Achtung!

31 08 2008

Let us take a look at the first ten Amendments to the US Constitution, better known as the Bill of Rights:

Amendment I– Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.

Amendment II– A well regulated militia, being necessary to the security of a free state, the right of the people to keep and bear arms, shall not be infringed.

Amendment III- No soldier shall, in time of peace be quartered in any house, without the consent of the owner, nor in time of war, but in a manner to be prescribed by law.

Amendment IV- The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers, and effects, against unreasonable searches and seizures, shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized.

Amendment V- No person shall be held to answer for a capital, or otherwise infamous crime, unless on a presentment or indictment of a grand jury, except in cases arising in the land or naval forces, or in the militia, when in actual service in time of war or public danger; nor shall any person be subject for the same offense to be twice put in jeopardy of life or limb; nor shall be compelled in any criminal case to be a witness against himself, nor be deprived of life, liberty, or property, without due process of law; nor shall private property be taken for public use, without just compensation.

Amendment VI- In all criminal prosecutions, the accused shall enjoy the right to a speedy and public trial, by an impartial jury of the state and district wherein the crime shall have been committed, which district shall have been previously ascertained by law, and to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation; to be confronted with the witnesses against him; to have compulsory process for obtaining witnesses in his favor, and to have the assistance of counsel for his defense.

Amendment VII- In suits at common law, where the value in controversy shall exceed twenty dollars, the right of trial by jury shall be preserved, and no fact tried by a jury, shall be otherwise reexamined in any court of the United States, than according to the rules of the common law.

Amendment VIII- Excessive bail shall not be required, nor excessive fines imposed, nor cruel and unusual punishments inflicted.

Amendment IX– The enumeration in the Constitution, of certain rights, shall not be construed to deny or disparage others retained by the people.

Amendment X– The powers not delegated to the United States by the Constitution, nor prohibited by it to the states, are reserved to the states respectively, or to the people.

There’s a reason for this exercise. It turns out that the police departments in Denver and Minneapolis are none too fond of this document- based soley upon their recent actions.

In Denver, the police made a point of attacking and harassing protesters in the vicinity of the Democratic party convention. This includes jailing and harassing legal and media observers who were not part of the protests.

In Minneapolis, still a day before the start of the Republican party convention, the police have been raiding the homes of suspected protesters. They’ve been seizing computers and other electronic devices, and arresting people for violating the fire code.

Let’s see now: These are good examples of government violations of the 1st and 4th Amendments. Go ahead and check the list above. I’ll wait.

See what I mean? The heat signatures from the Founders spinning in their graves is probably detectable from space. Conducting police raids on the homes of people suspected of planning to peaceably assemble in protest is chillingly similar to Orwellian thoughtcrime. The last time I looked, organizing a protest was not an act of terrorism. I think it’s very interesting that the police ended up charging the dangerous criminals they rounded up with something as ridiculous as fire code violations. Check me on this: Do fire code violations really require the use of a SWAT unit?

This pathological quest for security by the Government is patently at odds with the very existence of a free society. Our free society. Our liberties are being eroded in the name of security, and nobody seems to care. We, the People, need to speak out against these byzantine abuses of government power. The Government is getting perilously close to forcing the People to the use of the Fourth Box.

The Government agencies responsible for these outrages must be identified and brought to justice forthwith. There is no excuse for this sort of behavior on the part of public servants against members of the public.

All that is required for Evil to flourish is for good men to do nothing. If you sit and quietly accept the evils being committed in your name by your Government, you are permitting Evil to flourish. We, the People, still have a chance to save this country from itself. Make use of the first three boxes forthwith. Support those who are victimized by our Government, and don’t be quiet about it. If you allow the Government to squash dissent in this manner without resorting to every peaceful means of opposition at your disposal, you will be complicit in the destruction which would inevitably result from the People resorting to that Fourth Box. We’re getting closer and closer to the precipice. Please pay attention. And act.

Current status: Concerned

Current music: Xanadu by Rush

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Housing Crisis

25 08 2008

A “housing crisis” has been the cause of much wailing and gnashing of teeth lately. The only “crisis” involving housing for which I can find much evidence involves the ridiculous prices for any sort of domicile in my local area (prices start north of $50K for a burned-out- foundation and get stratospherically worse from there).

 

How many people are actually defaulting on their mortgages? Is this number significantly larger than before the so-called “sub-prime” lending spree? The data I’ve been able to gather suggests the answer is NO.

 

As far as I can tell, most of the people currently defaulting on their home loans are those who would probably default on a one-dollar loan and the so-called “flippers” who feature so prominently on cable TV. These flippers gambled that they could spend a few thousand to put lipstick on a pig and sell the resulting upscale hovel for a fortune. The boom times of the housing market came to an end (as all booms tend to do), and the flippers are now weeping piteously in front of any TV camera within sight or hearing because they failed to notice the signs of the inevitable crash.

 

There has grown up in the minds of certain groups in this country the notion that because a man or corporation has made a profit out of the public for a number of years, the government and the courts are charged with the duty of guaranteeing such profit in the future, even in the face of changing circumstances and contrary to public interest. This strange doctrine is not supported by statute or common law. Neither individuals nor corporations have any right to come into court and ask that the clock of history be stopped, or turned back.” –RAH

 

Sadly, Heinlein’s rational jurist in the story “Life Line” is not present today. In lieu of intelligent reasoning, the vermin which infest our legislature are falling all over themselves in their haste to bleat platitudes about “solving” this non-existent housing crisis. Woe betide any politician who failed to rush forth and save the poor, suffering masses who are at risk of falling victim to their own poor decisions. Our elected Oafishals seem hell-bent on burying this illusory crisis under a mountain of money. Our money.

 

What is our Gummint (the members of which are ever so concerned about the plight of the “victims” of the housing crisis) doing to help out the vastly larger number of homeowners who are actually making their mortgage payments? What about the folks who have long since paid off their home loans, but are now facing foreclosure because of soaring property tax hikes? I’ll tell you what the Gummint is doing: It’s bleeding those responsible home-owners dry, and giving the resulting largess to irresponsible home-owners. What ever happened to personal responsibility?

 

Companies and individuals who chose to gamble in the volatile sub-prime lending game should be permitted to suffer the consequences. Stupidity should be painful, so that the stupid can experience the consequences of stupidity. Preventing those who act stupidly from the consequences of their actions also prevents them from learning from their mistakes. Those who fail to learn from their mistakes will invariably repeat them. How can anyone rationalize this as being in the Public interest?

 

Therein lies the real crisis. The Gummint treats those of us who save money and pay our bills on time as pariahs, but those who make poor decisions and suffer the consequences thereof are lavished with money … at the expense of the others.

 

 

Current status: Curmudgeonly

Current music: Bolero by Ravel





That’s some fine police work there, Lou

17 08 2008

I always wanted to be a police officer. I planned on it during high school, and even worked out a career path that started with a tour in the Army as an MP and ended with me working in Law Enforcement until retirement. Funny how things never work out the way you plan ’em.

The way it worked out, I ended up joining the Navy ten years after high school. In the interim, I took some college courses for a career in Law Enforcement. Once I turned 21, I started applying to various police agencies. After not making the cut for several years, I was finally getting close. A small town PD was hiring one officer, and I was one of three final candidates. All three of us were given a standard psychological evaluation and were interviewed by the psychologist. I was turned down because I had scored two points too high on the aggression scale. Historically, hiring candidates with high aggression scores led to lots of unnecessary lawsuits. So I was out of the Law Enforcement business.

With the hindsight born of two decades of experience, I think they made the right choice. I’ve learned a lot about myself since then, and the young man I was would probably have been a magnet for citizen complaints. That said, the young man I was twenty years ago would probably be guaranteed a slot in most police departments today.

Thanks to the War of Terror™, police departments all over the country are getting the money for loads of military-grade equipment and intensive training in military-style tactics. There are several problems with this, the largest being that police do not do the same job as the military. Police are supposed to enforce the law. Period. Full stop. The military is supposed to support the Government’s decision by force. One of the laws the police are supposed to enforce is the Posse Commitatus Act, which forbids the use of military personnel for law enforcement work in the United States. Since the military cannot legally be used inside the country for police work, the police are being converted into paramilitary organizations.

This can- and has- led to multiple abuses. Police departments around the country routinely use their new training and equipment to conduct violent invasions of private property in the name of the War on Drugs®. I’m all for using military tactics and weapons in extreme cases, when the situation is a matter of  life-or-death. Even under those circumstances, I would prefer that a judge issue a warrant specifically authorizing extreme measures (with common-sense exceptions for life-or-death exigent circumstances). I would also prefer that every use of these paramilitary units be subject to citizen review. If we’re going to allow paramilitary police units to operate in our cities, they should be held to strict standards of behavior. This would help reduce the number of cluster-fucks.

Case in point: Last night, the Buffalo Police conducted a no-knock warrant on an apartment. They smashed through the door, applied the buttstock of a shotgun to the head of an epileptic resident of that apartment, and only then realized that they’d raided the wrong apartment. Whoopsie!

Sadly, this is not an isolated incident. According to a Cato Institute website, this happens far too often. So far in 2008, there have been five such botched raids, the only one of which made the news involved a supremely stupid incident where a county police agency conducted a no-knock raid on a house in someone else’s jurisdiction. They burst into the house, shot the homeowner’s two dogs, and interrogated the homeowner and his elderly mother for a couple of hours next to the corpses of their family pets. At some point in the proceedings, they finally figured out that their “suspect” was the mayor of the town. In addition to raiding the mayor’s house, the Prince George County PD had also neglected to inform the Berwyn Heights PD that they were conducting operations in their jurisdiction. The worst bit of all, the PG Police refuse to admit they’d done anything wrong. Forget about an apology.

This is far from the worst possible scenario. Since 1985, 42 completely innocent people have been killed by the police during these raids, and 24 police officers have been injured or killed. I live in a moderately bad neighborhood (because housing prices prevent me from buying a house), and I own firearms. If the local police (who do not have a reputation for impressive intellects or even professionalism) were to raid my apartment by mistake, I would very likely end up shooting them (and probably getting killed as a result). There are a couple of people currently serving long prison terms under exactly those circumstances.

Back to last night’s incident. A Buffalo PD spokesman had this to say:

We wouldn’t be comfortable discussing the internal investigation. We can say comfortably that over 1,100 search warrants were executed last year and 580 to date this year and that, with such a high volume and such a fast-paced environment, it is understandable that mistakes could happen.”

I don’t know about you, but I do not consider this an appropriate response to such a colossal fuck-up. This sort of mistake is not understandable- it is inexcusable.

Here’s an appropriate quote from one of the founders of our country:

Any society that would give up a little liberty to gain a little security will deserve neither and lose both. -Benjamin Franklin

We, the People, are perilously close to the precipice Ben Franklin was warning us about. As a society, we need to use the Four Boxes to keep the Government our servant and not our master. Use the Soap Box (as I am doing now) to warn your fellow citizens of the danger and mobilize them to change the way the Government operates. Use the Ballot Box to enact legislation and elect representatives to sharply restrict these dangerous practices. Use the Jury Box to sue police agencies who permit their zeal for arrests to violate the rights of the citizens. Use the Jury Box to acquit fellow citizens who are driven to use the Ammo Box to defend themselves from Government invasions of their homes and property.

For those who think that nothing like that could happen in this country in the modern era, I invite you to read up on the Battle of Athens. It can happen here. It has happened here. We, the People, are being victimized and killed by the very Government we pay to serve us. They are Public Servants. We, the People, are the Public. Make your voices heard! Vote the bastards out! Sue police departments who violate the compact between Public and Public Servant. When necessary, defend your life against the well-meaning incompetents who are threatening your life and killing your fellow citizens.

Current status: Irked

Current music: Mystic’s Dream by Loreena McKennitt





Why does God need a starship?

12 08 2008

Humans have a series of deeply-ingrained reflexes as a result of our evolution. Most of the standard ethical beliefs (those held by every existing culture) are the result of this physical and cultural evolutionary process. If human mentation was not such a conscious process, these reflexes could convincingly be described as instincts. Most of the time, our conscious control of reflexive behavior is a good thing- it allows us to make (slightly) better decisions when the fight-or-flight reflex kicks in, for example. We can also (most of the time) control our natural primate curiosity under certain conditions.

A good example of nearly-universal human reflex behavior could be called the “Awwwwwwwww” reflex. At some point in our evolutionary background, it became a survival mechanism for humans to enjoy cute and cuddly creatures- even those of different species. Most humans like seeing puppies at play, for example. Note that there are a variety of theories about why this might have been a survival benefit which I won’t get into at the moment. Note also that this is not entirely universal among humans- just nearly so.

One reflexive human behavior which needs no great feat of logic to understand is the almost-atavistic urge to protect children. All successful human societies are based (at their core) on the premise, “Women and children first“. This is because individual humans have been physiologically and culturally indoctrinated to sacrifice themselves to preserve the species. This primal reflex is the basis for all morality. Women and children are any society’s only hope for survival. Morals derive from the instinct to survive. Moral behavior is survival behavior beyond the individual level.

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. Attempts to formulate a “perfect society” on any foundation other than “Women and children first!” is not only witless, it is automatically genocidal. Nevertheless, starry-eyed idealists (all of them male) have tried endlessly—and no doubt will keep on trying.- RAH

This is why those who prey upon children are so (justifiably) loathed- they have broken one of the basic compacts upon which society is based: Women and children first! Any creature so damaged as to violate this basic premise cannot be trusted to adhere to any of society’s fundamental principles. They are acting in a way that damages the survival potential of the group.

That brings me to the point of this particular rant. It seems that yet another group of religious wombats have crossed the line into counter-survival activities in the name of their imaginary friend. A christian fringe group called “1 Mind Ministries”, based in Baltimore, apparently starved a 19-month-old boy to death because he refused to say “amen” after dinner one night. According to the group’s imaginary friend, that made the child a demon, who had to be punished by withholding food and water. When the child died, the group’s leader claimed that “God would resurrect him” and kept the body around until it started to stink. At that point, the Leader burned the child’s clothing and the mattress on which the body had been placed, and the carcass was unceremoniously placed in a green suitcase- which was apparently sprayed with deodorant from time to time. Where was the boy’s mother during all of this? She meekly accepted the Word of God and held her son as he died. Nice of her.

A cynic might imagine that the decision to avoid medical care and hide the remains might have been motivated by more than religious fervor- such as the fact that the boy’s grandparents were filing suit to get custody of the child at around the time he died.

These people- all of the supposed “adults” in this religious group- have crossed the line. They have irrevocably broken one of humanity’s most fundamental survival rules in the Name of their Invisible Angry Skyman and his Jewish Zombie Offspring.  Their continued existence is a threat to the safety and well-being of all humans, everywhere. Yes, this sweeping statement specifically includes the boy’s so-called “mother”, despite the grandparents claim that she had been led astray by the “cult”.

Hey, grandma and grandpa! I have a clue for you: anyone who allows their 19-month-old child to be starved to death has not been “led astray”. She had to have been a willing participant in the death of her child. As such, she deserves death.

I doubt anyone with religious beliefs reads anything I write. If you are reading this and happen to be religious, ask yourself why your God or Gods allow this sort of thing to happen. Ask yourself why your priest/pastor/rabbi says or does what he/she does- is it because their imaginary friend told them to do so?
If your God or Gods are supposed to be so much better than mere humans, why does his/their actions so closely resemble the worst in humanity? Why is so much unadulterated Evil committed in the name of your imaginary-friend-of-choice?

For everyone else, ask yourself, “Why do we permit these lunatics to continue with their patently contra-survival behavior?” Every religious text I have ever read is filled with the most despicable acts committed by, for, in the name of, or at the request of some deity or another. When will we- as a species- throw off the yoke of superstitions which demand we act in ways that undermine our civilization? To paraphrase a certain rug-wearing actor in a horrible movie, “Why does God need a starship?

Current status: Disgusted

Current music: Squirrel Songs II by Foamy





Worst Job

5 08 2008

The following is an account I submitted to Pajiba for one of their Afternoon Comment Diversions about the Worst Job Ever. Since Layman Pong has demanded a story (and I don’t have anything to rant about this week), I present my worst job.

I’ve actually liked most of my jobs. Most of the time, anyway.

 

Once upon a time, I was employed by a certain prominent hotel chain as a security guard/bouncer. At that time, this hotel was host to an annual- and very large- science fiction convention. This shouldn’t have been a problem: I was a fan, I got to meet a lot of authors and artists (including Phil and Kaja Foglio- woot!), and I bought some neat stuff. The Con staff did a fairly decent job of keeping things organized- provided one has a very broad definition of organization.

 

The biggest problem was usually some of the fans.

 

A brief digression is in order. The hotel permitted the general anarchy caused by the Con because the attendees filled the entire hotel (including the $2500/night “Presidential Suite” and the $1500/night “Governor’s Suite“) for five solid days … and booked a year in advance. Imagine Spring Break … confined in one 25-floor hotel … populated by every nerd, fanboy, cosplayer, and geek within a thousand miles.

 

Basic rooms (single occupancy) went for $100 a night. Many people would rent the rooms, then sublet them for $50 a head ($200 for the bed) every night and make out like bandits. Some of the rooms were literally carpeted with sleeping nerds.

 

This was strictly against hotel (and Fire Department) regulations, of course, so I spent a lot of time evicting people when we had proof of what was going on. This was made difficult by the fact that there were lots of activities and parties going on in various rooms, and it’s hard to distinguish the remnants of a good party from a room-farming operation.

 

As a result of the population density, the hotel had chronic water shortage problems during the Con (this ended up being the reason the hotel finally kicked them out). Add water shortages to crowded rooms to summer temperatures to nerds (many of whom thought bathing was optional anyway) in costumes, and some of the rooms smelled like stockyards covered in skunk shit and whale vomit … and- frequently- real vomit.

 

Now add in the fact that many nerds only get laid once a year … at the Con. Basement dwelling Morlocks would emerge every April to mate, essentially. There was a lot of sex at the Con. Since there was no space in most of the rooms for any sort of boinking activity, the nerds and/or nerdettes ended up using whatever horizontal surfaces happened to be relatively unoccupied and not directly in public view. This led to places like laundry rooms, public restrooms, elevators, and stairwells smelling like the rest of the hotel- with the nauseating, musky aroma of nerds in rut thrown in for good measure.

 

It was in this funky atmosphere of general bedlam that we come to the star of this little drama. One morning, I got a sort-of-panicky call from the hotel cafe (as opposed to the four-star restaurant on the top floor) about a guest creating a disturbance. I bobbed and weaved my way through the tide of early-rising Klingons, Imperial Storm Troopers, Daleks, Vulcans, and hordes of creatures and/or characters that would take too long to describe. When I got to the cafe, I immediately discovered the problem. There was a … woman … there. She was hard to miss, being significantly larger in two dimensions than I, but somewhat shorter. If you’re familiar with Robert Asprin’s Myth Adventures series, think of Maasha without the orange hair and only about 5 feet tall.

 

She was wearing an apparently home-made “costume” which resembled mosquito netting … and nothing else. At the time, I held the belief that all women are beautiful, but this woman made me seriously reconsider this philosophy. Pendulous breasts, a jungle of riotous pubic hair, and an ass that resembled a couple of full-size hogs tied up in canvas bags full of cottage cheese were all clearly visible. Her face was no better- think of Miss Piggy with dark hair and painted-on eyebrows.

 

No one was enjoying the view.

 

As bad as her appearance was, her attitude was worse. Calling her a shrew is an offense to vicious little rodents. She was drunk and/or stoned, combative, and as reasonable as a rabid wolverine with a toothache. And she stank. She refused any suggestion to change her attire. It was only after I had called the police for assistance (no way in Hell was I about to try to evict this creature all by my lonesome) that she made any attempt to cover herself- she grabbed three cocktail napkins and stuffed them each under her mosquito netting until they covered her nipples and pubic hair.

 

This was still not acceptable attire for anywhere- least of all a dining facility. She expressed her displeasure at great length and with many profanities, not stopping even after the police repeated the instructions to cover up or leave. This porcine creature made several pointed references to “pigs”, which she thought was amusing. The police were less than amused, and escorted the woman out of the hotel (she was not a guest- just a Con attendee) in handcuffs. She was issued a summons for public indecency and released to her vehicle after being told not to return to the hotel. Ever.

 

Not an auspicous start to the day for anyone involved.

 

 

Currrent status: Appalled

Current music: 5th Symphony by Beethoven