RantList Archive

Thursday, June 28, 2001

A Modest Suggestion


Nation: Castrated rapist held on suspicion of murder

LITTLE ROCK, Ark. (June 27, 2001 4:35 p.m. EDT) - Authorities report that a convicted rapist on parole from Arkansas, where he was castrated while awaiting trial, is a suspect in the murder of a Missouri woman who had his DNA under her fingernails.


DuMond was paroled in 1999 after serving 14 years for the kidnapping and rape of a 17-year-old Forrest City cheerleader.

He said that while he was awaiting trial in that case masked men broke into his home and castrated him with fishing line. No one was ever arrested for the attack but DuMond won a court judgment against then-Sheriff Coolidge Conlee of St. Francis County, who kept DuMond's testicles in a jar on his office desk.


Next time, maybe just cut off his head and save everybody a lot of trouble?

You Make The Call, Part II

From http://www.wired.com/news/business/0,1367,44816-2,00.html
(Italics mine)

Car Phone Ban Author Wants More

The personal crusade of a New York legislator who drafted the bill that restricts drivers from using their cell phones in the car -- and which will become law on Thursday -- is far from over.

Felix Ortiz, the Brooklyn assemblyman who wrote the bill, says he will push for a law that prohibits even hands-free cellular systems in the car.

He is also promoting a bill that prosecutes offenders of the no-cell-phone rule as if they had been driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.


Connecticut is the only other state mulling over a bill that would even prohibit the use of hands-free cellular devices in the car. The bill, which is floating in the state Senate, also makes eating, tuning the radio and reading in the car an offense.


Whenever lawmakers such as those in New York introduce bills to prohibit the use of a handheld cell phone while driving, they almost always cite a 1997 study published in the New England Journal of Medicine. The article, written by University of Toronto medicine professor Don Redelmeier, shows that talking on the phone while driving quadruples a driver's chance for a car crash.

While Redelmeier's study does not call for a ban of the devices in the car, he emphasizes in a follow-up to the article that hands-free devices "offered no large safety advantage and implied that the main factor in a collision was a driver's inattention rather than in dexterity."

The risk of using a headset was actually slightly higher than talking on a handheld phone, he said.

"A false sense of security, however, could also have led people to have a liberal attitude toward hands-free cellular telephones and thereby to expose themselves to greater risk than if they had a handheld cellular telephone," Redelmeier said.


OK, let me get this straight... we have tens of thousands of people nationwide chatting on their cell phones, and each one of them is as dangerous behind the wheel as a drunk, and the accident rate doesn't show the slightest bump. Hello?

This is the nanny-state at it's best. Sometimes, you gotta think the whole world is run by hysterics. They read one fucking study and they take it upon themselves to run the world.

Here's a nice counterpoint buried at the bottom of the page:

"That would be foolish," said Verizon Wireless spokesman Howie Walterman. "I don't think there's any point in having an outright ban. First of all, we go back to that statistic we talked about a while ago.... When you have nearly 140,000 people calling 911 from their wireless phones every day ... it's clear that the wireless phone is a safety tool and that cannot be compromised."

Think about that for a minute - what does it benefit, to society at large, to create an environment that encourages people to have phones in their cars?

Be honest now... suppose you knew that you would be severely injured on the road today. Would you rather spend the day in a place where lots of people had cell phones in their cars, or not? Overall, would you feel safer with them or without them?

Wednesday, June 27, 2001

Cool Site Of The Week


This thing is like $25!

The Personal Astrolabe from Janus is an inexpensive astrolabe recreation that makes the joys and mysteries of the astrolabe available to everyone. Most astrolabe reproductions are intended to teach you a little about astrolabes but are not intended to be used. The Personal Astrolabe teaches you about astrolabes, and is also a useful instrument. The Personal Astrolabe is the most accurate astrolabe ever made. Period.

It is called the Personal Astrolabe because each instrument is custom made for you, imprinted with your name and city, and includes a set of problems worked specifically for your instrument. The Personal Astrolabe comes with a 50 page book that explains astrolabe use, theory, history and includes the necessary astronomical background.

The Personal Astrolabe is 7 inches by 8.3 inches (slightly larger than most classic instruments). The Personal Astrolabe is not a kit. It is produced by printing the components on a high resolution printer on heavy card stock. The front and back are accurately aligned using special tooling, drilled, cut out, laminated in plastic, recut and assembled. The rete of the Personal Astrolabe is printed on transparent material and includes 150 stars arranged in familiar constellations.

All astronomical values are calculated for each instrument including the obliquity of the ecliptic, the time of the vernal equinox for your longitude, aphelion and perihelion, and stars are rigorously precessed to the date of the instrument.

Each Personal Astrolabe is calculated for your latitude and longitude to the nearest minute of arc, and for any date you chose (we have made instruments for as far back as 2800 BC). We recommend 2002 as the base date for current instruments since 2002 is halfway between leap years and somewhat of an average for the date and time of the vernal equinox on the back calendar scale. Additional plates for each 5 from 25 to 60, a plate for all horizons, a plate for 0 and 90 latitude and a plate of celestial latitudes are included. Your Personal Astrolabe can be used anywhere within several hundred miles of your home with good accuracy.

Quote Of The Day

From http://www.spectator.org/opinion/perspective010627.htm

The principal fallacy at work here is the notion that there's a noticeable I.Q. gap between the rubes hopping around the Montana woods sporting camouflage fatigues and toting copies of The Turner Diaries and the rubes hopping around the Soho bar scene sporting multiple piercings and toting copies of the Village Voice. The groups are, rather, intellectual mirror images. Both worship ill-defined notions of individual freedom, both are filled with irrational rage towards the government -- which both view as malevolent and conspiratorial -- and each group feels oppressed, in some vague though palpable way, by the other. In truth, the only significant difference between the two groups is that the Soho crowd pays more for their clothes.

Tuesday, June 26, 2001

You Make The Call

NY is on the verge of making it illegal to drive while using a hand-held cell phone. I'm sure that most of us agree that this is a great idea, assuming that cell phone use actually causes accidents. If cell phones don't cause accidents, however, then the law is stupid and unnecessary.

But we all know that cell phones cause accidents, right? Well, decide for yourself. Here's a table of highway fatalities from http://www.hwysafety.org/safety_facts/fatality_facts/general.htm#

  Deaths per
100,000 People
Total Deaths
1975 21 44,525
1976 21 45,523
1977 22 47,878
1978 23 50,331
1979 23 51,093
1980 22 51,091
1981 21 49,301
1982 19 43,945
1983 18 42,589
1984 19 44,257
1985 18 43,825
1986 19 46,087
1987 19 46,390
1988 19 47,087
1989 18 45,582
1990 18 44,599
1991 16 41,508
1992 15 39,250
1993 16 40,150
1994 16 40,716
1995 16 41,817
1996 16 42,065
1997 16 42,013
1998 15 41,501
1999 15 41,611

See that giant spike there over the last couple of years that correlates with the explosion of cell phone use? No? Me neither.

To put it politely, we're getting our legs pulled, is what.

Cell phones are distracting. Changing the radio station while driving is distracting. Yelling at your kids, sipping a cup of coffee, and looking at a map are distracting, too, but none of these are perceived as being especially risky, and for good reason, too. I think it's obvious that cell phones fall into this same category; if they were a real problem we should see a meaningful increase in the accident rates, and we simply don't. This is grade-school stuff, guys...

Te myth of the killer cell phone has been popularised by numerous 'studies' that routinely confuse correllation with cause. They note that cellphones were used when some accidents occured, and assume that they are thus the cause of the accidents. I could use similar logic to show that car radios cause more traffic accients than god himself, but it wouldn't prove anything.

The sole effect of this law is that the phone resellers now get to make a nice buck installing hands-free units for about a million new customers. Anybody want to guess where their money is on this issue?

This is an invented issue, backed by childishly bad data and a big industry to help push it though. The sad thing is that nobody even seems to notice.

You want to reduce the traffic accident rate? How about mandating a real driving test to get your license, instead of that drive-around-the-block-and-parallel-park bullshit we do now? How about retesting old people every five years? How about you lose your license for a year on your first DWI? Instead, we get cell phones. Blow me.

Monday, June 25, 2001

Fun With Numbers

A new set of government crime statistics are now available at http://www.ojp.usdoj.gov/bjs/. I just took a peek at "Special topics - Firearms and crime".


Self-defense with firearms


A fifth of the victims defending themselves with a firearm suffered an injury, compared to almost half of those who defended themselves with weapons other than a firearm or who had no weapon.


On average between 1987 and 1992, about 35% (or 22,000 per year) of the violent crime victims defending themselves with a firearm faced an offender who also had a firearm.


Average annual number of victimizations in which victims used firearms to defend themselves or their property
All crimes 82,500
Total violent crime 62,200


So, let's take it from the top - 82 thousand instances of self-defense with a firearm per year, most of which - 62 thousand or so - were for protection against a violent crime.

Out of those 62 thousand, only a fifth of these people got hurt, compared to almost half of the people who resisted by other means. This is especially interesting in light of the fact that about a third of the time, the defenders were facing attackers armed with guns.

Anyone here still think that firearms are not an effective means of resisting a violent crime?

Anyone here who would rather take their chances with submission to a sexual assault rather than resist with a firearm?

Saturday, June 23, 2001

The Find-A-Life Campaign, Continued

You may recall my plaintive whines from several weeks back, as I faced up to the unfortunate reality that I would be programming computers for the foreseeable future, even though I was just about sick to death of it. I've given myself until the end of the current job cycle to make a decision, one way or the other, and to stop bitching about it.

So I'm learning Java now, because that's where most of the jobs are anymore. It's basically C++ with feathers, no big fucking deal, just a new pile of strange little facts to learn. I happen upon this little tidbit in Wired magazine, which immediately gets posted on my office door.

Yeah, I can do that. I'm getting about ready to accept this. Thank god I'm even smart enough to have this choice to make... OK, so my stomach still hurts when I think about it too much. Doesn't mean I get to be exempt from being a grownup like everybody else.

I get in my truck to go run an errand, and about 50 yards from my driveway there's a car parked deep in the trees on the other side of the intersection. Really rather too deep, if you ask me. Hmm.

I stop and look. Yep, it's too deep. I try to think of how this could be something that's OK but I can't think of anything. I hop out to go have a look.

It's a wrecked car all right. He's piled into a dead tree and half of it is laying across his hood.

The tire tracks have pressed the grass down and there is still a sheen of mud on the individual leaves. It's been raining all morning, too, so this must be pretty fresh. There is a rut in one of the tracks, full of water that is clear, not muddy. OK, so maybe not too fresh. Half an hour, maybe?

The car is empty. I can see the grass is disturbed by the driver's door, he let himself out. No blood inside, not even on the door handles, no stars on the windshield either. The inside of the car is orderly and neat. No smell of booze or smoke.

I look around. No blood, no disorder, no sign anyone else stopped to have a look. The little hairs on the back of my neck begin to relax to their usual position. I call 911 on my cell phone and the cop says thanks, we already know all about it.

I get in the truck and drive off, and pretty much forget about it. An hour later, it occurs to me that for those five minutes I felt alive again. I was just working, doing the thing I used to get minimum wage to do, but it felt like it mattered. It mattered that I pay attention, it mattered that I know my shit reasonably well, it mattered that showed some judgement. It was real.

Of course, back in the days when I used to get paid for this stuff, I grew to hate it, and I have no illusions about making that mistake again. But now I understand a little better why my first impulse when I wanted to change jobs was to become a pilot. I wanted it to matter. A pilot, I imagine, does not do most of what he does because somebody tells him to do it that way. He does things because it's the right way to keep the craft in the air and bring it safely to where it's supposed to go. He's guided by reality, not somebody's arbitrary opinion of how reality ought to be, because there is no room for make-believe in that line of work. It's real.

Well, I'll tell you what. It'll be a cold day in hell before I start doing emergency medicine again, and it'll take a little bit more than the sort of poverty-level wages that local pilots get before I'll be lured into that line of work, either.

But I'm not quite ready to give up yet.

Friday, June 22, 2001

Another Bold Prediction

You've all heard about this:

LONDON (AP) -- Two teen-agers who were 10 when they tortured and killed 2-year-old James Bulger will be released, the government announced Friday, despite a long campaign by the toddler's mother to keep them behind bars.

Both young men, now 18, will be given new identities, which a judge has barred the British media from disclosing.

My call? Blood will follow in the wake of this decision.

The most likely outcome is that their "secret" identies will be blown and they will face violent retribution. The second most likely outcome is that one or both of them will be returned to prison in the next couple of years. This was a bad decision and the best we can hope for is that innocent blood is not spilled because of it.


This One Might Surprise You

Consider this, from http://www.cnsnews.com/ThisHour.asp#Black Lawmaker Engulfed in American Flag Flap

For some civil rights activists, the Confederate flag isn't the only banner that symbolizes slavery and oppression. They say the American flag insults them just as much, and there's a growing push for blacks to stop pledging allegiance to it.

You might have guessed part of my take on this - the old "if there is anyplace else you'd rather live, let us know" routine - but there is something more here as well. I think the pledge is about as stupid and un-American a thing as you can find in a classroom, and I applaud anyone who takes the time to stand up to it.

Think about it for a minute - a required, daily Pledge of Allegiance. If we renamed it "The Loyalty Oath" we might better see what this piece of crap really is. We are expecting our children (lord knows, we'd never expect adults to put up with this) to pledge daily allegiance to the government - not to the ideals of freedom or democracy, not to the constitution, but to the republic itself. Why? Well, either because we expect it to work as a subtle form of brainwashing by sheer repetition, or because we honestly believe that requiring people to pledge their loyalty on a daily basis is a correct thing to do in a democracy such as ours and we are leading our children by example.

Is there on person out there that thinks the government ought to require us to recite a loyalty pledge? Is that what America is all about?

I remember taking a personal stand against this and refusing to recite the pledge myself. By some accident of chance I actually learned something in school - I learned what the constitution says, I learned what it means, and I learned my proper place with respect to my government. In short, I learned I was a free man and I had both a right and a duty to tell these people to fuck off, which I did. I took a lot of shit for it, too, most especially from a particular teacher who was to become the wife of Ithaca's first honest-to-god Socialist mayor. There is a lesson there, too...

Does this mean I've gone soft in the head and started to agree with the whining victim groups? Hardly. But sometimes, despite themselves, they do get some things right. They don't want to say the pledge because they hate this country. Good for them. I don't want to say the pledge because I love this country, or, more accurately, I love my version of it. More importantly, I understand that for whatever their reasons, they have a right to tell us to fuck off when we ask them to do dumb-ass shit like this, and I'll support them for it even if I think their reasons are contemptable.

I'm sure my old teachers would be so proud...

Thursday, June 21, 2001

Draw Your Own Conclusions

Ellen Spertus is not just a little geeky: She is officially the Sexiest Geek Alive, and she's got a crown to prove it.

Anybody want to see some shots of the runners-up?

Tuesday, June 19, 2001

Quick Update

A friend of ours recently gave me a whole shitload of fireworks, including some rather hefty rockets. These babys are trailing - I kid you not - a three foot length of 3/8" thick balsa behind them. They look like two-by-fours.

Actual performance, however, has been disappointing. Desite a mighty noise on liftoff, they only seem to reach about a hundred meters or so before they explode in a shower of sparks. The tailpieces are obviously too heavy.

So, I modifed a rocket to replace the lumber with three cleverly-designed aluminum fins made from aerospace-grade cat food can lids, held in place with superglue. This about cut the launch weight in half and provided a sleek and impressive appearance.

About three minutes ago I touched this baby off on my deck. She tilted a bit on liftoff then came up nice and straight, right into the overhanging branches of a pine tree which excised two of the fins without apprecably slowing the velocity of the launch vehical. She did not cartwheel as you might expect, but took an unerring and nearly horizontal course straight for my neighbors house, out of sight behind a low ridge.

As I predicted, the range was greatly improved. The little bitch kept going faster until I just couldn't see her any more, clearing the ridge like some Chinese-made grim reaper on an unknown but apparently important mission in the far corner of my neighborhood.

I'm hiding now.

Three Allisons

I have a pirated copy of Elvis Costello's Allison in my MP3 folder. I usually have my player running in random mode when I am writing code, so about every third day or so I can expect this song to come up and make me feel sad for a few minutes. I don't know why I don't just trash the thing, but somehow, feeling bad every now and again is OK.

Allison has not been a lucky name in my world.

Allison Number One dates back to "The Before Time", those prison-like years in High School. I wanted to go out with her and we spent a few nice days together, but she decided to go back to her old boyfriend and that was that.

I met her again years later, and although she was still a young woman, life had not been kind to her. The closest I got to a another shot at intimacy was a hair-curling story and a threat, delivered in a disturbingly flat tone of voice, that she would kill me if I repeated what she'd said. She was probably harmless enough, and my heart goes out to her. I hope you found a kinder path, girl.

I also feel that sort of worthless, unearned guilt that must be something like that felt by the lone survivors of train wrecks. I had no idea how to deal with you, no idea how to help you. I was just a dumb kid, and, if I am remembering right, probably stoned, too. I did believe you though. I had something heavy in my hand where you couldn't see it, and I was quite ready to brain you with it if you had really lost it on me.

Allison Two was my randomly-assigned partner when I first started to teach climbing at Cornell. She was sweet, brave, and might have been quite pretty, too, if she lost a bit more than a little weight. Allison Two was one of the first women I'd known who I could be in a dangerous place with, and who I could turn my back on with complete confidence. This is a highly arousing attribute, but, of course, she was seeing someone else, so that was that.

I met her again years later, although I didn't realize it for a moment. She had dropped those pounds and buried them in a place so far away that it became impossible to remember them; she was stunningly beautiful, just knock-you-flat-on-your-ass gorgeous.

I said hello, I was so happy to see her, I'm stammering like an ordinary idiot and she was just so sad. She had little to say to me, and nothing I was going to do could change it, either.

What the fuck? What's going on, girl?

I'll probably never know. In ten seconds she was gone and I've never seen or heard of her again.

Allison Three worked the day shift that the Greek House, a place where I direct-deposited half my paycheck in exchange for maybe 80% of the food I ate over the course of about four years. I know her name was Allison because we were on a first-name basis; she'd smile and say hello when she say us coming and nod in the direction of the seats in her section. It was cool to see her almost every day, and so far as we could tell none of her other regulars seemed to share this sort of relationship. She was young and pretty and happy, and we were suckers for it, too.

She didn't show up for a couple days, and I read in the papers that a woman named Allison had been murdered with a hammer, by her husband no less. About a day later we put the pieces together and I didn't much care for the Greek House for about a year after that.

Friday, June 15, 2001

It's A Jungle Out There...

Bruce Schneier, my favorite computer security guy, offers some interesting comments in the latest Crypto-Gram:

The results [of the hacker research] are fascinating. A random computer on the Internet is scanned dozens of times a day. The life expectancy of a default installation of Red Hat 6.2 server, or the time before someone successfully hacks it, is less than 72 hours. A common home user setup, with Windows 98 and file sharing enabled, was hacked five times in four days. Systems are subjected to NetBIOS scans an average of 17 times a day. And the fastest time for a server being hacked: 15 minutes after plugging it into the network.


Someone in Ottawa set up a scanner to eavesdrop on cell phone calls, and then made the results available on the Internet in streaming MP3 format. Near as anyone can tell, this is perfectly legal. http://www.canoe.ca/OttawaNews/OS.OS-06-07-0003.html

I was especially interested in this link he mentioned as well (anybody else remember Al Gore and his Clipper Chip, that would "trust" the government with the keys to all your data)?

Newly declassified documents show that America considered sharing secret computer security code "keys" with foreign powers including China, Syria and Pakistan. The documents include a secret 1993 CIA cable on the "Clipper" project, a computer security chip developed by the U.S. government. The Clipper chip contained advanced "key recovery" surveillance technology, allowing the government to secretly tap phone conversations and monitor computer communications.
"The U.S. intelligence community is concerned about the potentially profound impact on collection capabilities of the widespread foreign use of increasingly sophisticated encryption devices," states the secret CIA cable.

[In other words - "Hey, China - we'll show give you OUR citizen's keys if you give us YOURS!"]


The secret 1993 CIA cable is one of 69 documents released by the U.S. State Department on the secret Clipper chip project. The documents were forced from the State Department through the Freedom of Information Act. In addition, the State Department refused to release 12 documents as classified "in the interest of national defense or foreign relations."


According to a top-secret 1992 memo, the Clipper chip contained an "exploitable" feature allowing the government to secretly monitor all communications. However, to be successful, the Clipper project also included plans to "mandate" the surveillance chip to be manufactured into all U.S. phones and computers.

In Schneier's words, "More reasons not to trust key escrow".

Indeed. You'd think the inventor of the internet would have known better.

Thursday, June 14, 2001

Digital Angel Good To Go

Imagine if you could implant a chip under your skin that would transmit both your physical location and your heart rate to the internet. Sure, it's creepy and it could be horribly misused, but that's true of any new technology. The important question is, what good would it be?

Well, suppose you have an elderly parent or a retarded child who was prone to wandering away, or that you lived in a situation where kidnapping was a serious risk. (Maybe your crazed ex-husband has threated to take your child and move to Brazil. Maybe you live in Brazil already). Maybe you are responsable for a team of rescue climbers or ski-patrol types or firemen who get sent into harm's way on a frequent basis. Maybe you want to do research on the average territory size of young male coyotes and you are tired of following them around through the pricker bushes.

This is some cool stuff.

Well, according to Worldnetdaily, the Digital Angel beta test on humans begins tomorrow.

Of course, lots of people hate it - Worldnetdaily sees it as "the fulfillment of biblical prophecy" - you know, that 666 mark-of-the-beast stuff - and others, predicably, are concerned that they might someday be forced to wear the things and that Big Brother will own us all.

Personally, I am not worried about any of this and I think the technology is wonderful.

Don't confuse the problem with the symptoms. Big Brother does not need chips to make your life hell, and if we ever do find ourselves in a world where the government forces us to wear implants, the problem there would be the government, not the damn chips. Hell, we pretty much lost the last of our privacy when they invented Social Security and forced us all to have a number. Anybody want to roll that one back?

An implanted chip is like a cell phone, a gun, a car, or a chainsaw - misuse it, or let it run your life and you will suffer for it. Act like an adult, and it can provide incredible benifit.

I want one - I want to put it in my cat and see what she does all day long.

Wednesday, June 13, 2001

About Fucking Time, Revisited

Dave Kopel wrote today about the long-overdue possability that FBI sniper Lon Horiuchi might actually face a day in court, and he did an excellent job of articulating the reasons why I was so anxious to see this finally come about:

From http://www.nationalreview.com/kopel/kopel061301.shtml

In Horiuchi's case, even the federal government knew something was wrong. As the court noted, the Rules of Engagement at Ruby Ridge ordered snipers to shoot "any armed adult," without regard to whether such persons posed an immediate threat. Such a rule is clearly unconstitutional; under the U.S. Supreme Court's opinion in Tennessee v. Garner, law enforcement officers may use deadly force only to protect themselves or others from serious and imminent harm, or to prevent certain especially dangerous felons from escaping. The FBI doesn't argue with this. The majority opinion notes: "The Rules present another mystery. Everyone now seems to agree that they were clearly unconstitutional. But on the day of the shooting no one voiced any objection. And, no one now admits to having approved the rules." The "Not Me" ghost from the Family Circus cartoon was apparently running the FBI when the Rules of Engagement were approved.

It is not the badge that federal law-enforcement officers carry, but rather the delegated constitutional authority that they wield, that makes them special. When federal officials operate outside the Constitution, they operate outside any legal authority that makes them different from ordinary citizens. An ordinary citizen who fires on someone who isn't reasonably seen as a threat faces prosecution for murder, or at least manslaughter ("Reasonable mistakes" are okay everyone understands that law-enforcement officials, or ordinary citizens for that matter, can get things wrong under pressure. But as the Ninth Circuit's majority noted, "This is not a case where a law enforcement agent fired his weapon under a mistaken belief that his fellow agents or members of the public were in immediate danger.") An FBI sniper who shoots when there is no immediate threat is outside the Constitution and deserves no special protection from the law.

I love that line - It is not the badge that federal law-enforcement officers carry, but rather the delegated constitutional authority that they wield, that makes them special. You could write a book about that. There is a terrible danger when we forget this separation, when we assume that the nice men with the badges carry some sort of magical authority that exempts them from the same laws that you and I agree to obey.

These guys decided - all by themselves - to kill people that they had absolutly no right to kill. If they weren't fucked up enough, they have lied about it and covered it up for years and we have never taken these cowards to task for it. There is no dispute about the facts - these men were ordered to kill those people on sight - and to this day, nobody has admitted giving the order, or can even "remember" who gave this order to them. (I don't know about you, but I'd sure as shit remember something like that).

I think at least one person belongs in jail, and about six others should have lost their jobs over this. The only alternative is that we agree it's OK to let the feds do this sort of thing, because, well, they are feds, and they can't be held accountable for who they kill.

It's really too bad Weaver wasn't black, or we would have taken care of this problem years ago.

Pivot Point, Part II

California [is] now dead last among the 50 states in electricity generated per capita.

If that's true - and I'd be happy to entertain claims that it is not - then this pretty much settles the issue, as far as I'm concerned. Watching Grey Davis blame Bush for this one is like watching Tonya Harding blame the skating judges for Nancy Kerrigan' limp.

Monday, June 11, 2001

A New Religion?

I had a bit of a religious experience this week. It was probably not the sort you might expect - the sudden realization, a grasp of truth, a flash of cosmic light - this experience, unfortunately, was of a different sort. I was sitting across from a woman who was talking about something quite apart from any traditional notion of godliness, when it occurred to me that she was, in fact, talking about her faith, and talking about it with great passion. She had firmly in her grasp an objective concept of right and wrong, of how life - hers and mine - should be lived, and she described a world view complete with sinners, saints, a devil, the ignorant and uninitiated aching for a missionary to enlighten them, and how she could go forth and do god's own work right here on earth.

She was talking about politics.

Hell, I talk about politics all the time, and I get pretty passionate about it, too, but this was something very different. People like me are not so utterly partisan; we will acknowledge, or at least agree we ought to acknowledge, a good point made by the other side, and we will occasionally criticize people on our side of the fence when they act like idiots. In short, we have firm beliefs, but we do not see the world in back and white, and we can, at least occasionally, be reasoned with.

Not everyone is like that. This particular woman had a strikingly binary view - anything done by one party was OK and correct, anything done by the other was either evil, misguided, or just plain wrong. For her, politics seemed to offer

[...] an encompassing worldview that answers the big questions about life, lends significance to our daily exertions, and provides a rationale for meaningful collective action.

It is, literally, a religion; absent a god perhaps, but nonetheless a complete, faith-based value system that demands to be externalized and to include others. Appeals to reason, facts, and independent judgment is regarded as foolishness or trickery; tolerance is unnecessary because dissent is simply heresy.

The more I think of it, the more troubling this observation becomes. I see traditional religion as something that you either inherent from your parents and your culture, or as something that provides a haven for the weak. It provides a social climate for like-minded believers, it has special songs and special times of the year where formalized get-togethers are held, it provides a way for the most profoundly lost and battered person to fit right in and become whole and decent again - believe this, say this, read this, and you, too, can be one of us.

It requires an enemy to rally against, and enemy that will only reward a foolish offer of compromise and acceptance with encroachment and manipulation. It rejects logic and suppresses independent thought, it promises a bright future and takes no responsibility for the mess we are currently in. It formalizes a way of indoctrinating the young and shields them from opposing views. It raises vast amounts of money to support itself. It has icons, code words and martyrs. It provides a symbol you can wear on your chest or on the bumper of your car to proclaim your faith.

It doesn't matter which party a True Believer might belong to, as they are all the same once the trappings are cast aside, and both parties welcome and encourage such faithful for their obvious utility.

I've long believed that most of the damage done on this world was done by well-meaning activists. Once your beliefs cross that line into a place where you stop losing arguments and stop changing your mind, that's when all the trouble seems to start.

Timmy goes bye-bye

Everybody knows Tim McVeigh was executed this morning; the media can't seem to talk about much else.

We all got to hear about his poem, we got to hear about his ice cream, we got to hear about how brave he seemed to he when the needle came. Almost makes you proud.

Personally, here's how I'd like to remember him:

When I think of our little Timmy, I like think of daycare center with a truck bomb parked outside, and how he bravely lit the fuse and ran away.

Friday, June 08, 2001

Self Portrait

I'm not really sure why, but I really like this photo.

Part of why I like it is that I look like crap - puffy, disheveled, and really tired. That's how I feel most of the time, and the picture tells the truth.

I also like the metaphorical side - the double mirror reflecting the reflection, showing both sides of the camera, perhaps revealing more than was intended.

Mostly, I like the fact that the picture was utterly accidental; I was just farting around, and shot into the mirror to see what would happen. I couldn't even see the viewfinder to frame the image, and I didn't crop, adjust, color-balance or sharpen it, either - what you see is exactly what came out, all on its own.

That's me. The first photo of myself in a very long time that I ever liked.

Be honest now... what's a fair drinking age?

On interesting fallout of Jenna Bush's recent brush with the law is the bumper crop - and by that, I mean like a half-dozen - of articles in conservative magazines arguing that the states should be free to reduce the drinking age from 21 to 18. It's weird to see the Republicans - those great parental figures, universally despised by the young - standing up against the Nanny-state that the young people worked so hard to elect.

There is no doubt in my mind that enforcing a drinking age of 21 has saved lives (particularly DWIs) and reduced crime. There is also no doubt in my mind that raising the drinking age to 25 or 30 would not result in similar gains.

My take on this is straightforward - in virtually every other important aspect of your life, you are an adult at 18. You can marry, sign a contract, go to war, carry a gun, get an abortion, and run up thousands of dollars in credit-card debt. If you want, you can give everything you own to the church and sleep with as many AIDs-infected people as you want, and nobody, not even your parents, can stop you.

But you can't drink? Get the fuck outta here.

So, are the Republicans right about this, or do most of you agree that the Nanny-state is the way to go?


If this were a private school, would you send your kids here?


Sacramento -- Only a quarter of the ninth-graders who took California's high school exit exam this year would pass the math portion and fewer than half would pass the English section if state officials set the passing score at 70 percent or better.


Panels of educators that reviewed the test results have suggested that the Board of Education use the traditional passing score of 70 percent. But results obtained by The Chronicle show that most ninth-graders would fail the test if the passing score were 70 percent.

[...] In the top 20 percent of schools, 46 percent of pupils would pass the math section. In the state's lowest performing schools, 1 percent would pass.

The results are "abysmal," said Assemblywoman Virginia Strom-Martin, D- Duncans Mills, chairwoman of the lower house's education committee.

The test results are likely to intensify a debate that began after Gov. Gray Davis made the exit exam the centerpiece of his school reforms in 1999. [...] Without a passing grade, students cannot receive a high school diploma.


Lawmakers familiar with the results say they were disturbed that white and Asian students scored so much higher than black and Latino students.

Using a 70 percent passing score in math, 37 percent of whites would pass, 52 percent of Asians and less than 10 percent of African American and Latino pupils.

The 70 percent mark in English would pass 66 percent of whites, 61 percent of Asians and less than 30 percent of African Americans and Latinos. [...]

Lowering the passing score to 50 percent in math would elevate the number of overall students who pass to 50 percent.

So, let me get this straight... Three-quarters of the kids can't graduate high school? More than half of the kids from the top schools flunk?

Either the test is absurd, or, more likely, the schools are, in fact, "abysmal". Maybe we should keep the same people in charge and give them a lot more money - so maybe, someday, every school in the state will perform as well as that top 20%!

Or maybe we ought to fire these incompetent, self-serving bastards and stop holding the kid's futures hostage to the world's biggest union? Jesus... half the kids can't even get a 50% score and they call themselves "educators". Maybe I'm just a little old-fashoned, but didn't a 50% score on a highschool test used to be called an F?. And that's the new median?

God help us all.

Fucked-up News Story Of The Week


TOKYO, Japan -- A man armed with a kitchen knife has forced his way into an elementary school in western Japan killing at least eight children and injuring dozens, authorities and news reports said.

Most of the victims were first- or second-grade students.

Police official Toshihiko Ajisaka said 26 children, including those who died, and three teachers were stabbed. He said the stabbings occurred shortly after classes began at the elementary school in Osaka, in western Japan.

Police said the attacker, a 37-year-old man who carried a kitchen knife with a six-inch blade, was arrested at the scene, but was also injured and taken to a local hospital. The attacker was identified as Mamoru Takuma.

Five of the dead were second-grade girls. The ages of the other victims were not known.

I didn't report this so I could make some dry comment about gun control... I mention this because it is stunningly tragic and, to my mind at least, honestly incomprehensible. In short, it's fucked up.

But, whatcha gonna do?

Thursday, June 07, 2001

Quick, Sue Sara Lee! Require Warning Labels! Call The FDA!

From http://www.foxnews.com/story/0,2933,26612,00.html
(italics mine)

Obesity Greater Health Risk Than Smoking, Survey Indicates

LOS ANGELES Obese adults have more chronic health problems than smokers, heavy drinkers or the poor, according to a study released Wednesday.

The report by the RAND institute in Santa Monica found that obese people have on average nearly twice the chronic health troubles of people of normal weight.

"We didn't expect this big difference," said Roland Sturm, a RAND economist and lead author of the survey, which was published in the latest edition of the British journal Public Health.


Sturm said the survey, funded by the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation, demonstrates that public health officials should intensify their fight against obesity to levels that at least match the public health campaign against smoking.

The study found that more people are overweight or obese than are those collectively who smoke, drink heavily and live below the federal poverty line.


The study showed the obese tend to have slightly more health problems than people living in poverty and far more than daily smokers or heavy drinkers.

Remember all that bullshit about the states suing tobacco companies to recover the healthcare costs associated with use of their products? Anyone want to ask the CEO of McDonalds what he thinks about this?

Wednesday, June 06, 2001

Interesting Pro-Life Counterpoint

Those of you who know me, know that I am an utterly uncompromising and unaplogetic supporter of abortion, and know that I consider access to abortion to be no less a right than access to the voting booth. Nonetheless, I am the first to admit that I cannot defend my position with any sort of overriding logic; it's my opinion, my belief, but nothing more. I can't even make a credible constitutional case for it, other than referring directly to Roe v Wade.

So it's only fair that I offer the following, a damn good point made by the Pro-Life side at http://www.spectator.org/opinion/perspective010606.htm

[...] the debate over buying and selling of transplant kidneys lands the unsuspecting American reader right smack into the middle of the debate over abortion.

Perhaps no slogan on either side of the abortion debate in the United States is repeated as often as this: "A woman has the right to control her own body." Though the reasoning has been around much longer, the feminist author Susan Brownmiller attributes the precise wording to Patricia Maginnis, founder of an illegal abortion referral service in California in the years prior to the 1973 Roe v. Wade decision.

Yet as an argument in favor of a woman's right to an abortion, the claim that a woman has the right to control her own body turns out to be either demonstrably false or logically meaningless. For even if we grant the highly contentious point that the fetus is part of the woman's body, it's simply untrue that Americans, whether male or female, exercise absolute sovereignty over their own bodies. If that were the case, the National Organ Transplant Act could not have been passed. Nor could surrogate mothers be denied the prerogative, as they now are, to rent out their wombs for gestation. Nor, for that matter, could prostitution be prohibited--as it now is in every state except Nevada.

Now it's true that a handful of libertarian-minded feminists -- Camille Paglia comes at once to mind -- have indeed argued that prostitution should be legalized, but I know of no one with even the slightest egalitarian impulses, which pretty much encompasses the entire political left, who would favor laws that permit the harvesting and utilization of the bodies of poor people by rich people. This, however, would be the inevitable result of organs for sale and wombs for hire.

For good reason, then, there is no right to absolute bodily sovereignty in the United States. Yet if we take the claim that a woman has a right to control her own body in a weaker sense -- namely, that a woman's right to control her body extends to include the right to terminate a pregnancy -- we're left with a mere tautology. In effect, the argument becomes that a woman should have the right to an abortion because a woman has the right to an abortion.

There are, to be sure, intellectually serious, logically coherent arguments on the pro-choice side of the abortion debate. The claim of bodily sovereignty is not one of them, however.

Without altering my overall opinion in the slightest, it's only fair to point out that this is a hell of a good argument and that I agree with it. Women, like men, simply do not have a right to control their own bodies. Surely the state has less of a compelling interest in outlawing consensual oral sex than they have in preventing abortion, but clearly they have the authority to do it. Hell, in New York State it is even illegal to get a tattoo on your face! Gotta admit it, guys, it's pretty hard to argue this one...

Tuesday, June 05, 2001

About Fucking Time, Part II

FBI sniper can be tried in Ruby Ridge slaying

A federal appeals court ruled Tuesday that an FBI sharpshooter can be tried for manslaughter in the slaying of white separatist Randy Weaver's wife during the 1992 Ruby Ridge standoff in Idaho.

In a case testing whether federal agents are immune to state prosecution, the 9th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals cleared the way for Idaho prosecutors to charge agent Lon T. Horiuchi in the death of Vicki Weaver, 42. The federal government declined to prosecute the agent.

"When federal officers violate the Constitution, either through malice or excessive zeal, they can be held accountable for violating the state's criminal laws," Judge Alex Kozinski wrote in the ruling.


I don't know if this guy is guilty of anything or not, but he sure as shit ought to face trial for it, rather than just walking away because his boss said it was all right.

Can you imagine the uproar if he killed a black woman with a baby in her arms instead of just some white rural redneck?

The following comment (published in 1994!) by Jeff Cooper sums up my feelings pretty well. While a bit inflamatory on the face of it, I find his words both disturbing, and, particularly upon careful reflection, difficult to dispute.

When one raises the issue of the free status of Lon Horiuchi, the murderer of Vickie Weaver, the surprisingly common answer is, "Nothing can be done to him because he is a federal agent!" So now, in their own eyes, federal agents are above the law. Several periodicals have pointed out recently that we are on our way to a police state. From this point it appears we have already arrived.

About Fucking Time...

From The Philidelphia Daily News at http://dailynews.philly.com/content/daily_news/2001/05/30/local/GUNN30C.htm

Reese, 29, formerly of Delancey Street near 62nd, was sentenced yesterday to 15 years, eight months in prison by U.S. District Judge Mary A. McLaughlin for being a felon in possession of a firearm.

The judge couldn't go lower: 188 months was the minimum term required by tough federal sentencing guidelines for Reese, who in the eyes of the law is considered an "armed-career criminal."

The short, burly, bearded defendant is one of several hundred felons who have been arrested by police in recent years for packing a pistol.

These defendants are being prosecuted in federal court, instead of the more lenient city courts, under Cease Fire, a program aimed at getting gunslingers off city streets.

Reese, then 18, pleaded guilty in 1990 to six armed robberies and served about seven years in prison before being paroled.

Most people don't realise it, but anyone with a felony history who even touches a gun is eligable for ten years in prison under federal law. Until recently, this law was almost never enforced - not because it wasn't a damn good idea, but because people don't like to put other people in prison. They believe it's better to have them carrying guns in the streets.

We finally seem to be growing out of that attitude, a change that I believe is long overdue.

Oh, yes, I was alerted to this site by the NRA webpage at www.nraila.org. These folks have been pushing this approach for many years, and were responsable for the first state programs which have helped to turn the tide.

Monday, June 04, 2001

Credit, Where Credit Is Due

I was checking out a porn site tonight (strictly research you understand) and I stumble upon this observation at http://www.sublimedirectory.com/:

what the hell is up with that prince from Nepal killing the whole royal family and then himself? then a palestinian suicide bombing in line front of a disco in israel killing 20 teens! for god sakes people ...its called WEED...smoke it and chill the fuck out!

Gotta admit, the man's got a point.

War Crimes Revisited

Below is some chatter from my gun-collectors list. The things mentioned below are, in my opinion, quite credible.

My father-in-law has a friend who was a P-47 pilot during WWII. He has footage taken from the cockpit camera of his plane that shows him shooting cows, trains, trucks, and one old man on a bike. The way he explained it to my father-in-law was to say that they were the enemy, and shooting any such "targets of opportunity" disrupted the communications, supply chain and morale of the enemy.


I can tell you a story of a "smaller scale" war crime committed by US pilots. I hear this from my grandmother and later from my aunt. In late September or early October 1944 a convoy of 20-30 horse drawn carriages (fully loaded with woman and children) were heading west, leaving a southern Hungarian city of Hodmezovasarhely, trying not to be caught by the invading Soviets. Soon after they left the city, it was bombed by the Allies. After the raid two of the returning US fighter planes attacked the convoy with machine guns. The people were caught on a large open field, there was no place to hide. They were running towards the woods at the edge of the field but it was too far. The planes were flying back and forth shooting until nobody moved any more. Only a few people survived, including my grandmother who was "lucky" because she broke an ankle jumping off the carriage and fell into a grassy ditch and my aunt who stayed with her in the ditch.

It is hard to believe that the pilots felt any danger coming from the horsedrawn carriages, and it is even harder to believe that they did not see that the people running in the fields are women and children. I wonder if these pilots ever talked about this attack to their grandkids.

By the way according to a flight map these planes most likely took off from an Allied base at Naples, Italy.


This appears as an isolated incident.

The reality was much worse, and you can't find it in books. I'm a Russian Jew, with all that it implies about love of things German.

However, my wife is German-born, and I have thus many in-laws living in Germany. They are all good people. Most of them live in a rural town, Rupertsberg, for many generations. Occasionally, they mention matter-of factly, when reminiscening about the times past, that close to the end of WW2, when allies had an overwhelming air superiority in the skies over Germany, the _American_ pilots would go out of their way to hunt down individual women and children working in the fields and gun them down.

Curiously, there is no bitterness in these memories, as if such conduct by the americans was justified, even though at the time it seemed like pure murder. (I attribute this lack of indignation to the guilt-drenched culture of the post-war Germany.)

It is interesting that _some_ of the allied atrocities are coming to light only now - so far only for the Pacific theater. See http://www.observer.co.uk/international/story/0,6903,500631,00.html

So what, exactly, is a war crime, and when is such a thing excusable by the context of the soldier's situation? Is there a statute of limitations on such things, that after so many years pass we may forgive and forget? Should soldiers on the losing side - even Nazis - get treated the same as the winners? It seems to me we ought to have answers to such questions before we start throwing people in jail. It's be interesting to see those dipshits at the Hague try to 'arrest' a American WWII pilot and find themselves facing a few citizens, like myself, who still believe in sovereignty and still remember how to shoot.

Can the Police read and write to your computer files at will?


Time was, real hacking skills were uncommon enough that the chance of somebody really screwing with you was pretty minimal. Now, hacking knowledge has been encapsulated and made available to just about anyone with a checkbook and 'agency letterhead'.

Check this out: http://www.codexdatasystems.com/menu.html

The short story is that this is a suite of purpose-built spy tools that walk invisably through firewalls, provide read, write, and execute access remotely, and require no brains at all to use. And yes, it can defeat your encryption by just stealing your passwords.

Any defense against this? On Win98 machines, the answer is no, not really. If you are really hip you can watch your processes in real time, but I would not bet any real money that this thing is not smart enough to hide from all but the most paranoid users. The only way I know to genuinely protect data is to put it on a machine wihich is physically secure, ie, in a locked room, and which has no external network connections. Absent that, you are pretty much out of luck anymore.

Welcome to the 21st century...

Saturday, June 02, 2001

And I Thought It Was The Deer That Were Trashing Our Feeders



Original Content Copyright 2001 Mike Spenis