Sunday, October 28, 2007


The nooses in Jena and more recently in NYC seem to me to be very powerful symbols. I'm surprised at how many people scoff at them or write them off as trivial.

I've never been to a lynching. I've known people who did attend, however. In between my time in the Navy and when I started college I worked for a while on a core-drilling rig for an engineering company in Baton Rouge. A driller I worked with a lot had grown up in Mississippi. In the 30's, when he was a child, he'd attended a couple of lynchings. They weren't secret events in the dead of the night. They were Sunday afternoon after church picnics for the family. Fried chicken and potato salad and big jugs of sweetened ice tea. Just thinking about the normalcy of what it was scares me.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Saturday, October 27, 2007

Medal of Honor

A SEAL recently got a medal of honor for some stuff that happened in the mountains of Afghanistan.

I have no doubt he was very heroic and the medal is deserved and it's a bad thing that he's dead.

But I can't help but wonder. Why do we have Navy units operating in the mountains of Afgahanistan? That's a serious question.

Is it because the Navy insists on getting some ticket-punching combat in while they have a chance? Is it becuase the Army and Marines has run out of troops?


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Friday, October 26, 2007

Police Quotas

In most states, and I'm pretty sure Texas is one of them, Police ticket quotas are illegal. But the departmental budget for the Houston Police Department seems to depend on how many tickets they write. I'm not sure that's a really good idea.

Houston is the place that used to teach the use of throw down guns as a coverup took for mistaken shootings in their police academy. More recently they had to shut down their crime analysis lab becuase of fraud. Not exactly a bunch of trustworthy guys.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Those frisky cops

Albany, Georgia
A month-long suspension is coming for an Albany Police officer caught having sex with female recruits.

I wonder if it's a paid leave. They don't say.
The city manager's office says several female police trainees reported inappropriate relations with Miller. An investigation confirmed two.

We're told by the city manager's office that the other recruits did not want to pursue the claims against Miller.

That sounds like they were able to convince most of them they should let it slide but two of them had the guts to not back down.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Bush, Iraq, Turkey

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Tuesday, October 23, 2007

Lynn Spears

Lynn Spears is the woman in Vancouver who was arrested for DWI after her 8 year old son called 911 to say he was in the car with his mother and she was driving drunk.

The 911 tape is all over TV and the talking heads are demonizing the mother, telling us how important it is for society to protect the children.

The thing that bothers me the most about it is something that nobody seems to want to talk about. What kind of society encourages 8 year old kids to inform on their parents?


Lifestyle and Political Blogs


I generally like TV about dysfunctional people. My favorites include The Simpsons, Married with Children, The Shield, The Office, My Name is Earl, Rescue Me, Malcolm in the Middle, Law and Order (Criminal Intent), and Monk. I guess I identify with dysfunction.

When Nip/Tuck started on FX a couple of years ago I liked it for the first few episodes. But I quickly got bored with the characters and their problems. They are certainly dysfunctional, but not in a way I can identify with, they didn't even try to be good people, just narcissistic sociopaths.

It appears that the writers have gotten bored with the characters also. The new season is centered around them all moving from Miami to Los Angeles. They've run out of stories for the characters I guess they've deiced to just focus stories on the background setting. It's certainly easier than trying to create interesting characters, but I won't be watching.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Sunday, October 21, 2007

Act first, then figure out why

Although not the subject of this NYT magazine article, I think it provides some good examples of the administrations tendency to decide on a course of action based on political views or personal bias, then after the decision trying to gather (or invent) information which justifies the act.

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Saturday, October 20, 2007

Do You Love America?

I'm not sure I do any more. At least I don't love what it's becoming. Civil liberties don't seem to have any value any more. Maintaining power of the political leaders seems to take clear precedence over maintaining freedom of the citizens these days. I don't like the direction we're heading.

We're fixing to have a new AG who thinks it's just fine to lock up American citizens on a whim. Declaration of a citizen as an "illegal combatant" is nothing more than a whim. There's no meaning to the phrase it's simply a phrase that's been made up to use as part of a claim that some people aren't subject to criminal law or to law of war, they have no protections from the Bill of Rights or treaties like the Geneva Convention. It's gobbledygook, it's a meaningless phrase. It just means "we can lock up up forever if we want to".

And when they lock you up they can torture you. We do that by simply declaring that we don't torture therefore whatever we do to you isn't torture by definition.

I love the popular argument that water boarding isn't really torture. The argument goes that since we actually waterboard people as part of specialized survival training it certainly can't be torture.

It's like the world has become a stage for a comedy routine. That doesn't mean it's not torture, that's evidence it is torture. We put people through it in an attempt to help them learn to withstand torture should they be captured. The reason we put people through it as part of their survival training is that it is torture.

This clown is going to be our next AG even though he has no respect for the rights of American citizens. Our Congress is just a bunch of cowards. Every damn one of them is worthless.

Ezra Klein thinks we should like the new AG because the alternatives are worse.

The problem I see with that kind of thinking is that it's how we got ourselves in this mess in the first place. There is a certain level of incompetence that we need to just say No to. A failure to respect Habeas Corpus intentional misrepresentation about torture falls in that category. It's just not acceptable and America just needs to make that clear.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Friday, October 19, 2007

Ellen and her dog

A long time ago I was married and we had a small dog. It was a miniature dachshund. Then we had a baby. A baby and a dog. When the baby got big enough to crawl around on his own he started doing things like sitting on the dog. The dog was small, passive, and seemed to really like the baby. He'd follow him around, and wouldn't peep when he got sat on.

But it worried us, the dog didn't seem to be willing to even run away when and we were afraid the baby might hurt the dog. So we gave it away. The dog, not the baby.

That's why some pet adoption agencies don't like to place pets in families with small children. Sometimes small kids really just don't know any better. It might put the kids at risk and it might put the animals at risk.

What news agencies kept reporting about Ellen and her dog and the adoption agency that repossessed the dog is that the repossession was only because Ellen broke the rules about letting the agency vet the new owners. What they keep leaving out of their reports is that one of the key factors in that vetting is that they don't want ot place pets in families with children under 14. Ellen's friends had two kids under 14.

You could certainly argue that 14 might be a cut off age that's older than it needs to be for the safety of the animal. But rather than argue that Ellen decided that the rules about age of children and animals that she'd already been vetted for didn't apply to her. After all, Ellen has a TV show, rules don't apply to her.

I really liked the part where Ellen's PR flack threatened to "notify the media". Ellen is the media.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

God's Grace

"We were blessed by God's grace and saved from harm" says a survivor of the recent Pensacola tornadoes being interviewed on MSNBC.

I guess the Devil sends the tornadoes and God saves you from the Devil's wrath.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Wednesday, October 17, 2007

One third

I was flipping through channels and stopped for a minute on some home and garden channel. Some guy was converting an old factory building into condo apartments. He said, "Units like this in NYC would go for $1,000 a square foot and we're going to price them at $400 per square foot".

The host doing the interview responded, "That's the same size at 1/3rd the price".


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Iran and Turkey

I really don't get it.

Both Iran and Turkey border Iraq, in very different spots. The US does not have control of the area of Iraq which borders Iraq. The area of Iraq which borders Turkey is stable, the kurds seem to be doing just fine.

Bush seems to often say that if Iran does anything to try to stabalize the region of Iraq near their borders it will be considered some kind of attack on the US.

But if Turkey invades Iraq because they think if they cause problems in Northern Iraq it will make it easier for them to keep their thumb on the Kurds in their own country, well that's okay.

We're not just a rogue country any more, we're insane.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs


The movie Crash is running right now on FX. I've seen the movie before, I saw it when it was originally released. It won 3 oscars, including Best Picture of 2005. I liked it and am going to watch it again. I'm doing some other stuff while I'm watching but I'll go ahead and kind of live blog a review of it. It's racial themes are probably one reason it won Best Picture.

It starts out with a car crash during opening credits. The characters introduced during that crash are an Asian woman, a Hispanic police detective, and a black police detective. The Asian woman and the female cop exchange a few racially charged words.

The next scene is an Arab (actually Iranian it turns out) guy trying to buy some bullets in a gun shop, but he doesn't speak English very well, so his daughter buys them for him.

Scene three is two young black guys walking out of a restaurant complaining about the poor service they got because of their race. Then they car jack an upscale couple on the street.

It's a movie of racial conflict if those initial introductory scenes haven't clued you in. It is a little heavy handed.

The story doesn't really start until the fourth scene when the two cops (the woman and the black guy) are investigating a shooting between an undercover cop and a couple of black guys in a Mercedes (the hijacked car).

Roger Ebert gives it 4 stars. Here's what Roger Ebert says about the movie
"Crash" tells interlocking stories of whites, blacks, Latinos, Koreans, Iranians, cops and criminals, the rich and the poor, the powerful and powerless, all defined in one way or another by racism. All are victims of it, and all are guilty it. Sometimes, yes, they rise above it, although it is never that simple. Their negative impulses may be instinctive, their positive impulses may be dangerous, and who knows what the other person is thinking?

The result is a movie of intense fascination; we understand quickly enough who the characters are and what their lives are like, but we have no idea how they will behave, because so much depends on accident.

The movie isnt' really very linear and I'm only partially watching it. I'm pretty sure that if I hadn't seen the movie before I'd have no idea what I'm watching. So I'm going to stop blogging.

It is a good movie. But you need to pay attention and I'm not doing that right now.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Watson puts foot in mouth

Watson, of Crick and Watson DNA fame, made some non PC comments about race and intelligence that seems to be getting him in trouble. If he's so smart why didn't he know that was going to get him in trouble?

He said that Africans aren't as smart as Europeans and that aid we give to them won't work if we keep assuming that Africans are as smart as we are.
The 79-year-old geneticist reopened the explosive debate about race and science in a newspaper interview in which he said Western policies towards African countries were wrongly based on an assumption that black people were as clever as their white counterparts when "testing" suggested the contrary. He claimed genes responsible for creating differences in human intelligence could be found within a decade.

He has a new book, Avoid Boring People: Lessons from a Life in Science, that I expect will get as much attention in the press as Bell Curve: Intelligence and Class Structure in American Life did a few years ago.
His views are also reflected in a book published next week, in which he writes: "There is no firm reason to anticipate that the intellectual capacities of peoples geographically separated in their evolution should prove to have evolved identically. Our wanting to reserve equal powers of reason as some universal heritage of humanity will not be enough to make it so."

Bell Curve did a disservice to the debates on intelligence differences in the choice of title. It created a popular misconception that's part of what did in Lawrence Summers when he made his comments on gender, science, and women in science that got him canned as President of Harvard. It put a focus off interest on the mean of the distributions of intelligence, when it's not clear at all that the mean is where any differences might lie.

For example, in the case of gender differences, some of the evidence suggests that it might be that women have a slightly higher mean intelligence than men, but men have higher variance. Variance is a measure of the spread of the distribution, about dispersion. Men having a higher variance but lower mean is an explanation for why more men are leaders in science and math (what Summers was talking about) and also more men are in prisons. That might be true even with no discrimination at all, and even if women are smarter than men on the average.

There's more to differences than averages. And if you look at a third characteristic of distributions, skewness, it might be that averages don't even mean that much. Skewness is how much the distribution differs from symmetric, a skewed distribution leans to one side, having more than it's share of real smart or more than it's share of real stupid. So, even if blacks and whites have the same means and variance in intelligence it might be that blacks just have a differently shaped distribution and is skewed more to the left, having more stupid people but with an offset of a few very smart people.

I'm not saying there's any actual differences, just that there might be and that the differences are likely much deeper than just differences in averages.


I thought this post was a joke. But it's not.

Statement by Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Board of Trustees and President Bruce Stillman, Ph.D. Regarding Dr. Watson’s Comments in The Sunday Times on October 14, 2007

Earlier this evening, the Cold Spring Harbor Laboratory Board of Trustees decided to suspend the administrative responsibilities of Chancellor James D. Watson, Ph.D., pending further deliberation by the Board.

This action follows the Board’s public statement yesterday disagreeing with the comments attributed to Dr. Watson in the October 14, 2007 edition of The Sunday Times U.K.

This is just insane. There is a genetic component to intelligence and there's no way to argue that there isn't. That doesn't mean it's related to race, but it's certainly genetic. There's probably also a component related to environmental factors such as pre-natal care. There's no strong reason to think Watson's assertions are wrong.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Life without parole

What's wrong with the United States?
In December, the United Nations took up a resolution calling for the abolition of life imprisonment without the possibility of parole for children and young teenagers. The vote was 185 to 1, with the United States the lone dissenter.

Indeed, the United States stands alone in the world in convicting young adolescents as adults and sentencing them to live out their lives in prison. According to a new report, there are 73 Americans serving such sentences for crimes they committed at 13 or 14.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Feminist and belief

Here's another example of a feminist who operates based on belief rather than rational thought. This time it's about the concept of "gray rape". Here's what Femisting thinks about it
One more time with feeling: There is no such thing as "gray rape."

Cosmo magazine, which ran (and defended) an article on "gray rape" by slut-shamer Laura Sessions Stepp , is sponsoring a panel on the subject. Once more, the underlying assumption is that there's a gray area when it comes to rape.

She's right in that there's no gray area in the defintion of whether some set of facts is or is not rape. But she's just wrong that there's no such thing as a gray area when trying to ascertian the facts.

There's a bright line in the defintion, but there's not a bright line in determining whether or not an actual situation meets the defintion. That's because it's not always clear what the actual facts are. That's might be a gray area.

It actually can happen that a woman thinks she was raped, but she didn't think so when it happened. She just changed her mind later. She might even think she said no, but that's doesn't always mean she actually did say no.

Being shrill about something as serious as rape isn't really a way to actually accomplish something.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Cops getting laid

I like the way they refer to him as a "former" cop. He is. But he wasn't "former" when he committed the crimes.
A former Tennessee state trooper accused of receiving sex from a porn actress during a traffic stop has been charged with asking another female motorist for such favors, according to authorities.

James Randall Moss, 40, was indicted Tuesday by a Wilson County grand jury on two counts of evidence tampering, six counts of official misconduct and two counts of official oppression over alleged incidents in September 2006 and May 2007 with two separate women.

Morning Paper has a link to an ABC story that says the idiot trooper used the camara in his car to film the activities. I've heard stories about police agencies that won't hire people who score "too high" an an IQ test. Tennessee State Police must be one of those agencies.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Baby Jessica

Do you remember Baby Jessica from 20 years ago? The baby that fell down the well when her mother left her in the yard alone when she ran into the house to answer the phone?

I just think it's interesting how much the country has changed in those 20 years. Today the mother would be prosecuted for child endangerment.

Here's the Houston Chronicle story that updates the life of Baby Jessica.

MIDLAND — There was no fanfare here Tuesday to mark the day in 1987 when 18-month-old Jessica McClure was lifted to safety after falling into the open backyard well.

The young wife and mother is living quietly in this West Texas oil patch city.

"Jessica's just been a wonderful, wonderful mother," said her father, Chip McClure. "That's always been Jessica's dream, to be a stay-at-home mom."

In 3½ years, however, her quiet existence might change when all the tributes that were sent to her while the nation waited anxiously for her safe rescue matures into a payment of $1 million or more.

Many of the sympathetic strangers worldwide who remained glued to television coverage until Jessica was freed from 22 feet below the ground showered the family with teddy bears, homemade gifts, cards and cash.

The cash sits in a trust fund waiting for the 21-year-old to turn 25. Her father says Jessica is a happy and active woman, and doing "all the normal stuff" with her year-old son, Simon.

A woman who answered the phone at a listing for Jessica McClure's husband, Daniel Morales, identified herself as Jessica but told an Associated Press reporter she had reached a wrong number.

Richardo Morales, Simon's uncle, said Jessica has talked about the windfall and has plans "to put it into a fund for Simon."

Life during the oil bust
In 1987, Chip and Cissy McClure were poor teenagers struggling to make ends meet during the depths of the oil bust.

Cissy McClure left Jessica in her sister's yard while she went to answer the phone.

Moments later, Jessica happened upon an 8-inch hole and innocently touched off a global event.

When rescuers brought her to the surface 2½ days later, her head was bandaged, she was covered with dirt and bruises, and her right palm was immobilized to her face, an image ingrained in millions of people's memories and one that won a Pulitzer Prize for Odessa American photographer Scott Shaw.

Chip McClure remembers being "absolutely floored" by the media coverage once the family got to the hospital with Jessica.

Vice President George Bush and his wife, Barbara, former Midland residents, visited. President Ronald Reagan called.

"It's a little surreal," Chip McClure said about the passage of so many years.

"It's difficult to comprehend."

About three years after the TV cameras left Midland, Chip and Cissy divorced. Each has remarried.

But throughout Jessica's childhood, both worked to give her a normal life.

"At the end of the day, she went through a lot and was loved by millions and millions," said Chip McClure, 38, who sells real estate in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

Jessica has no memory of the ordeal, the loss of part of one foot, and the 15 operations that followed the 2 1/2 days she spent wedged all alone in the well, singing about Winnie the Pooh.

Chip McClure said that he and Jessica's mother allowed their daughter to decide whether to talk to the media once she got old enough. Jessica has spoken publicly twice since 1987.

In June, Jessica told NBC that the ordeal "couldn't cage me then, why should it cage me now?"

In 2002, she told Ladies' Home Journal that talk of her "incident" bored her, but referred to the scars she bore.

"I'm proud of them," she said. "I have them because I survived."

Humor in retrospect

A poll taken by The Pew Research Center for the People and the Press in 1997 that measured coverage of Princess Diana's death earlier that year found that in the previous decade, only Jessica's rescue rivaled the Paris car accident in worldwide attention.

Her uncle said it still comes up, but with a touch of humor.

"There's times when we sit down and talk about it," Richardo Morales said. "We'll be saying, 'Watch out, there's a well.' "

Life didn't turn out as smoothly for others involved in the toddler's rescue.

In 1995, paramedic and rescuer Robert O'Donnell, who wriggled into the passageway and slathered a frightened Jessica in petroleum jelly before sliding her out into the bright television lights, shot and killed himself at his parents' ranch outside Midland.

His brother, Rick, has said O'Donnell's life "fell apart" because of the stress of the rescue, the attention it created and the anticlimactic return to everyday life.

In 2004, William Andrew Glasscock Jr., a former Midland police officer who helped in the rescue, was sentenced to 15 years in federal prison on charges of sexual exploitation of a child and improper storage of explosives. A year later, he was sentenced to 20 years on two state charges of sexual assault.

Meanwhile, Jessica graduated from high school in Greenwood, not far from Midland, and married Daniel Morales, 34, in early 2006.

The economy of the city and the region has rebounded in 20 years. The Permian Basin area has gone from a bust in the oil industry to a boom, thanks to the high price of crude oil, which on Monday went above $85 a barrel. In 1987, a barrel of oil was less than $10.

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Tuesday, October 16, 2007

Cell phones and cops

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Sunday, October 14, 2007

The border

The nutcases who want to build a high tech fence along the Rio Grande just don't understand the culture of the area.
LOS EBANOS — On this remote bend in the Rio Grande, morning commuters lined up on both banks of the river.

But there were no EZ tags, HOV lanes or other trappings of modern transportation — much less an international bridge. At this traditional crossing place on the Rio Grande, dating to the Spanish colonial era, time seems frozen in the past.

Today, those crossing the river rely on a transport that's the only one of its kind on the U.S. border: a simple, hand-drawn ferry across 40 yards of river shaded by steep banks, stands of ebony trees and brushy thickets.

The man in charge is toll taker Alejo Baldemar, who oversees a crew of six stout men who tug on the heavy rope propelling the Los Ebanos International Ferry on a five-minute trip across the Rio Grande. There is just enough room on the 44-foot ferry to squeeze in three vehicles. Passengers stand or sit on storage boxes on the narrow deck.

''This is the only ferry in the world between two countries that uses human power," the 65-year-old Baldemar said proudly, as he deposited ferry tolls into a carpenter's apron and scribbled down the number of customers in a school notebook.

It was a few minutes past 9 a.m. — an hour after ferry operation began — and Baldemar and the crew had already crossed 17 cars and 19 passengers. On a busy weekend, they may make 40 trips a day across the river, collecting 50 cents for each pedestrian and $2 for cars.

Whether or not the hand-drawn ferry is a worldwide rarity, as Baldemar asserts, it is the only government-licensed ferry operating on U.S. borders, according to U.S. Border Patrol officials.

And, ferry riders must undergo the same inspections on each side of the river at customs stations operated by the U.S. and Mexican governments.

''The volume, obviously, is not that big ... but we do have enforcement actions there from time to time," said Rick Pauza, a spokesman for U.S. Customs and Border Protection. ''Just because it's a small, hand-drawn ferry doesn't mean we're not continuing our enforcement mission."

And though it is a popular tourist attraction, the Los Ebanos ferry remains a necessity to residents of this far-flung stretch of the Texas border, dozens of miles from the nearest international bridges.

A frequent client is 17-year-old Jerry Rodriguez, who lives three miles away in Sullivan City. He drives his red Chevy pickup onto the ferry almost every weekend to visit his grandmother who lives in Gustavo Diaz Ordaz, the Mexican town a mile and a half inland from the ferry landing.

Without the ferry, Rodriguez's frequent visits would require an 80-mile roundtrip if he used the nearest bridge in Rio Grande City. It would be even longer if he went downriver and crossed at Hidalgo.

''It's more convenient, and gas is so high," said Rodriguez, who is studying business administration at the University of Texas-Pan American. ''The bridge in Rio Grande City is 25 minutes away, and then you have to drive back down on the Mexican side."

'Something from the past'
The ferry became an official U.S. port of entry in 1950, when farmer and former Hidalgo County commissioner E.B. Reyna secured a government permit. The crossing was so popular during Prohibition it was nicknamed ''Smugglers Haven," and lore has it that Texas Rangers followed cattle rustlers into Mexico here in the 1870s.

Today, the ferry's ownership is a border crossing in itself. The Reyna family in Texas and the Armando Garza clan across the river in Diaz Ordaz own the ferry operation.

''A lot of people are surprised it has lasted so long, with all the computers and stuff today," said Mark Alvarez, a relative of Reyna who manages the ferry operations. ''It's good to see something from the past."

Alvarez maintains an office in a small wooden tollbooth next to the ferry landing. Beyond convenience, he said the ferry's quirkiness and personal service draws people.

Several of the ferrymen also say the daily human contact has kept them on the job. Gabriel Soto Becerra, 46, who has worked on the ferry for 12 years, said the job is strenuous but rewarding.

''It was hard, the first few days," Becerra recalled. ''But when you have problems, and you're feeling down, the passengers give you advice. They give you the spirit to keep going."

Baldemar, the toll taker, agreed, saying they are never bored.

''There is a lot of atmosphere," he said. "Here, you know everyone in the community, so there are jokes and lots of stories."

But the ferry has also been the scene of human drama and tragedy.

In late 1994, a pickup sped off the ferry and splashed into the river, drowning a 5-year-old boy from Diaz Ordaz.

The boy's expectant mother was pulled from the river and rushed to a local hospital where she delivered a child by emergency Caesarean.

Newly rebuilt
The mechanics of the ferry remain low-tech.

On the Texas side of the river, a heavy steel cable is looped around an aging ebony tree that gives the crossing its name.

It stretches across the 40 yards of river to the Mexican side, and the ferry is attached to the cable by two sets of rope pulleys. The stout rope pulled by the ferry men runs above the cable.

The original ferry was a wooden-hulled vessel that could carry only one car, but today's steel-hulled version was launched in 1980 and rebuilt in January, said Alvarez, the manager.

Since the entrances to the ferry on the both river banks are not paved, heavy rains or a rising river can shut down ferry services for weeks at a time.

But in spite of the dated technology and inconvenient closures, operators say the little ferry will press on across the great river.

''As long as they keep coming, we'll be here," Alvarez said.

I've gone fishing in the Rio Grande near Laredo where it was possible to walk across the river, by jumping from one large rock in the river to another, and we did that.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Sanchez was in charge

What a loser this retired general Sanchez is. Now he's complaining about Bush. He didn't complain back when he was in charge in Iraq and could have done something about it.

Sanchez is the poster boy for what's wrong with the US military. It's all about career to these clowns, nothing else. When Sanchez was in charge in Iraq he had 3 stars. He expected to get a 4th star out of the assignment and in order to ensure that he kept his head down and his mouth shut and just did what he was told, even though he knew it was wrong and knew it wouldn't work. He was willing to sacrifice his soldiers and his country to get that 4th star.

Then he got caught. Abu Ghraib came along. He was in charge, it was his watch, but the general that got thrown under the bus was a reservist one star general (and a woman). To a guy like Sanchez, a careerist, a female one star reservist doesn't even count as a real soldier. Throwing her under the bus was an easy one for him.

But he didn't get off completely free. As a result of the way he screwed up Abu Ghraib (the screw up wasn't the torture, it was getting caught) he never got that 4th star.

Now he's pissed. He thinks he played the good soldier but didn't get the reward he expected so he's pissed.

What he doesn't seem to understand is that he was the guy in charge. He screwed it up and should have been court-martialed, he got off easy.

Okay, after his last comment I realize who Major Bob is and understand why he's got such a bone to pick with me. He posted a lot on for a couple of months back in 2003 as Harry Clyde. Back then he and I got in a few debates about Iraq on, I never did think the invasion of Iraq was a good thing and was predicting a the likelihood of a really bad outcome back in 2003. He disagreed with me.

I also couldn't figure out his comments about variance until I realized who he was and looked up our history on variance. It's a pretty trivial history. Somebody had asked a simple question about calculation of variance of a simple binomial model. Harry Clyde gave him the general formula for the binomial variance, and I followed up with the general definition of variance for computational use in models with more than 2 possible outcomes. I hadn't realized tht I'd hurt his feelings when I did that.

I don't talk about statistics much in this blog. I do talk about it some at I'd certainly be interested in seeing Major Bob's comments about variance and game theory on that blog.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Cop threatens somebody

I'm not even sure why this is news, it's pretty much typical cop behavior. They can't cope with disrespect and the only tool they have in their mental toolbox to get respect is to use force or the threat of force.
A Houston police officer is out on bond after being arrested on a charge of terroristic threat against a family member.

Rafael Baez Jr., 37, of The Woodlands, was arrested Sept. 24, according to Montgomery County sheriff's officials. He was released on $1,500 bond the same day. A deputy responded to a domestic violence call and later received an emergency protective order to arrest him, officials said.

A spokeswoman with the Houston Police Department confirmed that Baez works for the department. She could not say whether an internal investigation is being conducted

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

14 years because of police incompetence

Incompetent police work put this guy in prison for 14 years until Project Innocence finially got him released.
Instead of going directly to his mother's kitchen for the home cooking he'd been denied while serving 14 years for a rape he didn't commit, Ronald Gene Taylor's first order of business after getting out of prison Tuesday was to confront the mayor at City Hall.

"I think there is a lot of people who have the same problem I had," he told the standing room only crowd in the City Council chamber. "There are a lot of people who can't get help because they don't have the finances. Something needs to be done."

Recent DNA testing on the rape victim's bed sheet revealed that another man with a history of sexual violence committed the crime.

Taylor had emerged from the Harris County Jail an hour earlier in clothes purchased the night before and with his only belongings — a Bible, court documents and toiletries — in a mesh sack.

He embraced his family, who had traveled from Huntsville to greet him, thanked his lawyers and went directly to City Hall to speak about his ordeal, caused by the faulty work of the Houston Police Department's troubled crime lab.

Mayor Bill White and City Council members attentively listened to Taylor's plea. Some offered apologies and vowed to devise a plan to quickly review 180 newly identified cases with crime lab evidence similar to Taylor's. But they stopped short of proposing a concrete plan for reviewing the cases or committing resources for the effort.

"If (speaking to the council) is going to help even one person, it's worth it," Taylor said as he left City Hall.

Lawyers from the Innocence Project, a legal clinic that works to free the wrongfully convicted, secured Taylor's release Tuesday morning during a brief hearing. State District Judge Denise Collins ordered him released on a personal recognizance bond.

During the proceedings, to which Taylor wore an orange inmate's uniform, his lawyers spoke of the significance of his case in the context of the years-long scandal at the HPD crime lab.

"There are a legacy of cases where the Houston Police Department did faulty serology," said Barry Scheck of the Innocence Project.

Harris County's top prosecutor, Chuck Rosenthal, appeared in court and expressed regret for Taylor's years of wrongful incarceration.

"I would like to apologize to Mr. Taylor," Rosenthal said.

After a two-hour wait, while jail officials processed his release, Taylor walked outside a free man for the first time in 14 years.

"I always believed this was coming one day," Taylor said outside the jail. "I'm just glad to see my family. It ain't sunk in yet."

Eyewitness was wrong
Taylor was accused in the 1993 rape of a woman attacked while sleeping in her Third Ward home. The victim never got a good look at her attacker, Taylor's lawyers said, but police showed her a video lineup. The woman identified Taylor, whose image was included because a neighbor reported seeing him in the area that night, his lawyers said.

Taylor was charged in her attack and at trial, about two years later, the woman's testimony was the core of the evidence against him. An analyst from the HPD crime lab also testified, incorrectly telling jurors that DNA testing could not be performed on a bedsheet from the apartment because it contained no semen.

Jurors sentenced Taylor to 60 years, a crushing verdict for his mother, Dorothy Henderson.

"He was away for so long that I watched my five sisters and three brothers die while he was incarcerated," she said. "No parent should have to go through that."

Taylor's stepfather contacted the Innocence Project in 1998 and pleaded with the legal clinic to take his case. Twelve years after Taylor's conviction, Innocence Project lawyers arranged for a private lab to re-examine the evidence.

"I just knew that if I could get it tested, it would be over," Taylor said.

The lab, ReliaGene Technologies in New Orleans, found semen on the sheet, discrediting HPD's work on the case. A DNA analysis of the fabric revealed the profile of another man — Roosevelt Carroll — and no evidence from Taylor.

Both men had short-cropped hair and 6-foot frames. They both also lived within a mile of the victim's home.

Suspect in jail

Unlike Taylor, who had been convicted and released on nonviolent crimes of forgery and cocaine possession, Carroll had a history of violent sexual crimes.

A twice-convicted rapist, Carroll is serving a 15-year sentence for failing to register as a sex offender.

Carroll cannot be prosecuted for the 1993 case because the deadline for a grand jury to indict him has passed.

Although Carroll was free for much of the time Taylor was imprisoned, Taylor said he is not angry.

"I don't have grudges," he said. "What good would that do me?"

While Taylor is free, the case against him has not yet been officially resolved. Judge Collins must forward documents that detail the case's history, submitted by prosecutors and Taylor's lawyers on Tuesday, to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals.

That court will taken final action on the case, but those steps can take time.

Some long waits

Men recently exonerated of crimes in Harris County — including Josiah Sutton and George Rodriguez, who were convicted on faulty evidence from the HPD crime lab — have waited more than a year for their cases to clear the legal labyrinth. Taylor's case may move faster, however, because prosecutors and his lawyers agreed he is innocent.

Assuming that Taylor eventually receives a pardon based on his innocence and does not pursue a lawsuit, he could receive $50,000 from the state for each year he was incarcerated, or as much as $700,000.

Taylor's first priority is to begin rebuilding his life. He planned to spend some time with his family in Huntsville and then, as soon as possible, say goodbye to Texas.

Taylor said he plans to settle in Atlanta with the fiancee who waited 14 years for him and whom Taylor hopes to soon make his wife.

Jeannette Brown, a nursing assistant and student in Atlanta, could not make the trip to Houston for Taylor's release but is hoping for a reunion as soon as possible.

"Now that he is out and they all know he is innocent, the rest will come," she said. "It's hard to be patient, but I will."

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Let's criminalize everything

Our government doesn't follow it's own laws, but it sure has time to use the criminal law to keep us on your toes.

When 6 year olds make chalk drawing on the sidewalk they can expect to hear from the Department of Sanitation.

When a woman is ashamed about losing custody of her son and she lies to her freinds about what happened, she can expect to be arrested.

We put more of our citizens in prison than any other country.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Saturday, October 13, 2007

An alternative approach to homeless problems

Sometimes the government solution isn't effective or efficient.
DALLAS — In response to a police crackdown on the homeless, a downtown church has opened its parking lot to homeless people, allowing as many as 150 of them to sleep on the pavement while a security guard keeps watch.

The First Presbyterian Church started the practice after police began removing people found sleeping in public places. The Rev. Joe Clifford sees it as a temporary solution until more options are available.

"We continue to approach the homeless issue as a criminal issue," Clifford said. "While there are criminal elements within the homeless population, it is a social problem and requires a societal response."

The National Coalition for the Homeless has labeled Dallas among the "meanest" cities in the country for its approach to homelessness. In the past few years, city officials have passed laws banning panhandling, restricting shopping carts on city streets and limiting feeding of the homeless to designated areas.

"Most churches close their doors at night and flee to the suburbs," said Michael Stoops, acting executive director of the coalition. "They should be applauded."

Deputy Police Chief Vince Golbeck said he understands the church's mission, but authorities must enforce the law.

"A majority of property crimes in downtown Dallas are caused by the homeless. I'm not saying all homeless commit crimes, but the suspects, arrested persons we deal with, do have a lengthy record, and their background is homelessness," Golbeck said. "Those are just facts."

Golbeck said other city departments may have to determine whether the church has the appropriate permits to continue offering the sleeping space.

Stoops insists the church is within its rights.

"They're doing what churches are supposed to do, to help the poor and stand up for the poor," he said. "It's a legal thing to do, a moral thing to do, and the church has the right to allow the rich or poor to stay on their property."

Other cities have grappled with similar issues.

In New York, an appeals court last year upheld a ruling that found the city had violated the rights of a Presbyterian church by removing homeless people from its steps. The decision stemmed from a 2001 case in which Fifth Avenue Presbyterian sued the city to stop police from rousting homeless people sleeping on church property.

In the Seattle area, a number of tent cities have moved between churches for years, some of them drawing complaints from neighbors and code enforcement officials.

David Farrell, 53, has stayed in a shelter but had his belongings stolen. He said the parking lot provides a safer place to sleep.

"It makes people feel more at ease," he said.

Billy Garrett, another homeless man, praised the church's generosity.

"I think it's good because a lot of people are getting tickets and going to jail, and only so many people can get into the shelters," Garrett said.

The church opened its parking lot in response to a city program called "Operation Rescue," in which police accompanied social workers to identify chronic homeless in a four-block area and to move homeless people into shelters or treatment.

Clifford said the intent of the program was admirable but pointed to a larger problem: The city has more than 5,000 homeless people, according to a census, and only 1,300 available beds.

Golbeck said the opening of a $23.8 million homeless shelter in April will help. The 24-hour shelter would provide beds, restrooms, showers, job training and mental health treatment.

"We do empathize, and many of our officers have used their own money to help the homeless," he said. "This is not an 'us versus them.'"

Police on Long Island are a little more efficient, but not very caring or thoughtful.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Wednesday, October 10, 2007

Riding horses

I grew up in Austin, Texas, a city boy I guess. But my daddy grew up in Alpine, Texas, ranching and cowboy country.

When I was about 6 my daddy decided it was time to teach me to ride a horse. There were some rental stables in the hills West of Austin so one Saturday he took me out to one of them and we rented a couple of horse. They were probably about 17 or so, pretty slow and plodding.

We riding along some hill country trail, going probably about as fast as those horses could go, when for some reason daddy's horse just stopped cold. On a dime. Daddy didn't stop. He went flying over the head of that horse, landing in front of us in the middle of the trail.

I thought it was part of the show. I just laughed and laughed.

Daddy embarresed easily. He never took me horseback riding again.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Wooden sidewalks

This post at Pandagon about current anti-Mexican racism in Alpine, Texas reminded me of a story my Daddy told me about his youth in Alpine.

Alpine is deep in SouthWest Texas, South of I10 and North of the Big Bend area of the Rio Grande. It's pretty desolate country. It's ranching country. Sul Ross State University is located in Alpine and is well known for it's Rodeo Team.

In 1935 Alpine was a town of wooden sidewalks and dirt streets. My daddy was 8 years old and lived in town. My granddaddy was a cook in the local cafe.

It didn't rain often in Alpine, but when it did rain those dirt streets turned into mud pits. On those rare wet days my daddy and his friends were in the habit of going downtown after school to just stand on a street corner and watch the horse drawn wagons get stuck in the mud. It didn't take much to provide entertainment in Alpine.

One muddy afternoon a rancher and a cowboy were walking along the narrow wooden sidewalk across the street. Not walking together, walking in opposite directions, towards each other. That got the kids attention because of what they expected to happen when the rancher and the cowboy met on the sidewalk.

There's a huge class distinction between ranchers and cowboys. Ranchers are land owners, in the ranch country of West Texas they are huge land owners. It takes a lot of land to grow enough grass for a cow when it doesn't rain. I guess Land Barons. The elite. The powerful. Cowboys were just day labor. Unskilled. Powerless.

The custom was that when two people meet on the sidewalk one would step into the dusty street to allow the other to pass. Which one would step into the street was determined by status. A child would step into the street to allow an adult to pass. A man would step into the street to allow a woman to pass. A cowboy would step into the street to allow a rancher to pass. And in this case the cowboy was Mexican, and the custom was to for a Mexican to step into the street to allow an Anglo to pass. So the cowboy had was missing two status points -- he was both a cowboy and a Mexican. Class and race. And the mud was really deep that day. So the kids were deep in anticipation of the prospect of watching a cowboy get stuck in the mud.

But when the cowboy and the rancher met they both stopped, nobody stepped into the mud. I guess you could call it a Mexican standoff. The rancher had a pistol stuck down the front of his pants. Not in a holster like in the movies, just stuck in his waistband. He pulled it out and shot the cowboy. Just shot him. Broad daylight. Downtown sidewalk. Just shot him. There had been no yelling, no shoving, just standing and staring. Then bang.

The Mexican cowboy fell to the sidewalk and the rancher stepped over him and continued on his way.

The boys were a little stunned. They stood on that corner and stared at the body of the Mexican cowboy laying on the sidewalk until dusk, when they all had to go home for supper. Other's walked down the sidewalk while they watched, just stepping over the body, not paying it any mind at all.

The next morning my daddy and his friends rushed through breakfast and left early for school so they could go back downtown before school and gawk some more. By then the body had been removed. Sometime in the dead of night somebody had dragged the body of the dead cowboy away.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Sunday, October 07, 2007


I guess they're afraid that someone who is allergic to almonds will buy ice cream that says Chocolate Almond in big letters on the top of the package because almonds aren't listing in the small print of the ingredients.

We've become a nation of idiots.

Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Feeding the Homeless

Some people are worried that feeding them will just encourage homelessness.


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Thomas v. Gore

Ann Althouse asks the question.

Maureen Dowd answers it.

Reformed Chicks Blabbing doesn't seem to like the question or the answer.

The Volokh Conspiracy thinks the Dowd column is as funny as a David Duke speech.

I think that comment is funny because when I was in college (LSU in the early 70's) I used to go to Free Speech Alley every Thursday just to listen to David Duke give a Nazi speech and I'd laugh at the hippie hecklers in the crowd. Duke didn't become a Klan leader until later, he started out actually walking around campus wearing Nazi armbands.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Tradition in America

What kinds of traditions do we really have in America?

It seems like more-and-more the people spouting off about the importance of American Traditions are just right-wing nutcases who wouldn't understand a true national tradition if it was shoved up their nose (shoving stuff up your nose is another kind of American Tradition).

An example of how tradition can be turned into a joke and commercialized is something I found at a website on "Traditional Family Values". One of the family traditions they list is The Flag. They say
1It has become customary to fly The Flag on National Holidays, and many people now fly The Flag daily from their homes. This action demonstrates Patriotism and Loyalty to our Country and Honors the sacrifice of all who have made this Great Nation possible.

I don't know about you, but most people I know don't even own a flag. The only flag I see flying in my neighborhood is the guy down the street from Alabama who flies a big Stars and Bars from the top of his carport. Family tradition?

But right after the explanation for this important flag flying tradition they have an ad for their storefront.

That's a true American Tradition.

Lifestyle and Political Blogs


I've said before that law is not about logic or reason but that the application of law is simply an application of rhetoric.

Overcoming Bias has a post about an experiment that showed that people have a tendency to see precedent that matches their politics as more applicable than other precedent.
Under legal precedent, judges are supposed to decide the case in front of them similarly to the way similar past cases have been judged. The October American Journal of Political Science says students are biased to see cases with decisions they liked as more similar to any given new case.

A few years ago I was a grad student in criminal justice. One of the papers I had to write in one of the law classes I had to take was on one of the Penry cases.

Penry was on death row in Texas and was mentally retarded. His case went up and down the courts a few times, resulting in more than one Supreme Court decision before Texas finially got permission to kill him.

Penry was a known character in Livingston, Texas who road his bicycle around town doing yard work for various locals. He was clearly retarted and, like is often the case in small towns, people just kind of took care of him. That is until he was arrested for the murder of a local woman, someone he often did yard work for.

I don't really remember exactly where I found this, it was either in one of the many written court opinions or it might have been in a law review article, but one of the arguements put forth to justifiy accepting the Penry confession was that it was taken by an experienced Texas Ranger rather than an inexperienced local cop.

The experience in doing interragoions that Texas Ranger had was put forth as an arguement for the veracity of the confession given by a retarted man.

That Texas Ranger was the same Ranger who had gotten false confessions for 100's of murders from Henry Lee Lucas.

But he was experienced.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

The definition of evil

The Catholic Church has to come up with some cash to pay off that $660 million settlement in California for molesting children.

That's easy enough, just evict a few nuns and sell their convent.

They don't need to get rid of any priest. But nuns? They're expendable.

According to the Washington Post,
By local standards the convent property promises no economic windfall. Oprah Winfrey paid $50 million for an estate in neighboring Montecito. But in the heavily Hispanic, relatively poor section of Santa Barbara that the sisters have served since 1952, comparable two-bedroom homes go for around $700,000.

That is roughly one-tenth of 1 percent of the $660 million the archdiocese agreed to pay accusers. Among them are former altar boys who described being molested by the late Rev. Matthew Kelly at Our Lady of Guadalupe, the church adjacent to the convent.

"These nuns are precious to us, but there are priests living in fabulous-looking little houses, by themselves," Diaz said. "You don't see them getting kicked out."

In fact the handsome residence of the Santa Barbara bishop -- once a convent -- remains safe behind seven palms on a corner lot. The building is the largest in a neighborhood where homes have been fetching $2 million.

They have no shame at all. No sense of personal ethics, no moral compass. They are just flat out worthless.

They thought it would all be okay if they just ordered the nuns to be silent.
Among those being forced to move is Sister Angela Escalera, 69, who, diabetic and able to get around only with a walker, had hoped to live out her days in the Santa Barbara convent. "This is how the archdiocese is going about getting the money to pay off the victims," said her younger sister, Rosemary Escalera Gutierrez, 64, a former nun in the order.

"She said: 'It's such a heavy price to pay for such an ugly thing,' " said Gutierrez, quoting her sister. " 'Children were being victimized.' " The public storm over the evictions has prolonged an excruciating controversy that the Archdiocese of Los Angeles had hoped to begin putting behind it in July when it agreed to payouts to 508 accusers of 221 priests and other male church employees.

Instead, the new flap has raised the question of how much the church has learned about the crucial business of public perception.

Gutierrez quoted her sister because church officials slapped a gag order on the nuns.

"What's interesting is the church has not learned its lesson. The church thinks Catholics will still follow it without question," said Denise d'Sant Angelo, a member of Save Our Sisters, a local group formed to resist the eviction. "They're still operating under the shroud of secrecy, and secrecy isn't going to be tolerated by Catholics anymore, especially this new generation.

They are closing 5 convents to raise some cash. No priests are losing their homes however.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Thursday, October 04, 2007

Breaking News


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Commies and Nazis and Americans

When I was a kid, going to grade school in the 1950's I have a vivid memory of one of my teachers telling the class the difference between America and those commies. My memory is vivid because, although I was a 5th generation Texan, my mother had grown up in Nazi Germany and I always perked up when a teacher mentioned the Nazis, in this case she said that the Nazis had been just like the commies.

There were two ways to tell the difference between us and the godless commies -- one was that in communist countries you couldn't travel without being prepared to show identification (been in an airport in the US lately?). The second was that those commies encouraged you to inform on your family and neighbors, even children were encouraged to inform on their parents. Of course such evil could never take root in God-fearing America, she assured us.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Wednesday, October 03, 2007

Arts and letters

Some artist in Michigan is going to jail.
Roseville muralist Ed (Gonzo) Stross’ case is expected to go before the Michigan Court of Appeals today.

Stross is fighting a 30-day jail sentence for violating a city sign ordinance for exposing Eve’s breast and painting the word "Love" in his variation of Michelangelo’s "Creation of Man" on the outside wall of his art studio.


In 1997, Stross got permission from the city to paint the 1,100-square-foot mural on an outside wall of Gonzo Fine Arts Studio at Gratiot and Utica roads, but with conditions: no letters, no genitalia and regular maintenance of the artwork. The city contends that Eve’s bare breast was prohibited under the agreement.

As Althouse points out he clearly didn't violate his agreement about genitalia. Breasts aren't genitalia. I'd think even a Michigan court could have figured that out. Texas courts figured that out years ago in some old public nudity case.

But the word LOVE is a different story. He might have an argument about that, depending on how stylized his word is. A straightforward rendition of the word is a pretty clearly a collection of letters, but a highly stylized version might not be.

Particularly the word LOVE has a history in the art world of artistic representations. The article didn't show the lettering in their picture of his mural, so I can't tell, but one could show precedent from the art world that a stylized version of the word is art, not letters.

Of course if the name of his studio is "Love" or if he has an art show coming up called "Love" that argument is more likely to fall flat.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

New Media

MSNBC is running a story on some ongoing landslide in San Diego.

They're running footage from a local NBC affiliate. They running the local stations internet broadcast. A cable channel is running a story that a San Diego broadcast station is streaming on the internet.


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Illegal possession of a test tube

When I was a kid I had a chemistry set. Kids back then were encouraged to learn how to blow stuff up.

These days you need to be careful with those test tubes. We have laws.

Not laws that the government is expected to follow, but laws for you to follow.

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Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Home School

Taco Bell in Tulsa (I think it was Taco Bell, it might have been some other fast food chain) gives some kind of Scholar of the Week award to a local high school student. They run ads on TV highlighting the current weeks award winner.

I saw one the other night. It was a student with a "3.5 Grade Point Average".

He's home schooled. I guess his momma give him a 3.5


Lifestyle and Political Blogs

Monday, October 01, 2007

Space Germs

Lifestyle and Political Blogs


Some people actually think Blackwater should be defended. "It's not their fault".



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