Whiskey Tango Foxtrot (part II)

31 03 2008

It must be Kids’ Week, or something.

According to this ABC News article, a 13-year old girl was strip-searched by school administrators because they thought she was carrying ibuprofen.

I will repeat that for those of you on drugs: a 13-year-old girl was strip-searched by school adminsitrators who thought she was carrying ibuprofen.

It seems one of the victim’s classmates had been telling the principal that she’d been giving other kids the drug, and even produced a single pill as proof. The vigilant school administrators deemed that to be sufficient probable cause to yank the victim out of class and search her backpack and locker. Oddly, no drugs were found. Not satisfied by this lack of evidence, the school administrators took the girl to the School Nurse’s office and forced her to take off her clothes. These school administrators then pulled the victim’s bra away to expose her breasts, and pulled her panties away to look at her crotch. By the way, no drugs of any kind were found.

In a rational Universe, the people responsible for this would have been tarred and feathered, beaten severely, and run out of town. In any normal section of reality, the people who committed these acts would be arrested and jailed for sexual assault. Unfortunately for rationality, the people who committed these crimes were school administrators, and are therefore above the Law.

The victim’s mother sued the school when she found out about the incident. The local court found in favor of the school. So did the Appellate court. The case is supposed to be heard by the Federal Appeals Court soon.

Here is my question: How could any judge decide that this was within the rights of any government official? I’m reasonably certain that this sort of thing is specifically prohibited by the Fourth Amendment to the US Constitution. If there was ever a textbook definition for “unreasonable search and seizure” this would be it.

Aside from the Judge and School Administrators (the obvious idiots in this case), who is to blame for this Byzantine abuse of authority?

Look in the fucking mirror.

You (the People) have permitted yourselves to be frightened into allowing the Government to filch away our rights. All that is required to get the American People to roll over and lick their oppressors’ boots is to whisper the words, “war on drugs” or “war on terror“.

Those magic phrases have been- and are being- used to magically make our individual liberties disappear. The Constitution and Bill of Rights are being annihilated in tiny increments.

And we (the People) are letting it happen.

Let us go back to basics. School administrators are government employees. The government is supposed to work for the people. Therefore, we (the People) are complicit in the sexual assault of a 13-year old girl.

We (the People) have given these government employees the authority to sexually assault our children, and furthermore made it possible for them to escape any consequences of their stupidity.

We do not have to put up with this. For the love of Reason, register to vote. Vote in your local elections. Run for School Board. Get rid of these authoritarian lampreys we have allowed to infest our school systems.

Can’t get elected to the School board? Start a petition to recall any member of the School Board who approves of these draconian tactics. Put measures on the ballot to repeal these idiotic “zero tolerance” policies. Petition your local and State officials to make this sort of un-Constitutional activity against the law.

The next step is to sue the bastards when they pull this crap. If it wasn’t your child who got victimized by the school administration, offer financial support for the parents of the assaulted child in their legal fight.

There is no excuse for strip-searching a 13-year old girl in a hunt for ibuprofen– or any other drug, for that matter. In my opinion, there is no excuse for strip-searching any student without a warrant. Ever. If the school administration thinks there a student might be carrying drugs (or any other contraband), they can call the parents and the police- in that order. If the cops and the parents don’t agree, then the school administration can piss up a rope- individually and collectively.

How long are we (the People) going to allow the Government to erode away our rights? What will it take before the People start standing up for their rights?

We’d better do something about it, and soon.

Remember the Four Boxes.

Current status: Furious

Current music: Veterans of the Psychic Wars by Blue Oyster Cult


30 03 2008

An 11-year old girl died from a treatable form of diabetes in Wisconsin recently. Here’s the local article on the subject.

The problem with this case (and many others like it, all over the world), is that the so-called parents of this child decided that they were going to pray her well. Despite the pleas of other family members, the “parents” decided that praying for her to get well was preferable to taking the girl to a doctor.

Many people might read that and say, “So? Strangers die every day.”

If this were an isolated case, one might be tempted to agree. Sadly, this case is not unique. Parents all over the world resort to prayer or faith healing when their children get sick, and all too often the child dies as a result.

Most children are not mentally or emotionally equipped to properly assess the risks for such decisions. This legal and scientific fact is the reason parents are given so much control over children. If an adult strongly believed that prayer could save him or her from a deadly illness, that adult should be permitted to make such a decision (so long as no one else is harmed or endangered). Adults make life or death decisions all the time, and they have a right to do so if those decisions do not harm or endanger anyone else.

That’s where the adult’s decisions in life-or-death matters runs into problems with the law: when those decisions harm or endanger another. This is especially true when the person endangered or harmed by their decision is under the legal control of the adult. Part of the bargain wherein society permits parents so much control over their children is the idea that the parents will do what is best for the child. Somebody please tell me how letting a child die of an easily-treatable disease is in the child’s best interest.

A lot of people suffering from AIDS in sub-Saharan Africa have revived an old myth which says they can cure their disease by having unprotected sex with a virgin. Children are sometimes forced to have sex with AIDS-infected men in the stupid belief that this will somehow cure the disease. The end result is that more people are infected, and the cycle continues.

Polio was nearly wiped out a generation ago. But now there are epidemics of the disease in Africa and Asia because local superstition holds that the inoculation against polio actually causes AIDS. Religious leaders in these areas are particularly guilty of spreading this tale. Apparently it is better in the eyes of Angry Invisible Skyman that people die from easily-prevented diseases than to permit thousands of years of medical science to benefit True Believers.

Jehovah’s Witnesses have permitted children to die rather than permit life-saving blood transfusions. Scientologists don’t believe in psychology or psychiatry, and several people have been injured or killed when people with serious mental illnesses have become violent for lack of commonly available drugs to treat their conditions. Various fundamentalist Christian sects have allowed children to die of easily treatable illnesses because it was “God’s will”.

People in sub-Saharan Africa who are dependent upon local religious leaders for decision-making might, perhaps, be forgiven for their stupidities. If few people are literate (this is not the case throughout Africa, of course), their literate leaders are in the position of parent. If the parent makes stupid decisions for dependents, then those dependents should not be blamed for the consequences.

Blame should rest upon those who live in areas where accurate information is freely available, but the stupid decisions are made regardless of the facts. In the United States, there is no excuse for ignorance. With the sheer quantity of information freely available and widely distributed throughout the country, there is no excuse to rely upon prayer to cure a child’s diabetes. In many parts of sub-Saharan Africa, where condoms and AIDS information are freely available, there is no excuse for deliberately infecting children with HIV in the vain hope that virginity will somehow magically cure the disease.

You can believe in an Angry Invisible Skyman to your heart’s content. You can even live by whatever flavor of Angry Invisible Skyman worship you wish- if you’re an adult and decide to do so. You have no right to inflict your beliefs upon others. You have no right to allow a child to die just because you think praying to Angry Invisible Skyman version 2.0 will magically heal her. You have no right to allow polio to kill and maim others because your favorite superstition says that would be a good thing.

Why do we- as a species- permit this sort of anti-survival behavior?

All societies are based on rules to protect pregnant women and young children. All else is surplusage, excrescence, adornment, luxury, or folly, which can—and must—be dumped in emergency to preserve this prime function. As racial survival is the only universal morality, no other basic is possible.” -RAH

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Seven Seas of Rhye by Queen


19 03 2008

For those of you who may not live in the US, the Nine Worthies heard arguments on the 2nd Amendment to the US Constitution yesterday. Here is the Amendment in its entirety:

“A well-regulated Militia being necessary for the security of a free state, the right of the People to own and bear arms shall not be infringed.”

There are some minor disputes about random capitalization of certain words and the appearance of an additional comma after the word “Militia” in various copies of the original Bill of Rights, but the actual text is simple and direct.

Sadly, Americans can’t seem to handle simple and direct. A great many heated words have been exchanged over the 2nd Amendment. Politicians have used the various disputes over this or that interpretation of the Amendment to curry favor with one or another faction of the electorate.

A great many people- for whatever reason- take the position that the first part of the Amendment (the bit about a “well-regulated Militia”) is the predominant clause in the sentence. For those people, I have a question: Why do you believe this? Is there any historical evidence which shows that your interpretation of the Amendment is most in line with the intent of the authors? I have asked variations of this question many times, and no one has ever provided a response. I don’t mean that no one has provided a satisfactory response. I mean that no one has ever responded.

For other people, the second part of the Amendment (the bit about “the right of the People to own and bear arms”) is the dominant clause. When I have asked those people the same question, I have received many responses, most of which identify as source material public statements, letters, and journals from the authors and their contemporaries. These arguments have a great deal of weight in my opinion, but that may be from a lack of counter-argument.

Back to the Supremes. I listened to the proceedings on CSPAN last night, and I was impressed with the clarity of vision and opinion on both sides of the argument. This is to be expected, because morons are rarely permitted to perform before the Nine Worthies. What really blew my tiny little mind were the cogent questions asked by the Justices themselves.

In place of the senile old nannies-in-drag I had subconsciously expected, all of the Justices were well-versed in the briefs filed for and against the defendant. They were also very familiar with the history behind the cases cited in those briefs. I learned more abou the history behind the arguments while listening to the Justices quiz the attorneys than in years of High School, College, and personal research. I actually found myself feeling less pessimistic about the future of the country after listening to the Justices.

For those unfamiliar with the issues, the case in question was a lawsuit against the city of Washington DC seeking to overturn the blanket proscription against handguns. The plaintiff- a security guard named Dick Heller- wanted a handgun for self-defense at his residence. The City told him it was against the law, so he filed a lawsuit citing the 2nd Amendment. The DC Court of Appeals ruled in his favor, so the City appealed to the SCOTUS.

People on both sides of this issue have been wanting and fearing a case like this for a long time. At the extreme ends of both groups are those who want a ruling granting sweeping authority to get rid of all firearms (and knives, bb guns, slingshots, and anything else more dangerous than a crayon) and those who want no restrictions on any citizen’s right to own and bear nuclear weapons.

You just wish I was joking.

Afterwards, the interested parties ran the gauntlet of the media Hell-Hounds outside the Court. I claim no ability to guess how the Justices will rule (in June or July), but the body language of the people around attorneys was telling. The attorney for the City was smiling and waving to the reporters, but everyone around him was frowning and seemed to be slumping. By contrast, the attorney for Mr. Heller had a friendly smile and spoke lightly, but he (and everyone on his team) seemed to be fighting hard to hold back broad grins of satisfaction.

Note that I did not mention the substance of their statements to the Press. With only a minor variation or two, the statements by both attorneys were identical. Practically word-for-word. One of the reporters even called them on it.

The only person whose statement I actually paid attention to was Heller. One of the reporters asked him why he had pushed this fight for so long. For a moment, he seemed honestly baffled on the best way to answer that. To me, his expression was that of a man trying hard to explain a concept so basic that words do not properly express it. He finally misquoted Robert Heinlein and then said that his job required him to carry a handgun to protect important officials, but he wasn’t permitted the same privilege for his own defense.

Unlike many people on both sides of the argument, I do not demonize those with whom I disagree. I thought that the City made a good case for their side- despite my disagreement with their interpretation of the Amendment and the relevant case law. In contrast, I profoundly disagreed with the Mayor and Polic Chief, both of whom cited incomplete statistics to justify their side. I understand their position, but I do not like it or approve of their tactics.

Far too many people on the anti-gun side have stated- in so many words- that they are afraid of what might happen if their fellow citizens had guns. Guess what? There are more than 80 million legal gun owners in the US, with an estimated total of 270 million guns. You read that right- there are nearly as many guns in this country as citizens. If you are one of those people terrified that your neighbor might have a gun, your worst fears are realized. A lot of your neighbors (roughly one in four, statistically) do have guns.

One person commented that most people would never need to fire a gun. The quick retort from another particpant in the discussion was that most people would never need to have gay sex either, but they should have a right to do so.

I wish I was the person who’d said that. I don’t even know the guy’s name. One of the funniest and most cogent arguments I’ve ever heard, and it happened in passing. By the time I stopped laughting, both parties were gone.

On that note, I’d like to leave you with a quote on the subject of Gun Control:

Gun Control: The idea that a woman found dead in an alley, raped and strangled with her own pantyhose, is somehow morally superior to a woman explaining to police how her attacker got that fatal bullet wound.”

By the way, here is a very good article on this subject from Reason magazine.

Current status: Surprisingly positive

Current music: Velvet Green by Jethro Tull

Lost Cause

12 03 2008

In 2007, the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) employed almost 11,000 people and had a budget of 2.3 billion dollars. For those of you playing at home, the US Government spent the equivalent of Colombia’s entire military budget on the DEA in 2007. The cost to the US taxpayer (in other words, you and me) over the last ten years has been nearly 20 billion dollars (source: DEA website).

For those of you who aren’t familiar with this agency, the DEA (part of the US Department of Justice) is the organization primarily responsible for fighting the “war on drugs”. By way of comparison, people in the US spent roughly $40 billion on illegal drugs in 1998 alone (source: PBS Frontline) .

As an engineer, I look at those figures and come to a conclusion that seems irrefutable: The US Government has lost the “war on drugs”. It’s over. All that money spent on interdiction and law enforcement has done nothing more than put millions of people behind bars and create an environment for criminal organizations to thrive on the manure of hundreds of billions of dollars in untaxed revenue. The “war on drugs” has created and funded international criminal organizations which rival the power of nations and completely destroyed any remaining shreds of faith in the US justice system.

All that said, I do not think we have to abandon any hope of controlling the flow of drugs into this country. I propose giving up on the “war on drugs” (because prohibition is doing far more harm than good) and changing the focus of the DEA from interdiction to control.

Since we know there is a huge demand for certain substances in this country, let’s find a way to make money from it. First, decriminalize the importation and sale of drugs. Classify such substances as marijuana, cocaine, heroin, etc as recreational pharmaceuticals. Apply a modest tax on the importation of these substances and mandate certain minimum levels of quality and purity (DEA, Customs, and FDA can work together on this), then let people purchase and use them to their heart’s content (generating sales tax revenue in the process).

In other words, let’s treat recreational pharmaceuticals the way we treat alcohol.

The immediate effect would be to cripple the money-making capabilities of the various criminal organizations which currently thrive on the illegal drug trade. If they want to sell their drugs in this country, they have to open up their accounting records to the IRS and Customs, and they’ll have to meet the purity and quality requirements of the FDA. Anyone legally permitted to buy alcohol could buy these substances openly, the Government would get tax money from the transaction, and the price should be much cheaper than any smuggler could hope to match.

Want to mellow out with a blunt? Knock yourself out. You won’t be hurting anyone else. Just don’t drive afterwards. Want to shoot up some Horse? Your business- provided you’re sober when you try to drive or operate heavy equipment. Feel like snorting some blow or dropping some tabs? None of my business, so long as you can afford it and don’t endanger anyone else while you’re boosted.

I believe this would be much better than the current failed policy of prohibition. Prohibition didn’t work for alcohol, and it isn’t working for coke, grass, meth, heroin, or any other illegal drug. We could free up thousands of prison cells currently occupied by non-violent drug offenders and get the various law enforcement organizations in this country out of the morality business once and for all. We could make money by regulating the drug trade and spend less money fighting a hopeless battle on behalf of self-righteous Puritans.

That is, after all, what the “war on drugs” is all about. A bunch of people got their panties in a wad because someone, somewhere, might be enjoying himself. Oooh! Can’t have that! Anything not compulsory is forbidden.

Since I’m on the subject of Puritans, let’s take a look at prostitution.

The main reason police hate prostitution is the fact that most prostitutes are hooked on illegal drugs. When hookers move into a neighborhood, drug dealers are never far away (supply and demand). When drug dealers move in, more people get hooked on illegal drugs. People addicted to illegal drugs frequently turn to crime to pay for their addiction. Take away the illegal drugs (by making them legal- and therefore less expensive), and fewer people would be forced into prostitution (or other crimes) to pay for their habit.

Since we know that there’s a demand for convenient, on-demand sex, let’s make money from it. De-criminalize prostitution. Require hookers to pay social security and income taxes. Mandate regular health care for sex workers. The prices would probably stay high (fewer sex workers = lower supply = higher prices), so prostitutes could probably make a living wage. As a fringe benefit, sex workers would no longer be forced into the clutches of criminal organizations. If criminal organizations can’t make money off the sex trade, there will be much less demand for the fruits of the human smuggling business.

Most importantly, this can all be done with far less Gummint intrusion into the lives of the people. The Government has no legitimate business dictating morality. What consenting adults do to each other is no one else’s business- provided they hurt no one else. Pouring hundreds of billions of dollars down the drain in a vain attempt to enforce Puritan ethics is pure, unadulterated, Weapons-Grade stupid.

I have a low tolerance for stupidity in any form. If you don’t want to consort with harlots, doxies, courtesans, etc- that’s your business. If a senior State Government official wants to do so, that should be his business. If it isn’t illegal and isn’t hurting you, why should you care?

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: F-Stop Blues by Jack Johnson

Mourning of the Nerds

4 03 2008

Back in the depths of time, a young proto-nerd took his dangerous first steps into the terrifying cauldron known as High School. He was, fortunately, unaware of the horrors which High Schools (in the US, anyway) typically inflict upon those who are markedly different from the “norm”. Nerds in particular often face enormous difficulties in High School.

This particular proto-nerd had the great fortune to fall in with a group of people who had just discovered a new pastime. This pastime had just been introduced (this being the mid-1970s), and was called a “role-playing game”. This tiny band of proto-nerds were quickly entranced by this new pastime, and their shared hobby (defined as something to get goofy about to avoid going crazy over things in general) helped them ignore the usual perils common to teenagers in the US.

The pastime in question was a game called Dungeons and Dragons, and it had been created by a man named Gary Gygax. Thanks to Gary’s creation, myself and millions of other nerds learned (among many other, more esoteric things) the power that comes from shared experiences. Creating (and sometimes destroying) worlds which fellow hobbyists could share helped build and maintain a sense of wonder and an appreciation for history, literature, art, and mathematics- for me, at least.

Throughout the 1970s and into the early 80s, my friends and I explored fictional catacombs, fought dread creatures from other dimensions, looted tombs, built cities, and developed our own personalities while pretending to be someone (or something) else. In addition to giving us nerds something to do on weekends, Dungeons and Dragons helped sustain my relationships with my friends from High School- up to and including today.

Nerds  Nerds II

Despite the widespread condemnation of the game by hysterical fundamentalists, Gary Gygax’ creation continued to excite wonder and joy among its players for more than three decades.

Sadly, Gary Gygax failed his last saving throw today. He died at the age of 69. In his memory, I will now perform a Critical Morale Failure check on myself.

Let’s see. I suppose I could be classified as a semi-intelligent monster … loyalty base adjustment for length of service … penalty for leader slain … roll d20 … I need a 16 … crap!

Run awa-a-a-a-a-a-a-a-ay!

Farewell, Gary. The world is a much poorer place without you. To quote another of your fans, “Thank you for giving the world something totally worthless but incredibly meaningful.”

Current status: Bummed

Current music: The Memory of Trees by Enya

Let ’em Eat Cake

2 03 2008

I just read a brief article citing the high costs of grain as the reason the US will be severely cutting back on food aid to starving countries. This brings up some fundamental questions about two subjects near and dear to the Professional Panty-Wetting Class in this country.

First, how much of the world’s population would starve if not for free food from the US? According to the US Department of Agriculture, the United States is projected to spend $101 Billion on food aid to the rest of the world in 2008. Assuming I’m doing my sums correctly, that means we are spending nearly twice as much money on free food than the UK spends on its military (source: CIA World Factbook). We give away more food than the entire GDP of Ethiopia. How many people are starving around the world, and why are we the only ones trying to do anything about it? To Hell with being “the world’s policeman”, why are we the world’s food bank?

Americans are historically and traditionally the biggest soft touches on the planet. We give more as individuals than every other country combined. Our government gives more than the rest of the world. We can afford it, and many Americans feel enough of a connection with their fellow humans that we don’t begrudge them our surplus food and money. This widespread willingness to help others is not unique to Americans, of course, but Americans are far and away the biggest donors in the world.

Getting back to my original point, American food aid seems to be the difference between survival and starvation for millions of people worldwide. For some reason, this fact is never mentioned by the people P.J. O’Rourke describes as “the Perennially Indignant”. These people seem to believe that America can do no right, and any American influence on other countries is invariably evil. Fine. Let’s stop sending out the millions of tonnes of grain to starving people around the world. This will make the prices of those grains drop (supply and demand, you know), and millions of people will die of starvation and diseases associated with malnutrition all over the world, but at least they’ll be free of association with Evil America . The Perennially Indignant probably wouldn’t like that, either. I suppose there’s no pleasing some people.

Now let us try to discover why the prices of grains have risen. As far as I can tell, US farmers are still producing their typical bumper crops of grains. This means that the source of supply has not decreased. Perhaps the demand has increased. What could possibly have put a dent into the massive surpluses American agribusiness creates each year?

The answer lies in another pet project of the Professional Panty-Wetters: Ethanol. This colossal boondoggle created and sustained by the “Humans (and especially American humans) Are Teh Eevul!” crowd is responsible for the steep rise in grain prices.

A bunch of loud mouths with lots of time on their hands managed to convince Congress that Ethanol would reduce CO2 emissions, eliminate American dependence on foreign oil, get the weeds out of your lawn, and increase your penis size. Congress bought this line of drivel and immediately forced it down the throats of the American public. To the surprise of no one with a functioning cerebellum, none of the promised benefits emerged. In addition to failing to produce any reduction in CO2 emissions or minimize dependence on foreign oil, the stupid decision to use corn to create ethanol has caused a catastrophic ripple effect through American agriculture.

With the demand for corn increasing, the price of corn went through the roof. Farmers who used cheap, plentiful corn as animal feed cursed and switched to less expensive options. Surprise, surprise, surprise. The prices of the corn alternatives also went up as the result of increasing demand. Everything that used to be inexpensive because of cheap corn became more expensive. It started with beef, milk, and other products of the meat industry. The ripples are still disturbing the economic waters.

Mexican consumers suddenly couldn’t afford to buy corn and corn products. Corn is THE staple of the Mexican diet. The cultural repercussions are just starting to be felt in Mexico and points south.

American food aid to poor countries gets eliminated or reduced. All over the world, people who might otherwise have eked out a tenuous existence don’t have enough to eat. The result of such evolutionary pressure has historically been mass starvation and armed uprisings.

All of that wouldn’t have been worthwhile even if it meant lower prices at the gas pumps and cleaner air. Sadly, we didn’t even get those benefits. The corn-ethanol boondoggle is causing misery and death all over the planet and we didn’t even get the minor benefits we were promised.

Here’s a neat idea: let’s let go of the generations-long hissy-fit our Gummint has had with Cuba’s government and start buying sugar cane from there. We can use sugar cane to make ethanol (just like the successful Brazilian program) and use our corn to make FOOD. This will reduce the price of corn (and other grains) and increase the productivity of Cuban farmers. The people of Cuba get a market for their goods, and can buy more essentials and join the 21st century. More affluent Cubans means a more reasonable Cuban government (one way or another). The US food aid programs can go back to being the difference between death by starvation and survival for millions of people around the world. Everybody wins.

Except the Perennially Indignant and the Professional Panty Wetters. But, let’s face it, nothing we could do would ever make them happy.

Current status: Flabbergasted

Current Music: One of These Days by Pink Floyd