Sunday, January 19, 2014

A Better Pistol Trap?

While perusing the aisles of my local Gander Mountain I spotted an interesting product from Uncle Mike's; the Reflex Tactical IRT belt holster.  I've usually considered Uncle Mike's lines of holsters to be what new gun owners buy until they learn better.  That is, their products are cheaper than most and you generally get what you pay for.

Active retention holsters use some sort of mechanical device to hold the pistol inside the holster.  This prevents the pistol from being dislodged accidentally and can also prevent someone else from drawing the pistol, depending upon the design of the holster.  Retention is both the upside and the downside.  The same device that keeps the pistol from falling out can also prevent the user from drawing it quickly.  It's generally been a tradeoff between safety and speed until designers began incorporating retention devices that were deactivated by the same motions used to draw the pistol.

I personally own and have used two other holster designs with active retention; the Safariland ALS
and the Blackhawk! SERPA.  Both designs permit the deactivation of the retention feature while the user is drawing the pistol.  The goal is to provide the benefits of retention while reducing or eliminating extra motions.  The ALS achieves through a button high on the interior side of the holster; as the user grips the pistol, the user's thumb depresses the button and deactivates the retention device.  The SERPA employs a button release over the trigger-guard of the pistol, the user's index finger pushes the button as part of the act of drawing the pistol.

Both designs are fairly intuitive and with sufficient practice become automatic and extremely fast.  One valid criticism of the SERPA design is that it requires to user to flex the trigger finger as part of the draw.  This makes it possible for the finger to unintentionally slip inside the guard and depress the trigger, resulting in a negligent discharge of the handgun while it is still being drawn.  I have read of two incidents resulting in serious injuries to the user.  One is here.  As a result, I have retired my SERPA from use.  I am unaware of any safety issues with the ALS design.  The only valid criticisms I have heard of it are that the retention release uses a spring that could potentially fail, resulting in the handgun coming out of the holster unintentionally.

The Uncle Mike's Reflex IRT uses a third method.  The holster is constructed of two pieces of polymer but it feels much stiffer than the riveted soft plastic used by other manufacturers.  The pistol requires a deliberate shove to holster and there is an audible clicking sound when the pistol is seated. To draw the pistol the user flexes their wrist, pulling the grip towards the body, and pulls straight upward.  This causes a small polymer shelf to flex.  The slide of the handgun rotates clockwise, clearing the other shelf on the opposite side that locks the holster in place.  It's quick and easy.

The upsides to the holster? The holster comes with both a belt attachment and a paddle attachment.  I'm personally not a big fan of paddle holsters and using one on a holster that requires a strong tug seems like an easy way for the entire holster to be drawn along with the pistol.  But your mileage may vary and it is there if you want it.  The belt attachment accepts a 1.75" belt, which makes me happy.  In many cases I have had to order 1.75" belt loops because the standard loops were 1.5".  There are no springs or levers to break under use.  The only moving part is the small shelf inside the holster that flexes slightly.  It's not expensive.  I paid $35 for mine.  An ALS costs just a few dollars more.

The downsides?  The belt holster attachment is molded for 1.75" belts and there is no way to modify it.  Using a narrower belt will result in a holster that shifts around while worn.  You will need a 1.75" belt to wear the holster on the belt. The draw stroke requires an unusual action; pulling the gun towards the body is not difficult but it is new.  Regular practice (a couple thousand draws to create the muscle memory) will be required if the holster is intended to be used under stress.  This is not the holster for someone who does not carry the same way, every time.  The holster is thick, just like the ALS, and it does not ride tucked in close to the body like an inside-the-waistband holster.  It's not uncomfortable, but if you tend to walk close to doorjambs you can expect an occasional thump.

I like the Uncle Mike's IRT holster.  It is not demonstrably superior to the ALS but neither is it inferior.  It rides a little higher on the belt than the ALS.  It's another option in a field where choices are good.

Uncle Mike's makes a holster that is as good as one made by Safariland.  There, I said it.  But the nylon holsters are still junk.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

How to Conduct a Regime Change on the Cheap

Dear President-for-Now Assad.  Here in America we have a saying that we use to solve problems.  We call it, “Follow the money.”  We would like to extend to you this generous offer.


You have forty-eight hours to join your numbered bank accounts in Bern, Switzerland.  If you are still located within the borders of the Middle East upon the expiration of this deadline, you will be placed upon The List.  The List is special; very few people have seen it and the names tend to change abruptly.  Other famous names that have graced The List include Anwar al-Awlaki and Osama bin Laden.


The presence of your name on The List is intended to be temporary, but you cannot be sure exactly how temporary.  Middle Eastern dictators have a well-deserved reputation for lavish lifestyles.  We encourage you to live every day as if it may be your last, because that will be a very real possibility.  Enjoy the sun on your face as you fruitlessly scan the skies for the drone that is hunting you.  We want you to appreciate that the last thing to go through your mind will be a jet of molten copper from a Hellfire missile.


Alternatively, the Alps are always lovely.



The United States of America


p.s:  To the people of Syria; try not to stand within one hundred yards of your beloved leader.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meditations on Metadata

I'm sure the NSA is looking back to the days when it was a secretive, little-known intelligence agency able to hide behind the shadow of the CIA.  I read "The Puzzle Palace" a long time ago and any Tom Clancy fan knows what "No Such Agency" does.  It uses spy satellites and stuff to gather electronic intelligence on foreigners to keep America safe.

Or so we thought.

Reports of improper Justice Department collection of phone records were bad enough.  Then came the revelation that the NSA has collected over 100 million phone records from one carrier.  It only seems logical that other carriers have also provided hundreds of millions of records.  Today it comes out that the NSA is also collecting data from internet service providers, social media sites, search engines, and even credit card companies.  Proponents of the programs assure us that the NSA is not actually listening to all of these phone calls and the data is only being sifted for national security purposes.

 I'm fairly certain that nobody at Fort Meade is reading my Facebook posts.  Nor do they care that I used my credit card to buy lunch yesterday.  Unless my data becomes linked somehow to a threat predictor I can be confident that my anonymity remains intact simply due to the sheer volume of data being stored.

It doesn't matter.  What is being done today with my information is not the problem.  The problem is how that information may be used in the future.  The film "Minority Report" contains a scene where the protagonist walks into a store in a shopping mall.  Scanners in the store identify him, query his sales history, and an electronic voice asks him how he is enjoying the jeans he purchased recently.  We are almost there.  

Years ago I worked a temp job for a firm that administered customer loyalty programs for grocery stores.  I was amazed at what simply using a barcoded keychain fob to obtain a discount on groceries allowed the stores and the marketing company to learn about people.  Today social media apps like Facebook will post your physical location for all of your friends (and possibly all of Facebook; have you checked your privacy settings?) to see in realtime.  But these activities are voluntary.  People can decide for themselves whether to allow this data to be collected or made public.

The NSA activities cross that line.  Will we, nil we, the data and the metadata are being collected.  Metadata?  That's information about the data; time, location, duration, etc.  Metadata can be very revealing, too.  The fact that you made a call to an individual at a particular time while driving past a particular cellular tower can reveal contextual clues about your activities even if the exact contents of the call are not recorded.  Just ask a divorce attorney.

Monitoring social media gives the agency information about how we choose to electronically assemble and associate.  If location data is also collected you have yet another tool to monitor the locations and traveling history of people without their knowledge.  Monitoring online activity is even more intrusive.  Did you use your iPhone to check your bank account balance?  Buy an e-book?  The NSA probably knows.

How would you like to receive an annual bill from the IRS for sales tax on every online purchase you made last year?  If your credit card and debit card activity is being collected, there is no reason why that cannot happen.  Did your electronic purchases exceed a certain percentage of your declared income?  The IRS has just been handed responsibility for monitoring the state of your health insurance.  Your lifestyle and economic choices can't be far behind.

During the 2012 presidential debates some wondered whether Harry Reid had obtained copies of Mitt Romney's tax returns, based upon statements Mr. Reid made.  Less than one year later that possibility seems more likely given revelations that IRS employees were selectively auditing tax documents filed by conservative groups and in at least one case, gave confidential donor information to a rival group.  How would you like to be audited by the IRS because some civil servant doesn't like your political donations?

Gun rights groups have been called paranoid for resisting laws to establish a federal database of gun owners.  This is why.  If you want examples, look no further than Nazi Germany, Great Britain, and Australia.

Allow the state to collect this data and eventually the data will be used.  The War on a Noun will be invoked.  Police chiefs will solemnly swear that this data-mining is essential in bringing the noun-committers to justice.  We are reassured that these tools will NEVER be used against normal, law-abiding folks, only THEM, the noun-committers.  A few years later and reports will begin to circulate of abuses by law enforcement.  Congressional hearings will be heard.  Law enforcement officials will solemnly swear that the abuses were isolated events and that these tools are critically necessary in fighting the noun-ists, which have somehow continued to grow despite these temporary and modest infringements on individual privacy.  The furor will subside.

A few months later a politician will attempt to capitalize on a criminal act by calling for further government data collection or monitoring.  It will once again be called a "modest" infringement necessary for keeping Americans protected from themselves.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

A Few Latin Terms

No, I'm not channeling John Malkovich, I'm responding to an article in the Wall Street Journal attempting to get inside the Libertarian mind.  Now, I personally believe that the concept of a Libertarian Party is nearly as ungovernable as a herd of cats.  One blogger I follow has humorously compared a roomful of Capital L Libertarians as similar to an Asperger's Syndrome convention, not without some merit.  I've read Ayn Rand and Freidrich Hayek and of the two, I'd much rather hang out with Freidrich.  But it would be hard to imagine a more fractious and hard to manage group, except perhaps for an anarchists' convention, which is another oxymoron on its face.  I see libertarianism as more of a personal philosophy than a political platform.

The aforementioned WSJ article describes the results of a self-selected group of self-identified libertarians given an online quiz on ethical problem solving.  Compared to self-identified liberals and conservatives, libertarians are more detached in the decision-making process, less likely to use purely emotional responses to arrive at an answer.  Great, so I'm a Vulcan.  Well, yeah, pretty much.

I won't attempt to speak for other libertarians, which in many ways is the essence of libertarianism.  But I will discuss my own ethical and moral compass and how I view laws and society.

I view society as a group of individuals, so any law that unduly restricts individual liberty in the name of society automatically fails as a logical proposition.  I am a classical liberal, which bears no resemblance to the modern definition which is inherently statist.  To be fair, modern conservatism also has some ugly statist features, although I think the modern liberal statist wins the competition based upon the sheer scope of their goals.

A classical liberal views society as a group of individuals that agree upon a set of laws that provides for a common defense against unjustified attacks both upon the societal and individual levels, provides a means for the enforcement of contracts (civil courts), and maximizes economic freedom within the previous constraints. 

The last several centuries of human history demonstrates to me that societies work best when people are working for individual goals and rewards.  Collectivism fails every time it is forced upon people who don't want to live in a collectivist society.  Freidrich Hayek equated modern statism with serfdom, and with good reason.  The lives of a medieval serf and a twentieth-century Soviet peasant had a great many similarities.

So, I recognize that any society needs laws.  The devil is in the details.  Here come the Latin terms!  A law can regulate behavior that is either malum in se or malum prohibitum. A law that regulates malum in se  behavior is restricting activity that is immoral in and of itself, such as murder, rape or theft.  Sure we can find examples of individuals that do not regard those behaviors as perfectly acceptable but you will be hard pressed to find a society that did not regulate those behaviors and existed for more than a few years.

Behavior that is malum prohibitum is illegal because a statute says it is.  Not stopping at a four-way stop sign when you are the only driver there is an example of something that is illegal only because our legal system says it is.  Illegal narcotics are another modern example.  I will scrutinize malum prohibitum laws much more closely than I will malum in se laws.  Why?

Because malum prohibitum laws usually involve one person deciding that the conduct of another person is unacceptable, even when that conduct causes no tangible negative effects on the person deciding.  I don't care if it is a campus speech code or a crying Baby Jesus, neither is acceptable to a classical liberal.

Unless a person's actions cause unjustifiable direct harm to others, their conduct should not be criminally sanctioned.  Period.  Dot.  Any law restricting behavior must demonstrate why that behavior meets this test.  Mental discomfort is not sufficient grounds.  My rights cannot be limited because somebody else doesn't like how I exercise them.  Laws are permission for the state to use force against individual members of that society.  Once we start legislating based upon personal opinions and biases we end up with the ugly mess we have now.  It's time as society for all of us to put our adult pants on and let others live their lives as they see fit, while they reciprocate the same courtesy to us.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

Prometheus Unwound

SPOILER ALERT! –If you haven’t seen the film and are hoping to maintain some pretense of suspense, stop reading now.  Or not.

I wanted to like this film.  I really did.  I even saw it twice just to make sure I hadn’t missed some critical element in the script that tied it all together.  Turns out I didn’t miss anything.

The film opens with some Aryan ET dissolving himself into goo, presumably on Earth.  The implication I took away was that he was the progenitor of DNA-based life on the planet.  Sucks to be you, prions.  That assumption means that the Earth has been their little science fair project for the last couple of billion years.  Towards the end they were even holding block parties with Paleolithic humans, leaving invitations to come by and visit the next time we’re in the neighborhood.  Then I guess the grant money ran out.

We’re introduced to Drs. Charlie Holloway and Elizabeth Shaw excavating a Pleistocene cave site on the Isle of Skye late in the twenty-first century.  At least Lisbeth is excavating it, Charlie is nowhere around the actual site.  We find out the reason for that later on.

Now we switch to the scientific exploration vessel Prometheus.  The ship’s crew is seventeen people including at least one android that is a big Peter O’Toole fan.  The android, David, is spending his spare time learning how to swear in over six million languages, including Bocce.

We meet Meredith Vickers, played to perfection by Charlize Theron.  An autocratic corporate type from the ninth circle of Hell.  By far the iciest personality on the ship, ironically she is also the first to awaken from the two-year cryo-sleep.

 The ship has a captain, who is at best third in command.  Actual command is fuzzy, but seems to rotate between Lisbeth, Charlie, and Vickers, who has the vehicle title to the ship.

An all-staff meeting ensues.  At this point I begin to suspect that Meredith Vickers hired this crew in a cantina at the Mos Eisley spaceport.  The Visigoth geologist who earlier brushed off Millburn the Jeff Goldblum-esque biologist now teams up with him to form a comedy act that will last for the next day or so.

Weyland, The Old Man of the Company pops up in a hologram and explains that Lisbeth and the man-child are following a star map of ice-age cave art that led them to this planet, believed to be the homeworld of the Engineers who created all humanity.  Pass the sweet potatoes and keep an eye out for Pak Protectors.

The Prometheus descends into the clouds.  Screw lidar and radar mapping from orbit!  They’re going to just fly around randomly and pray that whatever orbital defenses the Engineers may have left behind don’t shoot them down.  The man-child spots straight lines, which he solemnly informs the rest of the crew Mother Nature never uses.  It’s a road, leading to a huge dome! 

Surely now we’ll take the time to survey the site properly?  Nope, we’re gonna land a multi-megaton, VTOL starship right on the front lawn!  And now we begin to understand why the man-child is kept away from archaeological sites.

Frifield the Visigoth geologist has a couple of neat survey drones that transmit all kinds of mapping data, but not video, because he doesn’t want to exceed the data limit on his phone plan.  Since there’s clearly no point in waiting for the drones to do their work without any risk to life or limb the team trudges on.

The man-child notices that all of the carbon dioxide has been somehow filtered from the atmosphere inside the dome and removes his helmet.  That’s right.  At this point I’m wishing the rest of the team will just sever his Achilles tendons for the good of the scientific community.  Since he hasn’t keeled over in seconds the others decide to ignore the helmet laws too.  Maybe they can all play cards during the month-long quarantine their idiotic decisions earned them.

David finds some slime on the wall and is so impressed that he doesn’t say a word.  He starts pushing on random hieroglyphics and manages to activate the EVP web-cam system built into the structure.  We are treated to a grainy hologram of big alien space jockeys like the one in the first Alien film running down the corridor.  One trips and is decapitated by a door.  They find the headless cadaver lying in front of the door.

At this point Frifield’s necrophobia kicks into gear and he panics.  He manages to affect Millburn the biologist and they both transform from presumably the best scientists Vickers could get for this once-in-a-lifetime expedition into Shaggy and Scooby-Doo.

David the android arbitrarily decides to open a sealed door.  Shaggy and Scooby run away.  Lisbeth makes a pro forma protest but the man-child is totally cool with it.  Nobody bothers to put their helmets back on since the air in a sealed chamber is sure to be good after two thousand years, right?

Now things get interesting.  David begins poking the alien goo, Lisbeth bags the Engineer head for her mantle back home and the man-child mopes that nobody was there to tell him, “Klatoo varada nikto”. 

Uh oh, big sandstorm coming!  Maybe if they had bothered to survey from orbit that might have been noticed before now.  Everybody back to the ship!  Right now!   

Except for Scooby and Shaggy.  They’re lost in the dome.  Never mind that Shaggy was the one controlling the drones that were mapping the structure.  The pair is stumbling around finding Engineer cadavers all over the place.  The captain tries to convince them to go investigate an intermittent life form reading that one of the drones is registering.  But he fails to offer them a Scooby snack so they take off in the other direction.

The Captain and Vickers flirt a little bit and then the captain abandons the bridge watch to go get laid.  During the flirting we learn that the voyage has been “half a billion miles” in length.  That works out to forty-four light minutes which puts this moon near Jupiter.  Who knew?

While the captain is getting busy Shaggy and Scooby return to the chamber they were too terrified to enter before.  Now it’s full of melting goo.  True to form, Shaggy figures out how to smoke a joint in his helmet.  All that university was good for something after all!  Scooby spots an alien life form that looks distressingly like a giant penis until it changes to look like a cobra.  Scooby decides to pet it.  He gets what he deserves.  Then Shaggy gets his turn with the alien worms.

Back onboard ship David decides to see what happens if he exposes one of the human crew to the black goo.  He doesn’t want to endanger the mission so he picks the most expendable person aboard; Charlie.

In the medlab the three ladies on the crew are investigating the severed head that Lisbeth brought back.  The outside is sterile.  Thank the gods because we wouldn’t want to break quarantine would we?  They figure out that the skull is really a helmet.  When David takes the helmet off we discover that the elephantine space jockeys are really more of the Aryan Nation ET’s we saw in the beginning. 

Now Lisbeth goes all Mary Shelley and decides to stick an electrode into the ET’s two thousand-year-old brain.  They turn up the juice and the skull makes likes a Jiffy-Pop bag.  Good thing the helmet was sterile.

Lisbeth discovers that the Jiffy Dude’s DNA is identical to hers!  Separated at birth? 

Charlie gets all depressed that he won’t meet his maker after all (wait for it!) and gets drunk.  At last some behavior consistent with a background in archaeology!  David slips him the sea monkey goo.  Charlie and Lisbeth get all philosophical even though Fifield was the only one getting stoned.  We learn that Lisbeth is sterile.  Yeah, just like the helmet.  My foreshadowing sense is tingling.  Lisbeth had better grab a condom…too late!

The next morning Charlie discovers that there are alien worms living inside his eyes.  But he decides not to tell Lisbeth because she’s still pissed about that Chlamydia thing last year.  What’s the worst that can happen? 

Back to the dome!  They find Shaggy and Scooby dead on the slimy floor.  A penis monster jumps out of Scooby’s esophagus.  Charlie is really having a bad time with the whole “alien worms in my brain” thing.  Back to the ship!    

“Charlie’s sick, please let us in!”  “Not by the hair of my chinny-chin-chin” says Vickers the Ice Queen.  She decides to resolve the whole leadership issue by burning Charlie alive in his environmental suit.  Who wants lobster?

Lisbeth wakes up on the same slab that the head of Jiffy Dude once inhabited under the tender care of David the android.   Bad news; her boyfriend’s dead and there’s gonna be trouble, hey-na, hey-na.  Good news; she’s three months pregnant!  Bad news; it’s hardly what David would call a “standard pregnancy”.

Lisbeth heads for the robotic Doc In a Box that Vickers just happened to keep in the lifeboat she uses as a cabin.  She requests an emergency C-section.  The Robodoc tells her that it is only programmed to cut open men.  At that point we learn that Old Man Weyland was a Republican and Vickers isn’t as smart as we assumed.  Unless this is like that film “The Crying Game”.

Lisbeth finally gets the right combination to get that operation.  What follows is completely, unnecessary, gratuitous, unadulterated nastiness.  The Robodoc delivers a bouncing baby Cthulhu.  Lisbeth gets all stapled up and leaves it in the lifeboat, which is kind of like a hospital I suppose. 

Lisbeth wanders from Vicker’s quarters into the super-secret part of the ship.  It’s Old Man Weyland!  He’s alive, mostly, and here on the ship.  He wants ET to give him more life.  I seem to recall this theme from another Ridley Scott film.  I’m sure this time it will turn out better.

David tells everyone that he has found an iced Aryan in the dome and the guy is waking up!  Let’s go see him!  Because of the wonderful things he does.  David will ask for a heart, Weyland will ask for a factory rebuild and Lisbeth will ask for some better pain meds. 

Oh yeah, Weyland had a daughter and she grew up into Vickers.  I’d leave Earth, too.

Weyland straps on a powered exoskeleton for his lower body.  To walk, you perverts!

They wake up Mighty Whitey the Aryan ET and he is pissed!  I think David told him how much the bounty hunter wanted for the Wookiee.  Whitey rips off David’s head and beats Weyland to death.  Lisbeth runs away.

That’s no dome, it’s a spaceship!  Whitey plays “The Final Countdown” on his iPod and sets course for Earth.

Ships crash together, Vickers gets squashed by Auntie Em’s house and Lisbeth returns to the lifeboat.  Baby Cthulhu’s awake, and he’s hungry.  It’s a good thing that Junior likes white meat, because Mighty Whitey shows up to use harsh language on Lisbeth.  If Junior wants a hug, Junior gets a hug.

Like all androids in the film franchise, David can get along perfectly well as a severed head.  The trick, Dr. Shaw, is not minding that it hurts.  He convinces Lisbeth to take him along so they can explore the galaxy in the spare alien starship that just happens to be left behind.  She wants to go find the Engineers, because if she tries hard enough, she knows she can change them!  

The film made no sense!  The allegation is that the goo was some sort of biological weapon that was supposed to be used to exterminate all life on Earth.  But it could just as easily been an alien form of beer yeast that they were getting ready to distribute from the microbrewery onboard the ship.  We'll never know because Ridley didn't bother to explain.       

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Murder in the Second Degree

That's the charge that Special Prosecutor Angela Corey delivered against George Zimmerman for his role in the death of Trayvon Martin.  This after exculpatory evidence of his injuries was presented.  It's a clear-cut case of self-defense, right?  How can Ms. Corey press charges?  Surely this is a political witch hunt!

Maybe, maybe not.  In many cases the difference between a justifiable homicide and murder is the intent of the killer.  And George Zimmerman's actions on the night of February 26th are murky enough that his intent could be taken either way.  Don't believe me?  Here's another version that fits the events as disclosed just as well as Mr. Zimmerman's account:

George Zimmerman is patrolling his neighborhood.  There have been burglaries and he is frustrated by the lack of progress in solving them.  He sees a young man walking in the rain.  George is a good neighbor.  He likes kids and even volunteers his time helping them.  He knows most of the kids in the neighborhood.

But he doesn't recognize this young man.  It's late, wet, and George can think of no good reason for a stranger to be walking through his neighborhood.  George dials 911 to report the sighting.  He articulates his suspicions.  "They always get away", he complains to the dispatcher.  He appears to suspect that the young man he is following is one of the burglars plaguing the gated community.  Is this racial profiling?  If so, then Jesse Jackson himself had admitted to the offense in the past.

By this time young Trayvon has noticed that he is being followed.  What's wrong with the driver?  Is he a gang member, or possibly a serial killer?  Following people on foot in a car late at night is not normal behavior.  It's suspicious.  Trayvon is now profiling George Zimmerman based upon the normal rules of society that say that following strangers is not a good thing.  Trayvon is talking to a friend on his cell phone.  He should have called 911.  Trayvon does the sensible thing and tries to get away.  On foot, he is able to move out of George Zimmerman's sight.

George continues to actively search for the young man, even after the dispatcher advises him that, "we don't need you to do that."  In short, he is hunting Trayvon at this point.  When asked for an address he stops the car and gets out so he can better read the signs.

The confrontation occurs.  Whether George sees Trayvon or Trayvon charges George, the outcome is a struggle that leaves George Zimmerman battered and bloody.  George fires a single shot, mortally wounding Trayvon.

Zimmerman's injuries appear to be consistent with having his head repeatedly pounded against concrete.  His life is in danger; just ask Natasha Richardson or Billy Mays.  Blunt force trauma to the skull can and does kill people.

We lack some key details.  What was the distance between the two men when Zimmerman fired the shot?  Was Trayvon standing up at the time?  These are key questions.  Let's say the Trayvon has decided that he has beaten the stranger sufficiently to now make his escape.  As he is backing away, the man pulls a gun.  According to the affadavit Trayvon's mother has identified the screams for help heard on the 911 call from one of the witnesses as coming from Trayvon.

This completely changes the nature of the encounter.  Trayvon has disengaged, he is no longer the attacker.  If George Zimmerman, his head swimming from concussive trauma and adrenaline pulls the trigger, he is no longer acting in self-defense.  If done accidentally, this is now manslaughter.  If done deliberately, this is murder.  What matters is the intent.

What can we surmise about George Zimmerman's mental state that night?  We know that he was frustrated and angry.  We know that he made the conscious decision to hunt for Trayvon, even leaving the safety of his truck to do so.  We know that he was armed.  We know that he was severely beaten.

Is it unreasonable to believe that George Zimmerman may have pulled the trigger in anger after the confrontation was over?  The investigating detective appeared to believe so.  He recommended that manslaughter charges be filed but was overruled by the Chief of Police.

I'm not surprised at the charges.  George Zimmerman's actions that night can be interpreted in at least two different lights depending upon the assumptions made by people deliberating the evidence.  George Zimmerman may have acted in an adrenaline-blurred rush of terror.  The investigators have the advantage of hindsight and no immediate possibility of death.  There are no winners in most self-defense shootings.  There are only survivors.

Let's spend a moment examining the possible motivations of Angela Corey.  Vociferous members of the electorate are agitating for justice as they see it.  There have been demonstrations and random acts of violence done in Trayvon's name.  Alleged "leaders" of the civil rights movement are making vague threats of dire consequences if Zimmerman is not elected.  Even the U.S. Justice Department is taking a look.  It's enough to give any elected official the sweats.

Ms. Corey's thoughts are known only to her.  But I would like to point out that the "Stand Your Ground" statutes came about because enough legislators believed that prosecutorial decisions were being made for political purposes.  Think about that before you demand the laws be changed.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Hunger Games: Dystopia or History?

We saw "The Hunger Games" Friday night.  My girls really liked it.  I appreciated the film but the setting provoked a visceral reaction from me.  I had to sit still and try to wait out the adrenaline spike that the scenes in Capitol evoked.

I thought the director did a great job of giving us a thumbnail sketch of the society of Panem.  I haven't read the novels so I don't have a great deal of context.  Prior to seeing the film I did read several reviews and comment threads where people argued whether the film's anti-tyranny message was aimed at Republicans or Democrats.  I can take a stab at answering that.

The people in District 12 live an existence straight out of the late nineteenth century rural America.  The men go to work in dangerous coal mines while the women try to feed the family on rations barely above starvation-level.  Hunting is apparently illegal so unsurprisingly a brisk black market trade exists in small game.  From a passing comment I learned that additional rations are available to young people if they are willing to enter their name additional times for the annual Reaping.

The inhabitants may not leave the confines of their District upon pain of electrocution from the border fences or capture and death from the security forces.  Technology is deliberately kept at pre-electronics levels with the exception of media controlled by the state.

Meanwhile, the citizens of the Capitol live a sybaritic lifestyle with all of the wealth and advanced technology available to an advanced society.  Consumption is conspicuous and flamboyant personal fashion is the norm for the elite.  The working stiffs in Capitol have to make do with white jumpsuits and hair in colors that nature intended.

Sounds like something right out of the Roaring Twenties, right?  Rockefeller Republicans living large while the proletariat huddles in the dark, starving.  The parallels are there, but what is missing is the iron fist of the state carefully tending to the status quo.  For that, you have to have to go to the other side of the globe.

The world of Panem bears a striking similarity to the former Soviet Union.  Travel controls, deliberate starvation of the peasantry, the unavailability of modern luxuries to all but the social elite, it's all there.  Even The Reaping is a shadowy reflection of universal conscription into a military that places absolutely no value on the lives or health of the conscripts.

The games themselves are reality TV mixed with spectacle that would have been immediately familiar to Emperor Trajan.  Bread and circuses have been with humans for thousands of years and reflect a darker aspect of our natures that enjoys seeing arterial blood on the sand.  But what I saw in "The Hunger Games" seemed to go deeper than that.  I saw a segment of a society so jaded by their sybaritic lifestyle that nothing short of child murder could elicit a genuine emotional reaction.  Perfectly coiffed plastic faces that respond like trained seals to the clumsy emotional manipulation of a master of ceremonies.  People going through the motions of human behavior that can't actually feel anything because nothing is truly real anymore.

One of the things that bothers me about so-called "reality TV" is the artless creation of artificial "drama" which inevitably manifests as interpersonal conflict.  Whether it is cliques ostracizing the goat, screaming matches over who used the last of the dish soap, or media-whoring executives barking "You're fired!" the result is the same.  The audience experiencing a frission of glee at "real people" fighting for their entertainment.

I am impressed that Suzanne Collins was able to take the complex themes above and integrate them into teen fiction aimed specifically at young women.  I took my daughters to see the film, despite the awful content of children murdering children, because I thought the meta-themes of individual human decency and the importance of resisting peer pressure to give in to our darker natures.  Empathy is what makes us human, and that transcends monkey politics.