Monthly Archives: January 2009

What Victims?

Does anybody know how to file a Freedom of Information Act request? Because there’s something I’ve just got to know.

I was visiting the DEA site to see if they had any information about their anniversary celebration (“35 Years Of Ruining Lives For Nothing“), when I discovered something that stopped me cold: Like many law enforcement agencies, the DEA has a Victim Assistance Program. Since using and selling drugs is a classic victimless crime, I’ve got to know how much money the DEA spends helping the “victims.”

They seem to realize there’s a problem, because on their web page, they call it the Victim Witness Assistance Program even though the text on the page talks only about victims and says nothing about witnesses. I suspect the DEA is funneling victim assistance money into any regular law enforcement activity that can be characterized as helping a witness.

Keep in mind, too, that many witnesses in drug crimes are criminals who have been flipped by the government.

Situation Wanted – Author

Last week I blogged about Kip Esquire’s pie-in-the-sky wish to be a reporter or a commentator for a news organization. Kip has no direct experience in that area, but as a blogger with a background in law and finance, he’s not totally unqualified. I’m sure he realized it was unlikely anyone would make him an offer, but he put it out there anyway, just to see if anybody was interested.

That got me thinking about whether I have any similar aspirations that I could appeal to my readers to help me fulfill. It would have to be something that met all three of these criteria:

  1. It has to be a real stretch for me—Not just learning a new programming language or getting some better blog stats, but something really new and challenging.
  2. It can’t be so much of a stretch that it’s out of reach—I have no chance of becoming a rock star, movie director, Navy Seal, or stand-up comedian.
  3. It has to be something I can solicit on this blog—I’d like to be a celebrity photographer, and it’s not impossible that I could become one, but no one’s going to read about it here and offer me a job.

It took me a while, but I think I’ve figured it out: I want to write a book.

I’m not expecting anyone to offer me a book contract, but maybe someone out there has been thinking of writing a book and is looking for a co-author—someone to bounce ideas off of and take up some of the writing load—or maybe just a contributor to do some piece of the job.

Here’s what I bring to the table:

  • My writing experience consists of this blog, a few news articles at the Chi-Town Daily News, writing software documentation and proposals on my day job, and one professional sale to The VAX Professional magazine.
  • I helped as a reader on Philipp Lenssen’s 55 Ways to Have Fun With Google.
  • I’m not a professional photographer, but I can take a decent photograph.
  • I am a professional software developer.
  • I’m half-way decent at doing research on the web.
  • My education and job experience includes a bit of math, a bit of science, and a bit of engineering.
  • I’m located in Chicago.

If you’re a software developer who wants to write about some new technology, I could write or test the example code and help you write the book.

If you’re a photographer thinking of writing a book about your craft, I know enough basic photography that I won’t be totally lost helping you with the text surrounding your images.

If you’re a scientist or engineer with a plan for a popular book (or maybe an introductory textbook), I can probably understand the subject well enough to help you explain it to people.

If you have an idea for a book about the war on drugs, civil liberties, free speech, criminal defense, eminent domain, free markets, or any other subject that interests me, I probably know a little of the background, and I’d love to help if I can.

If you want to write a book about something in Chicago, I’m right here in the Windy City, and I can take pictures.

So if you like the way I write on Windypundit, and if you’ve got an idea for a book, and if you think I could help you write it, my email address is in the sidebar. Think about it.

in Writing

Irresponsible and Shameful

Obama is displaying some of that weird anti-corporate attitude that has been worrying me:

President Barack Obama issued a withering critique Thursday of Wall Street corporate behavior, calling it “the height of irresponsibility” for employees to be paid more than $18 billion in bonuses last year while their crumbling financial sector received a bailout from taxpayers.

Then there’s Biden, who just seems to say whatever flits through his head at the moment:

Vice President Joe Biden also chimed in, saying the level of bonuses “offends the sensibilities.”

“I mean, I’d like to throw these guys in the brig,” Biden said in an interview with CNBC.

You may be wondering, as I was, why paying $18 billion in bonuses is a bad thing. After all, Obama and the Democrats in Congress are planning to spend over $800 billion on various projects to stimulate the economy and stir up consumer demand. Doesn’t the $18 billion in bonuses also stimulate the economy?

A later paragraph makes it all a bit clearer:

Obama said he and Geithner will speak directly to Wall Street leaders about the bonuses, which threaten to undermine public support for more government intervention as the economy keeps reeling.

So the real problem here is that the American public might not like Obama’s plan to give billions of dollars of our money to failing companies. What’s next? Following Bush’s lead in the Iraq war by scolding the news media for reporting that the stimulus funds are being wasted?

What’s irresponsible and shameful here is giving hundreds of billions of government money to private businesses. Whining about how they spend it doesn’t help. Just don’t give them the money.

Said Obama about Wall Street leaders: “There will be time for them to make profits, and there will be time for them to get bonuses. Now is not that time.”

The arrogance here is amazing. Did it ever occur to these buffoons that not every department of every financial company is in ruin, meaning that some of these people must have earned those bonuses? Or that you have to pay bonuses to keep good people? Or that for many workers, a so-called “bonus” is actually a regular part of their pay?

I worry that this is only the beginning. I’m afraid that once government “stimulus” money starts flowing into every economic sector, the folks in Washington are going to think they should run it all.

Update: This AP wire story explains it nicely:

To President Barack Obama, Wall Street’s $18.4 billion in bonuses is “shameful.” To thousands of bank employees who don’t sit in corner offices, that money helps pay the bills…

While Wall Street investment banks and other financial firms make headlines for the millions paid out to certain executives, more modest bonuses go to workers from human resources representatives to secretaries as well as employees who actually made money for their companies last year.

A product manager at one investment bank said she is cutting corners after her 2008 bonus fell by 38 percent, even though her job performance exceeded expectations and her division posted a profit. To save money, she’s raising the deductible on her health insurance to lower the premium, shopping around for less expensive car insurance and cutting back on small luxuries.

“My bills haven’t gone down by 40 percent,” said the worker[.]

Nazi Zombies! Run!

Heh, this is a pretty cool trick:

Authorities are miffed, and the news media naturally found people to speculate on how dangerous it could have been. In addition,

Austin police are investigating the situation, and the vandals could face a Class C misdemeanor charge of tampering with a road sign,


This is a classic hack. Whoever did this had some fun and revealed a weakness in the system without doing any serious damage.

I’m not saying the hackers were doing a public service, but the authorities would do well to consider this a lesson learned and be thankful the message wasn’t something really bad, e.g.

Death To America

We Have Sarin Gas

Turn Around or Die

That could have really messed things up and gotten someone hurt.

(Hat tip: Mark Bennettt)

Google Subpoenaed Over Anonymous Blogs In Connection With Controversial Chicago TIF Project

The attorney for Chicago real estate developer Peter Holsten has subpoenaed Google for information about two anonymously authored blogs that have been critical of neighborhood politics and the Wilson Yard TIF project. The Chicago Journal has the story:

Johnson said the subpoena asks for ownership information of the blogs. Uptown Update is an active blog that has gained popularity as a clearinghouse for information about the neighborhood. What the Helen was active during the 2007 aldermanic election and has not been updated in over a year.

Both blogs have been highly critical of 46th Ward Ald. Helen Shiller. Shiller’s supporters and detractors often debate the alderman’s policies and neighborhood issues in both blogs’ comments sections.

[Link added. God forbid a newpaper would link to anything. The What the Helen blog has been removed.]

Holsten’s attorney, Tom Johnson, has confirmed he filed the subpoenas, but he hasn’t explained why. Holsten is being sued by the community organization Fix Wilson Yard, which opposes his development plans.

Google Earth Meets the Prado Museum

If you’ve ever used Google Earth—or it’s online cousin Google Maps—you know you can pan around an image of the Earth and zoom in on interesting stuff.

As an experiment, the folks at Google have worked with the Prado Museum in Spain to digitize 14 of their paintings and make them available online using the same display technology. Just search for “Prado Museum” in Google Earth, then click on the labeled rectangle to get to a menu of the paintings. Once you click on a painting, you can pan and zoom all over it.

Here’s a quick video I made to show the zoom capability:

You lose a lot of the detail in low-res streaming video. This higher quality version might help, but you really should try it for yourself in Google Earth or you can visit the online Google Maps version of the exhibit.

(Hat tip: Google Blogoscoped.)

in Art

PSA: Where’s your kit?

Got an email from Bob (not his real name.  His real name is Karl Keller*) earlier today, and it’s worth sharing:

I went on a date with Kristy last night and we ended up in the emergency room. Well, that’s the short version.

It’s not as bad as I make it sound. A close friend of Kristy’s (on blood thinners, I believe, for other conditions) called her while we were making supper. He’d been bleeding from a cut on his shin for a couple hours without clotting and needed to get to the emergency room.

We picked him up, got him there, and stood by while he told us jokes and funny stories for an hour or so as the doctor and nurses patched him, cleaned him up, and started in on some tests. All in all, this was a very successful trip to the emergency room. I made some mistakes, but no one died. For your benefit, here are a few mistakes not to make.

1. When removing items from the back seat to make room for the patient, don’t remove the bag containing your major first-aid kit.

2. Find out how badly the patient is bleeding and how much blood he’s lost before putting him in the car.

3. Even though you left the major first-aid kit behind, don’t forget about the QuickClot bandage in your carry-bag. Sure, you might carry it to deal with knife, bullet, shrapnel, or other accident related trauma type injuries, but it’ll probably help the patient with a popped vericose vein structure and thin blood just as well–but only if you remember you have it. Remember, review your kits often or they will be of little use when you are under pressure.

The idea is not to be looking out for opportunities to play doctor, but that, if you have only a little bit of knowledge, a clear understanding of where that knowledge begins and ends, and a fair amount of humility, you might end up being able to make a bad situation less bad.  Then again, maybe not; you pays your money, and you takes your chances.  But there are a fair number of times in life where doing something constructive right now is a lot better than doing the perfect thing days later. 
* Yes, I have permission to post this, and name him, silly.