July 2005

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I’ve just been reading through the last few days of snail mail. I get lots of stuff purporting to be “great opportunities” or “exciting promotions.” Here’s one telling me how to “get the most” out of something. There are lots of exclamation points.

The thing is, all these letters ultimately want me to pay them money. Some of the things being offered might be interesting, but there’s nothing terribly exciting about me paying them. Really exciting would be them paying me.

My friend Ken used Google Earth to make this little movie of one of Chicago’s more famous streets:

LSD.wmv (Warning! Hi-Res 41.6 MB download!)

It’s all pretty basic, but I like it.

Oh No. Scotty died. 5:30 this morning.

James Doohan, the burly chief engineer of the Starship Enterprise in the original “Star Trek” TV series and movies who responded to the command “Beam me up, Scotty,” died Wednesday. He was 85.

Doohan died at 5:30 a.m. at his Redmond, Wash., home with his wife of 28 years, Wende, at his side, Los Angeles agent and longtime friend Steve Stevens said. The cause of death was pneumonia and Alzheimer’s disease, he said.

I never knew much about Doohan. I do remember noticing at some point that he seemed to have lost a finger. This article explains that he was in the D-Day invasion and was hit by machinegun fire.

He was thrice married and a father of nine, the last of whom was born five years ago when Doohan was 80 years old.

Asked if he ever got tired of hearing “Beam me up, Scotty” he said:

“I’m not tired of it at all,” he replied. “Good gracious, it’s been said to me for just about 31 years. It’s been said to me at 70 miles an hour across four lanes on the freeway. I hear it from just about everybody. It’s been fun.”

John Tierney has a New York Times article about Richard Paey, sentenced to a mandatory minimum sentence of 25 years in prison for drug trafficking.

Actually, the prosecutors in the case never proved that he was selling drugs. The law they used simply defines possession of an ounce or more of illegal drugs as trafficking. The police watched him for quite a while, but they never caught him selling drugs.

His drugs weren’t really illegal, either. He had Percocet (oxycodone), Lortab (hydrocodone), and Valium (diazepam). Apparently he filled prescriptions for 400 pills per month. That’s about 13 pills per day, or each pill taken 4 times daily, which isn’t really a whole lot. It’s especially not a lot when you consider that Richard Paey has a serious back injury from a car accident 20 years ago. He also has multiple sclerosis. He’d been receiving this kind of medication from his doctor in New Jersey.

So why the problem? It appears Paey didn’t actually have a prescription for all the drugs he was getting. He had recently moved to Florida and apparently had trouble finding a doctor who would give him the medication he needed, so he forged prescriptions from his previous doctor.

Well, he says he didn’t forge the prescriptions, but the jury didn’t believe him. This was really the major factual dispute. If he had a prescription, he’d be free and clear.

Let’s assume the jury got it right. The worst you can say about Richard Paey is that he became addicted to medication he was taking legally for his pain and used illegal means to obtain more of the same medication. For that crime, the State of Florida is sending a guy with a serious back injury and MS to jail for 25 years.

Oh, did I mention that Paey is in a wheelchair? Did I also mention that Richard Paey is married and has three children?

Finally, did I mention that he was arrested in March 1997 and it took until April 2004 to convict him because the first trial ended in a mistrial and the second verdict was thrown out by a judge? That’s right, the prosecutor went to trial three times to throw a wheelchair-bound father of three in jail for fake prescriptions for pain medication.

They offered him plea bargains for a lot less time, but he refused to plead guilty. Reason magazine has this:

The prosecutors, who finally obtained the draconian sentence that even they concede Paey does not deserve, say it’s his fault for insisting on his innocence. “It’s unfortunate that anyone has to go to prison, but he’s got no one to blame but Richard Paey,” Assistant State Attorney Mike Halkitis told the St. Petersburg Times. “All we wanted to do was get him help.”

Got that? The State’s Attorney’s office, which could have dropped the charges at any time, is saying this is all Richard Paey’s fault. They say he should have taken their deal. (Wife-beaters everywhere think exactly the same way. “If she just did what I told her, I wouldn’t have to beat her!”)

Actually, the “he’s got no one to blame but [himself]” line is somewhat suggestive. If the prosecutors had just put away a guy who committed a real crime—one with a victim, say—they wouldn’t be blaming him, they’d be taking credit for themselves.

Paey’s wife has explained that he didn’t want to take the deal because he was afraid that with a conviction for illegal drugs, he would have trouble getting his pain medication.

While he’s in jail, that turns out not to be a problem. His jailhouse doctors have got him on a steady flow of morphine. It’s the best pain relief he’s ever had.

Richard Paey sums it up this way:

“We’ve become mad in our pursuit of drug-law violations,” he said. “Generations to come will look back and scarcely believe what we’ve done to sick people.”

(Hat tip: Public Defender Dude.)

Update: Something wonderful happened.

Looks like the Peoria Police Department has its own page of prostitution-related arrests.

Apparently there were complaints, because this one comes with dating advice from the Chief of Police:

If your wife is not meeting your needs, try meeting hers. It can do wonders. No wife at home? Try finding a decent woman whom you can love, cherish and respect and then make her your wife. If you are not willing to put in that kind of effort, try a dinner and a movie.

So, we should barter for sex with food and entertainment instead of doing a straight cash deal?

Sigh. I understand that local residents and businesses don’t want streetwalkers in front of their places. But I don’t think hassling the street trade is a good way to handle the issue of prostitution.

Anyway, a little later, Chief Settingsgaard writes:

It was stated in your article that posting photographs may destroy families, cost people their jobs and even lead to suicides. Allow me to offer an alternative thought. It is criminality that leads to these dire consequences, not the act of holding criminals accountable.

No Chief, it’s both. Punishing people for crimes—whether it’s their photo on a web site, a few years in jail, or a needle in the arm—is bad for the people being punished. They suffer. That’s the point of punishment. There’s no getting around that.

The idea, the hope, is that the people being punished deserve to suffer. Another way of looking at it is that the pain they suffer should be offset by the good that comes from discouraging their behavior.

I just don’t see that in this case.

(I should add that Chief Settingsgaard doesn’t write the laws, he only enforces them. Also, from what I read, he’s a reform Chief who is expected to raise the standards of the Peoria police department.)

(Hat tip, Kerry Howley at Reason.)

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As I write this, Britain has 40 dead from a series of bombings. The BBC found a note on an Islamist website that claims the attack for al-Qaeda:

In the name of God, the merciful, the compassionate, may peace be upon the cheerful one and undaunted fighter, Prophet Muhammad, God’s peace be upon him.

Well isn’t that a nice way to start a message claiming responsibility for a terrorist attack?

Nation of Islam and Arab nation: Rejoice for it is time to take revenge against the British Zionist Crusader government in retaliation for the massacres Britain is committing in Iraq and Afghanistan.

Oh, yes. Wouldn’t be Islamist terrorism if they didn’t mention the Jews.

The heroic mujahideen have carried out a blessed raid in London. Britain is now burning with fear, terror and panic in its northern, southern, eastern, and western quarters.

Uh, “fear, terror and panic”? From the Brits? I doubt it.

I’m not saying that nobody in Britain is scared today. Of course they are. But…let’s not forget that these are Brits. Londoners. They’ve been bombed before.

The German Blitz during World War II lasted eight months, damaged a million houses, and killed 43,000 people. It was intended to knock Britain out of the war. It didn’t. I don’t think it will this time either.

We have repeatedly warned the British Government and people. We have fulfilled our promise and carried out our blessed military raid in Britain after our mujahideen exerted strenuous efforts over a long period of time to ensure the success of the raid.

We continue to warn the governments of Denmark and Italy and all the Crusader governments that they will be punished in the same way if they do not withdraw their troops from Iraq and Afghanistan. He who warns is excused.

“He who warns is excused”? This is just a version of what every two-bit creep says to the cops as they put the cuffs on. “I told him I’d stick him if he didn’t shut up!”

If issuing a warning made it okay, then the Islamists ought to excuse the United States for the invasion of Iraq, right? That came after years of warnings, some of them even from the U.N.

New York Times reporter Judith Miller was sentenced for contempt today for refusing to reveal who told her that Valerie Plame was a CIA operative. Many states have shield laws that allow journalists to protect the identity of their sources, but there’s no federal law.

Whenever such laws are discussed, one of the main questions is how to define a journalist. In this day of bloggers, isn’t everyone at least potentially a journalist? A law that allowed journalists to protect their sources might allow anyone to claim to be a journalist and refuse to disclose a conversation to a grand jury or a court.

This seemed like a reasonable objection (or at least a complication) to me, until it occurred to me to ask “So what?”

Why not have a universal shield law?

As a practical matter, how bad would it really be if nobody could be compelled to disclose a private conversation? How often are there criminal cases where (1) a witness has to disclose what someone else said, (2) it was a private conversation, (3) it’s admissible, (4) the witness doesn’t want to testify, (5) but does so anyway (instead of refusing or lying), (6) out of concern for a contempt charge (rather than as part of a deal on another charge). My guess is that not many cases would collapse because of an inability to compel testimony in this one special case.

Heck, how often would anyone even know that the conversation took place? This seems like the sort of thing that could only come up in weird circumstances, such as the national security issues present in the Plame case, or when a journalist publishes information from the conversation.

I’ve got to find out more about this. I think I may be on to something.

So there I was, standing out on the sidewalk in front of somebody’s house at midnight, holding an umbrella over my camera, which was mounted on a tripod and aimed out over the rooftops toward where some people I don’t know were shooting off fireworks. I’d had to drive around to find a place with fireworks and enough trees to block the streetlights without blocking my view of the fireworks. Then I had to wait for the fireworks to go up. Meanwhile, people all around were launching fireworks, even though it wasn’t the 4th yet, and even though it was raining slightly (thus the umbrella to protect the camera lens and electronics), but my camera wasn’t aimed at them.

I did get a couple of nice shots, though, which proved I’d had the right plan for taking the pictures. I’ll try to get more of them tonight.

Update: Severe thunderstorms predicted for the Chicago area, so maybe there won’t be any more fireworks photos.