August 2012

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Remember when I signed up as a Republican so I could vote for Ron Paul in the Illinois primary?

Apparently Republicans are very rare in this town. So rare, in fact, that I’ve received a letter from the Chicago Board of Election Commissioners asking me to apply to be an election judge representing the Republican party. It’s a form letter, and I suspect most registered Republicans must have received one, but it’s a new one on me.

I’m tempted, just for the experience. I’m not sure they’d actually pick me, though. Then again, I assume they wouldn’t have asked if they were swamped with candidates. I’d get a blog post out of it, but it looks like a lot of work — the election judge’s work day starts at 5am — and I’d have to use a vacation day.

Also, I’m not sure how much I want to associate myself with the Republican party. They didn’t pick my guy, so I won’t be voting for them this year.

Still, I like the idea of going around all day saying “I’ll be the judge of that!”

As I’ve mentioned, I’m in the process of porting Windypundit to the WordPress blogging engine, and I’m going to need a new site design since this template is specific to Movable Type. I’m using this opportunity to do a redesign. I’ve chosen a new photo for the header, and I’m using it to select colors for the rest of the page.

And since I’m changing all this stuff anyway, I decided it’s time for some new author photos. I liked the dark, high-contrast look when I created it, but I’m tired of using it now. 

I want a photo that is more friendly, or least less brooding. And I have this vague idea of maybe using several different photos for different sections.

The thing is, I really didn’t want to have to take pictues of myself. It’s a pain in the ass. I have to setup the camera on a tripod with a remote control cable, then walk out in front, take the picture, walk back to look at it, discover I wasn’t standing in the right location, walk back out…over and over until I get something I like. Or until I get tired and declare what I’ve got good enough.

It would be a lot easier if I got someone else to take the pictures. Ideally, someone with real studio lighting instead of a bunch of speedlights, and nice white studio backdrop so I could get full-body isolated cutouts.

I ended up going with Jim Jurica, Editor in Chief of BeautyLook Magazine and an accomplished stock photographer with over 150,000 sales through iStockphoto. I picked Jim because I knew that with his background, he had the technical skills and equipment to produce a nice image, the experience to understand what kind of photo art I’d need for a blog, and most importantly, the ability to direct inexperienced people standing in front of a camera.

Normally, Jim takes pictures of beautiful young women, such as the lovely Jax, pictured above on the cover of the first edition of BeautyLook. However, he does occasionally take pictures of male models and, more importantly, is used to working with completely inexperienced models.

Like me.

2012-08-21-Sunglasses-Smirk.jpg

It was fun. And I think I have a few pictures I can use.

 

The TSA is well-know for annoying air travelers, but I’ve been worried for a while about the TSA’s attempts to branch out to annoy people using other modes of transportation. As it turns out, I wasn’t imaginative enough: After all, why should the Transporation Security Agency limit their activities to annoying only people who are using transportation? They’ve been thinking outside the box:

Many political TV junkies and casual evening news watchers were more than a little surprised to see the bright blue shirts of agents of the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) at a recent Paul Ryan campaign event at The Villages in Florida.

They shouldn’t have been.

About 18 months ago, TSA chief John Pistole…told USA Today he wanted to “take the TSA to the next level,” building it into a “national-security, counterterrorism organization, fully integrated into U.S. government efforts.”

As Steve Watson at Infowars notes,

…airport security style checkpoints and inspection procedures are already in place at bus terminals, train stations, and are rapidly being expanded to the streets of America.

Agents have even been spotted roaming around at public events such as sports games and music concerts, and even at high school proms.

The TSA even moved beyond its own borders this summer as agents were dispatched to airports in London for the Olympic Games.

Internal checkpoints run by uneducated thugs are the hallmark of totalitarian regimes everywhere. We have to put a stop to this before it gets even more out of hand.

(Hat tip: Lucy Steigerwald)

I don’t know much about Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle, but as reported by Monique Garcia and Hal Dardick in the Chicago Tribune, here’s a sentiment that you won’t hear from too many politicians:

CHAMPAIGN — Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle on Tuesday said former President Ronald Reagan deserves “a special place in hell” for his role in the war on drugs, but later she regretted what she called her “inflammatory” remark.

I think that’s a little more partisan than necessary — it’s not as if the Democrats tried to roll back any much of the war on drugs — but Preckwinkle sounds like she’s got the right idea:

Preckwinkle was defending the recent move by the city of Chicago to decriminalize possession of small amounts of marijuana by allowing police to write tickets, saying out-of-whack drug laws unfairly lead to more minorities behind bars.

Downstate Republican state Rep. Chapin Rose of Mahomet questioned whether such an approach includes drug treatment for those who are ticketed. Preckwinkle said no, arguing that drug treatment should be part of the health care system, not criminal justice.

That seems right. Usually when authorities talk about treating drug use as a health issue, they mean that instead of forcing drug users into a cage, they’re going to force them into drug treatment. But forcing people into drug treatment doesn’t work very well, and by using force they’re actually doing the opposite of what they’re saying: They’re turning a health issue into another way to punish people.

“Ronald Reagan wasn’t the first or the last, but he was certainly the most prominent at the very beginning,” Preckwinkle told the Tribune in a phone interview.

“Drug policy in this country has been in the wrong direction for 30 years,” she said. “I think that’s something they should acknowledge. If I had it to do over again, I certainly wouldn’t say anything quite so inflammatory. But my position basically remains the same.”

I’ve heard that a lot of people in local governments have expressed that sentiment in private but are afraid to say anything in public. It’s good to hear a sittling politician say it out loud.

Over at a public defender, Gideon is talking about a disturbing new ruling from the 6th Circuit:

Law enforcement and cops have been using cell tower data to pinpoint the location of a cell phone (and by extension its user) for a few years now, but this was mostly done post-hoc, to prove that a particular individual was at a particular location at the time of the crime. I’m also fairly certain that prosecutors and cops have been getting warrants to track cell phones in order to locate an individual they are chasing.

But can all of this be done without a warrant? Is there a reasonable expectation of privacy in the location signal of your phone? Is this something that society today is prepared to accept? That one doesn’t generally expect someone to know where you are based on the contact your cellphone has (covertly and unbeknownst to you) with a cell phone tower and the cell phone company?

That’s what the 6th Circuit just said in a decision [PDF] released two days ago: that there is no reasonable expectation of privacy in that information and thus, no need to get a warrant in order to conduct surveillance.

I didn’t realize it at first, but on reflection, that’s one of the most frightening anti-privacy decisions I’ve ever heard about, because it’s about data. I mean, sure it’s a bad thing that cops can, for example, stop and frisk people for no good reason, but at least stop-and-frisk is limited by the supply of police officers. No such limits apply to location queries on the cellular networks: If they can track one of us without a warrant, then there’s nothing to stop them from tracking all of us.

(Don’t fall for the claim that there would be “too much data” to track us all. That’s a familiar argument, and it’s wrong. We live in an age of cheap and ubiquitous computing. You can rent a cloud of processors with a credit card, and fault-tolerant distributed database software for problems of this size is available for free.)

The court basically said that following a cell phone is no different than using a dog to track someone’s scent, so no warrant is necessary. Gideon quotes the Cato Institute’s response to that:

But it does not follow at all. “What a person knowingly exposes to the public, even in his own home or office, is not a subject of Fourth Amendment protection,” the Supreme Court explained in the seminal case of Katz v. United States, “But what he seeks to preserve as private, even in an area accessible to the public, may be constitutionally protected.” Any member of the public can buy a dog and follow a scent. Any member of the public can view and copy down a license plate number. Any member of the public can view the external paint job of a car. But any member of the public cannot just track the GPS signal of a random cell phone–and if they could, most of us would be extremely wary about carrying cell phones. Unlike all these other examples, GPS tracking as employed here depends crucially on the ability of police to invoke state authority–a seemingly salient distinction the court fails to take any note of.

That’s a good explanation of my own objection to these kinds of searches. A lot of recent weakening of our 4th Amendment rights has been justified on the grounds that we have no expectation of privacy in information that we store with third parties. But it’s the government that is using its unique powers to force those third parties to turn over that information. And when the government uses those powers, it seems to me that should trigger Constitutional protections. That’s why we have rights; to limit government power over us.

So here’s a bit of good news:

In the race to succeed longtime Pinellas County Judge Henry Andringa, Cathy McKyton defeated Scott Andringa. Scott Andringa is Henry Andringa’s son.

I don’t know anything about Cathy McKyton, except that Brian Tannebaum supported her, which means she probably isn’t a complete tool. On the other hand, I know plenty about her opponent, Scott Andringa. He’s the complete tool who prosecuted Richard Paey for drug dealing and sent him to prison for 25 years, even though the drugs were Paey’s pain medication, which he needs because he has a back injury from a car crash and failed surgery. He also has multiple sclerosis and uses a wheelchair. And he’s a husband and father of three.

Fortunately for Paey, the Governor of Florida agreed that he didn’t belong in prison and granted him a full pardon.

As for Andringa, he went into a private criminal defense practice, where he touted his prosecution of Paey as “a drug trafficking case that was featured on 60 Minutes, Nightline and in the New York Times,” neglecting to mention that it was featured in those news sources because so many people thought it was a terrible thing to do. He’s now a cancer survivor, and he’s apparently known for giving inspirational speeches about it.

As I said in a comment to one of my own posts earlier:

That Scott Andringa also does good in the world, like speaking for cancer patients, is one of the complications of human behavior. I’m not trying to discourage him from his charitable work. I’m glad he’s helping people. He can help people all he wants. But I don’t want him to ever again be in a position to decide who should be punished.

And at least for now, he won’t be.

(Hat tip: Radley Balko)

I’ve been working on moving this blog over to the WordPress blogging engine. I’ll write some more about it, but basically I’ve written a one-off program that loads the blog from the Movable Type database and generates a file I can import into WordPress. It makes sure the links track, cleans up some bad HTML, and fixes a lot of little things. The best part is that I can empty out the WordPress blog and run the import over and over to iteratively test the process.

However, once I start actually using the new WordPress site, I’m stuck with it. Repeating the import would wipe out new posts and new comments. So before I commit to the new site, I’ve got to be pretty confident that it is mostly working right. Among other things, that means spot-checking posts to see if they look okay.

There are over 1900 posts, so I could use a little help with that.

Anyone out there interested in volunteering to peek at the new Windypundit site and examine a bunch of my posts to see if they’re formatted OK? I’m not talking about proofreading, just looking to see if the text looks normal, the images are present at the right size, and so on. If you’re willing, email me at the address in the sidebar on the right.

Thanks.

So here’s a disturbing story about a death in police custody:

The FBI said Thursday it will join the police investigation into the death of Chavis Carter, the 21-year-old man shot in the head while handcuffed in the back of a police car in Jonesboro, Ark.

The investigation comes amid lingering questions over who pulled the trigger. Police said he committed suicide with a gun officers failed to find when they searched him. His family members said they believe he was killed by police who are attempting to cover it up.

For some reason, this story reminds me of a time a few decades ago in the American south, when there was a whole spate of drowning incidents of young negro men, who police determined must have been trying to steal more chain than they could swim with…