September 2007

You are browsing the site archives for September 2007.

Chicago cops complain a lot about the way they’re treated in the local media, which seems to give voice to every complaint about the police. If a neighborhood has a high crime rate, the newspapers publish stories about inadequate policing. When an officer shoots someone, the media is full of family members’ allegations that the shooting was unnecessary or racially motivated. On the police blogs, officers are full of outrage at what they see as unfair treatment.

But that’s not to say there aren’t real problems within the department:

[Chicago Police Officer Jerome] Finnigan, 44, already at the center of a widening probe of corruption, kidnapping and robbery in the Police Department’s Special Operations Section, was charged Wednesday with plotting the murder-for-hire of a former police officer.

In telephone recordings made last week, Finnigan and the officer discussed whether they should hire a member of a Hispanic street gang or a “professional hit man” to kill the officer, referring to the planned hit as a “paint job,” authorities said.

The recordings also captured the officers talking about the possibility of killing an additional officer, who they believed was also cooperating with authorities, according to the charges.

Authorities said Finnigan and the other officer discussed killing up to four fellow cops.

Fortunately for everyone except Finnigan, according to the story, the officer he was talking to was wearing a wire for the FBI.

Bad stories like this one have been coming out of the Special Operations Section for the last year. The excellant Chicago Tribune article by David Heinzmann and Todd Lighty gives a recap of some of the ugliness.

[Update: ARG!!!  Lots of problems! Working on it…]

[Update: Okay, I think I fixed the problem by reloading the templates.]

[Update: Put back author names under the titles. Rebuilt static web pages.]

Windypundit has now been upgraded to run on Movable Type 4.

I started the process of porting Windypundit to the new software several weeks ago by building a test system. I rented space on another shared server and duplicated the whole Windypundit site on it.  I upgraded the blogging software on the test site from MT 3.34 (I think) to MT 4.  It was completely automated and went very smoothly.  Naturally, that wasn’t good enough.

The templates for Windypundit are based on the templates released with one of the early MT 3 implementations.  I’ve tweaked them to work with the newer versions of Movable Type, but it hasn’t always been smooth.  (Some of my regular visitors are familiar with all the problems with the comment pages.)  To fix that, I decided to re-implement all the templates based on the new template design that came with MT 4.

It took about two weeks.

Powered by Movable Type 4

By that time, the folks at Six Apart had announce the beta version of MT 4.01.  They were planning to fix a lot of little problems, so I decided to wait until they officially released the new version.

They did that last week.  So last night I backed up the live site and installed the upgrade.  Then I copied over all the PHP plugins I had written and all of the stylesheets.  Finally, I painstakingly cut and pasted all the templates from the test site to the live site (there were about 50 of them).  I just finished.

There are still a whole bunch of things I have to do, but the bulk of the site is working correctly.  The interface that us blog authors see is very different, but those of you who just read Windypundit shouldn’t notice many changes.

That bothered me.  I did all this work, and there was almost nothing different that anyone could see, except for a few minor format changes.  That’s how I wanted it to be, of course, but I still wished there was something on the site to show that everything had changed.  So I added a little dashboard menu bar across the top of the blog.  It doesn’t do anything that couldn’t be done before (in fact, all the old links are still in the sidebars) but the visual design echos the new look of MovableType.

I’ll be making more changes to Windypundit in the weeks and months to come.  I still need to move all the CSS files into the templating system so I can manage them through the Movable Type interface.  I also want to re-implement all the static pages (such as the About page) using MT 4’s new Page mechanism instead of as separate templates.

And I’m willing to bet that the comments system still isn’t working smoothly…

This is a considerably darker and less kitschy version than the original 70’s incarnation, ala the recently re-envisioned Battlestar Galactica. Exec producer David Eick even hails from Galactica.

It stars Michelle Ryan as Jaime Sommers (natch), the recipient of some unexpected biological replacement parts. She then becomes the target of both the agency that created her and her rogue predecessor, played by Battlestar Galactica’s Katee Sackhoff. Ryan is pretty, but doesn’t have quite the appeal for me that Lindsay Wagner had in the original.

It’s a dark re-telling of the story, with such heavy themes as – should we really be messing around in God’s territory? And – a woman’s decision on what she should do with her own body. Tackling these topics is ambitious, but could potentially drag the show down. I just want to see her kick some bad guy ass, is all.

I want to like this show, but it seems a bit distant and cold. It’s trying hard and is technically well done, but like the bionic rogue, it seems to be plaintively begging, “Tell me you love me!” Well, this was just our first date. Give me a little time and we’ll see.

Bionic Woman premieres Wednesday, September 26th at 9:00 pm / 8:00 Central on NBC.

Continuing my somewhat interrupted series of articles on bad, sloppy, or downright evil lawmaking, I’d like to talk about administrative punishment.

If you commit a crime and get caught, one way or another you eventually end up in court, where if you’re convicted, a judge decides your punishment. So then you serve your time, pay your debt to society, and get on with your life, right?

Not so fast. In addition to the punishment the judge gives you, you face other punishments as well. For example, Virginia drivers are subject to huge fines for traffic violations, but some of the fines are implemented as part of the tax law. That is, if you are caught going more than 15 miles per hour over the limit, in addition to all the other fines and penalties, you become subject to a tax of $1050.

I’m not entirely sure why state legislatures do things like this, but I have some theories. For one thing, I think they figure that if they don’t hit you with the fine all at once, you’re more likely to go quietly. If you go to court on a speeding ticket and the judge fines you $1000, you’ll probably scream bloody murder. But if the judge gives you a $250 fine, and then five months later you get a tax bill for three annual payments of $250, maybe you won’t make so much of a fuss.

I think the more important reason for these kinds of administrative punishments is to cut the judge out of the process. A judge might be tempted to go easy on someone who doesn’t appear to be a repeat offender. He could cut $250 fine down to just $100 or even eliminate it altogether, but he can’t make the special $750 tax go away, because he has no control over the state’s tax policy.

Sometime the administrative punishments leave out the judge entirely. Here’s one example, drawn from some MADD propaganda:

Administrative license revocation (ALR) is the removal of a DUI/DWI offender’s driver’s license at the time of an arrest upon the failure or refusal of a chemical test. This distinction is important – administrative revocations are immediate in nature and, because of this, ALR is one of the most effective ways to deter people from driving under the influence of alcohol.

“Immediate in nature” appears to be MADD’s euphemism for punishment without a trial. This seems like a blatantly unconstitutional violation of due process and—since there’s an additional punishment when the judge finds someone guilty—double jeopardy. You’d think judges would be angry at the legislature’s blatant attempt to usurp the powers of the courts, but so far the courts have been bending over backwards to allow administrative revocations. They’re the law in 41 out of 50 states.

If I understand this correctly, states get around the due process requirements on these kinds of punishments because calling them “administrative” implies that they are not criminal punishments, but rather are like late filing fee on your taxes. In this way, the government waves its hands and your punishment magically turns into a simple little fee. Or into a revocation of the paperwork that allows you to drive.

In addition, I’m pretty sure that if you do manage to get around all the administrative barriers and drag the government into court—despite your legal costs exceeding the amount of the fee—the government doesn’t have to meet the reasonable doubt standard to win their case. That’s only for criminal trials.

It’s not unusual these days for the administrative fees and other non-criminal non-penalties to far exceed the amount of any criminal fines.

I must admit that these legal issues exceed my layman’s knowledge of how the law works, so I may have just made a lot of mistakes. (If so, I hope some of my more knowledgeable readers will correct me.) But I’m still pretty sure administrative fees for crimes are an example of evil lawmaking.

Question: As I wrote this, one other thing occurred to me. Perhaps some of my legal readers can answer this. (I’m looking at you, Gideon!) Can indigent defendants get help from the public defender (or a court-appointed lawyer) on administrative or civil fees? Or, since these are non-criminal matters, are people facing $3000 administrative fees denied the right to counsel?

Update: In the comments, Gideon confirms that—at least where he’s from—public defenders can’t help with administrative proceedings.

…just got some bad news. She’s been diagnosed with breast cancer. She worked it into this list of 8 Random Facts about her.


Virginia is an author, a speaker, and a past editor of Reason magazine. My thoughts and writing on many issues have been influenced by her strong advocacy of classical liberal values such as freedom, creativity, enterprise, and respect for the desire of people to control their own lives.

Let’s all wish her well.

Terrific news today.

Richard Paey, one of the worst victims of the War on Drugs, has just been pardoned.

The state’s parole commission recommended denying clemency for Paey, who was only seeking to have his prison sentence commuted. But after his lawyer, wife and four children wept and pleaded for Paey’s release, [Florida Governor Charlie] Crist and the Cabinet went further than Paey expected by unanimously agreeing to grant him a full pardon — meaning he’ll have the right to vote and carry firearms.

There are even signs that the Florida justice system’s cruel treatment of Paey will lead to some reforms in the state’s drug laws and criminal procedures.

The state’s parole commission recommended denying clemency for Paey, who was only seeking to have his prison sentence commuted. But after his lawyer, wife and four children wept and pleaded for Paey’s release, Crist and the Cabinet went further than Paey expected by unanimously agreeing to grant him a full pardon — meaning he’ll have the right to vote and carry firearms.

They also acknowledged that the state’s drug laws might be unfair.

”This is not a pleasant case,” said Attorney General Bill McCollum, who noted that he supported mandatory-minimum sentences when he was in Congress. “Our laws are very much to blame.”

If you’re unfamiliar with Paey’s situation, I summarized the whole awful mess here.

This was an excellent pilot. It’s smart. It’s funny. It’s sexy. A successful blend of comedy and action, it grabs you very early on with some pretty cool action sequences.

Chuck is a highly intelligent but underachieving employee at a Best Buy-type of store. He gets an email from an old college roommate who is now a spy. Chuck opens the email and is barraged with images which apparently download government secrets directly into his brain. Now everyone is after him.

Zachary Levi plays Chuck. He’s not necessarily believable as a nerd. He seems a bit too cool to be a geek. But he’s got enough charisma and the show is so well-written that you don’t really care.

It’s always great to see Adam Baldwin (Firefly). He plays the shady NSA agent who wants to protect the government’s secrets at all costs (aka killing). He is always able to inject humor into his edgy characters.

Yvonne Strzechowski is smart, funny, and gorgeous as the CIA agent who is trying to find out if Chuck’s old roommate had passed on any of the agency’s secrets to him. In one scene she demonstrates some dance moves you won’t see at any of the clubs.

The slick visuals, editing and direction are top notch, too. I want to believe that they didn’t pour everything they had into the pilot, and that the rest of the episodes will maintain the quality and be just as much fun. Though, I’m afraid that since I liked it so much, that if history is any indication, it will be cancelled quickly. That would be unfortunate.

Chuck premieres Monday, September 24th at 8:00 pm / 7:00 Central on NBC.

Ilya Somin is thinking way too much about Star Trek’s United Federation of Planets:

I would suggest that it is only Earth that is socialistic, while the other member worlds have free market systems or mixed economies. The human-dominated Star Fleet military is the only Federation military force, and is tasked with collecting tribute from the nonhuman planets for redistribution to Earth. But as long as they pay their taxes, which subsidize Earth’s welfare state and Star Fleet itself, they are largely left alone to govern their domestic affairs as they see fit. The Federation is essentially a big protection racket (in both senses of the word: providing external security, and also “protection” against its own depradations).

Read the whole thing.

The Illinois Review has a post by David E. Smith of the Illinois Family Institute about CBS‘s appeal of the fine they paid to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) for televising Janet Jackson’s bare breast during their 2004 Super Bowl coverage.

While the government cannot regulate speech, they can prohibit indecent broadcast content on the public airwaves. The case of Janet Jackson’s Super Bowl striptease in 2004 cost CBS $550,000 — a mere slap on the wrist for a multi-million dollar broadcast corporation.

Yeah, it was crass of Janet Jackson to bare her breast when she had to know that some of the people watching would be offended. Why do something like that during a family sporting event? And yeah, the fine was slap on the wrist, especially compared to the multi-million dollar revenues from Super Bowl coverage.

But really, have some perspective. It was just a titty.

I’ve never seen video of the incident, but since I was writing about it, I figured I should make sure there wasn’t more to it than I imagined, so I hunted down an online video of the performance—it took about 12 seconds—and checked. There’s even less here than I thought. This video shows the whole performance, and her breast was out for about one second before the lights went out and the camera cut away to the fireworks. This video clip of the incident itself is cropped closer and has slow-motion replay, and her right breast is clearly out and jiggling, but her nipple seems to be obscured by something. Only if you actually go through the trouble of looking at a detail of a video frame capture can you actually see some bare nipple. Why so much fuss about something this hard to see?

Their lawyer also said the FCC fine has had a “profoundly censorious effect” on the broadcasting industry by discouraging them from showing material that the FCC might judge indecent.

Well — duh! Yes, enforcing indecency laws will actually have a deterrent effect. But unfortunately, a few small fines for broadcast indecency — assessed sporadically– has only served to send mixed messages to broadcasters about what the FCC will tolerate.

The Illinois Review website bills itself as “the crossroads of the conservative community.” I seem to remember that in the distant past (the Clinton presidency) the conservative movement in this country spent a lot of time talking about the perils of “big government.” How is cranking up FCC enforcement of rules for the broadcast industry not big government?

I can’t help but think that one way to avoid sending mixed messages would be to get the FCC to stop censoring our television channels.

The executives and producers at CBS knew exactly what they were doing, and they knew it in 2004 when they gave a high profile stage over to MTV, Janet Jackson, and Justin Timberlake. They wanted to push the envelope and create a media buzz — and boy did they get it! It’s three years later and we’re still talking about it. There is no way they could have gotten this kind of publicity for a mere $550,000.

So CBS did this for the publicity? Really? Does David E. Smith really believe that a television network with world-wide rights to televise the Super Bowl needs to attract attention by showing a woman’s breast?

How does that pay off for the network? Were some people still tuning in to CBS months later just to see if they’d show another breast?

I don’t think so.

Only one person was in a position to both stage the incident and benefit from it. You might say I’m a believer in the lone-titty theory: Janet Jackson did this to attract attention to herself.

That’s not to say that Janet Jackson is the only person who benefited from this incident. Far from it. In fact, I’d say the biggest beneficiaries are the organized religious right, people like David E. Smith and the Illinois Family Institute. Three and a half years later they’re still milking it for publicity.

Scott Greenfield has the story of how a clerical error lead a New York court to put a man on trial for a charge that had already been dismissed, and nobody seemed to notice anything wrong until a month after he was convicted.

It’s actually even worse than it sounds. Read it for yourself.

I just saw a preview of The Big Bang Theory, a sitcom about two highly intelligent but nerdy roommates who have a pretty new neighbor move in across the hall from them.

It was co-created by Chuck Lorre, the man who gave us Two and a Half Men so I had reasonably high expectations. It seemed to be well written with plenty of clever lines, but the characters were little more than two dimensional stereotypes. As is so often the case with half hour sitcoms these days, they only have 21 minutes to bring the funny and the jokes often seem rushed, throwing off the timing.

The best part was the vanity card at the end of the show. A vanity card identifies the production company and Chuck Lorre’s shows have a vanity card with a different joke/funny story nearly every week. You have to freeze frame it with your TiVo, and it is usually very funny. I wonder if he will keep this up and have unique cards for this show and for Two and a Half Men.

If the actors get a better handle on the timing, this could be a funny show, but if it does not improve over the pilot, I would skip it.

The Big Bang Theory stars Johnny Galecki (Roseanne) and Jim Parsons. It premieres Monday, September 24 on CBS at 8:30/7:30 Central.