Archive for September 25th, 2006|Daily archive page

Shooting Down the 2nd Amendment

Imagine someone invoking the thoughts and deeds of the Founding Fathers to justify actions today. Now imagine someone actually going back and checking those pesky little details, the facts. It appears that is what Saul Cornell did while researching his newest book which he recently promoted in Minneapois-Saint Paul.

Cornell, a professor at Ohio State University, passed through town the other day with much to say about regulating guns. Yet his aim isn’t to take sides in the modern gun-control debate — a squabble he thinks has strayed rather off-topic. It’s far more interesting, he thinks, to look back to learn what this country’s founders actually thought about gun regulation.

They couldn’t imagine life without it, says Cornell. That’s the point of his new book, “A Well Regulated Militia: The Founding Fathers and the Origins of Gun Control in America.” In it, Cornell excavates the foundations of the Second Amendment and offers some startling conclusions.

“As long as we’ve had guns in America,” says Cornell, “we’ve had gun regulation.” In fact, the Second Amendment’s chief purpose is to assure such regulation. Without it, the founders feared, anarchy might take hold.[my emphasis]

I wouldn’t say that anarchy is imminent. I do feel groups fighting any form of gun regulation are doing more to contribute to the problem than solve it.

I’ll be the first to admit, I’m not a big Founding Fathers fan (the Enlightenment was so pre-scientific method) but they were a pretty clever set of people. I am relieved to see that I am finally on their side instead of wondering how their system might be improved.

Nevertheless, much of the current political climate has misused and misconstrued exactly what the Founding Fathers actually wanted to say. Now, in an earlier post, I asked the question whether people feel safe to walk the streets. It seems I am not alone questioning this nor am I alone in the feeling that the question should be asked.

Unfortunately in today’s climate, I’m sure ideas like this will be shot down before they get very far.

Hat tip: Ralph E. Luker/CLIOPATRIA

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Politician Lies; Demonstrations Rock the Streets

No, really! Not in America of course; it happened in that bastion of democracy, Hungary.

It all started so harmlessly, just a leaked tape. According to the Daily Telegraph (free registration required):

Hungary’s Socialist Party has publicly backed prime minister Ferenc Gyurcsany after the leak of a tape in which he admitted lying to win April’s general election, despite opposition calls for him to quit.

The taped comments, in which Mr Gyurcsany said “we lied in the morning, we lied in the evening” about the need to raise taxes, among other things, were made at a party meeting in which he urged the party to embrace economic reform to fix Hungary’s persistent budget problems. [my emphasis]

For a brief time, there were loud demonstrations demanding Gyurcsany’s resignation. That a politician would use slightly less than the truth to win an election seemed – um – dishonest. We don’t want dishonest politicians, do we? Politicians who will say one thing to the public, and something quite different during a closed-doors conference. Or perhaps politicians who claim the world is safer because they led an ill-advised invasion of a foreign country?

Fortunately reality has set in. There are better things to get upset about than expecting honesty from public officials. (I wonder how the Hungarian national football/soccer team is doing?)

The effects probably won’t remain long. This weekend, the Telegraph reports that the number of demonstrations in Hungary waned.

But last night, the violence looked to be dwindling and, for many in the city, life has gone on as normal. Bars are busy, restaurant tables fully booked, tourists undeterred.

The biggest danger to Mr Gyurcsany may lie within his own party. What started as an explosion of popular anger has quickly deteriorated into accusations of political skulduggery involving a power struggle between two of the country’s leading politicians, allegations of faked bomb plots and football hooligans for hire.

Fortunately modern politics are like modern detergents, no stain stands much of a chance. Indeed,according to the politicians involved,  votes or no votes, nothing really changes; demonstrations are merely a blot on the democratic process. The Washington Post quotes Hungary’s Premier Minister (the taped one):

“Neither the government’s actions nor what happens in the party depend on the final outcome (of the elections),” Gyurcsany was quoted as telling the Vasarnap Reggel newspaper. “I’m going to fight for these policies and part of it is the modernization of the Socialist Party.”
[…]
“This is not only the tragedy of the Hungarian right but also of Hungarian democracy,” he told reporters.

But just imagine this happening in America, now, during an election year! If American voters would actually violently demonstrate when top elected officials are caught lying. Terrorism would cease to be an issue because the streets would lay in ruins, destroyed by disgruntled voters. Immigration laws would become irrelevant because help would be needed to help clean up and repair the damage. DHS would really have to do something. But no. Not in America. In America, political indifference and lots of junk food have turned the American voter into a passive couch potato.

According to the Daily Telegraph, Hungarians have a much more social view of politics. Quoting George Jaksity, the former chairman of the Budapest stock exchange:

“Typical Hungary,” said Mr Jaksity, arguing that Hungarians were just no good at revolutions.

“We go out on to the streets and start to shout and get drunk and then we get tired and we go home.”

At least they take to the streets and get drunk. Hmmm. Perhaps that’s the ticket, The Free Beer (Political) Party. Na, would probably be illegal – or at least dishonest.

Heads Up: Insuring Intelligence

You might not think about it, but there is a new threat in the global war on terror: getting sued if you’re an intelligence officer. But all risks can be minimized and according to Newsweek, intelligence officers are turning to insurers.

To protect themselves, many CIA officers take out insurance policies, according to current and former intelligence officials who, like all agency employees, would not be named. For a $300 yearly premium, Wright & Co. (known around the agency as Wright Brothers) will cover legal fees for CIA employees sued in the line of duty. Last week, at CIA headquarters, agency employees darkly joked among themselves about the possible fallout to come. “A lot of people are checking their Wright Brothers insurance,” says a former senior Clandestine Service official.

Why would this be important? Well, what if you kidnap someone and the world finds out about it? What happens if the world gets grumpy? What happens if the federal prosecutor in some backwater country presses charges? (Again from Newsweek)

As many as 20 CIA officials and contractors could face legal charges in Germany for their alleged role in the abduction of Khaled el-Masri, a German national once wrongly suspected of involvement with 9/11 conspirators, German officials say. Amid new disclosures last week by a German TV show, a Munich prosecutor confirmed to NEWSWEEK that he is conducting a probe into the people who carried out the abduction—an inquiry that could soon lead to arrest warrants.

Most people might attribute a willingness to get sued or prosecuted to a certain fanaticism. Perhaps. But why is the CIA so willing to torture people in the first place? The LA Times has an excellent article explaining this.

But [Paul] Pillar[, former deputy director of the CIA counterterrorism center,] and others noted that spies, unlike soldiers, are not afforded the protections of the Geneva Convention. Therefore, agency officials are less preoccupied with the concern over reciprocity articulated by Powell and others.

The convention spells out elaborate protections for captured soldiers, and sets minimum standards for others who are captured who are not in uniform.

But spies fall into a separate category. Those engaged in espionage “shall not have the right to the status of prisoner of war,” according to the convention, which also says that an occupying government “may impose the death penalty” in cases when a prisoner is guilty of espionage.

All three articles are eye openers. Both into the nuts and bolts areas of intelligence work but also in a shadowy area of the insurance industry.

Now if the intelligence community could just insure success…

Hat Tip: Laura Rozen, who put this really remarkable connection together. (I just fluffed and trimmed a bit. Laura Rozen, Goddess of the News.)

To (Dragon) Skin a Cat

Apparently the never-ending saga of Dragon Skin body armor is going into a new chapter.

According to Soldiers for Truth, the National Institute of Justice (NIJ) will probably give Dragon Skin a Type III protection rating. The NIJ is the research, development, and evaluation agency of the DOJ. This means the armor will be rated effective at stopping AK-47 fire making it good enough for most law enforcement duties. Type III is, however, insufficient to stop armor piercing munitions, a DOD talking point and required for achieving the next level of protection status. (And, IIRC, not reached with existing forms of armor issued by the DOD. But what do I know?)

While it is unclear whether even perfect body armor for American troops in Iraq would be a catchall improvement, the back and forth between late-night pundits, the military industrial complex, and the privately owned Pinnicle Armor Inc. (the makers of Dragon Skin) has made for interesting reading.

Why won’t a new body armor help that much? According to a number of Washington Post articles, the latest of which can be found here, the most dangerous type of injury being reported from Iraq is not the penetration of shrapnel or bullets, but injuries caused by blast shock waves leading to vascular overpressure and bursting blood vessels causing brain damage and massive internal traumas. Body armor, Dragon Skin or any other kind,  doesn’t prevent this kind of damage. The second most common type of injuries are to extremities (arms and legs), areas not usually protected by most kinds of body armor. (I have to trust my memory on this, since I can’t find an online reference.) Thus, despite some well publicized complaints by late-night pundits, the old, heavy, inadequate body armor is even now doing it’s job.

But is the current Vietnam era body armor good enough or would Dragon Skin be better? Well as opposed to the water-cooled “alien spacesuits,” cluster-fuck personal coffins, protective suits the DOD sent to Iraq earlier this year, Dragon Skin is both light and flexible. In 40°C (140°F), weight is very important even if the saved weight is replaced with water rations. Even though the ‘protective suit’ was water cooled, it had an even more critical problem; wearing it was like being in a suit of medieval armor with the wearer next to immobile. (The wearer also looked silly but that’s beside the point.) The immobility is perhaps the more important factor. In modern combat, mobility is everything and that’s where Dragon Skin comes in; flexibility allows mobility.

For an example of what the discussion is (and isn’t), take a look at the comments over at the DefenseTech post where the pros (and cons, i.e. negatives, not felon types) are weighing in.

How will all this end up? I have no idea. But just like a cat has nine lives, this story isn’t dead yet; and the cat hasn’t been ‘skinned.

Hat Tip: DefenseTech 

Heads Up: Putting Selam in perspective

Nick Matzke has a post up over at The Panda’s Thumb putting Selam in perspective. For those who blinked, Selam is the ‘newest’ member of the Australopithecus afarensis family outlined in this month’s Nature.

I should note couple of errors in my earlier post.

  • I’m not sure, but if I read the quote from Nature exactly, the fossil might only be the completest juvenile fossil found to date. It is really unclear whether this is absolutely the most complete A. afarensis fossil ever recovered. However, it does appear that this is either the first or the most complete shoulder found to date.
  • I used the word hominid (Aside: is this the origin of the word Ho?) in the first post rather naively. Nick clearly points out that these terms are specifically defined and should not be bantered around lightly. (I stand ashamed.)

Like I said in the original post, I was trying to show what interested people, who aren’t experts, who read the articles really closely, might understand. I think I did a pretty good job.

I should also mention that Nick does a wonderful job jabbing the odd, verbal pointy-stick in the creationist cage to get them riled up. But then again that’s what Panda’s is all about. Just thought you might like a professional’s perspective.