’s among them.

I’m not yet sure what to make of this demographic surprise—and i think that it is a surprise, coming as it does from my own scarce generation. On one hand, those of us who thought we would probably never see a dime of Social Security income may be able to rest a little bit easier. On the other hand, population growth will probably continue to strain global economic development.

Saturday, April 11, 2009

“If I Only Had a Gun”

I suspected that I would regret it, but I did it anyway. I watched Diane Sawyer’s report, “If I Only Had a Gun,” on ABC’s 20/20 last night. I was expecting bias that would lean away from gun ownership and the right to arms, but what I saw was an hour of shamefully unadulterated propaganda.

I’m not naive when it comes to journalism. I’ve had my share of experience being misquoted, plagiarized, and editorially marginalized, but this was mainstream media bias in rare form. There were omissions, lies, and even fabricated evidence.

The broadcast sought to make four main points. Firearms are ineffective weapons for self-defense. Children are in grave danger of being killed by improperly stored firearms. “Gun violence” plagues a small town in Florida. Weapons can be obtained too easily through the “gun-show loophole.”

Can You Defend Yourself with a Gun?

The first segment dealt with carrying handguns for self-defense. To demonstrate that armed civilians are doomed to failure, ABC contrived a scenario designed to almost guarantee such failure. Posing as a deranged gunman, a well-trained police firearms instructor bursts into a small classroom and begins shooting simulated bullets. A barely trained college student wearing an awkwardly long shirt, bulky gloves, and cumbersome headgear is expected to engage this threat with his own mock handgun. Naturally, none of ABC’s handpicked subjects were able to make any quickly incapacitating shots. However, though this fact was minimized, one young woman did manage to deliver a probably fatal wound to the assailant’s femoral artery, which would have mitigated the casualties from his rampage as he rapidly bled to death on the classroom floor.

One hapless test subject scores a fatal hit.

Indeed, if someone walks up and immediately begins shooting you at close range, your chance to successfully defend yourself is already over, regardless of how well you may be armed. This applies even to well-trained police officers, who are far less common than ABC implied. Throughout the segment, video of intensive tactical training suggested that the average cop is a firearms expert. Unfortunately, standard police and even military firearms training is actually very basic. My own marksmanship skills are minimal, but even I have outperformed federal law-enforcement officers at the shooting range.

However, any honest right-to-arms advocate will tell you that a firearm is not a magic talisman that will guarantee your survival in a violent confrontation. Having a gun merely gives you a fighting chance, but that chance can be very small. I know that I would rather risk injury in defense of my loved ones than do nothing only to see them brutally murdered.

Extrapolating from this worst-case scenario that carrying a handgun can never help you in a violent encounter would be unwise at best, but this is exactly what ABC did. As further evidence, Diane Sawyer herself stepped up to a police simulator and failed to draw her sidearm quickly enough. Of course, that was a self-fulfilling prophecy, but don’t let her cover you in a potential firefight.

Diane Sawyer plays with guns.

In the end, ABC and Diane Sawyer were making a case that no one should be armed, not even the police. Of course, total disarmament is the ultimate goal of the gun-control movement. Despite their wishful thinking for a non-violent society, if the prohibitionists ever succeed, they would only turn the whole world back into Pahokee, Florida, as we will see in a moment.

When Older Kids Find Guns

The second segment explored the attraction guns hold for both younger and older kids. In another poorly constructed experiment, children were shown handling and playing with firearms placed where the kids would find them. Why this should surprise anyone is unclear.

A parent is shocked that her child would play with something.

Children are naturally curious. When adults try to hide something from them, they become even more eager to explore. The lure of forbidden fruit is a well-known phenomenon.

As usual, the answer is proper education. In the show, only the young man with gun-safety training resisted the temptation to improperly handle a found gun. The others all demonstrated their profound ignorance, though this occasionally had to be encouraged by ABC collaborators. Education saves lives.

Fortunately, accidental shooting deaths are actually very rare.

Damon Weaver’s Plea to Obama

Pahokee is a town of 6,000 souls, few jobs, and an “infinity of guns.” When darkness falls, the violence begins. Gangs rule this place, and by the light of day, the law-abiding residents are too frightened to help the police. Young, would-be journalist Damon Weaver asks what President Barack H. Obama will do to help his town.

Should a boy determine your civil rights?

Criminal gangs are the problem here. Criminals are already prohibited from having firearms, but one gang member boasts that he can get an illegal handgun for $60. When I legally purchased a police-surplus pistol for $350, I thought that was a smoking-hot deal.

Violent gangs are a problem older than human civilization. In fact, they are the problem that led us to form governments and states. We can no longer apply the historical military solutions, but until we put an end to the institutionalized poverty that encourages modern gangs and to the black markets that finance them, the problem will persist.

Firearms prohibitionists would unintentionally—or so I assume—return the whole world to the conditions of Pahokee, Florida. When the good people are disarmed, it will once again be the ruthless, violent gangs that dictate social policy. Violence as a means of conflict resolution is most effectively neutralized only when all sides are equally equipped to do violence.

I will answer little Damon’s question with my usual cynicism. President Obama will do nothing to help Pahokee. Doing so would be to reject the institutionalized poverty and paternalistic racism that is his party’s source of political power.

10 Guns in One Hour

The next myth that ABC promoted was the “gun-show loophole.” I have already written an article on this topic, but let me reiterate that there is no loophole. All federal, state, and local laws continue to apply at gun shows.

They worry about your private-property rights.

To illustrate their point, ABC gave $5,000 to the grieving brother of a Virginia Tech victim and sent him to a gun show in Richmond. Within an hour, the young man was able to buy 10 firearms (mostly old rifles and shotguns) from private parties at the show. He found some pretty good deals but nothing approaching the $60 stolen handguns in Pahokee.

Shooting Under Fire

The final segment wrapped up the rigged experiment that opened the broadcast. Diane Sawyer closed with this blatantly false statement: “… if you’re wondering where’re all the studies about the effectiveness of guns used by ordinary Americans for self-defense, well keep searching. We could not find one reliable study.…” Apparently, Ms. Sawyer and her “research” staff have never heard of libraries or even Google Scholar, where the ongoing academic discussion on the subject can be uncovered in less than five seconds … or maybe the facts didn’t support their predetermined conclusions.

Diane Sawyer lies on national television.

About the only thing that ABC and Diane Sawyer got right in this report is the fact that you are unlikely to be shot and even less likely to be shot fatally. A gunfight is one of the last places anyone should want to be, but having a gun does improve your odds of survival, according to federal crime data. That fact was nowhere to be seen in last night’s broadcast.

Firearms aren’t for everyone, but we have an inalienable right to arms. The U.S. Supreme Court has now recognized that fact. Nevertheless, the prohibitionists in the mainstream media clearly aren’t ready to abandon their propaganda campaign.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Fun with Widgets

Internet widgets (or gadgets, as Google prefers to call them) are little bits of code that allow users to add features to their websites, search engines, and whatnot. For example, I’ve added an instant messenger to my homepage, a financial widget to my customized Google interface, and a simple text editor to this web log. There are already thousands of ready-made widgets to choose from.

These widgets are another example of Web 2.0 technology. In many cases, the user doesn’t have to know a thing about programming to incorporate a widget. Some programming ability certainly won’t hurt, though, as it allows the user to modify widgets as needed. A savvy user can also copy the source code for an interesting widget he may discover while browsing the web.

Tuesday, April 7, 2009

Welcome to Loyal Sedition

As I mentioned in my previous post, I created this web log to replace my sidebar commentary at the Dancing Giant Inn. That site will continue to host my more in-depth articles, while this space will provide immediacy and the opportunity for participation from my “readership.” Never mind that in the last 10 years I have received exactly one piece of fan mail, one piece of “hate mail,” and one citation.

I wanted an engaging name that would also summarize my intent with a fair amount of accuracy. This is how I arrived at Loyal Sedition.

To a libertarian, sedition is one of the most chilling words in any language. Though defined as conduct or speech meant to incite rebellion, sedition has often been charged against any criticism of the state, its leaders, or its agents. I am here to raise my voice in dissent to the powers that be whenever necessary.

That said, I love my country and my nation. Despite our many flaws, the United States was founded on the principle of human freedom and remains the most successful embodiment of that ideal in known history. This is something I have sworn to support and defend.

To be honest, I don’t really want any attention. I would rather go about my business and pursue my interests in anonymity and privacy, but the stakes are too high. I cannot condone with silence the many forces that would trample human freedom and extinguish the American Revolution through ignorance, greed, or ambition.

Loyal Sedition is my voice (or at least part of it) in the ongoing struggle for human freedom.

But that doesn’t mean we can never have any fun here.

Sunday, April 5, 2009

Web 2.0 and Loyal Sedition

And so, with no small amount of reluctance, I have finally launched a web log (or “blog” in today’s vernacular). This is mostly in response to a Web 2.0 initiative by my employer. To be fair, though, my former Commentary section at the Dancing Giant Inn served a similar purpose and now provides a ready-made archive for this space. What’s next? A MySpace page or my own World of Warcraft account?

Web 2.0 is more than another empty bit of marketing, though the term has certainly been used in this manner. In a nutshell, the Web 2.0 concept represents the combination of web-based software and user-generated content. This contrasts with the traditional model of controlled content authoring and desktop software distribution.

I foresaw this trend at least a decade ago, when I created my first website. Back then, I described a time when software developers would simply provide the tools that would allow non-programmers to create useful electronic content. I saw programs like Netscape Composer and Microsoft FrontPage as early examples of this technology, but a web-based distribution model seemed more like science fiction at the time.

While I was clicking away at HTML on my dial-up connection, the Internet was quickly blooming with user-created content. What I was trying to accomplish with my monolithic website was being accomplished much more easily on web logs, photo-sharing sites, on-line auctions, discussion forums, and social-networking sites. To some extent, I was ignoring the very technology I had predicted and desired.

My late arrival to high-speed connectivity explains some of my reluctance to embrace these trends, but there is more to it than that. I wanted total control over the architecture of my content—or at least as much control as I could get. In pursuit of this goal, I built my own websites from the ground up, teaching myself HTML as I moved slowly forward. I’m sure that I even sneered at all those Internet plebeians who were quickly popping out so many MySpace pages.

I will have to let go of some more of my stubbornness in this respect. It won’t be easy, but I’ve been making progress. There is a wild and wonderful world out there on the Internet. It’s time for me to embrace all of it … maybe.

I will talk about Loyal Sedition and what that’s all about in a later post.