Sunday, April 29, 2012

Quote of the Week

From dL's latest post at Liberale et Libertaire:

Simply, when the Executive declares unilateral power to declare anyone "fair game" outside the bounds of due process -- and this power is backed up by the most unaccountable intelligence and military complex in the history of world civilization -- then liberalism and its legal underpinning are dissolved. Both "classic" and "high" liberals should be in agreement that this condition thus marks a point of dissolution of political obligation.

Hard to see that as anything but a very bright line unless you were already okay with the process of Ba'athification American Style from some earlier point. In which case you weren't a "liberal" of any kind to begin with.

Friday, April 27, 2012

Meanwhile, Elsewhere in Sync-Land ...

Just got my Google Drive.  Unlike Dropbox, its downloadable sync software doesn't support MacOS 10.5.x (Leopard). Only 10.6 (Snow Leopard) or higher. Which makes it considerably less exciting.

On the sunny side, just having it prompted me to finally get around to cleaning up my Google Docs hoard. Had stuff in there that I hadn't looked at (for good reason) in years.

Addenda, instead of a new post:

April 28: David Murphy at PC Magazine lists the service's "six substantial slip-ups." The big one for me, already mentioned above but I'm gonna elaborate anyway, is "cross-platform support."

Yes, I know it's silly to whine about newer programs not supporting your older OS, but in the case of sync software, the further back it reaches the better, because one great use for it is making it easy to port important files from old machines to new ones.

Google Drive apparently supports Windows all the way back to XP, which was released in 2001, but only covers MacOS X back to Snow Leopard (10.6.x), which was released in 2009. I'm running Leopard (10.5.x), which only dates back to 2007, and can't use Google Drive to sync.

Linux? Per PC World, Google says it's on the way due to considerable and semi-organized bellyaching ...

But hey, Dropbox already has me covered on both both my Leopard Mac Mini and my Linux laptop. Maybe even my Android tablet (Dropbox needs 2.1; I may be stuck at 2.0), if it survived the hailstorm we just had. I left it in the tent this morning, but we took a pounding -- the television guy says baseball sized, but it looked closer to golf ball sized to me.

So anyway, I'm glad to have another five gigs of online storage available, but I just don't see using anything but Dropbox for syncing, at least as long as they continue to offer a wider range of support for OSes/versions.
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Cool New Dropbox Feature!

Nick Peers at BetaNews has the whole scoop.

Short version: The latest edition of the Dropbox software allows you to set up so that when you take a picture or shoot a video, it automatically stores in your  Dropbox folder and syncs across your other  Dropbox-running devices.

Pretty cool, especially since there are Dropbox versions for Android, iPad/iPhone, and Blackberry.

So you can be out about town and if (for example) that cop grabs your phone and accidentally drops/stomps it after you shoot video of him beating an unresisting bystander to death with a two-by-four, he'll still be busssssteddddd and will be forced to take weeks of vacation paid administrative leave while his department tries to cover it up investigates and clears him of all wrongdoing in the matter. [addendum: Well, I read it wrong. No good for that particular circumstance. See crossroadsman in comments for why - TLK]

So anyway, where was I? Oh, yeah -- cool new  Dropbox, cool new feature.

If you're already running  Dropbox, you don't have to do anything, it will update automatically within a few days or weeks (but if you're in a hurry, you can just reinstall the software and it will be the newest version). If you haven't been running  Dropbox, the new feature is just one more reason to do so (another is that if you get it -- FREE, by the way -- I get bonus free storage on my own  Dropbox account, hint, hint, why did you think I was linking every instance of the word  Dropbox?).
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Thursday, April 26, 2012

Not Sure Which Freaks Me Out More ...

... that when I look at my spam folder in Gmail, there's an ad at the top for "spicy Spam kabobs" ...

... or that for some reason the idea sounds really good to me right now.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

A Brief Review of History for the Benefit of Chuck Schumer

Charles Schumer, United States Senator from Ne...
Photo credit: Wikipedia
The US Supreme Court is hearing arguments for and against Arizona's Know-Nothing Appeasement Law this week. All of the sides are clearly wrong about one or more major issues, but (as is so often the case) US Senator Charles Schumer (D-NY) garners the award for Dumbest Sound Byte of the Day:

Immigration has not and never has been an area where states are able to exercise independent authority.

In point of fact, the states exercised the only political authority over immigration into the United States from its founding until the late 19th century.

The US Constitution, as ratified, explicitly forbade the federal government to interfere with state control over immigration for 20 years:

Article I, Section 9: The Migration or Importation of such Persons as any of the States now existing shall think proper to admit, shall not be prohibited by the Congress prior to the Year one thousand eight hundred and eight, but a Tax or duty may be imposed on such Importation, not exceeding ten dollars for each Person.

Additionally, the US Constitution, as ratified, forbade its own amendment to change that for 20 years:

Article V: ... no Amendment which may be made prior to the Year One thousand eight hundred and eight shall in any Manner affect the first and fourth Clauses in the Ninth Section of the first Article  ...

That was not accidental. It was debated, and those favoring a federal immigration power lost, primarily because such a power would likely have kept the Constitution from being ratified both in the slave-holding south and industrializing (and therefore immigration-encouraging) Pennsylvania.

After 1808, Congress and the states could have amended the Constitution to create a federal power to regulate immigration, but they never did, so no such power exists:

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

And that's how it was, and how it was understood until the late 19th century. Congress exercised power over naturalization (how one becomes a citizen), but never over immigration. The closest it came to that was passing a few laws allowing federal port officials to enforce state immigration laws and collected fees or fines to cover the costs of that enforcement.

In 1875, the Supreme Court pulled a federal immigration power out of its ... vivid imagination ... in Chy Lung v. Freeman, and Congress passed the Page Act, which was a very narrow bill forbidding the migration of unwilling Chinese women for sex slavery.

In 1882, Congress passed the Chinese Exclusion Act, which didn't rely so much on the Supreme Court's ... vivid imagination ...  of 1875 as it did on renegotiated provisions of the Burlingame Treaty (which, being a treaty, is on par with the US Constitution as "the Supreme Law of the Land").

But, in the main, the states retained near-exclusive control of immigration until the 1890s, and the feds didn't get "comprehensive" on the issue until well into the 20th century.

Is the Arizona law thoroughly anti-freedom, generally stupid, and specifically completely economically insane? Yes.

Is it unconstitutional? In a few ways, also yes.

First, to the extent that it claims to be an enforcement mechanism for federal immigration laws which, per Madison v. Marbury, are void by reason of being repugnant to the Constitution.

Second, in its attempt to conscript employers as unpaid law enforcement agents ("involuntary servitude" prohibited by the 13th Amendment).

But to the extent that it's an immigration regulation law, not only is it constitutional, but it's one of only two kinds of immigration regulations that can be constitutional (the other being immigration regulations created by treaty provision or constitutional amendment).
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Sunday, April 22, 2012

What Might Have Been ...

I'm not generally inclined toward judicial fandom. So a judge makes a correct ruling. That's what they're supposed to do, right? It's not like reading and applying the law is some kind of superhuman feat.

Nonetheless, I was pleasantly surprised by the dismissal of completely baseless "jury tampering" charges against Julian Heicklen this last week. That's the kind of case where one might expect politics to trump justice. So good on the judge, whoever she was.

But wait ... the judge was that Kimba Wood?

Yup! She was Bill Clinton's second pick for Attorney General of the United States, after Zoe Baird withdrew. She got 86ed as well after it was discovered she'd once employed an "illegal immigrant" [sic*], albeit at a time when it was completely "legal" to do so.

So we ended up with Janet Reno.

I have to wonder if, absent the immigration demagoguery that torpedoed Baird's and Woods's confirmation prospects, we might have avoided the Waco massacre (and therefore the Oklahoma City bombing), the abduction/deportation of Elian Gonzalez, etc.

* The US Constitution includes no federal power to regulate immigration, meaning that per the Tenth Amendment and Madison v. Marbury, all federal laws on the subject are void.

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Movie Night

Tamara wanted to see the 3D re-release of Titanic, and did.

The kids didn't want to see that, which meant that I didn't get to see it. Which was okay, since they settled on The Cabin in the Woods:

I see that spoilers are already starting to circulate, but I won't do that to you. You already know you're going to see it. I'll just confirm that it's a great, fun ride from Joss Whedon and Drew Goddard and leave it at that.

Problem: The Cabin in the Woods runs about an hour-and-a-half, while Titanic runs about three hours and the latter started 15 minutes after the former. Which gave us an hour-and-a-half and change to kill, with the stores and restaurants around the cinema closing just before the first movie got out.

I'm not naming the venue or the cinema, just so I don't get anyone in trouble: The ticket guy saw us waiting, knew what movie we'd gone into, knew what movie Tamara had gone into, and said "hey, The Three Stooges gets out about the same time as Titanic -- you guys can go watch it on the house if you'd like." So we did:

Which was really cool. If you like The Three Stooges (I do), I think you'll find it a faithful and funny adaptation worth seeing. I hadn't expected to catch it on the big screen. Bonus!

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

You're Almost Certainly an Expert ...

... really. In something. It may not be something that anyone (including you) thinks is especially sexy or popular, but there's something you know more about than the average bear. And there's almost certainly a market for your expertise.

Twenty years ago, that market would have had trouble finding you (and vice versa) unless a) there was really huge demand for your niche expertise and b) you had lots of money to promote yourself as the go-to guy or gal in the field.

The problem today is kind of the opposite. The Internet makes it easy to promote yourself, but it's also crowded and cacophonous. These days, all 30 experts in identifying the mating calls of the native birds of Kentucky (or whatever) are vying for Google search position and flogging their 468 x 60 banners around.

Decentralization is good, but sometimes centralization is better.

Enter Maven. They hook clients up with consultants. That's pretty much all they do. And they're good at it.

Over the last year and change, I've done several consultations for Maven clients, and I've made money from them (not huge money, but significant money -- double digits each time, for a few minutes of my time; and it's actual money actually paid, not theoretical "credits" and such).

You can make money sharing your own personal expertise (or expertises) too. Looking over their opportunities, there's some really off-the-wall stuff there, so don't think that whatever it is you know about will never be sought out. It almost certainly will!

Yes, the link is a referral link. Yes, I will receive a commission (10% of whatever you make your first year) if you register with Maven and get paid for work you get through them. And yes, signing on with Maven as a consultant is free. It only takes a few minutes, and it could be anything from a small money-maker to very lucrative. See you there!

Monday, April 09, 2012

Yes, Mac Malware Exists

Some of my Windows-using friends (no, I won't publicly shame them by naming them -- they'll eventually catch up to the 21st century) expressed surprise at the foofooraw about the "Flashback" malware which now apparently afflicts around 1 in 50 Macintosh computers. After all, one of the Mac's informal selling points is that viruses and such aren't something you have to worry about.

I wasn't surprised (nor, btw, was I infected). I've been waiting for years for The Big Mac Trojan to show up.

Macs aren't magically "immune" to viruses -- nor are Linux boxes. While I personally think that both MacOS and Linux are better operating systems than Windows, all OSes have vulnerabilities.

Most malware is written to attack Windows machines for the same reason that Willie Sutton robbed banks ("that's where the money is") and that the 9/11 hijackers hit New York City and Washington, DC instead of Odin, Missouri and Green Forest, Arkansas (a lot more people there to kill or maim, a lot more attention to be had, etc.).

There are basically two reasons to write malware:

1) To make money (by stealing credit card numbers, or use enslaved machines to send out loads of spam and hope it makes people order Viagra, or whatever); or

2) To raise hell, cause accidents, and get noticed.

Either way, attacking Windows makes more sense. There are just a lot more Windows users than there are Mac and Linux users. Until a purple cow comes along and decides to be different, anyway.

And -- I don't mean this as an insult -- a higher percentage of Windows users are probably less intimately involved with their machines, and therefore less likely to notice reports alerting them that they have security vulnerabilities and should download updates and so forth. That is, a higher percentage of Windows machines than Linux machines or Macs are probably thought of as household appliances rather than as potential burglary vectors.

Nothing wrong with that, except that you generally don't have to worry that your toaster will charge up $200 in Scandinavian porn for some guy in Romania to your PayPal account.

But obviously there's some of that attitude with Macs as well, and Flashback's author took advantage of that. There will be more.

Sunday, April 08, 2012

OK, Spring is Officially Here

Someone asked me the other day if I'm still sleeping in the tent. Yup! I allow myself one night per month inside, and my back always regrets it.

Anyway, this last week the mummy bag (rated for either zero or ten degrees fahrenheit, not sure which) got washed, hung up to air dry, and crammed into its attached stuff stack. Most nights now are just too warm for it, even completely unzipped. Switched to a worn, reliable old summer "temperate climate" bag, with blankets still on standby in case it gets nippy.

Haven't decided yet whether or not I want to re-site the tent for the summer, but I'm leaning against it. Got everything pretty much the way I want it, including almost perfect rain resistance even without the tarp lean-to (that came down some time ago, once the coldest winter winds eased up). We've had some real frog-stranglers already in the last month or so, and never more than a smidgen of dampness inside the thing.

Then again, something larger might be fun. Or that cardboard geodesic I was thinking of building ...

Thursday, April 05, 2012

A Story About a Cat, But Not Really

Via MSN:

Her owner died last December, and a 20-year-old will stipulated any cats the woman owned at the time of her death be euthanized. But trust officers at Fifth Third Bank in charge of, um, executing the will, couldn't bring themselves to carry out the request. So they went to court.

The story is followed by a lot of feel-good reader comments, including a few of the "I would certainly do business with this bank!" variety.


The cat's late owner placed a good deal of trust in the bank, so much so that she designated it to execute her will (a job for which it is presumably to be compensated, and pursuant to which it has probably been compensated for related past business).

But instead of executing her will, the bank went to court to overturn it. The bank sued to get out of its freely undertaken contractual obligations to a customer.

Yes, cats are cute and fuzzy, but that doesn't mean our thinking about this issue should be fuzzy too.

Would you really trust this institution to execute your will (after you are, obviously, no longer around to keep tabs on them and make sure they do so properly)?

What if they decide that the money you designated for your children should instead be donated to a local homeless shelter? Or spent on a Vegas holiday?

They've just publicly proven that if they don't like what you decide, they'll go to court to get what they want instead.

Wednesday, April 04, 2012

The Part of the Exchange ...

... that Gene Callahan apparently decided not to approve (he moderates all comments in advance of posting).

Published exchange begins here.

Last published sentence from Gene: "Is it necessary to embellish your flagrant misreadings with sneers?"

(So far) unpublished response from me, as best I can remember: "Necessary? No, but I like your usual style so much that sometimes I'm moved to emulate it."

Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Economics Question: Does Poverty Force People to Spend More?

Is being poor self-reinforcing because it forces one to spend more on stuff a little bit at a time over time, as opposed to saving up and/or forking over a large sum at once, and eventually spending less?

I don't consider myself "poor," but I do have a personal situation that illustrates the question:

I have dental problems. That's no secret -- I've talked about it, and other people have talked about it, both to my face and behind my back (no, Sully, it's not "meth mouth" -- I'm not a druggie).

I've had these problems for years, and have taken steps toward getting them corrected. A couple of years ago, for example, I had all of my top teeth pulled and got a denture. That ended up costing around a thousand bucks.

The denture only got used for awhile. My remaining bottom teeth are so fragile that if I wear the denture, it breaks them ... and I haven't been able to afford to address the bottom teeth yet.

Essentially, I need another thousand bucks worth of dental work (at a minimum -- if I go to one of the $299 denture places, they'll extract my remaining teeth for $30 a pop, so $600 for two dentures since the old one has long since ceased to fit due to gum shrinkage, and $340 for the extractions).

Since I don't have a thousand spare bucks to get all that done, I spend money on benzocaine gel, over-the-counter pain relievers and decongestants (I've noticed that usually the most painful times are when I'm congested -- I guess the sinuses press on the tooth nerves), occasionally on antibiotics, etc.

I can attest with certainty that I've also missed out on opportunities to make more money due to this problem. Not only am I embarrassed to be seen this way (which means that I no longer do public speaking engagements, which have been an occasional income source in the past), but I spend probably a week out of each month in severe, sometimes literally blinding, pain that reduces my personal productivity.

And, like I said, I don't consider myself "poor." Granted, I personally make little enough that even if I consented to fill out tax returns I'd have little or no liability; and granted, until very recently about half (sometimes more!) of what I made went to a child support obligation; but my significant other makes fairly good money, nobody's starving at my house, and we do live beyond the bare necessities.

I suspect that laying out a thousand bucks at a whack is a pretty big deal for most people, and out of the question for the truly "poor."

I also suspect that this is self-reinforcing because various things nickel-and-dime the truly poor to death and stop them from getting out of the hole.

A newer car would set them back three grand, but they can't manage that ... so they trickle out $50 or $100 a month repairing the old clunker because they absolutely have to have it to get to work.

Or they mow two or three yards a week and know they could make good money running a full-time lawn service, but they can't fork over for the additional equipment and other startup costs, so they just keep on working at Taco Bell.

Or any health problem -- mine above is just an example -- costs them X days in lost income from being off work each year, but they can't get the cash together to get it correctly addressed, so they spend a little bit at a time on pain reduction and such and just try to muddle through.

I assume that this is a well-described economic phenomenon, but I thought I'd bring it up for comment. It's pretty much a matter of needing to post something to the blog, and the only thing on my mind being this damn toothache. So anyway, discuss.

Sunday, April 01, 2012

Contra Wilkinson

Over at The Moral Sciences Club, Will Wilkinson classifies originalism as a form of "judicial activism." While he may be correct in one way or another, here's where I come to full stop.

The orginalist argument is somewhat like the argument that although men now wear baseball caps instead of fedoras, they should begin wearing fedoras because they used to wear them.

Um, no.

The originalist argument is that rules should be interpreted on the standard of what their framers/ratifiers intended them to mean.

If the framers/ratifiers of a club's rules did, in fact, mean to specify the wearing of fedoras (as opposed to, say, caps, or even just headgear in general) as a condition of membership, then that's what the rule means, period, end of story.

That doesn't mean the club can't change the rule -- through whatever process it has for doing so -- but the originalist theory dictates that the rule doesn't automatically change itself through a mechanism of re-interpretation.

That's what "rule of law" is all about. Non-originalism isn't rule of law, it's rule of fad.