Sunday, October 24, 2010

Comic of the Day

Picture book title voted least likely to ever find a publisher:

Saturday, October 23, 2010


Tim Brown: "On a rare patch of green in north Texas, against a backdrop of confetti streams and honky-tonk reverb, there came the dawning of a baseball franchise.

A warm wind howled over the walls of Rangers Ballpark, whipping scraps of colored paper into tiny hurricanes. Ginger ale plumes filled the sky.

On a football Friday night in a football town, more than 50,000 folks swooned at the slider that froze Alex Rodriguez(notes) – of all people, Alex Rodriguez – and finished off a 6-1 victory over the New York Yankees in Game 6 of the American League Championship Series.
Cliff Lee, the mercenary left-hander who’d topped off their starting rotation. C.J. Wilson, who’d come from the bullpen to become a starter. Lewis, who’d remade his career in Japan. 

Josh Hamilton, the series MVP and likely league MVP, who’d fought drug addiction – sometimes well and sometimes not – to stand on that podium Friday night. Cruz, who’d once cleared waivers. Guerrero, given up as over-the-hill in Anaheim. Feliz and shortstop Elvis Andrus(notes), the spoils of the Mark Teixeira trade. Young, who for a decade watched them all come and go, and not three weeks after his first playoff game qualified for his first World Series game.

They ran in circles on a field trampled by friends and family, guzzling the ginger ale that honored Hamilton’s demons and waving to a crowd that couldn’t believe it was seeing this and refused to leave it.

Until the clock struck nine minutes past 10, these Rangers had borne the sins and failures of a half-century. They’d failed in Washington as the Senators. They hadn’t won in Texas. They were the epicenter of the steroid era, and were the oldest of the three franchises – the Montreal Expos/Washington Nationals and Seattle Mariners being the others – to never reach the World Series."

Friday, October 22, 2010

WikiLeaks and the Iraq War Diaries "At 5pm EST Friday 22nd October 2010 WikiLeaks released the largest classified military leak in history. The 391,832 reports ('The Iraq War Logs'), document the war and occupation in Iraq, from 1st January 2004 to 31st December 2009 (except for the months of May 2004 and March 2009) as told by soldiers in the United States Army. Each is a 'SIGACT' or Significant Action in the war. They detail events as seen and heard by the US military troops on the ground in Iraq and are the first real glimpse into the secret history of the war that the United States government has been privy to throughout.

The reports detail 109,032 deaths in Iraq, comprised of 66,081 'civilians'; 23,984 'enemy' (those labeled as insurgents); 15,196 'host nation' (Iraqi government forces) and 3,771 'friendly' (coalition forces). The majority of the deaths (66,000, over 60%) of these are civilian deaths.That is 31 civilians dying every day during the six year period. For comparison, the 'Afghan War Diaries', previously released by WikiLeaks, covering the same period, detail the deaths of some 20,000 people. Iraq during the same period, was five times as lethal with equivalent population size."

Start digging. This site is altering the very playing field of a psuedo-Republic waging undeclared war, and theres no going back for people who care. 

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Presumption of Guilt and Civil Camera Scams

"So... if it's *your* vehicle, and it wasn't stolen, isn't it *your* responsibility?
A red light run is a red light run. They can put whatever cameras they want on there. You break the law, you pay for it." - KnightWing, Blog Comment on the post 'Fraud of Southlake Texas'

This is something I felt would be better responded to in a post format, rather then starting an extended comment thread that most readers will never see.

In a legal setting, the accused has what is known as a presumption of innocence. The burden of proof to establish that a crime has been committed rests firmly with the accuser. Even with such a wrong doing having been established, further burden of proof lies with the accuser to prove the assertion that the accused is in fact the guilty party. 
In essence, the accused is innocent until proved beyond a reasonable doubt.

Let me proceed to set up an example:
A middle aged man living in Colorado owns a hatchet. While he is on vacation to Florida, his hatchet is used by his son to cut some branches off of a tree. While the branches of this tree are on property the man leases, the tree itself is in the neighbors yard. The tree gets sick, and dies. The family sues the man because it was his hatchet that did the cutting, ergo, he is responsible. After all, he did own it. 

An older woman owns a company that leases restaurant equipment to pizzerias in the surrounding areas. When a patron at the restaurant acquires salmonella from an improperly prepared pizza, she blames the woman who owns the oven. After all, she did own it.

Is assigning the blame to the owner, simply because he or she is the owner, the proper course of action?
No. Not even remotely. 

The responsibility lies with the one who committed the action, not the one who owns the property. 
Likewise, the responsibility for one running a red light lies with the driver, not the owner of the vehicle. When an officer of the law pulls a vehicle over for a moving violation, the fine is assessed to the individual who drove, not the owner of the vehicle. 

Now we return to the presumption of innocence. By presuming the owner of the vehicle to be the guilty party, the Red Light Camera system operated by RedFlex is a violation of this fundamental legal principle. With no way to prove who the driver of the vehicle is at the time of the alleged violation, there is no way to properly assign guilt. 

Additionally, I assert that the system is set up to intentionally make it easier to pay a minor ($75!!) 'administrative fee', in a paralegal administrative set up. One can request a formal court hearing, but the time and difficulty of doing such is not worth it for most individuals. Since the money is essentially poured into a quasi-private enterprise, it is a well laid scheme to make money for a selected group of individuals. 

Physiologists Punished Trapped Miners

This is the most horrifying part of the whole Chilean Miner saga:
"The psychology team became judge and jury of what the men could do for enjoyment and even how they could communicate with their families. When the men asked for cigarettes and alcohol, saying that these small pleasures would help them cope better than their daily phone call with the experts, the psychology team begrudgingly agreed to send down cigarettes but not booze - because ‘the average miner consumes large quantities of alcohol’, one of the psychologists said, and there is no telling how they will behave when inebriated in hot, cramped conditions. The men were furious. But only because they don’t understand the dangers of drinking, one of the on-site doctors snootily declared. ‘These are not PhD scientists, they are rough-and-tumble miners’, he said, giving a glimpse into the experts’ deep disdain for the men they were supposed to be helping.

But the thing that really tore the miners and their mental-health betters apart - the thing that ensured ‘the honeymoon was over’, as the lead on-site psychologist put it - was the psychology team’s ‘widespread censorship’ of family letters to the men. Early on, every time a family member wrote a letter it had to be submitted for psychological evaluation first, before being sent down the so-called umbilical cord to the men underground, so that any material judged ‘psychologically inappropriate’ could be removed. There was uproar when the families discovered that there was a backlog of letters waiting to be okayed. One of the miners had asked his wife during a video link-up: ‘Why don’t you write to me anymore?’ In fact she had been writing everyday, but her letters were awaiting ‘psychological approval’."

If there is ever a clearer illustration of the dangers of allowing an elite team of thinkers to control a group, it will be hard to identify. The evils of central control are in full bloom in this story, and those stuck underground are almost helpless to cope with it. 
Simply disgusting. 

Miners and Capitalism "...If those miners had been trapped a half-mile down like this 25 years ago anywhere on earth, they would be dead. What happened over the past 25 years that meant the difference between life and death for those men?

Short answer: the Center Rock drill bit.

This is the miracle bit that drilled down to the trapped miners. Center Rock Inc. is a private company in Berlin, Pa. It has 74 employees. The drill's rig came from Schramm Inc. in West Chester, Pa. Seeing the disaster, Center Rock's president, Brandon Fisher, called the Chileans to offer his drill. Chile accepted. The miners are alive.

Longer answer: The Center Rock drill, heretofore not featured on websites like Engadget or Gizmodo, is in fact a piece of tough technology developed by a small company in it for the money, for profit. That's why they innovated down-the-hole hammer drilling. If they make money, they can do more innovation.

This profit = innovation dynamic was everywhere at that Chilean mine. The high-strength cable winding around the big wheel atop that simple rig is from Germany...."

Brilliant op-ed on how capitalism is the quiet force of progress, driven by a desire for profit. It saves lives.

Also, I'm trying to figure out what big news happened yesterday that was covered up by this mining thing. Yes, lives were saved. But it was far to big a production to be simply a miner rescue, it had to have been a distraction from something else. 

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Chinese Military Reasonableness

Thomas P. Barnett: "The NYT reports that the U.S. military is alarmed at the rising anti-American tone and sentiment of younger Chinese military officers. This is the same U.S. military that assembles multinational war games in China's front yard and sells advanced weaponry to a small island nation off its coast--in addition to anyone else who will buy it in the region (and yes, business is very good right now, as weapons purchases are up 100% over the past half decade).

The U.S. military, which found its network-centric warfare roots in the seminal shell game known as the Taiwan Straits crises of 1995-1996, now takes inspiration from China's response since then (a build-up of anti-access/area denial assets that rely heavily on ballistic missile attacks to keep our carriers at bay) to launch its own AirSea Battle Concept--a new high-tech warfighting doctrine that makes no bones about specifically targeting the Chinese military.

And we wonder why the Chinese military seem to think we're their number one enemy? Are we honestly that clueless or has our disingenuity broken through to some higher, slightly irrational plane?"

Barnett goes on to imagine a reversed scenario, where the actions we have taken in Chinese waters are taken by the Chinese in US waters, and its quite stunning. No wonder the Chinese are pondering our threat level to them. 

I've been following this guy's blog since I read his excellent book Great Powers: America and the World after Bush; and he makes a lot of sense. If you like geopolitics, you'll like him. 

Saturday, October 09, 2010

The Fraud of Southlake, Texas

Redlight Cameras.
A camera set up to monitor an intersection, and record video of vehicles passing through. Upon what is perceived as a violation, the owner of the vehicle is sent a $75 'administrative fee' eg, a fine, to identify someone else as the driver, or to request an 'administrative hearing'. No where is the actual driver of the vehicle identified, and no where is there any proof that the registered owner of the vehicle is in fact the offender. 

My understanding of our legal system is that we are innocent until proven guilty. 
My other understanding was that our 5th Amendment to the US constitution still applied.

Alas, this appears to not be so, as the halls of the cities are no longer filled with the clear notes of justice. 

Here is a sample of the Southlake Texas FAQ (Emphasis added):

Can the City, for any reason, waive a fee related to a red light violation?
Due to contractual obligations with Redflex, Southlake cannot waive any fees related to a red light violation.
Will I receive any points on my driving record for this violation?
No, this is a civil infraction that is not reported to the Texas Department of Motor Vehicles.
Does a red light violation caught on camera go on my driving record?
No. This is a civil penalty against the owner of the vehicle, not the operator. As such, it is not reported to the Texas Department of Public Safety. However, failure to pay the civil penalty may result in the reporting to a collection agency and/or the county assessor-collector or the Texas Department of Transportation who may refuse to register a motor vehicle alleged to have been involved in the violation.

These redlight camera's are little but cheap tricks to increase the revenue of the city, and are run by companies, not the police.
Not only is this morally wrong and repugnantly Orwellian, these red light cameras have been demonstrably proven to cause increased traffic problems.

Sunday, October 03, 2010

If the Glory Can be Killed, We are Lost

"At such a time it seems natural and good to me to ask myself these questions. What do I believe in? What must I fight for and what must I fight against?
Our species is the only creative species, and it has only one creative instrument, the individual mind and spirit of a man. Nothing was ever created by two men. There are no good collaborations, whether in music, in art, in poetry, in mathematics, in philosophy. Once the miracle of creation has taken place, the group can build and extend it, but the group never invents anything. The preciousness lies in the lonely mind of a man.
And now the forces marshaled around the concept of the group have declared a war of extermination on that preciousness, the mind of man. By  disparagement, by starvation, by repressions, forced direction, and the stunning hammer blows of conditioning, the free, roving mind is being pursued, roped, blunted, drugged. It is a sad suicidal course our species seems to have taken.
And this I believe: that the free, exploring mind of the individual human is the most valuable thing in the world, And this I would fight for: The freedom of the mind to take any direction it wishes, undirected. And this I must fight against: any idea, religion, or government which limits or destroys the individual. This is what I am and what I am about. I can understand why a system built on a pattern must try to destroy the free mind, for this is one thing which can by inspection destroy such a system. Surely I can understand this, and I hate it and I will fight against it to preserve the one thing that separates us from the uncreative beasts.
If the glory can be killed, we are lost."
-John Steinbeck, East of Eden