Monthly Archives: October 2006

My Politics In a Nutcase

If you ever want to know more about my political beliefs, just watch this video clip found by regular Hit & Run commenter Herrick of Senator Rick Santorum explaining that the pursuit of happiness is harming America:

(Click to Launch Video)

One very short summary of my political beliefs is that Senator Santorum is a horse’s ass. Just about everything else follows naturally from that.

Santorum ridicules the idea that people should be able to do whatever they want to do as long as no one gets hurt. What else is there? What justification is there for government intervention in the private affairs of Americans if no one is being hurt?

Allowing people to do whatever they want to do as long as no one gets hurt is the whole point of government. Don’t take my word for it, read what Thomas Jefferson and the rest of the signers of the Declaration of Independence had to say about it:

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed.

Broadly speaking, I acknowledge no legitimate limits to my right to the pursuit of happiness, unless my pursuit interferes with someone else’s pursuit of happiness. I acknowledge the same principle for everyone else: As long as their pursuit of happiness does not interfere with mine, I have no objections that merit the enforcement of law.

In opposing the pursuit of happiness, Rick Santorum is exhibiting the kind of un-Americanism that is all too typical of Republican candidates (not that they have a corner on the market or anything). It’s starting to show, too. A week before the election, he’s 13 points behind in the polls and trading at 7.3 at intrade. Rick Santorum is about to lose his job.

Update: As an example of what I mean by Republican un-Americanism, John Tierney is pointing out that using the Republicans’ narrow definition of morality, there is no moral majority. Eight million Americans were on-line gamblers until the Republicans took that away. Over a hundred million Americans have tried marijuana, and more than 200 million think it should be legal for medical use.

I neither gamble nor smoke, but with that kind of busy-body attitude, it’s only a matter of time until the moral scolds get to something I care about. In America, us “sinners” vastly outnumber the Republican righteous.

The New Tax Collectors

[Update: At the request of a member of the family described in the included news story, I’ve replaced their names with generic references to keep this story from coming up in searches for their names.]

You know how in the Bible the lowest of the low are the tax collectors? I’m no theologian, but I’m pretty sure that’s because tax collectors at the time weren’t the dreary government bureaucrats we’re all used to. They were armed men who came and took people’s stuff, often with little law behind them and even less reason.

The D’Alliance refers us to a story in the Daily Record of Morris County, New Jersey:

The Morris County Prosecutor’s Office has filed a lawsuit to take control of 11 vehicles and $30,219 seized from suspects during its Operation Painkiller crackdown in July on the use and sale of Oxycodone by young people.

The forfeiture lawsuit, made public Thursday in state Superior Court, Morristown, asks a judge to terminate any property rights the owners have to the money or vehicles because the cash and cars allegedly were obtained through, or used in furtherance of, criminal activity.

The lawsuit targets three vehicles owned by [parents] of Whippany. Their 19-year-old son, [Junior], was one of about 58 young people arrested on or around July 27 in drug raids. [Junior] has resolved a conspiracy to possess Oxycodone charge by being enrolled — without admitting any wrongdoing — into the county’s Pre-Trial Intervention probationary program for first-time offenders.

In other words, the prosecutor’s office wants to take all this stuff even though they haven’t proven a crime has occurred. This is not just one crazy prosecutor’s bizarre twist to the law. It’s something called civil forfeiture, and it happens all the time.

Say you get caught selling drugs. The cops arrest you and take the drugs. Even if you beat the charge, or plea it down, or arrange for some kind of non-punitive intervention, the cops aren’t going to give back the drugs. It’s the same if they take burglary tools or a murder weapon. These things are the tools of a crime, even if no crime is proven.

Law enforcement—and the legislatures that enable them—have been extending this idea to cover other less-obvious tools of the crime, most notably cars, cash, and homes. If you sell drugs out of your home, the police might take it. If you try to hire a prostitute from your car, and she turns out to be a policewoman, they can take your car. If you have cash on you that you might have used or earned in a crime, they can take your cash.

Civil forfeiture apologists claim this is no different from taking drugs or burglary tools or murder weapons, but they’re wrong because of one crucial difference: When the police take dope or burglary tools or guns, they eventually destroy them. But when the cops take someone’s car, they use it. When they take someone’s cash, they spend it. When they take someone’s house, they sell it.

This is one of the most blatantly unconstitutional things that the Supreme Court allows police to get away with. The constitution plainly states that private property cannot be taken for public use without compensation. Destroying the tools of a crime is one thing, but simply taking them and selling them to get the cash can’t be right. Not without ever proving a crime has occurred.

And they do get to keep the cash. In almost all states, some or all of the proceeds from the forfeiture will eventually end up in the police budget. This means that the police department has a material stake in the the arrest. Rather than being disinterested investigators, they have a chance to make money.

This inevitably leads to distortion of law enforcement goals. Take down a drug kingpin who owns nothing on paper, you get nothing but the arrest. But take down a kid growing pot in his parents’ basement, you just might get yourself a house. Take down a 19-year old kid with a bottle of prescription-only painkillers in his pocket, you can get every car he drove in.

(In this case, the charge is actually “conspiracy to possess” which sounds like he may not actually have had any drugs, but was just trying to find a drug deal. I don’t really know.)

[Family attorney Timothy] Smith argued that the family, including [Senior], to whom the four family cars are registered to, were unaware of the younger [Junior’s] activities in three of the cars.

“To seek to have the people buy back their own cars when they need those cars for their daily activities seems to me to almost rise to the level of extortion,” Smith said.

Men with weapons come and take their stuff and demand money to get it back. It is extortion. They can hide behind legal proceedings and explanations, but police departments doing civil forfeiture are the modern equivalent of Biblical tax collectors.

The Anti-War Protest That Wasn’t

Marathon Pundit notes this story:

It’s a mix up that will cost tax payers tens of thousands of dollars. The anti-war demonstration at Washington Square was supposed to start at noon and the Chicago Police Department was ready. But the protesters were a no show, and police say it was a big waste of time and money.

“We never got a permit from the city,” said John Beacham, Illinois Anti-War Coalition.

The police showed us what they say is the permit — approved months ago — with John Beacham’s name right at the top.

“I know nothing about that. We applied for a permit and there was never any confirmation of the permit from the city and a long time ago we decided not to have a demonstration,” said Beacham.

Doesn’t the City of Chicago phone first?

It sounds as if no one from the Chicago Police actually bothered to pick up a phone and call someone at the Coalition.

The City’s application for a parade permit asks for a the address and telephone number of the sponsoring organization. It also asks for the name, phone number, and pager number of a person to contact and of the person signing the application. Then, in a touch of irony, the parade sponsors are supposed to submit the permit application to the City’s Office of Emergency Management and Communications.

Perhaps the information on the application was wrong or missing, but shouldn’t that have told them something?

Beacham had one more theory as to why the police department should have known protesters weren’t showing up.

“The city is usually spying on us and watching us carefully, so we just figured they understood there wasn’t a demonstration today,” said Beecham.

That might be a little paranoid, or self-aggrandizing, but he’s got a point of sorts. Even if the application had no contact information, shouldn’t the Chicago Police have been capable of finding someone to tell them what was going on? In fact, isn’t “finding someone to tell them what’s going on” a pretty good description of much of police work?

Even if the contact information was wrong or fake, how hard could it have been to track down someone from the Illinois Anti-War Coalition? The ABC7 News Team certainly had no trouble finding John Beacham when they wanted to.

I wonder if the the police did in fact coordinate with the Illinois Anti-War Coalition, and the group just backed out at the last minute without telling them. Or maybe this was some sort of clever setup—having people ready to answer the phones and discuss the event plan, maybe sending someone to meet with a police commander to discuss the protest site—just to make the police look stupid.

If so, you’d think the police spokesman would have said something about it. Instead all we hear about is a parade permit issued months ago, and there’s no mention of followup or coordination meetings with the parade’s sponsor.

Frankly, even though the report shows a lot of uniformed officers, I can’t believe this was really a Chicago Police operation. They may have been in it, but there’s no way they were running it.

Update: From a Chicago Tribune article, it appears that someone did call the group, eventually:

Police didn’t learn of the cancellation until police called group officials shortly before the scheduled 10:30 a.m. protest start-time to confirm, she said. That’s when the organizers told the police they were bagging the march, she said.

As a result, police stood in pairs around downtown at major intersections with nothing to do. Now the city may ask the group to pay for the inconvenience.

Am I getting this right? If the group had shown up, the police services would have been provided free of charge (as they should be), but because they didn’t show up, the police are going to bill them for manpower costs?

I don’t see how the city can charge the group for police services when there was no prior agreement to provide police services, unless the group deliberately deceived the police into wasting resources.

Shooting Your Fans in the Foot

Exhibit 1: The Daily Show and The Colbert Report are all over the internet, and Stephen Colbert talks about his YouTube popularity on the show. It’s the internet buzz that everyone on television wants for their own show.

Well…everyone except the folks who run the Comedy Central channel:

I received a couple of emails from YouTube this afternoon (see below) notifying me that a third party (probably attorneys for Comedy Central) had made a DMCA request to take down Colbert Report and Daily Show clips. If you visit YouTube, all Daily Show, Colbert Report and South Park clips now show “This video has been removed due to terms of use violation.”

This is legally correct—they own the show and have the right to control its use—but what the heck are they thinking?

I can understand the case for South Park. They sell the South Park seasons on DVD. As I write, the 8th season is in the top 200 of all DVDs sold on Amazon. If all the best parts of South Park are available free on YouTube, who will buy the DVDs?

But when it comes to the Daily Show and the Colbert Report, are they insane? What else are they going to do with the old episodes? It’s current events television. Nobody wants to even watch last year’s episodes on TV, let alone buy DVDs full of the stuff. Amazon has only one listing for Daily Show DVDs, and that’s for the Indecision 2004 Special

Exhibit 2: Universal Studios presumably decided to greenlight the movie Serenity largely because the series it’s based on, Firefly, had such a rabid fan base. To take advantage of this, they provided an unusually large amout of artistic and promotional material and encouraged fans to participate in the marketing of the movie by setting up web sites and printing bumper stickers.

It seemed to work fairly well:

While the theatrical release of Serenity met only modest success at the box office, the Browncoats campaign maintained momentum through the DVD release, whose success spurred additional sales of the original Firefly DVD. At one point following the release of Serenity on DVD, both Serenity and Firefly were #1 and #2 on’s bestseller list despite the Firefly DVD being over a year old.

But now, this:

“11th Hour Art’s offering for sale and sale of unauthorized “Serenity” shirts may give rise to multiple violations of law, giving rise to various causes of action for copyright infringement, counterfeiting, and unfair competition, among other claims. Recovery on one or more of these claims may include attorney’s fees, treble damages, statutory damages, and punitive damages.”


The Demand continues, and includes such stipulations that within 72 hours I must agree to: pay a retroactive $8,750 licensing fee; the permanent closing of my shop; turn over any merchandise referring to the Universal Property; and provide the last 12 months complete sales records… there’s more, but that’s the gist… oh, except for the threat of federal court and the statutory damages thingy of $150,000 per infringed work… don’t want to go leaving that part out.

I guess you can stop the signal.

Again, Universal is legally in the right. Or maybe it’s Fox forcing Universal to do it. This was a woman selling Serenity-themed T-shirts without licensing the rights.

But what the heck are they thinking? For $8,750 they’re going to alienate a huge number of fans of the show. Not to mention that next time Universal tries to enlist their fans in promoting a movie, they’ll probably get a cold reception.

Or an invoice.

[Update: I have corrected the gender of the artist behind 11th Hour based on a comment by Tom McAllister. His comment also had the best summary of the situation: “this was a ham-fisted first approach by the legal department of a corporation that the fans had thought of as their partners in fantasy.” That’s beautifully put.]

2006 Chicago Marathon Photos – Summary

As regular readers know, I shot a whole bunch of photos of last Sunday’s Chicago Marathon—over 1700 images—and I think I covered 10 to 20% of the field of runners. I’ve posted all these Chicago Marathon images at SmugMug.

The photos are sorted into chronological order based on the camera’s timestamp and separated into six galleries of roughly 300 images. The middle part of the name of each photo is the timestamp (e.g. CM_102351_0321 means 10:23:51), so if you calculate when you passed my location you can look for your picture.

Larger ImageChinatown

I was waiting just after the giant pagoda thing you see in all the pictures of Chinatown. I’ve mapped the location on Google Maps or (if you have it) Google Earth.

That’s a few blocks before the 35 kilometer timing point. So if you or someone you know ran in the race, you can lookup their times (by bib number or name) at the Chicago Marathon results page. Add the elapsed time to the starting time (nominally 8 am) to get the time they reached the 35km point, then knock off a few minutes to get the rough time they passed my camera.

Here are quick links to the galleries based on when the runner reached my location:

9:04:59 am
(when I got there)
10:45:02 am
7:43 pace
race time 3h 22m
Gallery 1
10:45:04 am
7:43 pace
race time 3h 22m
11:05:19 am
8:40 pace
race time 3h 47m
Gallery 2
11:05:20 am
8:40 pace
race time 3h 47m
11:37:20 am
10:09 pace
race time 4h 26m
Gallery 3
11:37:21 am
10:09 pace
race time 4h 26m
11:51:13 am
10:48 pace
race time 4h 43m
Gallery 4
11:51:15 am
10:48 pace
race time 4h 43m
12:05:36 pm
11:29 pace
race time 5h 00m
Gallery 5
12:05:40 pm
11:29 pace
race time 5h 00m
12:32:36 pm
12:44 pace
race time 5h 34m
Gallery 6

All photos are the unretouched, uncropped 10MP JPEGs right from the camera. You can order prints right off that page if you want, but you can also download the original full-resolution image by clicking the “save photo” link. Even if you appear small in the frame, at this resolution you should be able to get a nice picture by cropping in on yourself using any photo editing software.

Let me know if I got you.

[These photographs may be used freely for non-commercial purposes (blog ads are okay) provided credit is given to Mark Draughn at For other uses, please contact me.]

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