Sunday, August 30, 2015

Yes, I Seem To Be Taking A Blog Break — I'll Be Back Soon

We've had a lot of things going on lately, including some genuinely fun stuff (see next post about the concert we just attended). If I haven't blogged as much lately, it's because of the goings-on and my geezer's need for more rest than younger people. I promise I'll be back in the next day or two with comments on the concert in Miller Theatre (Hermann Park) last night.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

Cool!

... cool enough for Stella, even! This morning, Stella arose, headed (as usual) straight for the thermostat, cranked the temp down to something she considers acceptable (i.e., below 70°F), and... nothing happened. No, the system was not broken; the outside temp was 67°F! After weeks of temperatures of 100+°F, heat indexes a few degrees hotter than the actual temp, we finally got a break.

Not our lawn, but no lovelier...
After doing the absolute minimal wake-up chores ("coffee! coffee!" breathed Stella; "feed me! feed me! feed me! ..." shouted  kitty Esther telepathically), I headed for the one remaining intact patio chair (repeated battering into fences by thunderstorm winds doomed the other, and my bulk finished it off a few days ago) to enjoy a perfect beginning of a Houston Spring day... yes, Spring; that's what it felt like... and to watch as the sun rose, the critters emerged, the oh-so-gentle breeze moved a few leaves, a few inoffensive clouds appeared, the sounds of morning traffic emerged and then subsided, etc. I haven't had a morning like that in a long time!

Of course it won't last. I have (as I used to say in my working days) "lines to code before I sleep, and lines to code before I sleep," and the cool weather will not survive even until noon. But what a treat it was, a respite from the relentless Summer From Hell we've been having. Like a greedy pet cat, I find myself meowing, "More! More! More! ..."

Monday, August 24, 2015

Droning On, Part (N+1)

Allegra Kirkland at TPM Livewire:
Man On Beach Takes Down Drone
By Throwing T-Shirt At It, Ends Up In Jail
A Southern California man’s relaxing day at the beach came to an unpleasant conclusion this week. After taking down a drone that was hovering over his group of friends by throwing his T-shirt at it, Augustine Lehecka found himself behind bars at the Vista County jail, the San Diego Union-Tribune reported.

Lehecka told the newspaper he “felt threatened” by the low-flying drone, which had four whirling blades and was equipped with a mounted camera.
"Threatened"? NFK! Threatened by the blades and by the spy camera!
(NOT the drone in the story - SB)
(NOT the beach party in the story - SB)

Out of concern for his friends' privacy, he said he tossed his shirt toward the drone, knocking it into the sand. Ten minutes later, he was arrested by sheriff’s deputies on suspicion of felony vandalism and taken to jail.

...

Lehecka was released eight hours later after posting a $10,000 bail, according to the newspaper.

On Tuesday, however, the district attorney's office declined to press charges against Lehecka.

The aircraft belonged to a pilot who works for a drone company, who said he was not invading the group’s privacy and suffered $750 in damage from the drone’s crash landing.

...
Several of our nation's founders mentioned that there was an inherent danger in amending the Constitution with a specific Bill of Rights: namely, that the list would become a formula for limiting our rights, which by the founders' intent were too numerous to be listed with any completeness.

And here we have exactly that: there is no explicitly listed right of privacy in the Constitution (though SCOTUS Justices have found aspects of such a right in various passages); therefore, in the opinion of jerk-off small-town sheriffs, there is no right to privacy.

I realize that I argue both sides of this issue in various contexts; e.g., photographers need a well-defined right to take pics of people and objects in public, i.e., in places where there is no reasonable expectation of privacy. But no right (not even speech) is completely unlimited, and if someone flew a drone with a clearly visible camera mounted on it over my beach party for more than, say, half a minute, I would be inclined to start tossing something at the drone, sand at the very least. If the drone pilot wants to avoid such physical commentary on his (I can't imagine "her") spying on a social event, he can hover a couple hundred feet up, where the drone is less vulnerable to anyone with a good arm, and... admittedly... the view probably isn't as good.

Privacy is scarce in these parlous times. If this ruling had gone the sheriffs' way instead of the beach party's, we might as well pitch privacy in the trash can designated for rights our overlords have already decided we don't get to have. I can only hope they are haunted by ghosts of Americans in history who have at least given actual thought to the matter of what privacy has to be available in a free society.

AFTERTHOUGHT: Drones are relatively new. Many of the technologies have been around for a long time, but the particular combination has not. How well proven is it? Who can say! The 21st-century "tradition" says to corp's, "market a product as soon as you can sell it to someone; don't wait for years of testing to prove it safe and/or effective." And that's what drone manufacturers have done, by and large. People want 'em, people are willing to pay big $ for 'em... so people get 'em, and devil take the hindmost, not to mention the people standing right underneath 'em.

In countries where America's drones were first used for military purposes, no one in the local villages had any choice but to stand underneath the drones and, angrily or resignedly, die when the drones struck. The same is not true of Americans on their own soil. We are a tech-oriented people; we have our own anti-dronecraft weapons: we have open-carry laws and... and we even have T-shirts. Megalomaniacs challenging ordinary citizens by flying personal drones into their midst: beware!

Friday, August 21, 2015

O Danny — Oy!

Is Texas liable to be affected by Hurricane Danny? Well, the short answer is...

... it's too soon to tell. Conditions are currently favorable for development, but it's somewhat fragile; quick, small changes in conditions could easily weaken or redirect it. By midweek or so we should have a better idea.

UPDATE: the 2:00PM AST update from a hurricane hunter aircraft shows a considerably stronger storm (Category 3), but apparently it is entering unfavorable conditions and is not expected to stay strong. Keep your eyes open if this may affect you. We're already long since stocked for a hurricane, so there's not much more for us to do except watch this truly odd storm as it progresses.

Here is Dr. Jeff Masters with something useful (as usual!):
Track models remain in fairly good agreement on a continued west-northwest track for Danny. The NHC forecast track (see Figure 3) now brings Danny to the vicinity of Puerto Rico by Tuesday and Hispanola by Wednesday. Assuming the west-northwest bearing remains solid, only a slight deviation could play a big role in Danny’s future, as interaction with the mountainous terrain of these islands could quickly disrupt weaken a storm as small as Danny. If the model trend further toward the north continues, Danny has a better chance of escaping landfall on the islands; in this case, its small size could actually result in less disruption from the islands than for a larger hurricane.
See the associated map at the "Dr. Jeff Masters" link above.

UPDATE Sunday about 8:15AM CDT: call Danny "The Storm that will Not Go Away"; call it that and read Dr. Masters. Danny is weakening as predicted, but is still well-defined and on track.

UPDATE Monday morning: Danny weakens to a tropical depression. Some rain is expected. Unless Danny cranks up again, this is my last note on it.

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Annoy Your Neighbor Your Neighbor's Attractive Spouse Any Local Airport All Commercial/Private Pilots Just About Anybody ... With Your Very Own DRONE!!

Got $1k or maybe $1.5k to throw away? Have a fondness for flying things, perhaps left over from the model aircraft of your childhood? Enjoy annoying the bejezus out of people of various sorts? Yes? Then take yourself to Micro Center or Amazon and acquire your very own personal DRONE! Be the first in your neighborhood to put some hapless child's eye out, or fly your very own remote-controlled craft through a neighbor's bedroom window! There are almost no laws at this point to restrict you from doing whatever you goddamned well feel like doing with one of these things, so what are you waiting for??? <sarcasm />

Those I've seen pictures of have camera mounts, but I'll bet if you're clever you can modify those to carry a firearm instead. Oh, yes;  the possibilities are limitless... <sigh />

Stormy Weather; Stella Under The Weather

Sorry; it's not a good morning for blogging or anything else. Lightning storms are all over the city including here; of the kitties, one hides in a closet and one seeks company. Stella is home from work, having contracted the bug going around her office, a bug which requires proximity to the smallest room. Both storms and sickness are expected to pass by late afternoon or early evening; maybe there will be some blogging at that time, if there are no direct lightning strikes here...

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Rain!

Thank goodness we arrived home today at the very moment a downpour started. Carrying in groceries and bottles of my first Two (Three?) Buck Chuck, I was literally soaked to the skin... and delighted to be so! Every day and evening of the coming week is forecast to bring rain. I realize this is not the last manifestation of global climate change, but even to have that initial three-week drought behind us is a great relief.

My Sunday Prayer: Goddamn Donald Trump Straight To Hell

NO, Don-Don, The Other Way!
... even though, like most UU's, I don't believe in a Hell. Send Trump there anyway, for telling Detroit autoworkers they make too much money.

Donald, you use up too much air...
OTOH, if you want to stick around and be the GOP prez candidate, go for it. THEN go to Hell, and take your goddamned party with you.

Friday, August 14, 2015

A Century From Yesterday...

... the industrial explosions in China may or may not be forgotten, the summer's insane weather in parts of the US may mark the onset of the most significant global climate change in all human history or it may be a distant and unimportant memory, the fires on the West Coast will be out and others may take their place, the battle between America's police and its nonwhite communities may have led to the demise of the nation or it may have been resolved in the eventual reconciliation of the disparate racial parts of our society, and surely no one will remember what "DeflateGate" was about...

... but I am willing to bet this narrowly decided Connecticut state supreme court ruling will be hailed for a century or more as one of the events that set America on the path to civilization as exemplified in our criminal justice system: the state legislature having already repealed the death penalty in 2012 for all future crimes, the court ruled that scheduled executions of those convicted earlier of capital crimes would constitute "cruel and unusual punishment" and must not be carried out. For better or worse, eleven people on Death Row are spared by this decision. (DPIC offers a good short summary of the ruling: Connecticut Supreme Court Finds Death Penalty Violates State Constitution.)

It's not just a question of whether the death penalty may be legally assessed and meted out: it's a question of whether capital punishment can ever be carried out with the requisite certainty, the essential confidence of guilt and of intent, to justify a purposeful state killing of any of its citizens. (Reminder: even a confession is not as solid as is required for such a drastic action, because false confessions are astonishingly common.)

As I write this, according to Wikipedia, there are 31 US states, as well as the federal civilian and military legal systems, which still have the death penalty on the books. Some of those states have not executed anyone in many years. Other questions, e.g., the means of execution, have become the focus of legal debates leading to decisions not to execute people even in these death penalty states. So it's not an easy question, and in many states, it is a question that has not been resolved.

Again by Wikipedia, the US as a whole is fifth among countries in number of executions; our companion countries on that short list are Iran, China, Saudi Arabia and Iraq, not a fellowship most Americans would like to claim as our own, but there it is. Tradition can carry a nation only so far in justifying an ancient and barbaric practice: think about our cohort of nations the next time you find yourself advocating for the death penalty in America.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Michigan Court: Gun Owners With Permits To Open-Carry May Do So Even In Elementary Schools

Andrew Bradford at Crooks and Liars sources a post from Jameson Parker at Addicting Info, in turn from Gary Ridley at MLive. Here's Ridley:

CLIO, MI – A judge has ruled that a Clio-area father can legally open carry his pistol inside of his daughter's elementary school despite a legal challenge from the school district.

Genesee Circuit Judge Archie Hayman on Monday, Aug. 10, ruled in favor of Kenneth Herman, who filed the lawsuit March 5 in Genesee County Circuit Court against the Clio Area School District after he was denied access to Edgerton Elementary multiple times while attempting to pick up his daughter because he was open-carrying a pistol.

...

School officials and district attorney, Timothy Mullins, could not be reached for comment on the decision.

...
As several levels of reporters said, what could go wrong?

So... when the first child DIES killed using a gun wielded by someone licensed for open carry, whose fault is it?

My answer: The guy who open-carries the gun (who happens also to be the plaintiff in this absurd lawsuit). The legislators who wrote the law so sloppily (craftily?) that it allows open carry around very young children. The state judge who contrived this crack‑brained ruling.

The State of Michigan's answer: NOBODY. It's OK with the great State of Michigan if that kid dies.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Miami Houston Heat — Peak Temp And Hot Miscellany

No, as far as I know, Miami's NBA team has not moved here, which is just as well; we already have the Rockets, thankyouverymuch. But the heat... not the Heat... has moved in on us and set up housekeeping. Yesterday's high was (gasps for breath) 106°F. I had stuff to do and I did it, but as I looked at various laborers in the street I was very glad that their jobs were not my job. At least we finally got some rain, for the first time in several weeks. And today is forecast to be a bit cooler. You know all that talk about climate change? I think maybe it has arrived...

Houstonians, here are a few items for you to read while you are stuck indoors, saving yourself from the heat from 1:00pm to 4:00pm, more or less:
  • Akil Awan at Informed Comment writes on "Hiroshima and Nagasaki: the single greatest acts of terrorism in human history?"
    As I was born three years to the day after the bombing of Hiroshima, I cannot avoid a certain morbid fascination with the event. Terrorism or the saving of our nation? Dad and I used to debate the subject of whether any of our family would be living if the Bomb had not been used; to no one's surprise, I always took the "terrorism" position (without using the word).
  • Tan Copsy of Risky Business, writing at Informed Comment offers the irony: "Deep South, biggest Climate Deniers, will be among worst hit by Global Warming"
    As the evidence emerges, it becomes clear that it is a good thing so many words have been spoken in vehement denial of climate change: the region is going to need to eat those words, or starve...
  • Kevin Gosztola at Shadowproof ("the new FDL") offers us a "Podcast: Bernie Sanders, Black Lives Matter & Problem of Identity Politics"
    No one, not even Sen. Sanders, can please all the people all the time. Sensibly enough, his event organizers allowed the Black Lives Matter activists to take the mic for a period of time; after all, theirs is a compelling and legitimate issue, and though I am not Black, I too would be glad to hear Bernie address race issues more firmly... he isn't going to lose any votes already committed to him by doing so, and there's much to be gained if Sanders gains the reputation as "the fair one."
  • Motoko Rich at NYT notes with grim smile and shake of the head: "Teacher Shortages Spur a Nationwide Hiring Scramble (Credentials Optional)"
    Never forget my two-parent two-schoolteacher household in my youth: that environment formed much of my political outlook, and I admit freely that it gladdens my heart when Republicans (and even some Democrats these days) try to cut corners on education costs and methods, blame teachers for the failure of a system pared to the bone and beyond in an attempt to pocket the tax money for their own purposes, and yet gaze drop‑jawed as teachers, counselors and even administrators flock to other occupations that pay better salaries for work involving a great deal less outright aggravation than schoolteaching. The ghosts of Bill and Irma are grinning at the sight!

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The Pentagon Vs. Journalists

Kevin Gosztola at Shadowproof:

Pentagon War Manual Gives Military License To Target & Attack Journalists

The Pentagon has adopted a “law of war manual” [PDF], which enables commanders to treat journalists as “unprivileged belligerents.” It suggests that correspondents who report some information about combat operations may be taking “direct part in hostilities,” a disturbing argument for justifying the killing of reporters in war zones. There also is a part of the manual that encourages journalists to submit to censorship of news reports that might aid enemies.

On July 31, the Committee to Protect Journalists published an analysis on the Pentagon’s weak justifications for treating journalists as spies. The New York Times Editorial Board also condemned the guidelines in an August 10 editorial.

...
Here we go again; the Obama administration, like the GeeDubya Bush administration before it, has repeatedly treated American journalists like the enemy. Now they merely assert the right to f^<king kill the enemy. What nation did I wake up in this morning? China? Nazi Germany circa W.W. II?

Please read Mr. Gosztola's piece and then the NYT condemnatory editorial, both linked above. Then take some comfort: this is a war game the military ultimately cannot win, although they can certainly leave a lot of journalists' bodies beside the road in the process of realizing that in a genuinely free and open society,
  • the press is more powerful than even the overwhelmingly powerful military, and
  • between the press and the military, the press is more essential to the survival of openness and of democratic government.
Yes, you read that right: the press tops the military. Think about it for a moment. If the course of action reflected in this manual is indeed pursued, the military can successfully physically protect a society which, thanks to that very military, is neither free nor open. Ya pays yer money 'n' takes yer choice... takes yer chances, too.

The US has been through literally dozens of wars, "police actions," etc. from W.W. II to the present, and not once has the military been granted a leash on the press, let alone a whip and a chair, in wartime. In turn, the press has been largely cooperative except on those occasions in which the military has deliberately squelched things the press had every right to publish. (Obama has been as bad as Bush in trying to shut down the press.) The NYT editorial gets that part just right: the new manual is not aimed at reinforcing the unavoidably uneasy relationship between the press and the military, but rather at giving the military the authority to silence the press when it finds them inconvenient. That is not how a free society is supposed to work. I have no desire to learn military secrets or to see them exposed in the popular media, but I see no justification in America for accomplishing that protection by nailing journalists' feet to the floor. That's not merely unnecessary: it's unacceptable.

The NYT editorial asserts that "[t]he White House should call on Secretary of Defense Ashton Carter to revise this section, which so clearly runs contrary to American law and principles." As I see it, that is the focus of the matter. Will the White House do that? I'm not holding my breath...

(courtesy freepress.net)

Monday, August 10, 2015

Can This Nation Be Saved? Even By Bernie?

The estimable Avedon Carol put up the following Bernie Sanders quote...


I can tell you only that if America cannot be saved, it is not for lack of available leadership, or insufficient passion for the ideals that made our nation possible in the first place. We can do this. But we do have to show up. Particularly, show up on Nov. 8, 2016.

(H/T Avedon Carol for the photo and quote.)

Saturday, August 8, 2015

‘How Do You Solve A Problem Like’ Sharia Christianity Imposed By A Court?

All the complaints one sees about attempts to establish Sharia law in the US pale before actual attempts to enforce Bible-thumping fundamentalist Christianity, such as this one imposed by a state judge in Texas:
Texas Judge: Marry Your Girlfriend Or Go To Jail

By Caitlin Cruz [TPM]...

A Texas judge told one young couple in July to get hitched or have the bridegroom face 15 days in jail for a misdemeanor charge, according to KLTV.

Smith County Judge Randall Rogers told Josten Bundy, 20, to marry his girlfriend, Elizabeth Jaynes, 19, within 30 days or go to jail for 15 days after Bundy punched Jaynes' ex-boyfriend twice in the jaw, the television station reported.

The probation agreement also included writing Bible verses and getting counseling, in addition to the mandatory marriage, according KLTV.

...
Awwww, gimme a break. Even if one assumes, reasonably enough in a county halfway between Dallas, TX and Shreveport, LA, that both members of the couple are Christian, it is still a violation of the First Amendment to the US Constitution for a state judge to sentence the man to copying Christian Bible verses and engaging in a religious ceremony. No criminal court judge in America has the authority to assign religious behavior to a convict; that violates the Establishment clause... end of story.

That said, marriage is surely the least of the problems that young couple faces... I'd respond with part of one of my favorite Billy Joel songs:
They will tell you you can't sleep alone
   In a strange place
Then they'll tell you you can't sleep
   With somebody else
Ah, but sooner or later you sleep
   In your own space
Either way it's okay
   You wake up with yourself

Friday, August 7, 2015

A Real-Life Mystery

Stella and I often shop together for presents for our respective birthdays. This is easier in several ways: our birthdays are close (July and August); we both know the "rules" (books are the preferred gifts, used books are just fine, nothing excessively expensive, etc.) and we tend to prefer the same bookstores; we can always ask about a particular item because the intended recipient is there to see it; our memories are both ancient enough to have forgotten the specific gift by the time the birthday arrives, allowing some element of surprise; there's hardly ever an unsuitable gift; etc. It's almost foolproof. Almost.

E. Roosevelt
When I began unwrapping my gift yesterday, I had a pretty good idea that it was Eleanor Roosevelt's autobiography: I had seen it, held it in my hands at the bookstore, read a few paragraphs, and thoroughly approved of Stella's choice (yes, she found it; yes, she knows my tastes that well).

H. W. Brands
But that's not what it was. When the last of the tissue and ribbon headed for the floor, I found to my surprise that I held in my hands H. W. Brands's Traitor to His Class: The Privileged Life and Radical Presidency of Franklin Delano Roosevelt. With due respect to Mr. Brands, a UT history professor who has a couple dozen books to his credit and a following in his field, and notwithstanding my acknowledgment that many of "his [Roosevelt's] class" really did think FDR a traitor to it and a radical, I have to say it was not a book I'd have bought for myself. Hey, it's a free country (or so I'm told); you have to allow me my own approach to political hagiography... and this book doesn't appear to fill the bill. Now please, no lectures about reading challenging books; life is short and getting shorter birthday by birthday.

So, there are two questions. First, how did this happen? Stella admits she paid to have it gift-wrapped at the bookstore; the swap might have been accomplished there, though that still doesn't explain why the substitution was made. Second, and harder to answer, what do I do about it?

Part of me feels I should want to read the book, even if I don't really want to read it. This copy is a signed first edition, which may appeal to the collector in you, but that collector is absent in me. And it's visibly (gently) used, giving credibility to the notion that its previous owner read and appreciated the book. But part of me just wants my E.R. autobiography that I so briefly held that day a few months ago. What to do?

Static Pages (About, Quotes, etc.)

No Police Like H•lmes



(removed)