Archive for April, 2014

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Dear Congressman Smith

April 12, 2014

As a Missouri citizen, I was embarrassed to learn that you’re a Republican for Missouri’s 8th district. Now to be honest, I wouldn’t expect a Republican from the Boot Heel to support a repeal of marijuana prohibition. That’s no surprise.

What was a surprise was reading about your asking the current administration to override the will of those states that have repealed marijuana prohibitions.

Republicans Demand That the Feds Impose Pot Prohibition on States That Have Opted Out

Testifying before the House Judiciary Committee yesterday, Attorney General Eric Holder was grilled once again about his response to marijuana legalization in Colorado and Washington. He correctly responded that the Justice Department has “a vast amount of discretion” in deciding how to enforce the Controlled Substances Act and argued that his decision to focus on eight “federal enforcement priorities” in states that have legalized marijuana for medical or general use is “consistent with the aims of the statute.” Rep. Jason Smith (R-Mo.) was not buying it. “Federal law takes precedence” over state law, Smith said. “The state of Colorado is undermining…federal law, correct? Why do you fail to enforce the laws of the land?”

What will your constituents think about your wanting the US Department of Justice to crack down on those states that dare to exercise their own authority? Whatever happened to the idea of limited government, Mr. Smith? And what about the states as ‘laboratories of democracy’? Hmm?

But take those as rhetorical questions. I suspect your questioning of A.G. Holder about marijuana laws will play pretty well in most of Cape Girardeau.

So let me change my tack. Do those concepts of limited government and state sovereignty only apply to gun laws and not to drug laws?

What will you be saying if Missouri nullifies federal gun control laws and the DOJ doesn’t attempt to overrule it? Will you say that Missouri is "undermining… federal law"? Will you ask Mr. Holder why he’s failing to enforce the "laws of the land" by not enforcing federal gun laws in Missouri?

I think Ima join both NORML and the NRA, just to make a damned point.

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Tax Day Is Coming

April 12, 2014

There’s a little bit of strong language in this clip.

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When insanity becomes normal

April 11, 2014

I have no comments about the situation in Venezuela to add to the ones I’ve made before, aside from this: Pity the people of Venezuela.

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It’s the police

April 8, 2014

Last week, one of my sons sent me a link to The New Yorker column mentioned below. I thought it was mildly amusing, though it was a pretty cliched view of libertarians. Yeah, yeah… we have to put a quarter into the two-way radio to use it. (Seriously? You couldn’t even work a good tech angle into the column?)

What it sort of reminded me of was Neal Stephenson’s novel Snow Crash — except that Snow Crash was more interesting to read.

So I was glad to see Conor Friedersdorf’s response to that column in The Atlantic yesterday. His response is just chock full of examples of how not to Serve & Protect. (My emphasis below.)

N.L.P.D.: Non-Libertarian Police Department
Law enforcement in America, brought to you by liberals and conservatives

On March 31, The New Yorker published an item in its humor vertical, Shouts & Murmurs, titled “L.P.D.: Libertarian Police Department.” At least 31,000 people liked it.

I can laugh along with parodies of libertarian ideology. But shouldn’t a reductio ad absurdum start with a belief that the target of the satire actually holds? Tom O’Donnell proceeds as if libertarians object to the state enforcing property rights—that is to say, one of the very few state actions that virtually all libertarians find legitimate! If America’s sheriffs were all summarily replaced by Libertarian Party officials selected at random, I’m sure some ridiculous things would happen. Just not any of the particular things that were described. 

That isn’t to say that there weren’t parts of the article that made me laugh. It got me thinking too. If the non-libertarian approach to policing* was the target instead, would you need hyperbole or reductio ad absurdum? Or could you just write down what actually happens under the officials elected by non-libertarians? It is, of course, hard to make it funny when all the horrific examples are true.

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The jig is up

April 8, 2014

As someone who ran Windows 2000 and Windows NT4 for many years past their EOL dates, I’m not too worried by Microsoft’s EOL plans for Windows XP.

But doesn’t the idea that XP still needs bug fixes and security patches after 12 ½ years seem a little odd ? (How long does it take, Redmond?)

Microsoft to Windows XP users: The jig is up

Starting Wednesday, Windows XP users will face a new world with no more technical support or OS updates. That world could prove hazardous to the health of their PCs, which why Microsoft is advising diehards to kick the XP habit.

Okay, so let’s say you still run Windows XP. Exactly what will happen now that Microsoft is cutting off support? First off, your installation of XP won’t mysteriously vanish or suddenly stop working. You’ll still be able to use XP just as always with all of the same features and programs you know and love.

What end of support does mean is that after today you will no longer be treated to bug fixes, security patches, and other updates from Microsoft to defend and protect XP. In fact, today’s Patch Tuesday marks the last round of updates for XP. If any new security issues or vulnerabilities are discovered in XP, Microsoft will no longer be in the job of patching them.

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More about climate alarmism

April 8, 2014

Here’s is an interesting confirmation of something that skeptics of a man-made climate apocalypse have been saying for years.

Dutch Professor Leaves UN Climate Panel

Dutch professor Richard Tol took his leave from the UN climate panel, as he does not agree with the negative conclusions in the latest UN climate report. The consequences of climate change are over-estimated in his opinion. 

“The panel is being governed from within the environmental policy, not from the science”, Tol said. Last month, the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) presented their fifth climate change report in Yokohama, Japan.

The report is warning that any chance of reversing global warming will be lost if something is not done on a global scale to change climate policies.

Climate economy professor Tol finds the report “alarmist and apocalyptic” and that the effects of climate change are being exaggerated. “That over-estimation is being encouraged by a self-selection of authors and referents in the panel”, Tol tells Belgian paper De Morgen. Tol refused to sign the report, according to the Daily Mail.

“There are leading scientists with the IPCC, but there are many average researchers who are just as good. Next to that we seat a number of other people who have the right political connections. The organization is being led and controlled by people who have a stake in climate policy. The IPCC is being governed from within the environmental policy, not from the science.”

I wonder whether Professor Torcello has factored this into his evaluation of what constitutes misinformation about climate science.

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Another take on a Smart Home

April 7, 2014

Here’s a video from Honda about its Smart Home concept house.

If (like me) you’re not very worried about your "carbon footprint" then it will seem a little like a lot of to-do about nothing.

But on the other hand, if you’re interested in decentralization and self-sufficiency (again, like me) it will pique your interest. A 10 KWH battery is sort of intriguing by itself, since I’ve been making back-of-the-envelope calculations on how to store 20-30 KWH in a flywheel.

What I’d like to know, though, is what the carbon footprint is to ship volcanic ash around to make cement as well the answers to similar questions that occurred to me as I watched.

Via Gizmag

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Be afraid (2)

April 7, 2014

Ars Technica has an article about who decides how to pursue those suspected of cybercrime. On the one hand, it seems like a procedural change.

On the other hand, it seems like a way empower even more intrusive surveillance by the government.

As usual, read it and decide for yourself.

Feds want an expanded ability to hack criminal suspects’ computers
Proposed rules to let one judge authorize “remote access” essentially anywhere.

The United States Department of Justice wants to broaden its ability to hack criminal suspects’ computers, according to a new legal proposal that was first published by The Wall Street Journal on Thursday. [March 27th]

If passed as currently drafted, federal authorities would gain an expanded ability to conduct “remote access” under a warrant against a target computer whose location is unknown or outside of a given judicial district. It would also apply in cases where that computer is part of a larger network of computers spread across multiple judicial districts. In the United States, federal warrants are issued by judges who serve one of the 94 federal judicial districts and are typically only valid for that particular jurisdiction.

The 402-page document entitled “Advisory Committee on Criminal Rules” is scheduled to be discussed at an upcoming Department of Justice (DOJ) meeting next month in New Orleans.

Federal agents have been known to use such tactics in past and ongoing cases: a Colorado federal magistrate judge approved sending malware to a suspect’s known e-mail address in 2012. But similar techniques have been rejected by other judges on Fourth Amendment grounds. If this rule revision were to be approved, it would standardize and expand federal agents’ ability to surveil a suspect and to exfiltrate data from a target computer regardless of where it is.
Peter Carr, a DOJ spokesperson, told Ars that he was “not aware of any figures” as to how many times such “remote access” by law enforcement has taken place.

Cracking Tor is hard!

Civil libertarians and legal experts are very concerned that this would unnecessarily expand government power.

“It is nuts,” Chris Soghoian, a technologist and senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union, told Ars.

“What’s most shocking is that they’re not going to Congress and asking for this authority. This is a pretty big shift. This is a dangerous direction for the government to go in, and if we’re going to go in that direction then we really need Congress to sign on the dotted line, and [the DOJ is] trying to sneak it through the back door.”

Carr told Ars that the change is needed to combat criminals who use “sophisticated anonymizing technologies,” like Tor.

“Our proposal would not authorize any searches or remote access not already authorized under current law,” he wrote by e-mail. “The proposal relates solely to venue for a warrant application.”

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All your license plate numbers are belong to us

April 5, 2014

In the EFF article quoted below, the Los Angeles Police Department makes an interesting claim that all vehicle license plates that are imaged by their ALPR systems are ‘under investigation’… on the principle that those plates might someday be under investigation.

I’m tempted to ridicule that idea by suggesting that the LAPD should take fingerprints and mugshots of all Los Angeles citizens… on the principle that those people might someday be under investigation.

But I won’t make that reductio ad absurdum argument because if the LAPD gets away with secrecy in its ALPR system, the sequel might easily be fingerprints and mugshots for everyone.

If some surveillance is good, then more is better. Right?

Los Angeles Cops Argue All Cars in LA Are Under Investigation

Do you drive a car in the greater Los Angeles Metropolitan area? According to the L.A. Police Department and L.A. Sheriff’s Department, your car is part of a vast criminal investigation.

The agencies took a novel approach in the briefs they filed in EFF and the ACLU of Southern California’s California Public Records Act lawsuit seeking a week’s worth of Automatic License Plate Reader (ALPR) data. They have argued that “All [license plate] data is investigatory.” The fact that it may never be associated with a specific crime doesn’t matter.

This argument is completely counter to our criminal justice system, in which we assume law enforcement will not conduct an investigation unless there are some indicia of criminal activity. In fact, the Fourth Amendment was added to the U.S. Constitution exactly to prevent law enforcement from conducting mass, suspicionless investigations under “general warrants” that targeted no specific person or place and never expired.

Just for clarity, I think anyone who expects privacy while he’s in public hasn’t really thought things through. To talk of privacy while driving a public road or while speaking or meeting in public is a very imprecise way of speaking.

What we expect in public is anonymity, not privacy. We expect our actions & conversations to be ignored by the state unless it has good reason to suspect us of criminal activity — just as we expect passers-by not to eavesdrop on our conversation, even though our speech may be plainly audible to them.

So while we may act and speak in public, those actions and that speech are no concern of the state’s unless it can show good cause for actively monitoring one or both of them.

In other words, it ain’t nobody’s business buy my own.

H.T. Paul

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The special tax

April 4, 2014

This essay by Christopher Smith, who’s a professor of criminal justice at Michigan State, appears at The Atlantic. It’s part of a debate series on “Is Stop and Frisk Worth It?,” that appears in the current issue of the magazine.

What Mr. Smith’s perspective reminds me of is John Griffin’s book Black Like Me.

It’s an interesting read.

What I Learned About Stop-and-Frisk From Watching My Black Son
The “special tax” on men of color is more than an inconvenience. A father shares his firsthand observations and fears. 

When I heard that my 21-year-old son, a student at Harvard, had been stopped by New York City police on more than one occasion during the brief summer he spent as a Wall Street intern, I was angry. On one occasion, while wearing his best business suit, he was forced to lie face-down on a filthy sidewalk because—well, let’s be honest about it, because of the color of his skin. As an attorney and a college professor who teaches criminal justice classes, I knew that his constitutional rights had been violated. As a parent, I feared for his safety at the hands of the police—a fear that I feel every single day, whether he is in New York or elsewhere.

Moreover, as the white father of an African-American son, I am keenly aware that I never face the suspicion and indignities that my son continuously confronts. In fact, all of the men among my African-American in-laws—and I literally mean every single one of them—can tell multiple stories of unjustified investigatory police stops of the sort that not a single one of my white male relatives has ever experienced.

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And let’s all have a good day

April 3, 2014

Here’s an interesting report from the Fort Worth Start-Telegram about an example of ‘To Serve and Protect’ in action.

Traffic tweets: Keller police post radar locations online

KELLER — Say “speed trap,” and people instantly know you’re talking about a spot where police officers sit with radar guns, hoping to catch speeders, write tickets and generate revenue for their city.

Keller police say they write a lot of tickets, but it’s not intended to stuff city coffers.

“People call it a speed trap, which is goofy, because the speed limit is posted,” said officer Stephen Grossman, assigned to traffic patrol in Keller.

“Our main objective is to slow people down.”

In Keller, police officials don’t mind motorists flashing their headlights to warn others that a cop armed with radar is up ahead; it tends to make people slow down.

And March 10, they started using social media sites to post the locations of police with radar guns. They tell people where Keller traffic officers will be on patrol Monday through Friday. They also post locations in Westlake, which contracts with Keller for police protection.

Reading a post on Facebook or Twitter is like spotting a patrol car up ahead: Drivers immediately check their speedometers, officials said.

“Some folks wonder if we have ulterior motives,” said Capt. Tommy Simmons, Keller’s patrol commander. “But there’s no catch. We’re not trying to trap people into anything.

“Just slow down, drive safe, and let’s all have a good day.”

Via Radley Balko

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