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A screenshot from the King County Elections web site confirming that my vote by mail ballot has been received and checked.My ballot will be counted!

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Ban Assault Weapons

Below is the short letter I just sent my Congresswoman asking her to support a ban on assault weapons like the AR-15s used in the Sandy Hook shootings and most recently last night the shootings at Pulse nightclub in Orlando. Given that she has in the past received a 93% rating from the NRA, I will for this and many other reasons also be voting against her in both our upcoming top two primary and in the general election. I encourage you to do the same for your representative.

Rep. Herrera-Beutler,

I am writing to ask for your support of H.R. 4269 Assault Weapons Ban of 2015 or similar legislation in order to stop the sale of assault weapons, such as the widely sold AR-15 family of guns, in the United States.

There is only one purpose to such military weapons: to kill as many people as possible in as short a time as possible. I saw that in the news this morning as I read about the mass shooting in Orlando, and I thought back to the school shooting at Sandy Hook, both tolls enabled by the excessive death-dealing capabilities of the AR-15.

I do not believe any private citizen needs such a weapon, nor do I believe that any reasonable interpretation of the Second Amendment grants an unrestricted right to buy or own such a weapon.

Please let us do this one thing to help stop America’s exceptional gun violence.

Thank you,
Nicolas Ward

This latest attack has many components, not the least of which is a widespread fear and hatred of LGBT people, Latinxs, and Muslims, perpetuated by many American politicians, mostly Republican, for electoral gain. This one issue is not nearly enough to undo our collective action or inaction over the decades, but it does feel like one pressure point we can push back on again and again.

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Pirate Cinema

Pirate Cinema
Pirate Cinema by Cory Doctorow

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

I bought this as part of an ebook Humble Bundle some time ago, and finally got around to reading it. It only took me me three flights to or from Boston to finish it! (This was largely due to finding other activities on the plane, like movies, iPad games, and designing D&D encounters.) That is for me a somewhat unusual context for reading a book, but it’s a good chance to find time to do so.

This is very political fiction; Doctorow has a strong copyleft position that comes out both in the overall plot of the book, and occasionally in multipage lectures conducted in the voice of one of the characters. If you agree with that position, you’ll probably like the story. The main character is famous for his recut films, using the movies of a particular actor to tell new stories; this naturally gets him in trouble with intellectual property authorities, who in this dystopian near future have significant powers. As the popularity of his repurposed art grows, the powers that be in Parliament and Hollywood try to put a stop to his art.

As a quick aside, from someone who strongly believes in Fair Use protections, I would recommend watching Kirby Ferguson’s series Everything is a Remix. It uses several examples (including Star Wars, The Matrix, and Steve Jobs) to demonstrate how art stands on the shoulders of giants even when considered a new work. The films the main character creates are to me clearly transformative works that are new art, so I definitely agree with Doctorow there.

The story is set mostly in London, so there’s a fair bit of British slang throughout. That, combined with the Chaotic to Neutral alignment of most of the characters, did make it a little hard for me to identify with them. The story is mostly interesting; there weren’t really any slow parts. I did find the denouement kinda disappointing; in that regard it reminded me of older Stephenson. It felt like the book very quickly wrapped up the remaining threads after the climax in an unsatisfying way. On the other hand that probably means I wanted to see more from these characters.

This is the first novel of Doctorow’s that I’ve read, though I have tackled a few of his essays online at various points. I didn’t really notice anything distinctive about his style, outside of the political statement underlying the story. I liked it well enough, so I definitely want to read some of his other books.

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My Representative Responds on Police Militarization

A few weeks ago, I wrote my congresscritters regarding the Department of Defense’s 1033 Program, expressing a desire to end the transfer of military-grade tactical gear to state and local police departments. I haven’t heard back from my Senators yet, but my Representative, Jaime Herrera Beutler, responded:

Dear Mr. Ward,

Thank you for contacting me about the Department of Defense’s 1033 program and recent events in Ferguson, Missouri. It is an honor to serve as Southwest Washington’s representative in Congress, and your thoughts are important to me.

I share your concerns regarding the militarization of local law enforcement. There is a fine line between keeping our communities safe and utilizing overwhelming, unnecessary force against our citizens.

The Department of Defense operates the 1033 program to provide local law enforcement agencies with the ability to obtain excess equipment and weapons the military no longer requires. As you know, this program has been brought under heavy scrutiny since the killing of Michael Brown, an eighteen-year-old from Ferguson, Missouri by a local law enforcement officer.  Since then, we’ve seen footage of officers of St. Louis County law enforcement equipped with body armor, tear gas, and armored vehicles in response to violent protests and riots spurred by the shooting.

The program has been operated by the Defense Logistics Agency’s Law Enforcement Support Office since 1990, and now over 8,000 federal and state law enforcement agencies in all 50 states participate. While the 1033 program provides combat equipment, it also supplies office furniture, generators, and copiers which some agencies may be unable to afford.

The use of force by police deserves ongoing scrutiny, and police forces should be accountable to the communities they serve to ensure that all citizens are receiving adequate protection. We’ve seen that the tragic incident and subsequent protests in Ferguson have forced local police forces to consider their posture toward and interaction with their local communities, and I hope this continues.  Law enforcement agencies must judiciously deploy the weapons and equipment they receive. While a proportional response should be used to stop criminals rioting, shooting innocent people, looting, and throwing Molotov cocktails, the excessive use of tactical weapons when simply protecting peaceful protests exercising their First Amendment right is unacceptable. I will continue to monitor the situation in Ferguson as the investigation continues and will work with my colleagues in Congress to ensure that the 1033 program is reviewed and properly utilized, with the protection of all citizens as the utmost goal.

Thank you again for contacting me on this important issue. I invite you to visit my website at www.jhb.house.gov for additional information or to sign up to be kept up to date on this important issue. Please do not hesitate to contact me if I can be of assistance.

Sincerely,

Jaime Herrera Beutler

Member of Congress

A few thoughts on this response:

  • She has a valid point which is that this particular program is used for other supplies, which I have no particular objection to; I did not consider that case in my original letter
  • She seems to just be interested in more oversight of the existing 1033 program, and will not support significantly modifying the program or similar programs to prevent the transfer of tactical weapons and gear
  • She seems fine with the use of military equipment by police in the abstract, but agrees that the response in Ferguson was disproportionate… which is at least better than some members of her party’s commentariat
  • She did not address my concerns about SWAT tactics at all, or a militarized policing stance in general, focusing solely on the specific events in Ferguson

I haven’t decided yet if I’ll write back. It does not sound like she will entertain a significant curtailment of this kind of policy. I think the next step for me is to write my state and local reps to discourage them from requisitioning military weapons and vehicles.

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End Police Militarization

I sent the following letter to my U.S. Representative (Herrera Buetler) and my U.S. Senators (Cantwell and Murray), asking them to end the transfer of military surplus weapons and equipment to our state and local police forces. I’m planning to write similar letters to my state representatives, and to our county sheriff and city police department to ask them to end the practice here in Washington, Clark County, and/or Vancouver.

If you are concerned by how military-style force has been used by police in Ferguson, MO and elsewhere, I would encourage you to write something similar to your congresscritters.

This Newsweek article is a good overview of one of the sources of military surplus, the Depatment of Defense’s 1033 Program.

(I made slight edits to the text below, including salutation, for each person I sent it to. You are welcome to use the non-personal portions of my text.)

I am writing to request your support of the Stop Militarizing Law Enforcement Act, soon to be introduced by Rep. Hank Johnson, which amends the NDAA to end the so-called “1033 Program” that supplies surplus military equipment to police across the country. I also encourage you to support any similar bills which end the practice of providing (either directly, or funding for) military-grade weapons and equipment to our police departments. Their mission is to “protect and serve”; they are not here to conduct a war against our fellow citizens.

While my letter is directly inspired by the images coming out of Ferguson, MO this week, I have been thinking about this issue since the recent ACLU report on the massive surge in the use of SWAT-style tactics and gear in policing over the last decade. I do not believe we need a militarized police to conduct the War on Drugs, or the War on Terror. More and more people are being injured or killed by police officers conducting their duties as if they are at war, and this needs to stop.

Until we recently moved to Vancouver, my wife and I lived in Cambridge and Watertown, MA. Last April, during the final manhunt for the Marathon Bombers, we lived through the lockdown and saw a massive militarized police presence descend on our neighborhoods. Our local Target’s parking lot became part of the command center for this operation. This show of force felt to me fundamentally un-American, visually like something from a military dictatorship. While it may have seemed necessary, in the end Dzokhar Tsarnaev was captured because an observant citizen noticed that the tarp on his boat was loose. If anything we were blessed that no innocents were accidentally injured or killed during the sweep. Even in this terrorism case, the police could have remained police, and not soldiers.

I do not believe our police departments need leftover MRAPs from the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan to do their jobs. They do not need to be wearing fatigues or tactical gear, or to be carrying fully automatic weaponry, which only serves to intimidate the very people they are paid to protect. In Ferguson we see such equipment being used to intimidate citizens and journalists, violating First Amendment rights to free assembly and a free press. This is a terrible abuse of state power.

It is not “soft on crime” or “soft on terror” to stop arming our police like they are soldiers; it is a necessary step to end a dangerous encroachment on our fundamental freedoms as citizens. Please help end the militarization of our police.

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Nicolas Ward

Software engineer in Natural Language Processing research by day; gamer, reader, and aspiring UltraNurd by night. Husband to Andrle
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