Friday, December 30, 2011

On the desk right now...

Glock: The Rise of Americas Gun by Paul Barrett

I met Mr. Barrett earlier this year, at the Gunblogger Rendezvous, and had a great time taling about guns with him, and shooting with him.

Ill be reviewing the book next week. I got this review sample for free from the publisher; so, if I like the book (and I think I will, based on the discussions I had with the author, and on the earlier reviews I've read - not coincidentally all by friends in the gunblogger community) I'll be buying my own copy, and passing this one on to a reader.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

The title of the graph alone explains a hell of a lot...

In case you don't understand my comment in the title, let me explain.

First, let's get the surface argument out of the way.

It's rather obvious to anyone with the slightest knowledge of economics (sadly, that excludes much of the general population)... or even basic math; that for a given level of productivity, someone with twice as many days off, is producing far less value for their employers.

That IS the point of employing someone after all... Obtaining economic value from them. While leftists seem to believe that business should exist solely to provide employment to people who want it; thankfully businesses still exist to make money (at least in the U.S. ... for now anyway).

While some may argue that more time off makes employees more productive, that is only true to a certain point (though that point is different for everyone). Once you pass that point, that employees gross productivity is reduced.

Frankly, I'm pretty sure that point is something lower than 35 days, for almost everyone, in almost every job.

Now, this is just me... but I don't see how I could take that much time off.

At my last job I got 25 days a year paid time off, plus 11 company holidays (and if a holiday fell on a non-work day, we got a compensatory time off day either the next week, or as a floating holiday). Every year, I hit my maximum carryover of five days. So, I actually had a total of 41 paid weekdays off per year, and of course, 104 weekend days a year; for a total of 145 days off. 365 days a year, 145 days off... That's one out of every 2 and a half days.

I just couldn't take that many days. In November and December, I had to take extra WEEKS off, just to get down to the five day carryover point. That is not enhancing productivity.

But the bigger point is one of basic principle, illustrated by the graphs title...

No-one is ENTITLED to ANYTHING in the course of voluntary employment, including wages; and at the most fundamental live, including you job itself. Your job isn't "yours", and you have no right or title to it.

Paid time off (other than government mandated paid time off) isn't an entitlement, it is a benefit provided by employers, as an incentive to attract and retain employees; and to improve productivity (a happy and well rested employee is far more productive).

Health insurance, is also not an entitlement. It is a benefit provided to attract and retain employees, and to improve productivity.

In fact, just about everything employees receive from their employers (excepting wages and soul crushing stress) are benefits; most of which are of benefit to your employer as well (as it is very expensive to find and train new employees, and unhappy or sick employees are not productive).

You are not ENTITLED to wages either. Both wages and benefits, are consideration provided in exchange for your labor and business benefit in the course of your employment.

Oh and by the way, you DO have an employment contract, even if it's not written down, even if you're an at will temporary employee etc... The requirements of your employment are the consideration you provide, and the wages and benefits are the consideration they provide, in fair exchange. That's the definition of a contract.

Once you have provided your consideration according to the conditions and requirements of your employment, you are not ENTITLED to your wages and benefits; they are YOURS, and your employer is contractually required to give them to you.

The difference?

Wages and benefits are part of a contractual exchange of consideration. You provide your labor and business value to your employer, your employer provides you with wages and benefits.

An entitlement, is something which you have been granted by "authority", as yours to claim by right and without consideration required in exchange.

Remember your Heinlein: TANSTAAFL... There aint no such thing as a free lunch.

By granting you something (if you take it anyway), "authority" is exerting control over you in many ways. There are ALWAYS conditions, and just like anything else authority grants you, what they grant, they can take away whenever they want; for any reason, or no reason at all.

Personally, I'll take property rights and consideration, over being "given" an "entitlement" any time.

Sunday, December 25, 2011

For this day, is born to you a Saviour

"And it came to pass, that in those days there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus, that the whole world should be enrolled.

This enrolling was first made by Cyrinus, the governor of Syria. And all went to be enrolled, every one into his own city. And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth into Judea, to the city of David, which is called Bethlehem: because he was of the house and family of David, to be enrolled with Mary his espoused wife, who was with child.

And it came to pass, that when they were there, her days were accomplished, that she should be delivered. And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him up in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds watching, and keeping the night watches over their flock. And behold an angel of the Lord stood by them, and the brightness of God shone round about them; and they feared with a great fear. And the angel said to them: Fear not; for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, that shall be to all the people:

For, this day, is born to you a Saviour, who is Christ the Lord, in the city of David. And this shall be a sign unto you. You shall find the infant wrapped in swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger.

And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly army, praising God, and saying:

Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will." 
--Luke 2:1-2:14

Sing Glory to god in the highest:

and come all ye faithful:

For christ is born.

Friday, December 23, 2011

It's not about elites or idiots

Over the past few years, there has been a constant drumbeat from "progressives" (and even some non-lefties) that conservative anti-elitism is effectively "anti-science", "anti-education", "pro-stupidity" etc...

This is partially in response to the fact that many conservatives use the terms "elitist" or "the elite" (in the political and social context, not in the context of achievement... though that distinction is lost on leftists) as a pejorative.

Their basic comment comes down to "Well, if you don't want intelligent, well educated people running things who would you rather run them, idiots?"

Thus, completely missing the point.

Conservatives and libertarians aren't against smart well educated people; in fact many of us ARE smart, well educated people.

...We're against people who want to run things.

This idea is so utterly foreign to the leftist mind, that they literally cannot conceive it, or believe it.

You see, to a conservative or libertarian, it's inherently obvious... axiomatic even:

The world runs better, when everyone runs their own lives, and their own business, with as little interference as possible; save that which is absolutely necessary for the common good, or to prevent harm to others.

No government official or lawmaker can know more about your life, or your business, than you do; therefore, they cannot run your life or you business as well as you can.

No matter how smart, or well educated they may be, and no matter how many of them there are; they will always be working with less information then you have. Their information will always be less current. They will always have less experience in dealing with the conditions unique to your life and your business.

Since no-one can run your life as well as you can; no-one should.
Note: Economists call the idea that if you’re just “smart enough” “well educated enough” etc… you can make everything run right, the “perfect information fallacy”. If you could have perfect information (that is all information about all conditions and factors that could possibly effect the outcome of a decision) and perfect reason (that is, the ability to analyze all factors correctly at all times), then you could make perfect decisions. However, it is impossible to have perfect information in a complex system (never mind perfect reason) thus all decisions will necessarily be imperfect. This is the primary reason why communism or socialism… or in fact any kind of “managed economy” could never possibly work on a large scale; even if every person participating in that economy were a perfect communist, acting only for the benefit of the collective.
To a leftist, that is simply ridiculous... Impossible even. Someone has to be running things. It simply cannot be any other way.

You have to understand, leftists fundamentally and fully believe, that nothing (or at least nothing good) can possibly happen, without "someone running things".  No matter how "free" or "unregulated" something may appear to be, in reality, there is always someone behind it, really in control, and making sure it goes the way they want it to; favoring some parties and punishing others; exploiting some for the benefit of others.
Note: Conversely, this also means that whenever anything happens, it's because of the person in charge. Everything good that happens is to their credit, and everything bad that happpens is their fault. 
It's called the "daddy" (or more formally the paternalistic) philosophy of government...

As with all leftist ideas, the basic principle of the daddy government is based on what children learn during kindergarten. All money, power, control, and guidance comes from "the people in charge", like your daddy, or your teachers.

Daddy has authority, and money. From that money, he gives you your food, housing, education, medical care etc... With that authority, he sets rules, rewards you with things when you do well at what he says you should do well at; and punishes you for doing badly, for doing things he doesn't want you to do, or for not doing the things he thinks you should do.

When you need something, daddy makes sure you get it. When you want something, you ask daddy, and if he thinks you should have it, he gives it to you.

Daddy enforces "fairness". Daddy makes sure you share, and play well with others. Daddy protects you from the bad people hurting you, or taking advantage of you. When things are bad, daddy will make them all better.
I should note, some people prefer to call this the "mommy" philosophy of government... which may be closer to appropriate, given most leftists have no idea what a father is , or what they are good for anyway.
When you're five years old, daddy controls the entire world; and there's nothing daddy can't do (this is why it's called the paternalistic worldview).

Leftists have never really advanced in economic, social, or moral maturity beyond that point. They believe that the world continues to work that way as you grow up; only instead of daddy, the one in charge is "government".

In fact, they not only believe it's the way it should work, they believe it simply IS the way it works, and there can be no other possible way.

Since there is no other possible way, and someone has to be controlling things; it's absolutely critical that we get the smartest, best educated, most "elite" people to be in charge. If you're against that, it must be because you want someone in charge who is going to favor you.

Or rather, because they have such a low opinion of the common man, they believe that the people themselves are idiots, being deceived by the people who secretly want to control everything. The people who want to control everything have convinced the "common man" of the lie of the "free market", and of "equal opportunity" and "the American dream". They're all just lies the secret controllers tell the "common man", so that the controllers can rig things to favor themselves, and their cronies. Those people are anti-elitist, anti education, pro-stupidity, and want idiots to run things, because they can secretly control the idiots for their own benefit.

Note the assumption there that anyone who is smart and well educated MUST know that the leftists are right; therefore anyone who disagrees with them is either stupid, or evil.

This isn't some far out conspiracy theory by the way; this is exactly what leftists think was behind the Bush presidency. Not only do they freely and publicly admit it, they write books and make movies about it.

They completely miss the point.

They don't understand that conservatives and libertarians have a completely different idea about what government is, and what it should do.

They don't understand...

We don't want idiots running things....

We don't want ANYONE running things.

Medium Raw

"I've heard it said that for a proper steak, one should heat a cast iron skillet red hot, hold it at an angle, drop the steak into it, and catch it with a plate as it exits the skillet."
Ok, I'm going to have to go off on a little rant here.

Rare steak, is undercooked steak.

If you like rare stake, that's fine. Taste is personal and subjective after all. But you have to know, when you eat a rare steak, you are eating a tougher, less flavorful, piece of meat than one which has been cooked properly.

The entire idea that extra rare or rare meat is superior to properly cooked meat in any way is provably false.

Rare meat, is unquestionably tougher, and less flavorful; with a chewier, more rubbery, more fibrous texture and mouth feel; than properly cooked meat.
note: This leaves aside preparations that mechanically or chemically alter the meat, without cooking it; like pounding meat paper thin for carpaccio, bathing it in acid for ceviche or curing it with salt or smoke as in charcuterie. 

Four things:

1. Fat
2. Connective tissue and cell wall integrity
3. Fluid migration and concentration
4. Thermal conversion of proteins and sugars

The proper temperature to cook any meat (presuming it is cut and served as a steak, filet, cutlet, or dry roast); for maximum flavor and tenderness, is ALWAYS medium rare.

Let me repeat, and rephrase slightly...

Any meat, if properly cut to be cooked and served on it's own as a piece of meat on the plate (a steak, filet, cutlet, or slice of a roast; as opposed to ground, cubed, stir fried, pulled, chopped etc...), and cooked using a high temperature dry cooking method (dry roasted, broiled, seared, sauteed, grilled, or fried); will be both most flavorful, and most tender, when cooked to medium rare.

I rephrased it, because sometimes you don't want the most tender or most flavorful piece of meat they can get. In particular, you might want meat to be firmer, or crispier; or you may want it to take on the flavor of a sauce etc...

"Meat" is what we call the fluid filled fibrous muscle tissue of animals. The fibers of meat are constructed from relatively strong, relatively thick walled cells (which themselves are mostly proteins), bound together in bundles with weaker proteins, fats, and a mixture of relatively weaker, and relatively very strong connective tissues (also mostly proteins).

Proteins are entangled together in tightly twisted and curled shapes, in what scientists call "folding". To my mind folded proteins bound up together look like a tangled mat of hair, but that's a messy analogy.

When we cook food, we're doing is "de-naturing" the proteins with heat (denaturing can also be done with acids, strong bases, and organic solvents like alcohol). De-naturing partially breaks proteins down, causing them to "unfold", losing their secondary and tertiary structure; but leaving their peptide bonds intact (vs. enzymatic breakdown, which dissolves peptide bonds).

This almost always makes something made from proteins mechanically weaker, but also more solid, firmer, and less flexible. That's why eggs get hard when they're boiled, and meat gets firm when it is cooked; and when cooked too much, either become crumbly.

Basically, the less flexible something is in general, the easier it is to break into pieces with mechanical force. Flexible stuff bends and stretches, inflexible stuff doesn't.

With meat in particular, you get a fairly complex reaction to heat. When you denature the proteins in muscle fibers, they lose flexibility, and become firmer and tougher (until they lose structural integrity entirely that is, far beyond well done stage in dry cooking). However, muscle fibers are bound up together into bundles with binding proteins and connective tissues; and when those proteins denature, the bundles loosen up, allowing the fibers, and fiber bundles, to move relative to each other.

Medium rare is defined rather simply as the temperature at which muscle fibers, connective tissues, and fats; break down and weaken enough (through rendering, fluid migration, and protein denaturation) to allow them to move relative to each other; causing interstitial spaces in the fibrous muscle tissue to widen and fill with fluid, which in turn allows the fibers of the meat to move relative to each other easier.

Medium rare is a different temperature, for every different type of meat; because meats all have slightly different composition and structure. In addition to different protein composition; different meats have different water content, different fat content and composition, and different connective tissue content and composition; all of which respond to heat at different rates and temperatures.

Medium rare for beef isn't quite the same as for venison. Duck isn't quite the same as goose, which isn't quite the same as chicken; and none of them are the same as beef.

Ok, so why is medium rare meat both more tender, and more flavorful, than rare? After all, if overcooking makes meat tough and flavorless, shouldn't cooking the meat less, make the meat more tender?

Up to a point, yes; but in rare meat, the processes of protein denaturing, fat rendering, and fluid migration, haven't yet worked enough, to allow the meat to become tender and more flavorful.

At medium rare temperatures, the relatively weak connective tissues and binding proteins between muscle fibers soften enough to allow the fibers to move relative to each other; making the meat more tender.

At medium rare temperatures, the relatively strong connective tissues between hard fats and muscle fibers, and between different muscles in the same cut; also break down a very small amount (it takes a very long time for them to break down completely; thus, stewing and barbecuing), allowing those hard fats and connective tissues to be more easily separated from the muscle.

At medium rare temperatures, soft fats liquify; becoming part of the flavorful fluids in the interstitial spaces, and lubricating the fibers of the muscle making them slide past each other. At temperatures below medium rare, they do not.

At medium rare temperatures, hard fats (which are actually fats bound up with connective tissue) start to soften enough to loosen their bonds with muscle fibers and other connective tissues, making it easier to separate.

At medium rare temperatures, after the soft fats have liquified and connective tissues have weakened; the cell walls in the muscle fibers also weaken enough, that the fluid pressure inside them becomes high enough to force some of the fluid out of the cells, and into the interstitial spaces, between the fibers. This forces the fibers apart further, widening the interstitial spaces making more room for more fluid, and loosens the structure of the meat even more.

That is what makes for tender, juicy meat.

At temperatures below medium rare, none of these happen; or at least not enough. At temperatures above medium rare, it all happens too much.

In case you missed it, that means meat is both more flavorful, and more tender, at medium rare; than it is at rare, or at any temperature above medium rare.

Conveniently, with most common meat cooking methods (hard searing, sauteeing, high temperature roasting, broiling, or grilling), on most cuts of meat; medium rare is also about the lowest temperature you can get a well cut piece of meat that has been properly prepared, to get protein and sugar conversion on the outside surface and outer 1/16"; creating flavorful compounds, and a pleasing mouth feel.

Oh and by well cut, I mean properly cut for the muscle, properly trimmed of fat and connective tissue (which varies for the dish, and for the cooking method); and the right thickness (which again, varies for the meat, the muscle, and the cooking method).

Generally speaking, for the type of cooking and the type of dishes we're talking about, this means 1/2"-3/4" thick for chicken breast, 3/4" to 1-1/4" for pork chops and tenderloin, and 1" to 1-3/4" thick for beef steaks.

Much thicker and you can't get relatively even doneness across the whole piece of meat, without using two cooking methods (sous vide and searing, or searing and low/medium temperature roasting for example). Any thinner, and it's hard to get the outside of the meat browned, without overcooking the interior.

Also, again with most cooking methods on most cuts of meat; reaching medium rare temperatures drives off enough moisture from the meat that flavors are concentrated and intensified, but the tissues still have enough integrity to hold the majority of the flavorful fluids and liquified fats in. Any lower, and this intensification doesn't happen; any higher and the tissues lose too much integrity, and give up too much fluid, making the meat drier and tougher.

To simplify:

Any temperature lower than medium rare, fats remain solid, connective tissues and muscle fibers remain tightly bound together, and muscle tissues do not break down to allow fluid into the interstitial spaces. Any higher and you are driving off more moisture than you need to; therefore making the meat tougher, and drier.

Now that doesn't mean you can't cook a piece of meat to a higher or lower degree of doneness; it just means it won't be as flavorful or as tender.

For example, in the case of chicken, even without regard to the food safety issue; most Americans don't like the texture of it when served medium rare. Because chicken is already a very tender meat to begin with (because it has a larger relative volume of liquid, and both weaker connective tissue (the fibers of the muscles are looser), and weaker muscle fibers compared to beef; it's perceived by most Americans as TOO soft, or mushy, when served medium rare. For the most part, we would rather have a firmer, slightly less flavorful piece of meat, than a "mushy" one.

Most Americans would prefer their chicken served medium well (completely white, completely clear juices, very firm texture, slightly dry); than have even the slightest bit of pinkness to their chicken, never mind medium rare. I personally prefer my chicken medium (slightly pink meat, with slightly pink juices, firm but tender texture, and very juicy).

On the matter of pork... well that's a real tragedy.

The majority of Americans for the last 100 years have grown up falsely believing that pork had to be cooked to medium well, or well done; to avoid foodborne illness.

In fact, up until recently, USDA guidelines for cooking pork recommended it be cooked to an internal temperature of between 160 and 165.

This produced several generations of people who believed they didn't like pork; simply because they were being served dry, stringy, tough, overcooked garbage.

Thankfully, even the USDA has finally recognized they were wrong, and now recommend that pork be cooked to an internal temperature of 145 degrees (still higher than it needs to be, but a lot better).

That said, most people are still not willing to accept medium rare pork (130 to 135 degrees); again, because it's texture is "too soft" or mushy (and for the same reasons as with chicken).

If you asked most Americans what they would prefer their pork to be done too, they'd probably say "no pink", which is medium well or well done. However, if you did a blind taste test, most would actually prefer medium (135-140); because it is both tender and juicy, while being firm enough to not be "mushy".

Now, if you like your steak done to higher than medium rare... Frankly, it's either because you don't like beef very much; or it's because no-one has ever served you a steak that had been properly cut, and properly cooked.

If you like steak well done, you were probably served a lot of bad beef or badly cooked beef as a child, and learned that it didn't taste as bad or it wasn't as chewy or rubbery, if it was cooked more (and probably served with a sauce). Now, as an adult, the "fact" that beef that isn't overcooked tastes bad is imprinted on your brain.

Bad quality beef, badly cut, and improperly cooked for the cut, WILL taste better if done to medium well or well... Frankly it can be completely inedible otherwise; whereas if you cook it to well done, you've driven off all the liquid fat and all the moisture, and all that's left is bland fiber to act as a delivery mechanism for salt and steak sauce (and in some cuts, particularly if left untrimmed; the fat that's left is super crispy, and very tasty, like a beefy potatochip... what you like there is the crispy fat, not the overcooked meat).

Unfortunately, poorly cut, poorly trimmed, and improperly cooked steaks are pretty much all you'll get at most places that don't specialize in steak (and in most home kitchens, and at most home barbecues).

As to poorly cut and poorly trimmed, there's two reasons for that. First, because they just don't know any better; and second, particular to restaurants, it's because not properly cutting and trimming their steaks lets them claim what would be a 10oz steak if properly cut and trimmed, is a 12oz steak.

As to improperly cooked... well, most people just have no idea how to cook a steak; or what rare, medium rare, medium, and medium well actually ARE (everyone knows well done).

I confess, often at restaurants I don't know (or ones I know can't properly cut, trim, or cook a steak), I will order my steaks medium rather than medium rare.

I do this because if a steak is poorly cut, or if it's not trimmed properly before cooking; cooking it to medium will mask some of the problem.

Also, because most cooks have no idea how to properly cook a steak, and pay at best minimal attention to each individual steak being cooked (they've got a line of orders as long as your arm waiting); you have a slightly better chance of them not screwing up your steak too badly, if you order medium.


Because it's in the middle. If they screw up to one side or the other, the steak isn't likely to be inedible; and if they overcook it too badly, they'll make you another one.

Usually, it's easier to tell when something is overcooked rather than undercooked; and because they are always under time pressure and cost pressure, most GOOD cooks are going to err on the side of underdone rather than overdone. An underdone steak takes less time, and you can always re-fire it if you need to. If you over cook a steak, you have to throw it out and make a whole new one, taking both more time, and more product.

Of course, there's another risk to ordering medium, which I'm going to talk about in a minute...

Now, if you like a rare steak, or extra-rare steak, why is that?

For one thing, it's probably not true; because you've probably never had an actual rare steak.

First, in many states it's actually a health code violation to serve a rare steak. If you order rare, and they cook it to the minimum health code standard, what you'll actually get is something on the low side of medium rare.

Second, even where it's not illegal, most places don't serve a truly rare steak, because they literally can't cook one.

Most places that aren't steak specialists cut their steaks too thin to be served at much less than medium rare (because thinner steaks cook faster, and because they look like "more" meat on the plate for a given weight of steak). Unless you cut your steaks to well over an inch thick, it's very difficult to get a steak to "look done" on the outside, before its cooked to above true rare temperatures.

To get a steak thinner than 1" to rare at all (never mind it being a matter of skill), while still looking nicely browned on the outside (or with good grill marks), you need to have a special high output searing burner, and get heavy pan (a standard thin steel or aluminum sautee pan or skillet won't do it. You need heavy thick steel or cast iron skillet) literally smoking hot (about 500 degrees); or use a special high temperature grill (over 700 degrees). Most restaurants that aren't steak specialists, don't have either; and steak specialists don't cut their steaks thinner than 1".

Without that special equipment, a thin cut steak will still be a sickly grey color when it reaches rare temps internally.

Third, again, because most people have no idea how to properly cook a steak, and because most places that aren't steak specialists cut their steaks too thin, and because most places don't have the right equipment; most of the time if you ask for medium rare, you actually get medium.

A medium rare steak, is unquestionably better than a medium steak (most of the time).

Oh and all of those things I mentioned above apply to home cooks as well, only more so.

So most people who think they like rare steak, actually like medium rare steak.

There are a few out there who like their steaks "Pittsburgh rare", "Chicago style", or "black and blue"; who really do prefer rare steak... but not many.

The other risk I mentioned in ordering medium, is actually because of that issue specifically.

If a cook knows what they are doing cooking a steak, but they aren't in an actual steak specialty place, they will often deliberately cook a steak a half a degree of doneness above what you order.

They do this because they know, if they give most people what they ASKED for (and think they want), it will often as not be sent back for a re-fire as underdone.

Because people are so used to steaks cut too thin, and cooked improperly; they internalize what is actually medium as "medium rare", what is actually medium-well as "medium" and so forth.

Most people who order a rare steak, if they actually got one, wouldn't eat it.


So, as is not all that unusual for me, I haven't slept properly in days.

Unfortunately, I've also been on the edge of being sick the entire time.

Not any more.

This morning I managed to sleep for about two hours (from 8:30 to 10:30), and woke up full blown sick; fever and all, with the added bonus of my eyes being all burny and swollen, and glued shut with gunk.


I've been laid up in bed all day, and probably will be laid up the next couple.

At least maybe I'll get some damn sleep.

Wednesday, December 21, 2011

It's not exactly flying cars but...

Sometimes we forget how amazing the world we live in today is; and frankly, for all that sucks about life (and god knows, there's plenty of that to obsess over). just how great it is to be an American today.

This Louis C.K. video (or similar vids from Adam Carolla and Patton Oswalt) has been linked so much it's beyond viral and into the cliche zone (I would insert the ironic trademark symbol here, but that would be even more cliche)... but the reason it's become cliche, it's because it's so completely and obviously true:

There was a great commercial back in 2000 (for IBM actually), narrated by the incredible voice of Avery Brooks (a.k.a. Hawk from Spenser for Hire, and Captain Sisko from DS9 ) where he says "where are the flying cars. I was promised flying cars":

That commercial is so popular, when I typed in the name "Avery Brooks" into my youtube search box, the very first thing the auto-complete came up with was "Avery Brooks flying cars".

God knows, I'm a geek, a futurist of sorts... hell, I'm even, literally, a rocket scientist (well... an airplane and rocket engineer. I have a degree in aerospace engineering) by education; so yeah, I've quoted that commercial about a billion times.

Anyway, the whole thing above is about the expectations we set for ourselves 40 and 50 years ago. Where we thought we would be, and how we would be doing things... how much we thought the world would have changed.

We thought that by 2000 we'd be the Jetsons. Instead, it's now almost 2012, and in a lot of ways, things haven't really changed.

Oh that isn't to say I'm discounting the many fundamental and revolutionary changes that have occurred in society, and in technology in that time... but life today would be MOSTLY recognizable to someone from 1962.


It's actually pretty amazing to see what we got right, what we got wrong... but more interesting to me, is the things we never even thought of; and how those have changed our lives, and the world, in ways we never could have predicted.

Forty five years ago in "Star Trek"; Gene Roddenberry looked into a world 300 years in the future, and he saw interstellar travel, and a post scarcity society (with instantaneous rearranging of bulk matter into whatever you want, no substance is rare or scarce, except those few we cannot manipulate; and with near limitless energy... the only scarcity is on the periphery of civilization)... but computers still took up rooms, and we all still accessed big central mainframes by remote links from essentialy dumb terminals and i/o devices.

He reasonably accurately predicted cell phones and pervasive communications technologies; but completely missed mobile computing, pervasive computing, and mobile data networks.

The most amazing thing is though, in America, even the periphery has access to the comforts and conveniences that our technological society has afforded us.

Two years ago, my wife and I decided to move someplace, and live full time, where we would want to vacation. Someplace beautiful, quiet, peaceful... someplace away from everything. We chose to move to, EXTREMELY rural, Bonner County, in north Idaho.

This is where we live:

You might note, there isn't any urbanization anywhere near the middle of that picture. I live on the shore of that big lake, in the middle of those big woods, in the middle of those big mountains (in between the Selkirk and Cabinet ranges of the Rockies), in the middle of... nowhere.

The nearest city of more than 100,000 people (Spokane, WA) is about 65 miles away. That picture represents about 100 miles square, bounded at the top by the Canadian border, at the bottom by Coeur D'Alene, on the west by Spokane, and on the east by Libby, Montana.

Although about 750,000 people live in the area shown on this map (which, given that's 10,000 square miles is actually almost nothing. It's 75 people per square mile; about half the average population density of the earth, and about 10% less than the U.S. average) about 675,000 of them live in that bottom corner, between Spokane and Coeur D'Alene.

From the Bonner county line, just north of Athol Idaho, to the Canadian border, and in between those two dark lines representing the WA and MT state borders; is 3300 square miles (about 70-75 miles high depending on where you are, and exactly 45 miles wide). That area has a total population of less than 50,000; almost all of whom live in the dozen or so small towns (the largest is 7,000, most are under 500) and unincorporated townships (including us) within 5 miles of the two US highways (us95 and us2) that run north/south, and roughly east/west.

There are more remote, and more sparsely populated areas in the lower 48 of course; but not many. We are very definitely "away from it all", "in gods country" etc... We are Rural with a capitol R.

I'm not saying it was a hardship, by any means. In fact, I think it's among the best decisions we'ver ever made, and I honestly believe it has saved my life. It simply means we had to give up, or accept lesser quality or variety of; many of the luxuries and conveniences we had become accustomed to in the modern American Urban Island.

One of those compromises, was in communications.

Internet access is much more difficult and expensive here than it was in Scottsdale; and smart phones, less useful; because you don't have the pervasive high speed networking you do in the urban island, and because connectivity in general is spotty in the region (both because of the lack of sites, and because of the terrain; which is pretty rugged once you get off the main road).

When we moved up here we were both on AT&T (with iPhones), and we had to change to Verizon; because although AT&T offers service in region, that service was (and still is) poor, with extremely iffy coverage.

Of course, the fact that in a community 50 miles from an interstate highway, you could get both wireless voice, and data service, AT ALL, is an amazing thing; we've grown pretty spoiled and lazy and expect everything everywhere... but again, that's Louis C.K.s rant above.

Also, it turns out that moving to Verizon was great; because we moved on to the Android platform, which we much prefer to the iPhone (for many reasons, as I've gone into many times here before).

At any rate, when we moved here we switched to Verizon.

When we switched, they had good voice coverage but marginal data coverage and speed. However, within a few months they had upgraded the 3g coverage and speed in our area, such that our smart phones were once again the useful little limpets we had become addicted to living in the metroplex.

Our primary internet access was (and still is) a different story however.

Where we live, in an unincorporated area a few miles south of the county seat (Sandpoint, population about 7,000) there actually is some DSL and cablemodem service; but it doesn't extend as far south as we are. Our options were dialup, satellite (completely unacceptable), and microwave (expensive, but high bandwidth and low latency).

We chose to go with microwave; and for the most part we've been happy with it. The kicker is, the cost: We pay $180 a month for a business class 5Mbit synchronous connection, two static IPs, and two VOIP lines.

That's a lot.

Most people in this country pay $50 or less for their internet access (admittedly, slower than us. The average DSL speed is 512k and the average cablemodem is 1.5Mbit; but also the low end service rates are usually $30 or $40 a month); and in most major urban areas in this country, you can get a 10Mbit or even 20Mbit connection at home with your cable company, for $49 to $79 a month.

We could be paying a lot less for non-business class service; but that would be at 512k bandwidth, no VOIP capability, and no quality of service guarantee. With the business class service, what I'm really paying for is the guarantee that I'll get the bandwidth and the latency I've been paying for (or I don't pay).

I need that guarantee, to run my business, and to be able to work from home for my corporate masters; as I did for most of the last two years.

It's also why we won't be changing any times soon; even though it is so expensive. No other service locally, can give us the guarantee that we're going to get the bandwidth, latency, or uptime that we need.

We looked at the possibility of using the Verizon 3g service as our primary internet; but the combination of limited bandwidth, monthly data caps, and no quality of service made that impractical and a poor value for us.

But this post is about how much we have, even though we ARE so rural; not what we don't have.

As of this morning, what we have, is 5 to 12 megabit 4g wireless service.

A few months back Mel and I upgraded our 18 month old Droid Xs, to Droid Bionics, with 4g capability. I also got a 4g MiFi router for when I travel (it looked like I was going to be doing a lot of travel at the time... I probably will be again too).

They've been great, but we only had 3g up til today; with a theoretical bandwidth of about 2Mbit, and realistically a couple hundred Kbit of actual bandwidth (it's not nothing sure; but it's not really enough for everything you might want to do).

I did a speed test from my phone earlier... 8Mbit a second.

In Sagle Idaho, the middle of nowhere, I get 8Mbps... Enough to live stream HDTV, or download a full DVD... on my PHONE.

It's not flying cars, but it's something.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Improperly prohibited from exercising my rights, and from conducting my business

I operate a small, independent gunsmithing shop. I am also a firearms instructor. I write a gun blog, and run a gun forum. I have written for many other gun web sites. Firearms are a huge part of my life every day. They're a big part of my work, a big part of my play, just a big part of me.

A couple months back, in preparation for opening up Crispin Arms, I applied for my 01, 06, and 07 FFLs; to become a dealer in and manufacturer of, firearms other than destructive devices, and ammunition for firearms other than destructive devices (I'll be applying to be an SOT for Class III items after the FFL comes through). All of these are licenses and certifications I have held before, but not in several years so I couldn't simply renew them.

That's the basic FFL status required to build, sell, and repair firearms and ammunition; and it's about $400 in fees (non refundable fees by the way).

The Class III fees work out to about $1000 to start (on top of the other fees); and as a low volume dealer, about $500 a year after that(under $500k gross they cut the $1k fee in half); but I won't be paying those for a few more months.

Just after I announced Crispin Arms, I tried to buy a new firearm, and I was denied on my NICS check.

This has happened before, as my father is a convicted felon with the same name as me; and I was able to correct it with a phone call each time; so I wasn't worried. I figured I'd have it sorted in a few days.

Coincidentally, the next day, I got a letter from the ATF (the ATF doesn't handle NICS, the FBI does) saying that I was denied in the standard NICS check they run on FFL applicants; and that I would need to reapply after appealing my denial and correcting any condition which caused it (oh and they were keeping my fees).

This time I made my phone call to the NICS bureau, and they told me I'd need to go through the written process; they couldn't clear up the problem over the phone (or of course, tell me what the problem was).

Thankfully, they've set up a web page to submit the form now, so you can submit the forms directly, and not have to go get your forms certified by a local law enforcement official then mail them off into the bowels of the federal beast (you still need to do that if they need your prints to verify your identity. In this case they didn't).

Ok, so I sent in my appeal form and letter, which I will copy (redacted) here:


I am not a prohibited person, but was improperly denied permission to proceed with a firearms transfer on a NICS check, transaction id number XXXXXXX.

I am a natural born U.S. citizen. I have never been dishonorably discharged from the military; indicted, charged, or convicted, of any offense classified as a felony; or involving substance abuse, or domestic violence, or punishable by more than one year in prison. I have never  been committed, or judged mentally ill, or incompetent. I am not a fugitive from justice. I am not an addict or illegal user of controlled substances.

I am a concealed weapons permit holder in ID, UT, and AZ (licensing me to carry concealed weapons in 38 states). I also undergo full background checks several times annually as part of my employment; most recently eight weeks ago.

When I was denied, I paid a professional service to conduct a full background check; including a full court records search, federally and for all my previous states of residence. I also had my local sheriff  (Bonner county Idaho) conduct a criminal background, and "wants and warrants" check. I found no information to cause me to be denied.

I can think of three possible reasons for having been denied:

1. Prior to 1993 I used my mothers maiden name, Dinsmore. My SSN XXX-XX-XXX was issued under Dinsmore, but has been corrected to Byrne (I included it on the form 4473). Since 1993 I have had serious problems with multiple incidents of identity theft, under both names.

2. My father, Christopher Byrne III, is a convicted felon. I have been denied before because of this, several times over the past 15 years; but each time I have been able to resolve the problem over the phone.

3. My wife and I have been involved in a custody case; during which her ex-husband has committed fraud and perjury; and filed false reports of child neglect, abuse, and kidnapping against us (we were fully cleared). I have never been served with a restraining order, nor to my knowledge has one ever been issued against me; however he (or someone involved with him) may have done so fraudulently.

Thank you,

Christopher J. Byrne IV

A few days later, I received a letter from the FBI; with the reason for my denial, the record identifiers associated with the denial (3 of them); and the process for appealing my denial further, or for correcting the records which caused my denial, at which time I can re-apply.

The reason...

According to the FBI, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts is reporting me to them as a fugitive from justice!

Oh... It gets better...

They are, in theory, reporting me as a fugitive, over three unpaid civil traffic violations, from 1999.

Not even misdemeanors, civil traffic violations.... or rather, failure to appear citations, on bench warrants, issued for not paying the fines on those civil traffic violations.

Now the thing is, I knew about all of that. I have attempted to resolve this several times over the past twelve years, and it's caused me no end of trouble.

The most irritating part of that is, the fines aren't even valid. They are for unpaid violations which occurred while I wasn't even in the state; and then all the fines, fees, hearings, orders, court costs etc.... that piled on because I was never notified of these fines, for these traffic violations I didn't commit.

It made the state of Arizona repeatedly suspend and/or cancel my drivers license for example, because every 6 months Masachusetts would report that I had a Massachusetts license that was suspended.

I ended up having to go to court over this several times, and have spent thousands of dollars fixing it; but I thought that I finally had it fixed. My driving record is now clean and clear; and I haven't had a problem with my Idaho drivers license at all.

Apparently, I was wrong.

You see, Massachusetts has stopped screwing with my drivers license; but now they're screwing with my livelihood directly... but not intentionally because...

According to MASSACHUSETTS, they are NOT reporting me as a fugitive!

I contacted the the state DOJ, the three courts associated with the records, and the Massachusetts state police the day I got the letter from the FBI. According to every law enforcement agency and relevant court in MA, I am not a fugitive.

In fact, according to all their computer systems, searching by name and by SSN; I don't even have any current, outstanding, active indictments, charges, warrants, orders, or fines. That's why I came up clear on the criminal background check I had done in MA after I was denied.

The three courts in question did have paper records of the original issues from 12 years ago; but they were all in the "dead" files. The only thing in the active computer records was a pointer under the case record number where to find the record.

So, obviously, I'm not a fugitive from justice. I am not a criminal, I haven't been charged or convicted of anything; and I've passed a couple dozen criminal background checks (including a top secret security clearance renewal) since 1999.

In fact, after I talked with Massachusetts, I went back to the FBI and the ATF; and both acknowledged that I am not a prohibited person under the law; only that I need to correct an improperly categorized record.

Seriously, why in the hell does the FBI have me listed as a fugitive?

In 2001, after 2 years of not paying the fines associated with these civil infractions (at which time I lived in Ireland by the way), three different courts in Massachusetts, issued three bench warrants. Then after 90 days, those courts cited me for failure to appear on the bench warrants.

Oh... It gets better...

Any lawyers reading this, or anyone who has dealt with warrants, or fugitive retrieval, or is a cop... I'm sure you're all scratching your heads right now, because this shouldn't be happening.

Now technically, there is a legal definition of "fugitive from justice". The federal fugitive database (part of the NCIC) is only supposed to accept a report of you as a fugitive if you meet that definition, which boils down to:
  1. If you are actively fleeing a felony trial, indictment, charge, prosecution, warrant, or arrest (some states handle things a bit differently from others, thus the laundry list).

  2. If you are actively fleeing from criminal trial, indictment, charge, etc... (as above) on certain categories of misdemeanor (mostly domestic violence, mental health, drugs, alcohol, and financial fraud stuff).

  3. If you have escaped or absconded from or failed to report for parole, probation, incarceration, or other judicially ordered custody, detention, or supervision (including non-custodial detention like house arrest)

  4. If you are CURRENTLY in violation of an ACTIVE court order requiring your presence at a certain time or date (summons, subpoena to appear, material witness order etc...).
Moving out of a jurisdiction is not the same as fleeing by the way. Fleeing prosecution or arrest is a crime in and of itself, and requires intent, and deliberate action to avoid.

At this point I feel it's important to note, a failure to appear citation on a 12 year old bench warrant for an unpaid civil fine is not any of those things.

Interstate non-felony warrants are only supposed to be active for 24 months (technically it's a "reasonable time"; but that is conventionally presumed to be within the statute of limitations or maximum term of imprisonment for the offense in question; which for a misdemeanor is presumed to be 24 months), unless there is an outstanding active indictment, or the warrants are reissued; or there is specific cause to believe the offender fled the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution (leaving the jurisdiction lawfully is not fleeing the jurisdiction to avoid prosecution).

I have never been indicted or charged with a crime (other than failure to appear), and these warrants have never been reissued.

Since none of those things apply, every law enforcement agency in the country OUTSIDE of Massachusetts considers me to have a clean and clear criminal record. I've had my local sheriff do a wants and warrants check on me, and nothing shows up, even from Massachusetts. As far as he's concerned I'm clear.

Not only that, but because the bench warrants are on civil fines and failure to appear for a civil hearing, even in Massachusetts I would not be subject to criminal detention on warrant service. Technically the failure to apear is a criminal offense, so I could be arrested (optionally at the law enforcement agencies discretion); but on arrest I would be booked, criminally cited for failure to appear, and released on either a payment of the citation ($500 fine plus $80 in fees) or ROR with a promise to appear (at the discretion of the duty magistrate); and a new summons for another hearing date (I verified this with the MA state police).

Basically, it's only slightly more serious than a glorified speeding ticket; and as I said, even the Massachusetts state police doesn't list me as having any active warrants.

But it gets better...

There's three quirks of Massachusetts law that make this so screwed up:
  1. Massachusetts law makes no distinction between felonies and misdemeanors; and therefore there is no difference between a felony warrant and a misdemeanor warrant.

  2. Bench warrants in Massachusetts never expire (even for misdemeanors and civil infractions); the warrant must be discharged, or a judge has to vacate it. In many states, non-felony bench warrants expire after 2 or 3 years, and need to be reissued to remain active.

  3. In 2010, Massachusetts changed their criminal records privacy regulations and reporting policies, in response to some MA supreme court decisions from 2004-2009. As a result of these changes, they do not include detailed offense or charge information (or even the date of offense, or the date of the warrant) in their reporting to other organizations or agencies, except under certain conditions. They require a court order; a specific, signed and approved record request by an authorized individual or agency; or a certified request in person, or with notarized and LEO agency signed off proof of identity, of the individual whose record it is (or their legal guardian, spouse, child, or next of kin). Without such a request, the record has no detail; only that it exists, the type of record (only 10 types: criminal charge, criminal indictment, criminal conviction, criminal commitment, criminal warrant, custodial order, probation order, parole order, medical/psychiatric order, or order of protection)  and a CJIS record number (not even a case number; though the court, year, and case number, are actually embedded in the CJIS number). 
As the fedgov doesn't consider a non-felony warrant active after 24 months unless the warrant is reissued, this still shouldn't be an issue. It should have been reported in 2001, and by 2003 the warrant would have been classified as inactive, and not popped up in the system (and again, most misdemeanors, are not disabling, and no civil infraction is disabling).

And from 2003-2010 that was the case. I hadn't been denied on a NICS check in years; and as I said, I have always been able to correct the problem over the phone.

But, because Massachusetts doesn't report any distinction between felony and misdemeanor, or any charge or offense date, or even a date of warrant or date of offense; any warrant reported from Massachusetts is counted as if it was an active felony warrant, by the FBI system (because it may be, and they have to treat every warrant as if it were, since they don't know any better).

But it gets better...

A few years ago, Massachusetts basically went broke (or rather, they had to admit they were broker than they could easily cook the books to cover); and they went through a desperate revenue drive. During this drive, they resurrected all the old fines and fees, all the old child support and uncollectable back taxes, all the old summons and old bench warrants etc... they could find; basically to maximize the fines and fees they could collect.

At the same time, the state was centralizing and computerizing their court records, warrant records etc... into something they call the "Massachusetts Criminal Justice Information System", or CJIS (most states have built a CJIS at this point, in order to exchange information with the FBI, NCIC, Homeland Security etc... Many got funding from the fedgov to do so).

The CJIS processed years of back warrants and fines as a result of this funding drive; and they now automatically report all "active" records to the FBI databases every 180 days. Since in MA a bench warrant never expires, they consider it an active warrant.

It was the CJIS that improperly reported me to the FBI as a fugitive, with three active warrants.

Their system makes no distinction between a 12 year old bench warrant for a civil fine, and a felony fugitive warrant; and because their system makes no distinction, when they report it to the FBI, the NICS makes no distinction.

From 2003 to 2010 this wasn't an issue; because the warrants aged out of the federal system. Now that Massachusetts is re-reporting them every six months though; they appear in the FBI automated system to be active, valid, current, felony fugitive warrants (though a 90 second look from a human being will show that is incorrect).

The NICS is supposed to have a records of all ACTIVE warrants, indictments, convictions, orders of commitment and protection, and active pending charges only; along with the charges and offense dates associated with any such records. Part of the NICS is correct for me: it doesn't show any active felony or misdemeanor arrest warrants, charges, or indictments etc... But because Massachusetts reports a failure to appear bench warrant on a civil traffic violation the same way it reports a felony murder warrant; the NICs can't tell that I'm not on the damn 10 most wanted list.

Now, if you do a wants and warrants or criminal record check on me in any state INCLUDING Massachusetts, I come up clean. I've never been charged with, or convicted of, anything more serious than a traffic violation. I've passed multiple criminal background checks for employment purposes, I have multiple CCW permits, I've been buying and selling firearms for years...

I am NOT a prohibited person. During this process, the FBI has acknowledged that I am not a prohibited person. The ATF has acknowledged that I am not a prohibited person. However because one state is reporting me as a fugitive in their systems, they cannot simply correct the record and process my paperwork.

Oh, they could; but unless I go through "the process", they won't.

But it gets better...

At this point, I can either get Massachusetts to correct their record and re-apply, or I can go through the secondary appeal process with the NICS bureau.

I called the Massachusetts CJIS and they said that they can't correct the records without a court order. Their position is, as far as they're concerned the records are correct. I have an undischarged bench warrant, that has not been vacated, and there is no such thing as a felony or misdemeanor warrant in Massachusetts; so they can't exactly report a difference between the two. It's not their fault the FBI interprets them as they do.

Because MA is so screwed up, so desperate for money, and because they recently changed the way they report warrants; I can't be an FFL until I fix their BS.

Said BS is spread across three different courts, in three different cities by the way...

...and here's the crowning glory...

As I mentioned above, I didn't actually commit these violations. I was never cited, given a ticket, or given a summons. I wasn't even in the state when they happened, nor was I in the state when the bench warrants were issued, or when the failure to appear cites were issued.

In fact, I wasn't even in the country when the warrants and cites were issued; and I certainly wasn't served with anything.

If I get in front of a judge, with a lawyer, and they actually decide to listen and not just rubber stamp the states fines and fees (usually they don't listen, no matter what your proof is); then all this should just be dismissed immediately.

Of course, they'd still make me pay all the "costs" and "fees", including a fee just to have a hearing instead of them rubberstamping the fine. That "fee" by the way, is as much as the fine for the violation, PLUS the court costs and fees; and for some things there's even a bond that you have to put up, and that you forfeit if you lose.

Yes, the ACLU is actually suing Massachusetts over this practice by the way; as it is rather clearly a denial of due process. Unfortunately, a denial that many states have emulated, as they try to resolve their own budget issues, and overcrowded courts.

But it gets better...

Because they are bench warrants, with a failure to appear cite; I can't resolve the issue from home, unless a judge specifically decides I can have a lawyer act for me in absentia. Which means I need to pay a lawyer to go to court for me, ask the judge to allow him to appear for me in absentia, and hope the judge agrees (they usually don't).

I've been through this before by the way, on the bogus suspended license issue. It cost me $2500 in fines and fees, and another $3500 in legal fees, but I was finally able to get a lawyer to act for me.

If not, I'll have to go to Massachusetts, be arrested in three different jurisdictions, be processed in three different jurisdictions, pay three citation fines and fees ($1740 worth), get three new summons for a date some time in the future (usually 30-90 days; but almost certainly on different days) and go home; then 30-90 days later come back for the hearings, just so I can have the judge vacate the warrants.

Oh and of course, I have to pay the court costs, fees, fines etc to have the warrants vacated, no matter what. Then I have to go through the second hearing on the fines and fees; which,  if I am lucky, they will have right then; but most likely they won't, because the attorney representing the agency which issued the fine wont be there, with their records, and another hearing will be set for another 30-90 days after that.

In the best possible case, I can be arrested and processed in one jurisdiction the day before they are holding traffic hearings, then come back the next day and ask to have my hearing that day at the convenience of the court; wait all day to see if they hear me; get heard, and have the warrants vacated, then ask to be heard on the fines that day, or the next morning, or the next day they are holding traffic hearings.

Then I would repeat that two more times over the course of two or three weeks (since each one would take at least two days, maybe three, even if the judge did decide to expedite the hearings; and the courts may have conflicting schedules), hoping the judges all agree to hear me on a walk in, and then agree to hear the fine the same day or the next day.

And, as I said above; even if I can get them to do that, they're still going to charge me costs and fees at least equal to what the fines were anyway.

Frankly, I just don't have that money. Not even close to it.

Ok... so as I said above, I can appeal for a supplementary hearing from the NICS bureau, get them to purge that record from the NICS database "permanently",  add a note to my record, and give me a unique ID number to keep me from being denied again because of it.

If I go that route, because there is a "valid" record being reported by a state, and the state won't correct it; I have to pay for a federal investigation, then pay for a federal hearing, get that hearing, argue my case that the MA records should be purged as non-disabling (as they clearly are not), and have the presiding official decide that is what they should do.

Oh and the time to do that is anywhere from 9 months to 2 years by the way; and thousands of dollars

Yeah... I don't have that money either; or that time.

Oh and if I go that way, and MA changes how they report the records at any time, I'll have to go through the whole thing all over again...

So, to Massachusetts it is.

For now, a lawyer friend of the family (my attorney in Massachusetts recently retired) is looking into trying to get all this sorted for me remotely, and for as little money as possible. Otherwise, it could be six months or more before I get my FFL.

Now, let's be clear; both the FBI and the ATF acknowledge that I am not a prohibited person; that this is just a paperwork problem, and that I am legal to own and possess firearms. I'm legal to obtain a firearm through a private intrastate transfer.

I'm even legal to repair and customize firearms, under someone else's FFL, because you don't have to actually permanently transfer a firearm to an FFL or gunsmith who is repairing or servicing it (including modifications, but not "remanufacturing" or manufacturing a new firearm). I have a partnership arrangement with a local FFL until my own FFL comes through; and I am never transferred a firearm to perform gunsmithing work on it. The FFL receives the firearm for repair or service, and writes it into their bound book as such. I take the firearm offsite for repair or service without transfer, which is allowed, under the auspices of the FFL holder. When I'm done, the FFL writes the firearm back out to the original owner, without a permanent transfer occurring (I simply cannot manufacture a new firearm, until my FFL comes through. I can assemble an AR from already manufactured components, but I can't make a new custom 1911).

And yes, I have confirmed all that with the local ATF inspector; it was necessary for my deal with the local FFL.

...But they won't fix the NICS without going through the official process; and because the NICS is "the system" for an FFL to obtain clearance to transfer a firearm, even though I am not a prohibited person, no FFL can transfer a firearm to me right now, and I can't be granted my FFL.

You might have noticed, the whole thing is pretty much arbitrary and capricious, from start to finish.

I have been improperly denied the exercise of my constitutionally guaranteed rights. Rights which the supreme court acknowledges pre-exist our nation and our constitution.

I have the right to obtain a firearm for any lawful purpose. That right is independent of our constitution, and our government; and is supposed to be legally protected by both. However, because of a paperwork issue, which everyone acknowledges is just that, a paperwork issue, not an actual condition of disability or prohibition; I am prevented from acquiring a firearm from a federally licensed firearms dealer.

This, is why background checks are always going to be a problematic issue with gun rights. The idea of a background check to prevent prohibited persons from having firearms transferred to them is OK; but what happens when the background check is wrong?

Is it ever acceptable to deny someone the legitimate and lawful exercise of their rights, simply because others may be prohibited? Or because of a computer error? Or because of a dispute between the way one agency keeps records, and another agency interprets them?

Those who strongly defend free speech will say "Of course not", when they're talking about speech...

Funny enough though... most of those same folks change their tune when we're talking about guns...

Apparently, JayG has been a Knight of the Republic this whole time...

... and neglected to tell us:

I swear to god that was not deliberate. I opened up the character editor and set a couple parameters, and all of a sudden, there he was the spitting image of our favorite northern Massachusetts blogger.

Star Wars, The Old Republic arrived on Friday; and on saturday I got my early access validation. I've been playing since Saturday night (in between trying to sleep off a nasty head and chest cold).

Oh and this is the avatar I eventually chose for my first character:

Look a little familiar?

Anyway, at the moment I'm playing a Human Jedi Sentinel on Wall of Light; and I've reached level 15 playing through up to near the end of the first Coruscant phase.

This might be the first MMORPG since City of Heros I've actually liked, and wanted to play for more than a few minutes.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Faith, Hope, Love

One of my extended family members is having a hard time and reached out to some of us for understanding. This is my open letter to him.

When I received your email I wasn't quite sure what to think. For one thing, I'm not one of your kids, and that's who it was addressed to. But in many ways I might as well be one of your own, in the way that you have been emotional support for me since my mother passed away.

You said you've been emotional and you don't know why, and that you've been crying and you don't know why. You've been reliving old memories and seeking to share them with your family. I may know why you're experiencing all of this emotion, but first you'll need to hear me out.

This year, for my birthday and our anniversary, I specifically asked Chris to buy me this:

Posted by Picasa

I'm not a big jewelry person, but this struck me in a way that I can't explain. I've worn it every day since. I'm sure you recognize the symbology, as it stands for Faith, Hope, and Love.


[1] If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

[2] And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing.
[3] If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.
[4] Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful;

[5] it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful;
[6] it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right.
[7] Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.
[8] Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away.

[9] For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect;
[10] but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away.
[11] When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.
[12] For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood.
[13] So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.
Abide is such an odd word. This is the best definition I can find:
1. To put up with; tolerate: can't abide such incompetence. See Synonyms at bear1.
2. To wait patiently for: "I will abide the coming of my lord" (Tennyson).
3. To withstand: a thermoplastic that will abide rough use and great heat.
1. To remain in a place.
2. To continue to be sure or firm; endure. See Synonyms at stay1.
3. To dwell or sojourn.
 I've learned the truth of faith, hope, and love enduring all. I've also learned that sometimes, that's all that remains.

* * *

I've recently returned from a very dark place. That shouldn't be a surprise to you; I've dropped off the radar and withdrawn from pretty much everything. There was a point I reached where I wondered how much more I could take and how many "just one more day"s I would have to endure.

My kids are gone and that's left a big piece of me missing while I worry about them every moment of every day. There are times this year where I feared for my husband's life and waited in absolute terror for test results. Friends and family members have passed on or are going through hard times themselves. We've lost our major income stream, with no dependable replacement as of yet. Chris's health is so up and down I'm not sure what to expect any given day, and my health has been going through some massive changes. We've dealt with lawyers, IRS agents, a dozen or more major crises, and serious life uncertainty and upheaval.

There was a point at which I could not take it anymore.

It's amazing what happens when you reach the point of too much. Some of what you've stored inside starts coming out to make room for what endures.

Faith, hope, and love.

At some point, the fire becomes so hot that it starts melting away the impurities inside, the dark spots that lay hidden. This is what happened to me, and I believe that's happening to you. Every trauma never dealt with, every buried pain, every repressed memory starts bubbling to the surface. Your soul seeks release so it can make room for what you really need.

Faith, hope, and love. The alloy that forms a much stronger you.

In my case, that meant finally finding the source of my pain and trauma, and being able to start clearing it out. My trauma turned out to be shame, which I cultivated and grew to the point that it severely infected my life and made it difficult to function. Shame does that, if you don't let it out in the open. Shame shared evaporates like so much mist.

I don't need to know what pain is hiding in you that is attempting to release itself. I have suspicions as to what led my mother to commit passive suicide by not taking care of herself; I know just enough of what went on in the family to know that whatever secrets she held were shameful indeed.

She passed on that sense of shame to me. It's taken me this long to rid myself of it. She hid her shame, and I'm convinced it contributed to her death.

I know that whatever secrets she held back, you most likely witnessed in one way or another. I also know that there's other reasons for your pain, even if I don't know the details.

What matters is this: your pain is no longer lying dormant, and while you go through the process of letting it out, the world will look dark indeed. The pain obscures your vision, and it feels like you're lost in darkness.

The darkness is temporary.

* * *

I used to think of faith as a nebulous concept that I couldn't really grasp. I heard it spoken of, but never understood. Faith can only be truly understood in the midst of hardship and darkness. Now I understand.

Faith is knowing there's a light at the end of the tunnel, even if you can't see it.

Hope is the trust that when you find that light, things will be better.

Love is what keeps you from doubting your faith and giving up hope. Love is what keeps one foot moving in front of the other, even if you don't know where you're going.

If you keep walking forward, you will eventually find that light.

* * *

At the darkest part of my tempering, I desperately needed reminding. That weight around my neck is enough of a reminder to keep looking for the good, the silver lining. With some work, the good in any situation can be found.

Soon the custody issue will be decided, and hopefully the world will return to normal. Finding Chris's cancer was painful, but because we know what is wrong we have hope that he will soon be healthier than he's been in a decade. That experience also tapped us in to a medical community where much more than the cancer is being treated, to the point that he can walk again, think again, and otherwise be himself again.

From the deaths of friends and family, new life is springing up. Adapting to the changes meant life improvement for many of us, while we re-examined life and what we wanted before we're gone ourselves. Losing the income stream ending up being a very good thing for Chris; with me covering our medical insurance, he is free to pursue new endeavors on his own terms. Working for MegaBank made him miserable; now he is working for himself.

Chris's health and work status unpredictability has forced me to adapt and be flexible in new ways, as has my new job. I like my job, I like the people I work with, and I've found a very good support network there. I've also been diagnosed with hypothyroidism and ADHD, and treatment for both has drastically improved my life and my outlook.

Most of all, learning to deal with the varied curveballs thrown to us this year has made me stronger and my marriage stronger. If we could get through this, we can get through anything.

Increased strength, increased adaptability, and increased flexibility has also enabled me to be much better at kicking ass and taking names, not to mention opened pathways for me to follow my dreams.

I don't think any of those very positive changes would have come about if I hadn't gone through this dark period and come out the other side. If I hadn't been forced to deal with my pain and trauma, and let the fire of life burn it off, I would not be this strong.

Let the pain come up. Figure out what it's trying to teach you. Share it with someone. The moment you bring the pain out in the daylight and let the impurities out, you will start to heal and feel better. Then you will find the reason, the good that will come from fighting through the darkness.

We will all be here for you while you go through this. Listen to that instinct to share the past; it will help you uncover the reason why it is coming back to you so forcefully.

It will also draw you closer to your family, and create a place of safety where they can share their pain with you.

The pain, anger, and grief you're going through is temporary. Faith, hope, and love will endure, and grow.


Thursday, December 15, 2011

Project Hal - Part 2: Space

This is the second post (the first post was the introduction and announcement, here) in my series on setting up the shop for Crispin Arms and Crispin Fabrication (an endeavor that I have decided to call Project Hal; a Shakespearean pun).

The first step in setting up any shop, is acquiring, and readying, your shop space. Depending on where you live, this can actually be a difficult, and potentially expensive; proposition.

Thankfully, when we chose our home here in north Idaho, we were thinking ahead. We chose a home in an area that is zoned multi-use (residential, commercial, industrial, and agricultural use are all allowed in my zoning area; within certain, fairly loose, limits). Not only that, but we chose a home with fairly large pre-existing shop space.

On the lower right of this picture, is my house. On the upper left, my shop:

My office/mancave/hobby/electronics/fine work/computer work space is about 3/4 of the bottom floor of the house by the way (the main living floor of the house is the second row of sliding glass doors, with the elevated deck running around two sides).
I've got about 800 square feet of space down there (under 8 foot suspended ceilings. Convenient for the wiring). My wife has her own 256sq foot craft room, with a bunch of worktable and storage space; separate from my workspace.
My main space is split into about half workspace, with desks, benches, bookcases and shelving, a water cooler, and a beverage fridge; about half "lounge" area, with a large "8 person" sectional sleeper sofa/double recliner, coffee tables, big screen TV, stereo, PS3 etc... I've also got a private 3/4 bath, a kitchenette (microwave, toaster oven, small flattop griddle, hot plate, small food fridge, electric tea kettle, and a french press) and a 64sq ft "secure" gun room. Honestly, the only reason to go into the rest of my house, is to be with my family.
At 28 foot wide by 32 foot deep (interior floor space),  the shop is a pretty decent overall size of just about 900sq feet; but it has some... eccentricities...

As you can see from the picture, it has an extra-wide (24 foot x 8 foot) garage door on the main floor. There are also a decent sized windows on each wall (large windows on the side walls, small windows upstairs and down, on the back walls), and a side entry door on the left side of the building.

Oddly, on the second floor, there's a sliding glass door opening out onto 10 feet of air. It was intended to allow for large items to be passed in (reminiscent of the classic hay loft door for a barn), as well as to provide a lot of natural light (the original owner used the space as a painting studio).

Out of that 28x32, it only has a 26x26 fully clear square. There's a 36" wide stairway, with a 36"x36" 90 degree landing at 36" off the floor; descending to a 36"x72"x12" concrete footing/concrete steps in the back right corner; taking up about 1/4 of the width of the back wall, to 72" depth (and restricting the height of another 1/4).  There are also built in 2 foot deep workbenches and cabinets along the full length of the left wall; and it's got 9 foot ceilings (8 foot clear of the garage door hardware and lights).

Basically, it's not quite a 3 car garage, but it's a lot bigger than a standard two car garage.
A note: This "two car garage" thing is actually a small point of irritation for me.
The American standard 2 car garage has a "minimum" size of 18x20 (by home appraisal standards); but in the age of the SUV, 24x24 has become the convention. There is no standard for a 3 car garage, but by convention, it would have around 36 feet of clear interior width. 

At 28 feet wide, my shop would technically be wide enough (though a bit of a squeeze by conventional standards) for a 3 car garage; with only 26 feet of clear width though, it would be a bit tight.  
Why do I say that though, when most cars are less than 6 feet wide? Or, put another way, why has the convention become 24x24 for a two car garage?

Even my bigger than full size pickup (Dodge megacab 2500), including the mirrors, is only 79.4" wide (6 feet 7.4 inches) unless I unfold the built in towing mirrors at which point it expands to 96" wide (8 feet). Its also one of the longest production vehicles in the world at just over 22 feet (including the stinger on the receiver hitch), and one of the tallest at almost 7 feet tall (It's 8" taller than a "standard" half ton pickup. That includes a 2" factory lift for being a 2500 with the heavy duty towing package; 4" more for being a 4x4; and a 1.5" lift from upgrading to 35" tires)
I personally don't think my HUGE truck should be what the "standard" is based on; but even if it were, my truck is longer and wider than any SUV currently sold, and you could still fit three of them in a 24x24 "standard" 2 car garage. A Chevy suburban is 19 feet long and 6'7" wide, and the same three would fit in the "standard" garage.
My actual passenger car (a Cadillac STS) is only 72.4" (6'0.4") wide and 196.3" (16'4") long; and it's a bigger than "average" car.
In fact, of the top 20 best selling passenger cars in America, the Chevy Impala is both the longest at 200" and the widest at 73" (The Camry is 190" long and 71" wide. The Accord is 195" long and also 73" wide). So ALL of the best selling passenger cars are under 17 feet long (and all but one is under 16 feet long), and all but two are 6 feet wide or under.
At 28x32 I could fit 8 "average" cars  in my floor space. Even in my 26x26 clear square space, or in the 24x24 American "standard" 2 car garage; you could still fit six "average" cars. 
Of course, no-one would be able to park, get out of, and unload a car, without a few feet of clearance to the sides and rear; but the idea that a two car garage needs to be 24x24 is ridiculous. You don't need six feet of space between two cars, three feet to either side of the two cars, and 8 feet behind their trunks.
My personal opinion, is that the two car garage "standard" should be a clear floor space of about 22x22; which still gives plenty of clear space between and around your vehicles, and room for cabinets and wall hanging storage. I think you could comfortably get away with 18x20 and still have more space than you do parking at the mall. The three car garage "standard" should be a clear floor space of about 32x22, and you could get away with 26x20.

What the "standard" really reflects, is that our garages aren't used for vehicles. Mostly, they're used for workshops and storage space; and the vehicles are an afterthought...

Frankly, even in cold states, most people I know with a "two car garage", don't use their garage for cars at all. Most of the time, if there's a vehicle in the garage, its a motorcycle or a quad.
The shop also has about half the main floors usable space (with 6 foot or higher ceilings) on the second floor, with  a very large amount of storage space under the rafters (behind the six foot walls).

Really, it was never built as a garage, and was always intended to be a shop, and office/work space on the second floor. As I noted above, the original owners even built in cabinets and work tables along one wall; and they deliberately built the stairs very wide, with a wide landing and clear entry zone, to allow for large items to be brought up and down.

Even with the eccentricities though, I've got enough space for all my shop tools, workflow and walkaround room, materials storage etc... Particularly since all my shop tools are on mobile bases.  I can just reconfigure things as I need, for the project that I am working on.

It's not ideal; but ideally I'd have 10000sqft of climate controlled space, with 24 foot ceilings (to fit a tall tail on a plane) a 48 foot hangar door (to fit wings), and my own landing strip.

Ideally, I'd also have an unlimited budget. This shop is included in my house payment. It'll do.

The bigger issue, was that, by the time I actually started this project; we'd had over 18 months of crap accumulating in the shop.

I started cleaning it out a couple months back; but up 'til a few days before the announcement, about half the clear floor space was taken up with "crap".

A few weeks ago, this is what the shop looked like:

It's not clear from this angle, but basically, there's about 200 square feet, piled a solid 5 foot high (some spots 7 foot), of nothing but (mostly flattened) cardboard boxes:

This was MOST OF the first load (we closed the tailgate and packed some more in):

And what was still left after the first load... probably two more loads:

Again, it's not really clear from the pic, but that pile is STILL 5 foot or more high, 10 foot deep, and probably 14ft wide.

That would be most of the boxes we moved with, plus most of the MANY MANY boxes we get from mail order (probably 1/2 our monthly shopping comes from Amazon. Thank god for Prime); and of course, a large percentage of the boxes from all the tools bought for the shop.

I'mna leave you hangin here though; because I'm not going to be showing pics of the whole shop, until I'm ready for some of the tool and storage posts.