Monthly Archives: December 2009

2009 in Review

I like to end each year with a review of some of the things I’ve been posting about. I don’t know if any of you care, but it’s always interesting to me to see where I’ve been. This year I expected the pickings to be pretty slim because of all the turmoil surrounding and following my parents’ passing, but it turns out I wrote quite a bit.

In fact, here at Windypundit, 2009 was the year in which

See you all in the new year!

Things I Learned In the Aughts

I’ve decided to steal an idea from Gideon and write a quick list of things I learned in the last decade:

  • I learned to ignore people who say the decade/century/millenium has one more year to go because there was no year zero.
  • I learned that terrorism in the United States is a more real threat than I thought it was.
  • I learned that just because the people opposing the president are idiots doesn’t make them completely wrong about him.
  • I learned that occupying a country to change its form of government is a very long-term project.
  • I learned how to start and run a one-man corporation.
  • I learned that working from home makes me gain weight.
  • I learned that some take my blogging seriously and appreciate what I’m saying.
  • I learned how to take a pretty good photograph.
  • I learned that taking road trips with cell phones, a mapping GPS system, and wireless internet is a whole different experience from when I was a kid.
  • I learned that it pays to buy an insulated delivery bag so the pizza stays hot when you bring it home.
  • I learned that a DVR and multiple sources of downloadable video make television in to a completely different experience.
  • I learned to program with
  • The .NET Framework
  • Windows Forms
  • Windows Communication Foundation
  • PHP
  • CSS
  • JavaScript
  • AJAX
  • YUI
  • Procedural SQL
  • Movable Type
  • Drupal
  • TikiWiki
  • NUnit
  • I learned the incredible value of having medical and financial powers of attorney for my parents.
  • We’ve Always Been Here

    Back in 2007, author Mark Helprin wrote a New York Times op-ed in which he bemoaned the lack of a permanent copyright. I responded to it, as did rather a lot of other people. In my response, I called part of his argument “pure nonsense, bordering on outright lies.”

    Apparently, many other people used far harsher language, because Helprin later wrote a book (Digital Barbarism: A Writer’s Manifesto) in which he spent some of the second chapter complaining about the response:

    It is not merely training that has unleashed this keypeck ferocity, but also changes in certain fundamental conditions. In the electronic media’s dissolution of barriers—time, space, isolation—and in the vast expansion of received (or, at least, receivable) information, we have become in proportion infinitely smaller. Were you to have lived next door to Ethan Frome in Starkfield, Massachusetts, at the turn of the last century you would have been one of only a few hundred… You would not have felt as if you were merely one in six-and-a-half or seven billion. Now, as mere atoms amidst this mass, the damage we can do is by comparison so much less that rage counts for nothing but a cry to be heard—even if the from a protective and cowardly anonymity. Were anyone to have behaved in such a way…on the real commons of a New England village even as it existed in my youth and young-manhood, he would have been immediately brought up short, if not committed or jailed. In the new “commons,” brutishness and barbarism are accepted…

    More recently, Scott Greenfield writes:

    I recently had an email exchange with a lawprof who felt deeply hurt by things that were written about his ideas.  He informed me that they were too harsh, too rough, too disrespectful.  Ironically, he wasn’t referring to things I had written.  He was on the verge of giving up blawging, finding it too vulgar for his sensibilities.

    These are not the first and second times I’ve heard this sort of complaint about the blogosphere. The pattern is pretty common: A person with some degree of fame or authority—an author, an politician, a movie star, or even a law professor—checks what the folks on the internet are saying about them and is shocked to discover that people are saying terrible things.

    Sometimes, like Helprin, they try to come up with an explanation as to why people are being so rude. Often this is tied up in their personal agenda so, for example, some feminists conclude that the blogosphere is a boys club that resents women. Similarly, a lot of professional journalists and pundits have concluded that the blogosphere is filled with amateurs that have no standards.

    I have a simple explanation of my own for the authors and politicians and pundits who are shocked by the style of the blogosphere: The people you’re hearing from have always been out here, and we’ve always talked that way. The difference—the only difference, I think—is that now you know about it.

    People have been discussing Mark Helprin’s books for as long as he’s been writing, but they’ve been discussing them in private, in coffee houses and classrooms and book clubs, so he’s never heard what they sound like. They sound like the blogosphere.

    The same goes for you pundits and politicians out there: Sometimes we think you’re stupid, and we say so. We use harsh language and violent imagery. This is how people have always talked about you around the water cooler at work, over dinner at home, and in the barrooms afterward.

    The point is, the blogosphere isn’t some new rude horror. People have always been this way. All that’s changed is that those of you who hold the stage can now hear the hecklers a little better. The heckling itself is no worse than before.

    Avatar – A Review, or Maybe a Metareview

    I saw Avatar yesterday, and it was a pretty darned good movie. If you think you might like this kind of thing, just go see it.

    As with James Cameron’s earlier film Titanic, the star of this film is the magnificent setting and the way it is presented. The lush world of Pandora is beautiful, the CGI that creates the aliens is every bit as good as everyone else says, and the 3D unobtrusively helps you understand the the complex action in the forest scenery.

    The characters and the plot are simple and relatively straightforward. For some reason, this bothers some people. They point to the thin characterization and simple plot as if it were some kind of terrible failing, and they’re proud of themselves for having seen past the special effects, which is a silly attitude. Seeing past the special effects in Avatar is like seeing past the songs in Rent.

    Another thing that bothers some people about Avatar is the politics of it all. For example, here’s Peter Suderman at Reason’s Hit & Run blog:

    And the Na’vi, the movie’s marble-skinned alien natives, are easily the most convincing humanoids ever to leap forth from a Hollywood effects house’s CGI server-farm — that is, at least in terms of the way they look and move. The realism stops, however, every time they open their mouths and reveal themselves to be crude, one-dimensional native stereotypes: instinctive and animalistic purveyors of cheap mysticism and nature worship. 

    So despite its genuinely impressive technical innovations, Avatar isn’t much a movie: Instead, Cameron’s cooked up a derivative, overlong pastiche of anti-corporate clichés and quasi-mystical eco-nonsense. It’s not that the film’s politics make it bad, it’s that even if you agree, the nearly three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing leaves no room for interesting twists or ambiguity in the story or characters: corporations are bad, scientists are good, natives are pure, harmony with nature is the ultimate ideal…

    Good grief. A “three-hour onslaught of simplistic moralizing”? There’s maybe three minutes of political content scattered throughout the whole movie. Admittedly, some of it is pretty clunky—references to pre-emptive strikes, shock and awe, and fighting terror with terror—but it all goes by in a few seconds. Maybe James Cameron was trying to send me a message, but so what? I was busy enjoying the rest of the movie.

    I think Suderman must have gone into this movie with an attitude, because he sure missed a lot. For one thing, the native people’s connection to nature isn’t just some kind of “cheap mysticism” or “quasi-mystical eco-nonsense.” The Na’vi are connected to nature for a reason. Anybody who’s familiar with science fiction literature will see it coming, but it’s also spelled out quite clearly in the movie.

    Also, Suderman and other right-wing critics seem to miss the rather important fact that the bad guys are stealing from the natives and destroying the places where they live, just like any corporation using eminent domain to take someone’s land. A libertarian shouldn’t have any problem with the natives trying to prevent that.

    On the other hand, Roger Ebert says it has an anti-war message, apparently missing the fact that the Na’vi good guys have plenty of weapons and don’t mind fighting back.

    I’m not saying Avatar is pro-war and pro-property rights, but neither is it about anti-corporate mystical eco-nonsense. It’s about these people on this planet, and some of them are human and some of them are alien, and…really, it’s a big special effects movie. Just go see it and have fun.

    Merry Bloggy Christmas

    In the spirit of a holiday named after a wise Jew from the (middle) east, I think it’s only fair to direct you to Simple Justice, where Scott Greenfield has posted a heartfelt thanks for all his fellow blawgers:

    Blawgers give of their time, their thoughts, their talents to write.  In return, they are told how ignorant and stupid they are by people they don’t know.  They are stalked and threatened with physical harm by actual psychotics with keyboards.  Why would anyone put up with such abuse?  Yet they do, and continue to write.

    Aw, Scott, it’s not that bad. I’ve never met most of the people I blog about, and I call them ignorant and stupid all the time. It’s only fair that people say the same thing about me.

    Besides, it’s not like they’re going to get a way with it. I’m making a list and checking it twice, if you know what I mean. Someday, everyone’s gonna get theirs who’s got it coming.

    But not today, because, you know,

     

    Peace On Earth, Good Will Toward Men.

     

    The vitriol and derision will return tomorrow.

    How to Stop a Stalker – Thoughts and Observations

    I’ve been reading How to Stop a Stalker by Mike Proctor, a former detective in Westminster, California.

    I’m fascinated by some aspects of forensic psychology, so I was hoping the book would discuss the psychology of stalkers and how to discourage them. However, Proctor’s book is more about how stalking is defined as a crime and how police handle it. There are several chapters on personal safety and security gear, but none of that is specific to stalking. This book just wasn’t about what I thought it would be about.

    Some of Proctor’s policework is a little disconcerting. It’s not that he’s doing anything illegal or even unethical, but I’m used to thinking about police activity in the context of victimless crimes, where pretty much everything police do is wrong. So when proctor describes searching a stalker’s house, I feel uncomfortable, even though I know that stalkers are real criminals.

    Actually, I should clarify: The stalkers Proctor talks about are all clearly criminals, but I’m a bit less certain that everyone prosecuted under the anti-stalking laws was as bad as these guys. I mean, human behavior didn’t suddenly change in 1990, so why did we suddenly have all these laws against stalking? It has the smell of a moral panic, like satanic ritual abuse or sexting, and nothing good ever comes from that.

    Part of what worries me is that anti-stalking laws seem like an attempt to punish stalkers for the implied threat of their conduct rather that for their actual conduct. As long as the implied threat is an intended threat (i.e. the threat does not exist only in the minds of the victim and the police) that seems like a legitimate reason for punishment, but I suspect there’s room for abuse.

    Proctor tells the stories of several terrible stalking incidents. Actually, “incident” is the wrong word. Being pursued by a serious stalker is like being in a low-intensity war. It drags on for years, and you never know when something bad is going to happen.

    What’s amazing to me is how ineffective the police seem to be. Here you have a guy harassing someone, making threats, breaking into their house, vandalizing their car, and it goes on for years without the stalker receiving any punishment. Yet somehow the police find the time to arrest a guy for being naked in his own home.

    Although I didn’t get what I was looking for from this book, I did find a few passages in Proctor’s description of how a stalking trial works that will amuse or infuriate some of my readers:

    Once the defense counsel has gathered up the entire discovery information and has made at least a brief review, she may go to the presiding judge and ask for what she feels is a reasonable disposition to resolve the case—in other words, what it will take to close out the case. The judge then reviews the facts of the case and gives the defense attorney an ideas as to whether probation will be appropriate in the case, or, if a jail sentence is warranted, the approximate length of the sentence. The defense counsel then discusses this information with the defendant, who can either accept or deny the offered sentence. (That is, what the district attorney and the defense have agreed is a reasonable sentence.) Sometimes, though not often, the defense attorney may push for his client to plead guilty to the charges, but his client may fail to cooperate. This is known in the trade as a “lack of client control.” In this situation, the defense counsel is forced to go to trial.

    Yes, because the client’s stubborn insistence is the only reason a defense lawyer would ever go to trial. Maybe Proctor is just so good that he’s never given a D.A. a weak case.

    After the prosecuting attorney is finished with his questions, the defense counsel gets a turn. It is the defense counsel’s job to make sure none of his client’s rights are violated, and to defened the client against the charges, if possible. Unfortunately, it is our opinion that too many defense attorneys attempt to liberate their clients by clouding the issues. This is accomplished by trying to put words in your mouth, back you into a corner, or make you look confused and unsure of yourself. This is usually done in an effort to sway the jury into wonderin whether you are sure of the facts of the case. It may not be right, but perception planse a definite rols in a trial setting. If the jury thinks you are lying or confused, it will cause problems for the prosecution. In all fairness, we do know defense attorneys who actually do what they are supposed to do, that is, defend their client in a true and just manner, but it has been our experience that these individuals individuals are few and far between.

     I sure hope that’s true if I ever need a defense lawyer.

    Fuck Ed Jagels

    Radley Balko bids farewell to Kern County California D.A. Ed Jagels:

    You’d be hard pressed to find a law enforcement official anywhere in the country who better embodies the worst excesses of America’s sharp turn toward law-and-order crime policy over last 30 years. From expanding the death penalty to eroding the rights of the accused to jacking up prison populations to formulating crime policy around sports metaphors, Jagels created a high-profile position by backing just about every bad crime policy in a generation.

    But if history dispenses justice more honorably than Ed Jagels ever did, the boyish-looking D.A. will be most remembered for his role ruining countless lives in perhaps the most shameful of the Reagan-era “tough on crime” debacles: the coast-to-coast sex abuse panic of the 1980s.

    It’s because of prosecutors like Jagels—and while few are as successful as Jagels, many are trying—that I don’t automatically assume the prosecutors are the good guys. From Radley’s account, Jagels was a cancer on the California justice system. Yet unlike cancer, he was encouraged to thrive and grow by other people in the system.

    Nobody ever held him responsible. Kern county residents paid out millions in settlements for his errors, but Jagels himself escaped scott free. He’s advising one of next year’s candidates for governor.

    Profitable DUI Punishment in South Carolina

    South Carolina criminal defense lawyer Bobby Frederick has an excellent example today of the scourge of profitable punishment:

    Law enforcement agencies receive grants based on the number of DUI arrests they make – if the number of arrests goes down, they are in danger of losing that money. Law enforcement officers are given awards for the number of DUI arrests they make (arrests – not convictions), which encourages them to make as many DUI arrests as they can in order to gain recognition.

    He also refers us to a great explanation from Lawrence Taylor of what MADD is really all about.

    in Legal
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