09 July 2015

Ass or dumbass? Papal edition

Not sure if these people are assholes or just don't understand supply 'n' demand:
[Mark] Zajak and his wife, Kim, started out asking $16,000 for the whole week. They recently dropped the price to $14,000. They're willing to negotiate.

"I actually am disappointed," she said. "We haven't had anyone reply yet, so hopefully soon."

She wants to use the money to go on vacation in the Bahamas, but her dreams of the Atlantis Paradise Island Resort may not come true.
Or, as the kids say today, why not both?

GOP candidates treating Donald Trump as if he's a real candidate

Well, someone has to.

The best thing about the Donald Trump presidential candidacy is that all the other GOP candidates -- for lack of a better word, let's call them "serious" or "realistic" -- I say, all the other GOP candidates are actually responding to him, in public. Seen on CNN, just this morning:

  • Reince Priebus has phoned him personally.

  • George Pataki has invited him to a one-on-one debate on immigration.

  • Lindsey Graham spent time in comments to an international affairs think tank criticizing Trump and Hillary Clinton, as if they're both of the same caliber of candidate or as if Trump actually had some grown-up understanding of foreign policy.

  • Following a bouncing link, I see that Ted Cruz actually called Trump "terrific" the other day. I'm not sure if he meant that in sort of a modern, everyday way, like "really neat" or "the bee's knees" or "awesome," or if he was going for a more originalist meaning, like "inducing terror." But whichever meaning he intended to get across doesn't matter so much as why on god's green earth is he bothering to answer any question about Trump?

  • Another bouncing link shows me that Marco Rubio says that Trump's anti-Mexican comments are "offensive" and that Trump himself is "divisive." Whoa, Marco! Them's fightin' words! Let's cool it with the harsh language and try to be a little more polite next time, eh?

    Every action they're taking to delegitimatize Trump only increases how seriously the media is taking him. "Amateur hour" is one term for it. The GOP clown car could not be more literally full of clowns, though at least one outlet is being realistic about the situation.
  • If you get rid of it, it'll still be there

    If flying the Confederate battle flag is outlawed, then only outlaws will blah, blah, blah:
    Once you have this neo-Confederate mentality at some level of your consciousness, I don’t really have to tell you how to vote or give you a position on some issue — you’ll have this idea already, it naturally comes out of your consciousness. Neo-Confederacy forms American consciousness.

    [...]

    I’m interested to see whether this current reaction against Confederate symbols lasts more than three months because they’re going to organize a counter reaction. Even if you get rid of the license plates and flags through legislation, the movement’s still going to be there. And people might go home thinking a victory has been won.
    Maybe they could go full Philly dogwhistle and fly Irish flags or stick little shamrock symbols on their vehicles.

    29 May 2015

    The NSA is "drowning in information"

    This article touches upon my thoughts about the vacuum cleaner that is NSA communications collection. That is, I'll buy that the NSA is collecting everything: phone calls, faxes, e-mails, text messages. I'll buy that the NSA has multiple storage locations around the U.S. where this mind-bogglingly vast amount of data is being stored. And I'll buy that they have some artificially intelligent search and analysis capacity, analagous to but even surpassing that of Google's often creepily accurate predictive typing feature, which draws out communications relevant to what they're looking for.

    But it all comes down to the volume. The NSA isn't merely gathering all the haystacks in its search for needles, as the article suggests. It's gathering haystacks that are being delivered via firehoses. Via Niagara Falls. Sure, the NSA has a shop-vac that handles the volume, but how much analysis can they really do? Which raises two questions. One, how effectively can they find actual threats? And two, how much American privacy can they really violate?

    So I've been and I continue to be ambivalent about the NSA's mass surveillance. On the one hand, I do strongly believe that the collection of cell phone signals via StingRay-type technology is a straightforward example of an unconstitutional search and seizure, a 21st-century general warrant. This is something we fought a war over and then abolished the use of in the Fourth and Fourteenth Amendments. But on the other hand, I've always been a fan of "security by obscurity" -- you'd piss your pants laughing at me if I told you where I store all my computer passwords -- and I honestly don't see how the NSA can effectively catch the people whom it seeks to catch through this mass data collection. They're looking for a needle in a continent of haystacks. They're looking for a bubble in the foam going over Niagara Falls.

    It's homeopathic policing!

    16 May 2015

    Penna. State House Resolution honors terrorist

    This guy was usually protesting on days that I escorted patients in and out of an abortion clinic. After handing little brown-colored plastic fetuses to young men of color who were helping their partners to the clinic, he would get into my face and actually threaten me with physical harm:
    [S]tate House Resolution 82.

    It honors John Patrick Stanton, of Jenkintown, as a "humanitarian, activist and founder of the prolife movement in this Commonwealth."

    Stanton died in January 2014 at the age of 86.

    The measure, sponsored by Montco Republican Rep. Thomas Murt, was voted out of the House Health Committee this week 18-9.

    It was supported by all 16 Republican committee members and two Democrats: Philly Rep. Kevin Boyle; Luzerne County Rep. Gerald Mullery.

    Stanton was known for demonstrating outside abortion clinics. His decades of doing so resulted in lawsuits, charges of harassment and trespassing, arrests and at least one incarceration.
    So fuck you, Thomas Murt (R.-Montgomery County). Fuck you very much.

    29 April 2015

    Lynne Abraham's favorite speech-muzzling law tossed

    GWB appointee throws out the anti-Mumia "Silencing Act" on First Amendment grounds, because of course:
    The Revictimization Relief Act, as it was called, "is the embodiment of content-based regulation of speech," [Judge Christopher] Conner wrote. "Its terms single out a distinct group and disincentivize its members from speaking."

    [Also 5th Amendment grounds, particularly because the law didn't define "offender."]

    "As a result, many plaintiffs -— prisoners and non-prisoners alike -— instantly modified their conduct for fear of falling within the ambit of the act," the judge said.

    He said the law hinged on the emotional response of victims.

    "Short of clairvoyance, plaintiffs cannot determine in advance whether and to what extent a particular expression will impact a victim's sensibilities," Conner wrote.
    Minus one point for using the "word" disincentivize, but plus one for explaining that the law is no good because, as drafted (PDF), it required the speaker to be a mind-reader.

    In January I noted how happy Lynne Abraham was to be present with Governor Corbett at the bill's signing into law. Would love to see someone ask her about the law now that a federal judge has ruled so predictably on it.

    03 April 2015

    Your devices require and result in acres of radioactive clay

    Keep upgrading your cell phone and laptop every year:
    China’s dominance of the rare earth market is less about geology and far more about the country’s willingness to take an environmental hit that other nations shy away from. And there’s no better place to understand China’s true sacrifice than the shores of Baotou toxic lake.
    Years ago I was chatting with someone who was very enthusiastic about hybrid automobiles, which at the time were only newly available in the U.S. An early adopter, enviro-weenie myself, I took my key fob out of my pocket and said something to the effect of, "OK, but look, here in this fob, from the petro-chemical plastic outer casing to the chip and battery inside, there is more environmental destruction than in a single Tin Lizzie. How many miles do I have to drive my Prius to make up in gasoline savings in order to offset the incredible amount of energy and resources that went into the battery pack, the dashboard computer display" -- this was pretty new at the time -- "and all the other technology and materials that went into it?"

    Where do the two curves meet, I wonder: the energy and resources that go into a key fob, versus the energy and resources that go into a particular year and model of an American car? It's thoughts like these that keep me wound up and unable to sleep in the wee hours.

    Voice in the wilderness, Indiana edition

    In light of this week's clusterfuck in Indiana, I remind my readers of the proposal I offered nearly two years ago: The Indiana Church of Homo Matrimony:
    You know what the state of Indiana needs? A church the only doctrine of which is same-sex marriage in the great State of Indiana. It should be called the Indiana Church of Homo Matrimony, and its greatest -- because only -- sacrament would be same-sex marriage.
    So, Daily Beast? You're welcome.

    26 March 2015

    Murderous and bizarro, part 2

    My voice to god's ear? Three weeks ago I suggested that someone might start a disciplinary proceeding against the lawyer in California seeking to legalize extra-judicial killings of gay people, an astonishing abuse of California's direct democracy process. Today:
    [T]he California Legislature's Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender Caucus [has] filed a formal complaint against McLaughlin with the State Bar of California, asking that he be investigated.
    So . . . keep an eye on Matthew McLaughlin's listing, I guess.

    25 March 2015

    bisy backson

    Spent all weekend and all day yesterday working, making Philadelphia safe for democracy, with nothing but a low-powered, only somewhat smartphone keeping me in touch with the world.

    What did I miss, other than a plane crash in the French Alps?

    19 March 2015

    Shane Bauer back in prison

    Wow, one of the Iran hikers can't seem to stay away from prison:
    On Friday night, sheriff’s deputies from Winn Parish, La., arrested reporter James West for trespassing at an area prison and discovered a camera-equipped drone among the reporter's belongings. And early this week, an employee of the prison resigned his position in the aftermath of the arrest and was called an "operative" of Mother Jones by Winn Parish Sheriff Cranford Jordan in a chat with the Erik Wemple Blog. "He was working as as guard," said Jordan.

    Jordan identified the now-former prison employee as Shane Bauer, who is a senior reporter at Mother Jones, according to the magazine’s Web site.
    Looks as though Bauer parlayed his experiences in Iran into a gig doing an exposé on Corrections Corporation of America for Mother Jones. I'm looking forward to the article.

    Scene from a suburban Philadelphia courthouse, March, 2015

    The scene: A large courtroom in the courthouse of a county in southeastern Pennsylvania. Large-scale portraits of recent-looking judges (some female but all white), apparently painted from photographs, line the room's walls. The case is a petition to set aside the nomination petition of a candidate for the office of commissioner in a mid-sized township. In other words, someone's trying to get a candidate kicked off the ballot for the primary election. Three COURT WORKERS stand between the JUDGE's bench and the parties. They are not sure what's going on -- it is Florida, 2000, writ small.

    COURT WORKERS: "What's a petitoner? What's a respondent? We don't know where you should sit. Parties, just pick a table, any table."

    ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONERS: "Your Honor, the law states that a candidate has to file Statement X with the Ethics Board and file a copy with the Board of Elections. The law further states that failure to file with the Ethics Board is a fatal defect to candidacy. Candidate filed only the latter. Therefore, her candidacy is fatally defective and she should be stricken from the ballot. Please issue an order to that effect."

    CANDIDATE: "It's true I didn't file the statement with Ethics. But I'm disabled and I had to take my son to sportsball game and the notary had stepped out and the Party person said they'd take care of it. In fact, this lawyer should be representing me, not the petitioners, because the Party person didn't do what they promised."

    ATTORNEY FOR PETITIONERS: "The law as written is unambiguous about the requirement. Also, Case Y from just 2 years ago in the state supreme court says that judges aren't allowed to make an exception when a candidate says they relied on someone to do something and it didn't happen. Please issue our order."

    JUDGE: "Board of Elections, do you have anything to add?"

    BOARD: "Nope."

    JUDGE: "Sounds good to me. I'm not interested in getting overturned by Superior Court. Too bad, so sad, Candidate. Order issued as requested."

    Fin

    12 March 2015

    Holy shit, Moorestown (N.J.) declines to militarize its police

    Unlike the NYPD, we finally have a police department that has come to its senses and realized that it doesn't actually need a mine-resistant vehicle to patrol its suburban and small-town streets:
    The Moorestown Police Department on Thursday backed off its plans to acquire a mine-resistant vehicle from the federal government, citing concerns expressed by residents.

    "It was more than we needed," Moorestown police Lt. Lee Lieber said. "The vehicle was more than we really needed as far as its capabilities."
    The 1033 Program is ridiculous. No, it's not. It's not at all. It's a not-unreasonable way for the Department of Defense both to take in a little bit of cash and also to eliminate the ongoing cost of maintaining this equipment. What's does maintenance look like on a Navistar MaxxPro Dash? How about parts? You can't just head over to ACDelco or Pep Boys -- the closest source for Navistar vehicle parts is in York, Pennsylvania. (I tried to look at their spare parts catalog online to dig prices, but the document had been removed. Maybe you can find parts on EBay?)

    I also wanted to find out how much one of these babies costs, but the DoD website specifically doesn't list them; instead, you have to establish a relationship with the program first. I'm really curious to know.

    Why not make them here?

    OK, I'll bite. Why are there no U.S. manufacturers of execution drugs?
    Texas is down to its final dose of lethal injection drugs after the US state executed a man on Wednesday.

    States across the country have seen their drug inventories dwindle after European manufacturers opposed to capital punishment have refused to sell the lethal concoctions.
    Shouldn't the market be taking care of this shortage? What facts am I missing here?

    05 March 2015

    2011 law grad running for judge in Lehigh Valley

    That is some ego, right there (also, one of so many, many reasons why judges should not be elected):
    A 28-year-old Lower Saucon Township lawyer will challenge incumbent David Tidd for his position as district judge.

    [ ... ]

    [Amanda] Kurecian graduated from Bethlehem Catholic High School, Lehigh University and Drexel University Thomas R. Kline School of Law, according to her release. She now works as a divorce attorney at her own practice in Allentown, according to her firm's website. The Republican said she plans to cross-file for the race.

    [Incumbent Judge David] Tidd, a bankruptcy court attorney, was first elected district judge in 2009. He plans to seek a second term.
    The incumbent has been on the bench for about 6 years, which is longer than Kurecian has been practicing law. And Kurecian hasn't been at it even that long. The disciplinary board's website is down, so I can't check a primary source; but good old Avvo indicates she got her Pennsylvania license in 2011. That squares with her age of 28 and her Facebook birthday in May, 1986: on a traditional track she would have finished undergrad at 21 (2007) and law school at 24 (2011).

    Her website is vague on her biographical details. It's not inaccurate or deceptive or even necessarily incomplete. But it leaves out details. It doesn't state when she finished law school. It doesn't state that she ever had a clerkship or worked with a firm with any prestige. Instead, it says that she "[worked] for other Lehigh Valley law firms for a number of years" until she hung her own shingle in 2013. So . . .  she picked up work here and there for two years (two being "a number") before scraping together enough cash to open up shop in some class B office space in Allentown.

    Don't get me wrong. This is fine and it's not hugely different from my own experience. But does her four-year career track qualify her to be a judge?

    Not sure if this candidacy is primarily an indicator of the need for merit selection in Pennsylvania, or an indicator of the glut in the market for lawyers. (Insert whynotboth.jpg here.) She never would have made it past a real screening committee if Pennsylvania had a real, merit-based process for putting qualified people on the bench. And there's an actual, real chance she'll be seated if she simply gets a good position on the ballot. With four years' experience out from a school that did not have a stellar first-time pass rate on the bar exam in 2011 (PDF).

    But then, in 2011, Pennsylvania added 1,684 newly qualified lawyers to its already over-populated bar. If Kurecian draws a lucky ballot position, she could be getting herself a steadier paycheck than quite a few others in her cohort. Good for her.