March 2009

You are browsing the site archives for March 2009.

Things I’d tweet about if Twitter allowed longer messages:

  • When you take several law enforcement agencies and throw them together into a drug task force, it tends to enhance thuggish behavior. However when the WestNET task force of Kitsap County, Washington launched a drug raid against the home of Bruce and Pamela Olson, they did manage to avoid shooting the family dogs. Instead, they poisoned them.
  • It’s not that I don’t think we should trust cops and prosecutors. But if we trust them too much, we risk letting (alleged) bad cops and bad prosecutors like these (with bonus bad judge) get away with it.
  • Speak of which, Anthony Hernandez claims he was framed on drug charges by Chicago cop Slawomir Plewa. Since Plewa has already been stripped of his police powers and charged with trying to frame someone else, Hernandez’s claim has a certain plausibility.
  • The mania for post-prison punishment of sex offenders continues its spiral into insanity, as the Connecticut legislature contemplates requiring 2 days advanced registration for out-of-state offenders who are just passing through.
  • And just to give you an idea of what counts as a sex offender these days, an asshat named George P. Skumanick (who also happens to be District Attorney of Wyoming County, Pennsylvania) has threatened to file child pornography charges against 17 high school students for having nude or semi-nude pictures of other high school students on their cell phones. In some cases, the students would have been charged for pictures of themselves.

(Hat tip: Radley, Randazza)


Things I might have tweeted about if I “got” Twitter:

  • Damn Microsoft! My Windows system crashed—full Blue Screen Of Death! All I was doing was running Windows XP booted off a RAID disk array that’s not supported directly by Windows, accessing an Office document from an encrypted virtual disk mounted out of a container file on a portable USB drive, copying the contents of a CD to another USB drive, using LogMeIn to remote control two other computers elsewhere in Chicago, running another copy of Windows in a VMware virtual machine, and installing a third-party camera driver, all at the same time. What a piece of crap!
  • AIG executive Jake DeSantis gives Congress a well-deserved “fuck you too”:

“None of us should be cheated of our payments any more than a plumber should be cheated after he has fixed the pipes but a careless electrician causes a fire that burns down the house.”

  • Awww. Kitties.
  • Remember the “David After Dentist” kid?

That’s David DeVore. It turns out some idiots have no sense of humor:

I understand that we live in an entertainment-obsessed world, but videos of children on drugs cross the line.

You know, the War on Drugs is stupid enough when it’s illegal drugs we’re talking about. This is just dental anesthetic. It’s medicine you dumbass!

  • Apparently the US Attorney couldn’t find enough of Bernie Madoff’s real victims so he…well…see for yourself. I’m sure all the other victims are totally legitimate…
  • Sometimes upper management seems kind of stupid, even to themselves.
  • Old guys like my dad who sleep during the day tend to wake up at the damnedest times…and want me to be up too.
  • (Hat tip: Kip, Scott.)

Things I would have tweeted about if I used twitter…and had more than 140 characters:

  • Crimlaw blogger Ken Lammers, now with 50% more badass.
  • Must not hate all cops…must not hate all cops…
  • Sex offender registration—not just for sex offenders anymore.
  • Apparently, shaking hands is now reasonable suspision:
  • The undercover officers, located approximately 10 to 20 yards away from the three vehicles, were unable to see any money or narcotics exchanged. Detective David LaRoche, however, testified that, based on his experience as a “buy” officer on undercover narcotics investigations, the purpose of touching closed fists is to keep anyone from seeing the exchange of money and narcotics during the drug deal. Likewise, Detective William Best, who also witnessed the fist bump, described it as “typical–you can conceal heroin, crack cocaine, anything in the palm of your hand. Real quick drop it off. Pick up your money same hand and you’re out.”

  • I’ve been listening to CSPAN coverage of the AIG hearings in Congress. What I’ve learned is that members of congress don’t seem to understand what a retention bonus is. When you need an employee to finish a task for you, but you plan to fire them as soon as they finish, they will start looking for another job. And if they find one, they’ll quit to take it, leaving your task undone. So you have to pay them extra to stay to the bitter end. If leaving the task undone could lose your company billions of dollars and contribute to the collapse of the national economy, you have to pay them a lot.
  • That doesn’t mean the AIG bonuses are reasonable, but that’s why they go to “the people who got us into this.” Because those are the people who know the way out. It sucks, but how much money do you want to lose on principle?
  • The winner of the online contest for the name of the new space station module is the write-in entry “Colbert.” Second place goes to the balloted name “Serenity.” Sounds like Colbert Report fans v.s. Firefly fans.
  • “Police say woman used fake ID to get fake breasts.” But of course.
  • Now playing: Defending People 2: The Impactening

A few years ago, my father went into the hospital and came out bedridden. Since then, my mother has been his primary care giver. She gets some assistance from a home care service, and my wife and I get over there a couple of times a week.

Looking back, she started getting tired a month or so ago. Two weeks ago, I took her to her doctor, who said she seemed mostly okay, but needed some changes to her medication.

Thursday, she called my wife and asked her to stop by and make dinner because she was too tired. She’s never done that before. Friday, she didn’t call, but I stopped in to see how she was doing, and she didn’t seem to be able to get out of bed because her legs were too sore.

Yesterday morning, we sent her to the hospital, where they diagnosed her with congestive heart failure. They’re dripping three different medications into her, and she’s on 100% oxygen.

I knew the day would come when my mother couldn’t take care of my dad any more, but somehow it managed to sneak up on me. I suspect my mother helped a bit by hiding her problems. She doesn’t want me to worry.

(I’ve got a medical power of attorney, so I’ll be able to get all the answers from her doctor.)

I’m staying overnight with my dad to take care of him. My wife will come by tomorrow to spell me for a while, then I’ll take over for another night. And then…

I’ve asked a friend to wipe the Windows 7 beta off my second computer and install a stable operating system and some development software on it so I can do productive work from here. I’ll pick up a cable internet box on Monday. And then…

And then…

I don’t know. Move in with dad? And mom when she gets back? Put dad in respite care? Put them both in a home? Sell our condo into this soft market and try to buy a house large enough for all four of us?

I’m filled with doubt and fear of the unknown. I’m angry at myself for not being ready. For not seeing it coming. For not having a better plan.

(Although I must admit, I’m one libertarian who is, at least for today, greatful for the highly-socialized healthcare available to seniors.)

Right now, I just woke up after a few hours sleep at dad’s house. He’s been sleepy and peaceful. It’s actually nice and quiet.

That’s deceptive, of course. In the morning, he’ll have demands. There will be meals, and changes of bedlinen, and medication, and laundry, and shopping, and housekeeping and God knows what else…I don’t know the daily routine of the household.

As the saying goes, blogging will be light…or at least a bit different.

I don’t usually announce new additions to the blogroll, but maybe it’s time I start.

The libertarian world first noticed Jennifer as a commenter on Reason magazine’s Hit&Run blog, where she could usually be counted on to say something intelligent and snarky.

Jennifer’s actually a professional writer, with columns published in the Hartford Advocate and the New Britain Herald. One of my favorites is her piece on the Connecticut law against playing poker for money, which has an exception for games played among friends:

“It’s an illegal activity,” Young explained. Before anybody can play Internet poker without going to jail, “there has to be a law on the books permitting it.” And there isn’t. So the Advocate asked: where card games are concerned, would it be accurate to say that which is not allowed is prohibited?

“It is prohibited,” Young agreed.

Unless it’s among friends. So how long does it take for two strangers to legally qualify?

“We haven’t really traveled down that road … I think it’s something the courts would have to work on,” Young said.

The Advocate also wondered if sexual activity could form the foundation of a legal friendship. If you meet a stranger at six o’clock and have sex with him at six-fifteen, can you legally play poker in the afterglow?

I’ve been reading Jennifer’s blog, Ravings of a Feral Genius, for a couple of years now, but I only just realized I never added it to my blogroll. Until now.

Welcome to the blogroll, Jennifer.

Last night, my wife told me that at her company party today they’re going to be playing laser tag, and she’s pretty sure that a lot of people are going to be gunning for her. I don’t really know how the game works, and my knowledge of combat pistolcraft is more theoretical than practical, but I tried to come up with a few tips to help her out.

The key problem is that there’s no time for practice. So advice like “don’t pull the trigger, squeeze it” isn’t much good because it takes time to learn the technique. It has to be something she has a chance of learning during the first few minutes of the game.

Here’s what I came up with on short notice:

  • Isosoles stance—Hold the gun with both hands, throw your arms forward and lock your elbows so the gun is straight out in front. Pivot from the hips to place the gunsight on the target. Pull the trigger until they light up.
  • Keep the gun in shooting position all the time—Walk through the course with the gun pointed wherever you expect the threat, turning to face doorways or windows. Never lower it, never raise it. You’ll look like a dork, but you’ll get more kills than if you try to look cool.
  • Take cover first—When someone shoots at you unexpectedly, get out of the kill zone to someplace they can’t shoot you. Only then should you try to figure out how to pop out and shoot back.

I thought of one more piece of advice, but it was too late:

  • Handle corners by moving sideways before advancing—rather than walk right up to a corner or a doorway, stand back a bit and move sideways to give you a better view around the edge. If there’s a threat, it will be easier to duck back sideways than to back up suddenly.

So, was that good advice or bad advice? Anybody out there have better ideas?

I know I still owe my readers a post on what can go wrong with the stimulus, but I found something interesting about the bailout. Kip Esquire posts the following context-free tweet:

If A owes B $2, and B owes C $2, and C owes A $2, and nobody has any money, then the required bailout is not $6, but $0. Just saying…

It’s an excellent point. As a nation, all of us being in debt to each other should not be a very big problem. However, thoughtful supporters of government intervention would argue that while the bailout need not be $6, a figure larger than $0 might still be helpful. To understand why, consider the plight of C.

C has an idea for a business venture that could earn him some income. However, the venture needs some startup cash, and C is broke. Worse, C owes A two dollars. Meanwhile, M still has a bit of cash. Normally, M would be willing to lend C the money, but M is worried about C’s creditworthiness in light of his inability to pay A. In theory, C has money coming from B, but in this troubled, debt-ridden economy, that income is not a sure thing: B might never pay. So M refuses to make the loan, C doesn’t start his new venture, and the economy stagnates because the credit market is stuck.

Until one day, G steps in to save the day with a bailout package. G will loan A one dollar. A uses the dollar to pay off half his debt to B, B then uses the dollar to repay C, and C uses it to pay A. Now A owes B $1, and B owes C $1, and C owes A $1. Maybe this reduction in debt is enough to get M to make the business loan that C is hoping for. If not, A still has the dollar, and they can pass it around again to drive debt down some more. Eventually, C gets his business loan, A repays the dollar to G, and the economy is back on track.

This happy tale has a few unhappy complications. First of all, G doesn’t actually have any money to lend. Instead, G either (a) sends men with guns to take the money from P, or (b) borrows the money from M, who is willing to lend G the money only because M knows that G can always repay the loan by sending men with guns to take the money from P.

Second, in addition to A’s debt to B, A also owes $2 to D, $2 to E, $1 to its executives for their lucrative bonus plan, and $3 to China. When it gets its dollar from G, it pays those other guys instead of B and the credit market is still stuck. G has to loan A several more dollars before A finally decides to pay B.

Third, B hates being broke so much that when B finally gets a dollar from A, B decides to hang onto it rather than paying C and being broke again. G will have to pour even more money into the system to get B feeling comfortable enough to pay C and break the credit crunch.

Or maybe everybody just goes bankrupt and G has to rob P to pay M.

For those of you who had trouble following this little explanation, A through E are various banks and businesses, G is the government, and M is the private money lending market. Oh, and we the people are P. We’re the ones who get robbed at the end.

Random shots around the web:

BRYANT, Ark. – Police said a woman has been arrested for allegedly slipping some tranquilizers into her boss’s coffee because she felt “he needed to chill out.”

Yeah, I think we’ve all been there.

  • Sometimes the national weather service seems a little alarmist:


Yeah, that abundant sunshine will get you every time.

Actually, Yahoo is just displaying the forecast poorly. If you click on the warning, you see that the real “severe weather” is this:



So, there will be some flooding. Water flowing out into the streets around the Des Plaines river…like it does every time there’s a lot of rain.

Last time I noticed a “severe weather” alert, it was high winds. The time before that, it was freezing rain. I suppose each of those conditions causes problems—more for some people than others—but if partially flooded streets is called “severe weather,” what kind of alert do they issue for the kind of bad weather that can kill you in your home?

  • Speaking of misdirected alarmism, while George Bush and his supporters were playing up the goatherder culture of the Middle East as the greatest threat ever to the United States, the real greatest threat ever started to regain its strength:

MOSCOW – A Russian Air Force chief said Saturday that Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez has offered an island as a temporary base for strategic Russian bombers, the Interfax news agency reported.

The chief of staff of Russia’s long range aviation, Maj. Gen. Anatoly Zhikharev, also said Cuba could be used to base the aircraft, Interfax reported.

What good does it do to knock down Saddam Hussein in Iraq if the Russians start to gain allies right here in the Americas?

I disagree with a lot of what Lindsay Beyerstein writes, but she’s still one of the most thoughtful people on my blogroll. However, she gets a bit goofy when it comes to labor unions. Consider yesterday’s post about the Employee Free Choice Act:

Management groups object to majority signup (aka “card check”) for the simple reason that it would make it easier for workers to have a union if they want one. The anti-EFCA groups make it sound like card check would be a departure from the status quo under which the right of the worker to a secret vote is respected.

Far from being an exotic reform proposal, unionization by card check is already an option.

In fact, every unionization effort starts with organizers collecting the signatures of workers who are interested in forming a union.

If organizers can get at least a third of the workers in a shop to sign up, then the union can ask management for permission to represent those workers at the bargaining table. One third is just the legal minimum. In practice, organizers don’t try to organize shops without strong majority support. It’s just not worth their time.

At this point, the employer has the option of recognizing the union based on the card check. Alternatively, the employer can demand a National Labor Relations Board election.

Let’s be real. Employers don’t ask for NLRB elections to preserve right of their workers to democratic self-determination.

Well, no. That’s not why employers ask for NLRB elections. But so what?  NLRB elections still preserve right of their workers to democratic self-determination.

Forced elections buy management time to bring in high-priced union-busting consultants who teach the bosses how to propagandize workers and fire organizers.  Such tactics are illegal, but under the status quo, the penalties are trivial and enforcement is negligible.

So fix that. If you want to support workers and you believe unions are a solution, then improve enforcement and increase the penalties. In fact, the EFCA already includes provisions to do both of those things.

Under the status quo, the employer gets to decide whether there will be an NLRB election.

Lindsay’s right. That’s pretty silly. Unionizing should always require an election. It’s bad enough they’re forcing employees to join the union when they don’t want to. They should at least use a proper democratic process.

Under Employee Free Choice, the employees choose how their votes will be counted.

That’s not really true. They only get to have a secret-ballot NLRB election if the majority of employees insists on it. Got that? Employees will have a non-secret vote to decide if they want a secret vote. If a majority of employees want a non-secret vote, the rest of the employess are forced to reveal their vote—allowing outside parties to influence their vote—even if they don’t want to.

The right to a secret ballot is useful only if it belongs to each individual voter. Neither the union nor the company should be able to take it away.

Update: I’m trying to debate Lindsay about this in the comments to her post. I say card check is a fundamentally bad idea, she says it’s good because it offsets the advantages of the employers. We’re clearly talking past each other.

A couple of weeks ago, my main computer started crashing. Sometimes Windows would just hang, not responding to the keyboard or mouse, and sometimes I’d walk in to find it sitting there displaying the Blue Screen of Death. This happened two or three times a day.

I’m running a pair of Seagate Barracuda 500GB hard drives in a RAID 1 configuration. This means that the hard drive controller circuits on the motherboard are keeping duplicate copies of my data, one on each physical hard drive. Windows sees the drive as a single virtual 500GB drive. Every time I change a file on my computer, the RAID controller updates both hard drives with the change.

After some of the crashes, when I rebooted, my RAID controller would tell me that one of the hard drives had failed. Because a RAID 1 set is redundant, my data was still intact and usable on the other drive with no need for me to restore backups or anything like that. My computer ran just fine without the second drive.

I was a little unwilling to believe that one of my 1-year-old drives had failed, so I just brought up the RAID management application and told it to rebuild the failed drive from the intact one. It spent a couple of hours doing this behind the scenes while I worked, and everything was fine. Until the next time the computer crashed and the drive failed out of the RAID set again.

I also have dual monitors on my computer, a widescreen main monitor and a smaller side monitor. A few days later, after restarting the computer from yet another crash, my right-hand monitor came up displaying a pure white screen. I power cycled it, and it was fine for a while and then it failed white again.

My instinct is to ignore problems like this and hope they go away. Sometimes that works, but not this time. I had to figure this out.

I decided that I was dealing with two issues, not some sort of systemic problem affecting two subsystems. By switching the cables to my system monitors, I was able to confirm that the problem was in the small monitor itself, not in the computer controlling it. This meant the hard drive problems were a separate and unrelated failure.

(Any professional IT people reading this are probably thinking “Duh!” but I’m a computer programmer, not an IT support expert, so solving problems like this does not come naturally.)

At this point, I could probably have referred the matter to Dell tech support, but…let’s just say I wasn’t looking forward to the experience. Instead, I went to Fry’s Electronics and bought a replacement drive which I swapped in on Saturday. My computer has been working fine ever since. (I’ll replace the monitor later.)

Now all I had to do was report the failed drive to Dell and get them to replace it under the warranty. Then I’ll use the new drive I just bought for something else. I was home free. Or so I thought.

Yesterday, right in the middle of submitting a trouble ticket to Dell, my Internet connection went down. I called tech support at Speakeasy (my DSL provider) and the technician quickly determined that the problem was a break in the line between my house and the central office.

That “last mile” of wire to my house is owned by my phone company, AT&T. Since they also sell DSL service, they’re actually in competition with Speakeasy. However, since the “last mile” of line is a monopoly, federal regulations force them to lease the line to Speakeasy. But federal regulations can’t force them to make it easy. They have 24 hours to respond to the problem.

I have to wait in my house all day in case they show up to test the line, because if they show up and I don’t answer the bell, they get another 24 hours.

Right now I’ve go the Verizon air card from my laptop plugged into a USB port on my main desktop computer. It’s not as fast as I’m used to. I’m also worried about the cost. Its data plan is not unlimited, and the per-megabyte charges for exceeding it are pretty high. The laptop is configured to minimize internet activity, but my desktop computer does all kinds of stuff by itself, including an offsite backup of important files on my computer. Who know how much data it transfers in a day?

I’ve got my other computer pinging the main internet connection. I’m just waiting for it to come back up.

Or for something else to break.

Update: My new best friend Glen fixed the problem with the line and I’m back on the internet.

While AT&T’s handling of 3rd-party DSL makes me feel unloved, the guys out in the field have always been courteous and professional.

I just read a story in the Washington Post that’s going to stay with me a long, long time. It’s by Gene Weingarten, it’s brilliantly written, and it will break your heart.

You have been warned.

The story is about people who have accidentally left their babies in their cars in the heat, with fatal results. I could write thousands of words about the issues touched on in the story—the psychology of “automatic pilot,” the economics of preparing for rare events, our moral culpability for risk and error, the reactions of strangers to tragic mistakes, the grandstanding of public officials…but the story is so overwhelming in itself that I’m not going to try to add anything right now.

It’s a great story, but the subject is awful. If you have a baby and you think it might strike you close to home, you might not want to read it. Other people have said they’re sorry they did.

But if you read it. Read it to the very end. The end is important.

Here it is: Fatal Distraction.

I’ll tell you, I didn’t have much Love for the Pluto haters. But I’ve come to accept the truth of it. Pluto crosses the orbit of Neptune, it’s tilted out of the ecliptic, there’s other crap all around it, and it’s small—almost as small as its moon, which doesn’t even orbit a point inside Pluto.

It’s a rock. Just like all the other outer-system dwarf planets: Haumea, Makemake, and Xena.

Yeah, you heard me. I said Xena. If the discoverers called it Xena, then that’s what it should be.

The television show Xena: Warrior Princess had more fans for any given episode than Makemake has had worshippers throughout all time. Admit it, until I mentioned it, you never even heard of Makemake. You’re still not sure I didn’t just make it up. So how come Makemake gets a (dwarf) planet and Xena doesn’t?

The International Astronomical Union wants to call it “Eris,” but they’re headquartered in France, so we don’t have to listen to them. Besides, haven’t we named enough shit after those fucking Greeks already?

Hmm. This sounds more like Bargaining. Maybe I’m only at the third stage.

Life does drift, and the discussion over at SJ that Mark links to led to a digression into tactical pens, tactical pants, tactical shirts, and tactical underwear.  (For those of you who have never tried to pronounce the phrase, “tactical pants,” please do try it; it’s almost impossible to say without giggling.)

Which reminds me of a story.

But I gotta back up for a moment.  Despite the impression that the opening of D’Shai has given some people, anybody who has met me will have quickly figured out that whatever I am, it’s not a runner.

Being “vaguely pear-shaped” mixes poorly with marathons.

That said, during the summer, I do tend to spend a fair amount of time in a t-shirt and running shorts, just for the comfort.  Which does lead to a problem in how to carry the handgun.  Running shorts, after all, generally have an elastic waistband rather than loops for a good belt, and my usual pocket holster carry doesn’t work well with those, even without worrying about the possibility of the shorts suddenly dropping to the ground with a loud thunk that might not go over real well.

Which is how I found myself at the party carrying in Thunderwear.  (I was also wearing conventional underwear, not wanting to give a whole new meaning to the term “going commando,” honest.)  For those folks not willing to click on the link, please reconsider — but the short form is that the gun is carried, remarkably discreetly, just in front of the, err, crotchal area…

There’s lots of things that are useful about Thunderwear, honest, although it’s not possible to holster the gun without doing violence to one of the basic safety rules:  never point the handgun at something that you’re not willing to destroy.  (Short further digression:  Thunderwear is a great reminder that it’s never, ever necessary to quickly holster the gun.) 

Well, it was all going very well until a woman friend of mine plunked down on my lap.  We’re friendly sorts in my social circle.

Understandably, she gave me a look. 

“Well,” I said, “I am happy to see you, but . . . “

“Yeah, I know:  you have a gun in your pocket.”

She did have the courtesy to sound disappointed.