Surly Curmudgeon

   The human race divides politically into those who want people to be controlled and those who have no such desire. The former are idealists acting from highest motives for the greatest good of the greatest number. The latter are surly curmudgeons, suspicious and lacking in altruism. But they are more comfortable neighbors than the other sort.
-- Robert A. Heinlein
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    Tuesday, October 27, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "If you dance with the devil, the devil don't change. The devil changes you."
    -- Max California, 8mm

    Posted by Tom, 10/27/2009 7:11:06 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    The devil is always in the details

    I recently became a fan of a Facebook group for the abolition of the death penalty. If you don't know how Facebook works, everything you do or post on the site is immediately broadcast to all of your friends and associates, so soon after I did so, everyone in my "friends" list got a message saying that "Tom became a fan of..."

    Shortly afterward, I was asked about this "strange turn of events" by someone who knows me fairly well. "I thought you supported the death penalty..." And so I felt compelled to explain.

    At its simplest, my argument is this: we should accept on the face of things that government is incompetent to administer the death penalty because it can't even balance a checkbook. Beyond that, there is ample evidence of untold corruption and incompetence in the criminal justice system that makes it rather unlikely that justice is being served in even a simple majority of cases.

    Longtime readers will remember my monitoring of the case against Dr. Stephen Hayne, the disgraced Mississippi medical examiner whose shoddy work has sent uncertain numbers of innocent people to prison or death row. America has investigative journalist Radley Balko to thank for exposing that fraud, and for beginning a small but significant firestorm of investigation into forensic medicine and expert witnesses across the country.

    This is no small point. The quality of evidence interpretation is largely unquestioned in the minds of the American public, who have been taught by television shows like CSI and NCIS that forensic investigators uphold the highest ideals of scientific inquiry like Randian super heroes. The truth is far uglier than the average American generally wants to contemplate, as investigation after investigation has turned up shoddy work, mismanagement of evidence, and outright fraud on the part of those charged with finding the truth.

    Even the folks at the National Academy of Sciences have grave concerns over the quality of forensic science on a nationwide scale (hat tip, Reason):

    Forensic evidence that has helped convict thousands of defendants for nearly a century is often the product of shoddy scientific practices that should be upgraded and standardized, according to accounts of a draft report by the nation’s pre-eminent scientific research group.

    The report by the National Academy of Sciences is to be released this month. People who have seen it say it is a sweeping critique of many forensic methods that the police and prosecutors rely on, including fingerprinting, firearms identification and analysis of bite marks, blood spatter, hair and handwriting.

    The rabbit hole goes even deeper. Folks are starting to wake up to the fact that the local hero of the election cycle, the cliched tough-on-crime county prosecutor, isn't all he's cracked up to be, either:

    As an assistant district attorney, Mississippi Judge Bobby DeLaughter helped hide exculpatory evidence in the case of Cedric Willis, wrongly convicted of a rape and two murders. Willis served 12 years for a crime he didn't commit, despite DNA evidence pointing to his innocence.

    And you'd think it might stop at the prosecutor's office, but no:

    While Willis sat in Parchman Penitentiary, much of his time in solitary confinement, DeLaughter was elected a judge. Last summer, DeLaughter himself plead guilty to lying to federal investigators looking into a corruption scandal. But he was never punished for the misconduct that sent an innocent man to jail.

    The rot even extends to the police officers who make the original arrests, and their bosses:

    Last month, a jury in Prince George's County, Maryland awarded Kimberly Jones $260,000 in a civil rights suit. In 2006, sheriff's deputies from the county had forced their way into Jones' home, blasted her with pepper spray, beat her with batons, punched her in the face, then arrested her for assaulting a police officer. Though the charge resulted in Jones being fired from her job at a shelter for homeless children, it was later dropped. Reason? The cops had the wrong house.

    A year after the wrong-door assault on Jones, Jackson's deputies conducted another botched raid, this time on Accokeek couple Pam and Frank Myers. The two were home watching TV when the deputies came into their home and held them at gunpoint. The police were looking for a man wanted on drugs and weapons charges. They had the wrong house. The correct house was clearly marked, two doors down.

    Granted, Prince George's County police have a reputation for being the worst of the worst, but this sort of thing happens everywhere: Ohio, Minnesota, New York, and so on.

    In America, we have a romantic notion that the "justice system" actually cares about something called "justice". The more one reads and investigates however, the less it appears that justice has anything to do with the business of rounding people up and tossing them in jail, or simply shooting them on suspicion of having a substance that makes folks forget their troubles for a while. The actual work of the system appears to be aimed at re-electing those who need re-electing lest they have to get a real job and start contributing meaningfully to society, and to keep the tax money flowing into the coffers.

    The public is enamored of shows like CSI, and believes that having facilities like those on the show will protect the innocent and punish the guilty. That's how the local politicians get to confiscate $30 million for shiny new crime labs and hand it out to favored construction companies, all the while engaging in a masturbatory orgy of self-congratulation because they supposedly "created" 400 or so jobs. Never mind that the system by which the lab operates prevents peer and/or adversarial review of evidence despite the system being nominally "adversarial" in nature. Apparently, building a new crime lab will somehow solve the injustices and imbalances inherent in the system itself. And if it doesn't, they'll find something else with which to distract the credulous masses.

    One of the reasons I don't self-identify as a Republican or "conservative" is because folks of that bent generally do not question their basic assumptions about the system. The "law and order" set believes that cops are the good guys, they bring in the bad guys, the bad guys get proven to be bad guys, and the system properly punishes them according to their wickedness. If any complaints are made about the system at all, they are complaints that the penalties aren't nearly harsh enough. And to the rarified extent that innocent folks are occasionally snared in the system, they are just as quickly popped out of it, no harm, no foul. It is only with this set of assumptions that they can blithely make pronouncements that capital punishment is a great idea and merely represents society taking out the trash.

    Unlike my leftist friends, I do believe that there are certain actions for which a person forfeits their right to remain among the living. I see nothing wrong, morally, spiritually, or otherwise, with putting down a rabid dog, whether he walks on two legs or four. I believe there's a proper mindset for the task, and would worry about those who took pleasure in it, but someone who starts mayhem and offers violence to his fellow man needs to be stopped. That's why I've carried a gun for the last 10 years or so. And it seems incredibly odd to me that the same people who might agree with all of the above, that the system is twisted and corrupted almost beyond repair, would rather I left the gun at home and instead relied on "the authorities" to do something about it.

    The sad fact is that the Republican and the Democrat, for all their arguing, essentially believe the same thing: the system works fine as long as the right people are in charge, by which they mean folks who share their views. The libertarian recognizes the system for what it is -- organized crime -- and thus understands that there is no such thing as the "right person" to be in charge of it. Right-thinking people don't apply for the job; they don't want it. They recognize that, as C.S. Lewis wrote, the worst kind of evil is power over others. As we see above, it doesn't matter whether such power breeds self-importance, corruption, laziness, or indifference, its effects are disastrous to those caught in its path.

    Posted by Tom, 10/27/2009 7:09:36 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 23, 2009

    No posts

    I've been under the weather lately, so I haven't really felt like posting, though I have a bunch of ideas of things I'd like to write about.

    Posted by Tom, 10/23/2009 5:27:09 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 16, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "Libertarianism is rejected by the modern Left -- which preaches individualism but practices collectivism. Capitalism is rejected by the modern Right -- which preaches enterprise but practices protectionism. The libertarian faith in the mind of men is rejected by religionists who have faith only in the sins of man. The libertarian insistence that men be free to spin cables of steel, as well as dreams of smoke, is rejected by hippies who adore nature but spurn creation. The libertarian insistence that each man is a sovereign land of liberty, with his primary allegiance to himself, is rejected by patriots who sing of freedom but also shout of banners and boundaries."
    -- Karl Hess, The Death of Politics

    Posted by Tom, 10/16/2009 5:36:09 PM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Wednesday, October 14, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "I don't believe in age. I don't believe in aging. Whatever. I got your aging right here."
    -- Tony Horton

    Posted by Tom, 10/14/2009 5:41:05 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Tuesday, October 13, 2009

    The Worker is Worthy of his Wages

    Zeus has been doing much better under his new regimen of wonder-drug Previcox. I have his veterinarian to thank for it, though the drug itself is godawful expensive... around $5/pill from that same vet.

    We played with the dosage some and found out that Zeus does just fine on half a pill, which helped considerably. When we moved to the new house, it became a bit of a problem to get Zeus his meds, since the vet's office is now a 45-minute drive, and no other vets in the (new) area seem to use or prescribe Previcox. I could just go with what they recommend, but I hate to change something that's working, especially since the old vet recommended Previcox over drugs like Rimadyl because it has fewer side effects, especially for the liver.

    The old vet suggested that I go to 1800PetMeds to get drugs for Zeus, so I finally did so. The cost of the pills is about half, but the website still needs to contact the doctor and get him to write a prescription and so forth, a service for which the doctor is not being paid.

    I talked to the vet's office, and offered to pay a prescription fee of some sort, but they insist that it's fine and they'll just keep doing what's in the best interest of the patient. I can understand this, but our dogs do not go to the vet's office on any sort of regular schedule, and I don't like the idea of taking advantage of his generosity. The convenience factor for me cannot be overstated -- rushing to the vet's office, a 45 minute drive, trying to get there by 6 pm when I get off work at 5 pm, is too much of a giant pain in the butt to be doing it every month. I don't really want to change vets because I like this guy so much, but I also don't want to take advantage of his service for months (possibly years) on end without so much as darkening the door of his office so he can at least collect an exam fee.

    I realize that writing and faxing a prescription is not that much work, but the man deserves to be compensated for his time, especially the time he's spent learning his trade to begin with. I also realize that far too many of his clients probably don't even think twice about situations like this. So now I'm wondering... what's it worth? In my head, $10-$20 a month seems like a fair gratuity for such a service. He's saving me at least that much in time and aggravation, not to mention the reduced cost of medication. It leaves me wondering a few things though:

    1) Can he get in trouble for accepting remuneration that he hasn't billed for? I really hate that those motherless bastards at the DEA make me worry about such things, but I don't want this guy harassed just because I'm trying to do something right.
    2) Is the amount I'm thinking reasonable, or an insult?
    3) Would he be offended if I sent the cash anyway?

    I guess one thing I could do would be to at least send him a Christmas card with a "gift" inside. I just want to make it clear to him that I appreciate what he's doing on Zeus' and my behalf. Must ponder some more...

    Posted by Tom, 10/13/2009 7:04:08 AM (Permalink). 2 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Friday, October 9, 2009


    Meet Greg Mortenson:

    In 1993, to honor his deceased sister's memory, Mortenson went to climb K2, the world's second highest mountain, in the Karakoram range of northern Pakistan. After more than 70 days on the mountain, Mortenson and three other climbers completed a life-saving rescue of a fifth climber that took more than 75 hours. The time and energy devoted to this rescue prevented him from attempting to reach the summit. After the rescue, he began his descent of the mountain and became weak and exhausted. Mortenson set out with one local Balti porter to the nearest city, but he took a wrong turn along the way and ended up in Korphe, a small village, where Mortenson was cared for by the villagers while he recovered. [5]

    To pay the remote community back for their compassion, Mortenson said he would build a school for the village. After a frustrating time trying to raise money, Mortenson convinced Jean Hoerni, a Silicon Valley pioneer, to found the Central Asia Institute. The mission of CAI—a non-profit organization—is to promote education and literacy, especially for girls, in remote mountain regions of Pakistan and Afghanistan. Hoerni named Mortenson as CAI's first Executive Director.


    Mortenson and David Oliver Relin are co-authors of the New York Times best selling book Three Cups of Tea. [8] As of October 2009, Central Asia Institute, has established over 131 schools in rural Afghanistan and Pakistan, which provide education to 54,000 students including over 44,000 girls. [2] Pennies for Peace is a program Mortenson launched to involve American school-children in fund-raising efforts for the schools in Afghanistan and Pakistan. [9]

    He was also nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize this year. And lost to a guy who managed to win the Presidency, run up a mountain of debt that his predecessor could only dream of, but who talks a good talk. Surely even the most starry-eyed Obama fanboi can see that this is completely unwarranted and undeserved. Can't they?

    I'd do some more searching on the Nobel nominees this year, but I think I'd only make myself more nauseated.

    Posted by Tom, 10/9/2009 7:03:14 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Of all the ridiculous things...

    Barack Obama has won the Nobel Peace Prize, supposedly for -- well, nothing, but because the committee hopes he'll be a great peacemaker:

    President Barack Obama won the 2009 Nobel Peace Prize on Friday in a stunning decision designed to encourage his initiatives to reduce nuclear arms, ease tensions with the Muslim world and stress diplomacy and cooperation rather than unilateralism...


    The award appeared to be a slap at President George W. Bush from a committee that harshly criticized Obama's predecessor for his largely unilateral military action in the wake of the Sept. 11 terror attacks.

    Unilateral military action which Obama continues to pursue to this day.


    Myth: Candidates can be nominated until the last minute.
    The nomination deadline is eight months before the announcement, with a strictly enforced deadline of Feb. 1.

    So in other words, the guy was nominated at most for being a presidential candidate, and for pretending to close -- but not really -- the detention center at Guantanamo Bay.

    This smacks of the same mentality that gives kids trophies for participation and passing grades because we're afraid of hurting their self-esteem. One would think that, upon becoming President of the United States, a person would have no need to have their ego propped up in such a fashion.

    Myth: The prize is awarded to recognize efforts for peace, human rights and democracy only after they have proven successful.
    More often, the prize is awarded to encourage those who receive it to see the effort through, sometimes at critical moments.

    I could almost see awarding the prize even to unsuccessful efforts... there are a ton of people who have sacrificed greatly to pursue peace, but who have failed to achieve it. But to give the award as "encouragement" for efforts that haven't even been attempted yet? Might as well give the prize to every Miss America candidate who says she wants to work for "world peace".

    This award is a travesty, and the only way Obama can earn the unwarranted respect they're trying to give him is to decline it.

    Posted by Tom, 10/9/2009 4:49:56 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Monday, October 5, 2009

    The good, the bad, and the ugly

    Reason has an interesting article about the G20 protests, which I think handles the whole thing rather fairly:

    Among the various classes of protesters -- pro-lifers, environmentalists, anti-war activists, and now Tea Partiers -- the most destructive are easily the anti-globalization/anarchist protesters.

    I realize that some of my left-leaning friends are quick to discount this point, but it does need to be made and understood. The anti-globalization crowd IS fond of property destruction as a means of "protest", and no property owner I'm aware of, even the left-leaning types, would be happy to see a bunch of crazed yahoos throwing bricks through their windows, no matter how "righteous" the cause being supported. I wish I could at least get a "yeah, that would really tick me off", because it would really make it easier to move on to the rest of the story.

    The rest of the story is of course that there is cause for no small amount of alarm over the heavy hand that sits at the end of the long arm of the law:

    So when police clashed with anti-globalization protesters last weekend in Pittsburgh, one could assume that most altercations represented justified police responses to overzealous protesters.

    But a number of disturbing images, videos, and witness accounts have come out of Pittsburgh, as well as from similar high-stakes political events in recent years, that reveal the disquieting ease with which authorities are willing to crush dissent -- and at the very sorts of events where the right to dissent is the entire purpose of protecting free speech.


    ...The most egregious police actions seemed to take place on Friday September 25, when police began ordering students who were in public spaces to disperse, despite the fact that they had broken no laws. Those who moved too slowly, even from public spaces on their own campus or in front of their dorms, were arrested.

    The article goes on to say that these arrests were "preventative" in nature, because the crowds had the "potential" to turn ugly. Taken to its logical conclusion of course, this gives police the so-called "right" to arrest anyone at any time because they "might" be a problem in the future. That shuffling sound you hear is Philip K. Dick rolling over in his grave.

    Part of my problem with modern American society and its construction of "rights" is that "the people" have no effective, pre-emptive check on police power that does not lead to war against the government. None of the officers or politicians involved in this event will be punished in any meaningful way (and we all know it). The sad fact of the matter is that the escalation of violence against the people cannot be resolved except by either bowing to the will of the State in the form of the courts, hoping that one's rights will eventually be respected as mandated by the Constitution, or by responding to the violence with equal violence. There is no expectation in the United States that one who is minding their own business and is accosted by a law enforcement officer on a power trip can simply say "I'm not doing anything wrong, I have every right to be in this location, leave me alone" and expect the officer in question to either proffer some evidence to the contrary or be on his way. There is no reasoning with a cop; any attempts to have a reasonable conversation necessarily call into question his prerogatives and the limits of his authority, and nobody likes to be told that they're doing something wrong.

    This is not to say that cops are necessarily evil or wrong, mind you. But it cannot be argued that they step into every situation with a presumption of their own authority over the matters at hand, whether such matters rightly fall into their purview or not. It is part & parcel of being an agent of the State; one must assume that one has the power to "fix" things and the prerogative to use it.

    As I once stated by referencing Stranger in a Strange Land, we sorely need to find a way back to the idea that, at a minimum, government and the citizen are on equal footing. It may be that government has some rights and powers, but so does the citizen, and these should be understood in a way that allows the prevention of unlawful/unwarranted arrest and harassment of the citizens by the State.

    Posted by Tom, 10/5/2009 7:22:39 AM (Permalink). 0 Comments. Leave a comment...

    Thursday, October 1, 2009

    Quote of the Day

    "'Balanced' is a code for 'denied': a right to free speech that must be 'balanced' against so exhaustive a list of other supposed values means a right that can be exercised only when those in power judge that the speech in question is innocuous to them."
    -- Ronald Dworkin which I would add that this applies to all the other rights as well.

    Posted by Tom, 10/1/2009 6:59:31 AM (Permalink). 4 Comments. Leave a comment...