May 2011

You are browsing the site archives for May 2011.

It’s probably a sign that there’s something wrong with me, but somehow I find this video charming. It’s composed entirely of just-before-things-get-naughty scenes from porno movies. I guess that knowing what happens next produces a certain tension with the innocent music and images.

Warning: In and of itself, it’s safe for work, but technically these are scenes of porn stars in pornographic movies. Also, younger and more sensitive viewers may find the ’80’s hair styles disturbing.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

There are many things wrong in this story, but let me focus on this one for the moment:

That’s right, not only were they forced to live under the accusation of being child pornographers, but the FBI naturally had to seize all their computers, since they contained all the evidence.  Like nice pictures of their cat Fluffy.  Shouldn’t that have had some impact on the FBI’s allegations?

(because they confused a game about hacking with actual hacking) they put the gaming company out of business by taking their computers, although even they didn’t take all the computers:Secret Service raided Steve Jackson gamesThe seizing of computers by law enforcement has always been abusive, even in the earliest days. When the

files; other systems were left in place. In their diligent search for evidence, the agents also cut off locks, forced open footlockers, tore up dozens of boxes in the warehouse, and bent two of the office letter openers attempting to pick the lock on a file cabinet.GURPS CyberpunkThe only computers taken were those with

The next day, accompanied by an attorney, Steve Jackson visited the Austin offices of the Secret Service. He had been promised that he could make copies of the company’s files. As it turned out, he was only allowed to copy a few files, and only from one system.

Nowadays, apparently, even a raid for possession of child porn results in all computers being seized and held for years.

When police want to search a house, they can’t lock out the legal occupants for years, so why should they be able to keep people out of the digital equivalents of their homes? If there isn’t an organization out there working to revise these laws, then maybe I ought to start one…

There might be a legal issue with using second-best evidence (a copy instead of the original drive), but that sounds like something that could be fixed with a statute. Civil courts have been working around the problem for decades.

What makes this especially abusive is that it is technically unnecessary: Law enforcement officers could take a forensic mage of a computer’s hard drive in just a few hours. At worst, they’d have to seize computers for a day or two before giving them back. Then they could search for what they need without incapacitating anyone.

My computer contains has about 2 terabytes of hard drive storage (not including disks used for RAID or backups). Making the generous assumption that an average book requires a full megabyte of storage, that’s enought to store about 2 million books. Now, noting especially the use of the word “particular” in the Fourth Amendment, does it seem reasonable to assume that the Founding Fathers intended to allow the the government to seize, with a single warrant, more data than all of the Founding Fathers combined had in all their papers and personal libraries?

The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no Warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by Oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

If the Supreme Court hadn’t completely gutted the Fourth Amendment, this would surely be unconstitutional.

(I have backups, but I assume the invading law enforcement agents would take all those too. And my offsite backups only cover critical stuff — I’d still have a lot to put together.)

on our computers — all our email, all our financial and legal records, everything both of us do for a living, and much of what we do for fun. our whole livesMy wife and I keep I keep Losing them would be a huge disaster, second only to losing our entire home.

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After one final delay (see Gearbox studio head Randy Pitchford’s gracious apology), the long, long, long awaited video game Duke Nukem Forever (a.k.a. “The Chinese Democracy of video games”) is scheduled to ship on June 14, and it’s already gone gold in pre-orders.

Check out the latest trailer:

I think I actually prefer this older trailer which came out a few months ago:

I am beside myself.

What a friggin’ waste of my time! It’s now 6:22 pm local time and still no Rapture. It was supposed to start at 6:00 pm and I was all ready for it. I had my camera with a basic theodolite setup, and pointing directly towards a local church. Being in a typical American city, there are churches every few blocks, of course, so I was ready to slew the camera towards at least one more church as well.

After all, there must be at least some of the pastors and priests or nuns who would get the final calling.
By getting a few directional and angle fixes, plus knowing the distances to the churches, I should have been able to calculate the precise direction of Heaven. At just before 6:04 local time I thought I saw something and took my first fix.
Rapture Photo_003.JPG
It turned out to be nothing but a bird landing in that tree on the left.
Talk about crappy luck. I had the equipment and procedure all setup and ready for a major discovery and nothing happens but a bird landing on a tree.
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Update at 9:11 pm

So I hear that someone somewhere is saying the rapture will happen tomorrow. Of course, for my Jewish and Muslim readers this is no big deal, since everyone knows that only Christians are eligible for rapture. Actually, as my co-blogger Ken pointed out to me the other day, only the really good Christians will be raptured. The rest have to stay here to slug it out with the antichrist like everyone else.

As for readers of this blog, I expect to see all of you still here come Sunday morning.

Well…I sure didn’t see this one coming:

CHICAGO — The FBI has requested a DNA sample from “Unabomber” Ted Kaczynski as part of its investigation into the 1982 deaths of seven Chicago-area people who took cyanide-laced Tylenol from packages that had been tampered with, officials said Thursday.

Wouldn’t that be something? Damn. I remember the Tylenol poisonings. In a way, we all do, every day. Some of you youngsters may not realize this, so…

You know how when you get a bottle of pills or a jar of cheese spread, and you have to tear off that plastic wrapper before you can unscrew the cap? Thirty years ago, there was no such thing. Thirty years ago, hardly any food or medicine products came with tamper-evident packaging.

Then, in 1982, seven people in and around Chicago died after taking Tylenol that had been laced with potassium cyanide. It was a pretty scary time: If the killer could put poison in Tylenol, couldn’t he could put poison in any other medicine or food? And couldn’t anyone else who had a grudge against society?

Over the next few years, we began putting little plastic wrappers on every food or medicine that opened with a cap. Every time you scrape your fingers trying to peel one of those off, it’s because of the Tylenol murders.

The Tylenol killer has never been caught, although there have been at least two copycat poisoning murders, both of which were attempts to distract authorities from a single specific person who was the intended victim. It remains one of the FBI’s biggest unsolved cases. It would be amazing if they could pin this on Kaczynski. I don’t think I’ve heard anyone talking about him as a suspect for the Tylenol killings before.

On the other hand,

John Balasz, Kaczynski’s attorney, said he thinks the FBI wants Kaczynski’s DNA simply to rule him out as a suspect in the Tylenol case.

“You’ve got to ask the FBI how serious they are. I think it’s probably more that they want to exclude him,” he said.

Balasz said he’s “completely convinced” that Kaczynski had no involvement in the case.

Frankly, the government has a shaky record in this area. Just ask “person of interest” Steven Hatfill. And when the government finally decided he wasn’t responsible for the antrax letters (and paid him millions of dollars in damages), they picked a new suspect who was conveniently too dead to defend himself. So I’m not about to jump to any conclusions about Kaczynski as the Tylenol killer.

About a month ago, although he expressed some doubts about the meaningfulness of blog ranking systems, Jamison Koehler published a list of 26 legal blogs along with their ranks according to the Alexa traffic rank tool. His blog’s Alexa rank of 2,011,842 put him at number 12 on the list, just behind me at number 11 with my Alexa rank of 2,011,820.

Koehler took it like a gentleman:

Damn that Mark Draughn: Out of the tens of thousands of website rankings, Windypundit edges me out by a mere 22 places.

Although Alexa is a popular ranking system with advertisers and marketers, I think Jamison is right that these ranking systems are kind of meaningless. To prove it, I applied a few tricks that I’d heard could be used to game Alexa rankings, and then in a comment to Jamison’s post, I offered to demonstrate:

I think Alexa is fairly easy to game. Check back in a month to see if I’m right.

That was a month ago today, and here’s where everybody stands now:

Rank Blog Alexa Rank Previous Rank %Change
1 Simple Justice 184,379 1—232,838 20.812%
2 MyShingle 321,305 2—311,844 -3.034%
3 Popehat 528,917 3—578,385 8.553%
4 Austin Criminal Defense Blog 710,520 4—685,552 -3.642%
5 My Law License 831,052 5—981,356 15.316%
6 Windypundit 871,076 11—2,011,820 56.702%
7 Defending People 888,821 6—983,010 9.582%
8 Underdog 1,263,596 7—1,378,706 8.349%
9 Koehler Law 1,342,653 12—2,011,842 33.263%
10 A Public Defender 1,402,114 8—1,480,538 5.297%
11 Norm Pattis 2,489,081 9—1,687,668 -47.486%
12 CrimLaw 2,750,573 14—2,989,677 7.998%
13 Not Guilty 2,838,498 10—1,692,511 -67.709%
14 The Trial Warrior 3,090,681 15—3,193,703 3.226%
15 Probable Cause 3,322,239 13—2,543,238 -30.630%
16 The Defense Rests 4,325,093 16—4,137,986 -4.522%
17 Infamy or Praise 4,367,654 20—6,343,701 31.150%
18 Military Underdog 4,860,028 22—6,954,695 30.119%
19 Gamso – For The Defense 5,372,044 17—5,412,555 0.748%
20 Blonde Justice 5,588,157 21—6,535,407 14.494%
21 Chandler Criminal Defense 5,812,592 18—6,162,411 5.677%
22 Liberty & Justice for Y’all 7,078,121 24—8,261,282 14.322%
23 DA Confidential 7,376,561 23—7,266,259 -1.518%
24 DC Criminal Defense Lawyer Blog 10,855,009 25—8,860,327 -22.513%
25 Chicago Criminal Defense 11,067,409 26—13,712,119 19.287%
26 In Your Defense 17,005,315 19—6,235,707 -172.709%

As you can see, a few people have moved around, but my blog Windypundit was by far the biggest gainer as a percentage of it’s original position, jumping 56% or 1,140,744 places to land in the number 6 spot on the blog list. Other people jumped more places, but they both started and ended with Alexa ranks that were at least 2 million below mine, and they did not gain as much on a percentage basis.

I think this proves that I was able to game Alexa fairly easily. I may keep this going for a while longer to see if I can push it any higher.

My big fluffy Ragdoll cat Dozer passed away this morning.

We got him from an amimal shelter in 2002 when he was about seven years old. We discovered him in a cage outside the adult cat room. He hadn’t been brushed regularly, so he was the fluffiest cat I had ever seen. I remember the sign on his cage said “If you pet me I will purr very loud.” We got him out of his cage and started petting him and sure enough, loud purring. Sort of a jackhammer cadence, nothing on the exhale, but loud and slow on the inhale.

We played with him a while and then put him back in his cage, because we hadn’t really planned on getting a cat that day. He just sat there, looking up at us with those big blue eyes of his. We decided we had to take him home.

Dozer was a very mild mannered cat. He slept most of the time, only perking up if the food bowl started to get empty. When I was lying on the couch, reading or watching television, he’d come over climb on my chest where I could pet him. Then he’d pad over to the space between my left side and the back of the couch, where he’d settle down and fall asleep while I petted him some more.

His hair rarely got matted, but when it did, I’d have to cut it out, which he hated. He’d try to make me stop by hissing, swatting me with his paws, and even biting, but it was all an act: He never once broke the skin. He was such a gentle creature.

Lately, he’s been struggling with severe health problems, starting when we came home from work a few weeks ago and found him having a seizure. We took him to the emergency vet, and they couldn’t do much for him, so we took him home to say goodbye. He actually started to get a bit better, so we took him to a vet we used to go to, and he said the problem appeared to be high blood pressure, so we started giving him meds for that.

He seemed to bounce back even more. Some of his personality returned, and he even visited me on the couch one last time.

But by the time of his followup appointment two days ago, he was getting wobbly on his feet and he slept even more than usual. The vet said his blood pressure was now too low, so we eased off of his meds, but when I woke up this morning, he was obviously in some kind of distress. I tried to give him some water, in case he was dehydrated again, but he passed away a minute or two later.

Dozer saw us through a lot, including the ups and downs of consulting employment, some stressful health problems for my wife, and the deaths of my both my parents.

I’m going to miss my fluffy buddy.

For most of my life, there’s been a Mayor Daley running Chicago. I remember that as a little kid, I didn’t even realize that “Mayor” was a title.

When Mayor Richard J. Dailey died in 1976, there was a succession of short-term mayors, including Michael Bilandic (appointed by the city council), Jane Byrne (an insider who ran as an outsider after Bilandic fired her), Harold Washington (Chicago’s first black mayor, who died in office), David Orr (by succession, for about a week), Eugene Sawyer (appointed by the city council), until 1989, when Richard M. Daley, son of the first Mayor Daley, finally took the Chicago throne. After the first few re-elections, people started joking that his proper title was “Mayor-For-Life,” but in just a few weeks he’s about to retire.

The Chicago Tribune‘s Leon Kass has a personal look back at Daley’s career. Everyone’s heard of the Great Chicago Fire, but how many people outside of this town remember the Great Chicago Flood? That’s when Kass began to sour on Daley:

Opening Day for the White Sox is a day of South Side obligation, and the mayor and yours truly were obligated to attend services at Sox Park. But our plans changed when an underground tunnel ruptured along the Chicago River. Most Chicagoans didn’t even know the tunnels were there, but they sure learned about them when the Loop was flooded and the entire central city was shut down.

A furious mayor wanted political heads on a pike.

One reluctant head belonged to Jim McTigue, a low-ranking North Side city worker, a Cubs fan and tunnel inspector. Daley held a news conference to rip on McTigue, saying McTigue didn’t warn his superiors of the breach in the tunnel that led to the flood. It turned out that Daley was wrong, that McTigue had indeed warned his bosses, and they had ignored him.

“I don’t want to become the Mrs. O’Leary’s cow of the flood,” McTigue told me.

Yeah, a lot of people think the cow was a frame-up too. It’s the Chicago way.

It also turned out that Daley’s friends were making a fortune off the flood.

Yup, that’s also the Chicago way. I remember one hot summer when a large chunk of one of the city’s older residential areas was out of power for days because the substation feeding the area pretty much blew up. Daley was on television ranting about Commonwealth Edison’s incompetence. They probably deserved it too, but Daley was also ranting about how they needed to start over and do things right by bringing in consultants to fix the problem. I’m sure that he had a specific list of consultants in mind.

This is the sort of thing that happens when you have a powerful political machine like Chicago’s. Instead of the rule of law, you get rule by the arbitrary whims of the man in power.

There were many Jim McTigues in the city. Not just fall guys, but business owners, taxpayers, regular folks who were terrified that they’d run afoul of City Hall and get stepped on.

…by the mid-1990s, Daley’s hatchet men had rigged employment tests to build vast patronage armies, allowing him to control all of Cook County and become the dominant political silverback male in Illinois.

Kass discusses another big scandal or two, but then comes to an interesting conclusion about when Daley’s invincible political machine started to falter:

But then he destroyed Meigs Field, the little airport on the lake. He sent his bulldozers out in the middle of the night and slashed the runways with giant X’s. He ruined Meigs because he wanted to, because he could.

“There are three Daleys,” said a prominent political figure who supports the mayor, at least publicly. “There’s the Daley who got elected, the one you liked. Then there’s the Daley who cut all those deals. And there’s the Daley who destroyed Meigs Field. And once he did that, he lost his way.”

I never understood Daley’s problem with Meigs Field, or why he’d been fighting a legal battle to close it. He claimed he wanted to use the land as a nice park for all the city’s residents, instead of a perq for the rich fatcats with private planes — an unbelievable claim for a deal-maker like Daley. After 9/11, the story changed to one of concern about terrorism and having an airport so close to the skyscrapers downtown, as if a small plane could do any more damage than a hijacked truck, or that a hijacked jet from nearby O’Hare Airport couldn’t reach the city center in about three minutes.

(Even if you don’t know Chicago, you may recognize Meigs Field from Microsoft Flight Simulator. It was the airport you started at by default.)

Anyway, one night a crew of workers used bulldozers to carve those giant X’s in the runways, rendering the airport unusable. It was an obscene thing to do to a working airport, and Daley did it with no warning to airport staff, no warning to the people whose planes were now stranded, and no warning to the FAA. For anyone else, sabotaging an airport like this would be an act of terrorism, but in Chicago under Daley, the city just had to pay a fine.

After Meigs, things were different between Chicago and Daley. Chicago had seen the other side of his face. Things went downhill from there. His friends got rich but Chicago floated in red ink. He failed to win the Olympics. Taxes kept rising. He sold off the skyway, the parking meters.

Geoff Dougherty at Chicago Current has a different take on the start of Daley’s decline:

I think the turning point came a bit later for Daley, when the Hired Truck scandal got cranking.

That was a classic Chicago scam. The city was hiring private trucks to do hauling for construction projects, and one day an enterprising reporter noticed that dump trucks were sitting at city construction projects and just waiting for days, doing nothing except transfering city money to the trucking contractor. A few instances of this could be explained by the uncertainties of construction, but this was happening a lot. Millions of dollars a year were were changing hands while the the trucks sat idle.

(I remember that some Teamsters union rep was a little unclear on the concept, because he thought the big scandal was that the do-nothing truck drivers should have been union do-nothing truck drivers.)

I don’t exactly have my finger on the pulse of the city, so I have no idea whether John Kass or Geoff Dougherty has correctly identified when thing started turning sour for Daley, but I’m pretty sure it was ultimately the parking meters that sealed his fate.

When you do a deal to turn over metered parking operations to a private company, and that company raises prices, increases the number of hours of paid parking per week, and switches to a payment system that is less convenient, you irritate every single driver in Chicago. That can’t do anything good for your re-ection chances.

In an effort to keep you up-to-date, Windypundit has sent its spy satellite (WindySat) to check out the Abbottabad compound in Pakistan to see if we could spot the downed Black Hawk helicopter. Sure enough! There it is. That black “X” shaped object to the left of the building.

abbottabad_pakistan_05_02_11.jpg
OK, I admit it. WindySat is down for repairs so I had to get this from GeoEye.
Still, pretty cool…

You’ve all heard about Donald Trump’s weird obsession with Obama’s birth certificate, right? Pretty crazy, huh? You ain’t seen nothing yet. The real crazy shit will come when Trump starts explaining his policy proposals.

That’s not a prediction. It’s a memory:

CNN

November 9, 1999

Billionaire businessman Donald Trump has a plan to pay off the national debt, grant a middle class a tax cut, and keep Social Security afloat: Tax rich people like himself.

Trump, a prospective candidate for the Reform Party presidential nomination, is proposing a one-time net worth tax on individuals and trusts worth 10 million or more.

By Trumps calculations, his proposed 14.25 percent levy on such net worth would raise 5.7 trillion and wipe out the debt in one full swoop.

(That was back when we thought 5.7 trillion in debt was a lot.)

There are several kinds of crazy going on here, but I might as well start with the fact that Trump seems to think we won’t notice this:

The tax also would lead to the repeal the current federal inheritance tax which really hurts farmers and small businessman and women more than anything else, Trump said.

The federal estate tax also hurts the Trump family. A one-time 14.25% tax is a lot better for him than the 50% or so bite the estate tax was taking at the time. With Trump’s net worth estimated at $5 billion, the math works out that he would be investing about $750 million in one-time tax in order to avoid a $2.5 billion estate tax when he died, which would have been a pretty good deal for the Trump family.

Then there’s the question of how to determine someone’s net worth. Bank accounts and brokerage statements are easy, and real estate isn’t much harder. But it can be tricky to determine the value of something like out-of-the-money options, and more complex derivatives can be a nightmare. (Remember that the current financial crisis was caused because a lot of people, some of them very well informed, consistently guessed wrong about the value of real estate derivatives.) This would be a recipe for both tax injustice and tax evasion.

And when the net-worth tax bill comes due, where will people get the money to pay it? They’ll have to liquidate some of their assets and try to sell them, at a time when the nation as a whole is dumping $5.7 trillion dollars worth of assets on the market. There’s no way that won’t cause a lot of problems.

Before any of that happens, however, people will start trying to protect their assets by converting them to something that is more easily hidden, or which the government’s asset valuations are likely to underestimate. Or maybe they’ll just try to move their assets out of the country. This too will cause problems in the financial markets.

The competition to sell or move assets is likely to be something of a stampede since there will be an advantage to acting quickly, before everyone else’s actions depress the market. In fact, just the fact that a (semi-)serious candidate for president was talking about confiscating wealth was probably enough to encourage some people to liquidate their assets or take them out of the country.

In other words, Trump’s tax proposal is so bad that just talking about it can hurt the economy.

I’m generally opposed to the death penalty, for what I think are pretty good reasons. But in my heart, I’m not completely opposed to it. That’s because there are people I really want killed — people like Osama bin Laden.

Ordinary criminals don’t have that effect on me. Oh, If I read about someone who committed a horrible home invasion murder, at some point I’ll probably wish him dead, but that’s just a passing reaction. And when death penalty proponents ask me what I’d want to happen to someone who killed my wife, I have no problem answering that I’d want blood vengeance. But I also have no problem understanding why I’m not the right person to make that decision.

When it comes to tyrants, however, I really want them to die. Osama bin Laden (a minor tyrant, but still a tyrant) got what he deserved. So did Saddam Hussein. And so did Nicolae Ceaușescu, Benito Mussolini, and every other executed tyrant going back to Caligula. That Josef Stalin died in bed at the age of 74 is a damned shame.

I’m not claiming that killing tyrants should be part of U.S. foreign policy. I’m not even claiming that I have a clear reason for making an exception for tyrants in my opposition to the death penalty. The best I can come up with is that the death penalty debate is about the appropriate policy for governments to follow when dealing with evil people, whereas “Death to Tyrants” is about what to do when the governments themselves are evil.

I can’t pretend to have a good defense for this reaction. If serial killers and wife beaters and gangbangers aren’t deterred by the possibility of execution, it’s hard to imagine that the threat of death would deter people who run their own government.

Yet, in my heart, I still say “Death to Tyrants.”

Yes, the Wicked Witch is dead.

The world is certainly a better place without Osama Bin Laden in it.

I would have preferred that Bin Laden had been captured and put on trial, but I suppose he had no intention of allowing that to happen. A capture and trial would have highlighted the difference between vendetta and justice. It also would have softened the inevitable images of Americans celebrating.

I feel satisfaction, not joy, at Bin Laden’s death. Crowds of Americans exalting in celebration over the death of an enemy is predictable, and even understandable, on some level. Despite this, all I can think of when seeing such displays is the footage of extremists around the world celebrating like fools the death of thousands on 9/11. I despised them for celebrating death.

It would have been nice to think that Americans were better than that, but I suppose a mob is a mob, no matter how enlightened the individuals.


Update: Damn. Now I can’t get that blasted song out of my head…