Saturday, April 27, 2013

Drones, Revisited

Rand Paul, my junior Senator from Kentucky, was in the news again this week; apparently for advocating drone strikes inside the USA, on American citizens.

Well, that's what the media was saying anyway. All the while managing to squeeze in the word hypocrite as many times as they could. Senator Paul has a slightly different position, as you can imagine. After all; this is the man who filibustered for 13 hours against the Obama Administration on that same topic.

Senator Paul said on a show on Fox that: "If someone comes out of a liquor store with a weapon and $50 in cash, I don't care if a drone kills him or a policeman kills him".

Here is the detail that makes this a non-news, non-event; detail that the folks wanting you to believe Senator Paul is a hypocrite hope you don't hear about.

Rand Paul used that exact same phrase in his filibuster. He has drawn a very bright line between the use of a drone as a law enforcement tool and its use as an assassination tool. The liquor store scenario shows that a drone, much like the bomb squad robots, can be used as a law enforcement tool to keep cops out of harm's way. A technology that, to the best of my knowledge, doesn't yet exist.

Small wonder- I agree with the Senator.

If someone is leaving a liquor store- or any place- they have just robbed, guns blazing and stolen cash in hand, law enforcement has a duty to protect the rest of us from this menace. Whether the cops protect me with their sidearm, their shotgun or the yet-to-be-developed urban drone, I don't care. This is a 'hot' situation, requiring instant reaction.

Let's say our bad guy gets away somehow, although the police have a description of him. 6 months later this same yet-to-be-developed urban drone spots our unindicted, but known, felon eating lunch at a patio table at your local Rally's.

And pumps 3 slugs into him; making him a former unindicted, but known, felon, now known as the recently deceased.

Do you see the difference in these two scenarios?

I would have no problem with eh Administration flying a few armed drones into a situation- like say the Benghazi Embassy attack- and dropping a few combatants.

But I would have a problem with them dropping those same combatants a few weeks later while they sitting at a cafe enjoying some spring sunshine.

The difference is all about when we can allow the use of lethal force as a substitute for a trial by jury and a legal- and possibly non-lethal- punishment.

Take for example the recent Boston bombing. The cops had a gun fight with the two bombers, and killed one. They searched for and found the second bomber, and now know where he is. Can the Boston PD walk into his prison hospital room and shoot him? Would that have been justified in shooting him instead of arresting him when they found his bullet-riddled carcass hiding in a Watertown backyard?

Of course not. It's the difference between an active situation requiring an equal reaction and a simple arrest.

So why should the use of drone technology be considered differently? Technology makes us more able to control a situation; it doesn't remove our moral or legal restraints from the action.

Rand Paul is once again on the right side of the issue, leaving the Democrats sitting on the wrong side, and being forced to defend their poor position as best they can.

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Miranda Rights

Have you ever heard of a fellow called Ernesto Arturo Miranda?

Probably not. Ever heard of Miranda v. Arizona?

Again; probably not. But you have heard of Miranda Rights, or the Miranda Warning. Especially in the last week. But what are they, exactly, and why are they 'read' to a suspect? And why is the the fact they are read or not important to the Boston Bombing Case?

First; we are endowed by our Creator with certain inalienable rights (do those words sound familiar?) Those rights are enumerated in the Bill of Rights. Some of us will never need to know about some of those rights; they only come into play when we become involved with the government in a possible discreditable nature.

In English? When we get busted.

If you have ever watched a cop show you know the drill: You have the Right to Remain Silent (anything you say can and WILL be used against you in court). You have the right to an attorney (one the state will pay for if you are broke enough). And of course, the first piece of advice from your mouthpiece is SHUT UP.

Here is where the Miranda Rights come in on Live Bomber (as with all mass murderers, I will not name either of them; for sake of difference they are Dead Bomber and Live Bomber). We want to know some things; things only he and Dead Bomber knew. Once we have Mirandized him, if he tells us how this action came about, and maybe admits to a few more crimes while he is at it, we can use that information in court. It is to his benefit to follow the sound (and expensive) advice of his mouthpiece and shut up.

If he isn't Mirandized, then we can act on the information in all cases but the defendant's. He hadn't been told that we could use the information against him, so we can't use it.

In practical application, let's say that Live Bomber says he was part of a larger conspiracy and names names. If he states that information before he is Mirandized, then we can find his conspirators and charge them, but not him, with the conspiracy. Same information after he has been read his Miranda Rights? Then we can round up the gang, AND add a conspiracy charge to Live Bomber.

This is why the decision to read him his Miranda Warning was a poor one, provided he has his right mind. Who in their right mind wouldn't lawyer up and shut up? Information we might have obtained if we couldn't have used it against him now can and will become a part of the case.

Granted, I think we have enough to fry Live Bomber and send him to where ever it is he has earned in his God's eyes. He couldn't incriminate himself anymore than the photos and other physical evidence has. We can't fry him twice; who cares what else he could incriminate himself in?

This is Massachusetts for crying out loud. They may not fry him for the murders and the maimings, but they will for not filing an Environmental Impact Statement before he set off the bomb and polluted the atmosphere.

Here is the other problem with our Constitutionally protected inalienable rights: Live Bomber is a United States Citizen and entitled to all of the rights every other citizen has. Considering that he has blown the oath he took into as many pieces as he has his pressure cooker, and considering what he is charged with, I'm not happy about it.

But I would rather have him acquitted than I would have a precedent set of trying him as a foreign national.

Sometimes Justice is not pretty. Sometimes the rights of the one must be seemingly misused in order to save the rights of the many.

I hope it doesn't happen in this case.

Sunday, April 21, 2013

Spring Time Chores

It took me 5 hours to mow my yard today. Not all of the time was spent mowing.

Most of it was spent in that time honored Spring Ritual: Cussing the mower.

This was actually the second time this year I have mowed the grass. The first time I had to unstick the float so it would get gas. Today I had to change the plug and clean up the magneto so it would get spark.

And then clean the carburetor again.

Fire it up; mow ten minutes, spend 45 minutes working on the @*$%@^$* thing. Clean up and repeat the process.

Three times; and then it was fixed, and I mowed the last three-quarters non-stop.

You may have noticed I talked about mowing the yard, not the lawn. I say that because I don't have a lawn; I have a yard.

A lawn is tended; weeded, sprayed and fertilized.

A yard is played in, trod on and bare in spots. Just like the mutt dogs that run in them, the grass in yards is 57 varieties. I don't know what varieties; I just mow it. And throw some cheap grass seed in the bare spots every now and again. The bag says fescue and bluegrass, but it could be crabgrass and dandelion for all know. Or care.

The kids, grandkids and dogs will just run it bare again in a few weeks.

And in the mean time I'll have to mow it.

Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Boston Marathon

For years to come the Finish Line will be a place of horror. Because of the memories.

As Acts of Terror go, this was a small one 3 dead and a few hundred wounded and/or maimed for life.

As I write that line it reminds me of how accustomed we have become to Acts of Terror, mostly from outside our shores. Bombings in nightclubs and restaurants in Israel leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded. Bombings in police stations and bazaars in Iraq, leaving dozens dead and hundreds wounded. Bombings in town squares in Afghanistan, leaving the same number of fatalities. The Philippines; Indonesia; England; France and Belgium; all have felt the sting of the terrorist weapon of choice.

To us; they are numbers. We cluck our tongues at the evil loose in the world, and continue with our day. Unless the count includes X number of Americans. Then we care.

Monday the count was Americans first, other nationalities included. Among the dead a Chinese national; among the wounded a Saudi student. There are most likely others, names we will learn in the course of things. But, as with every terror attack, we are most concerned with the American dead.

Why so few deaths? Luck. The attack took place within yards of a staffed medical aide station. Medical professionals expecting to treat a little dehydration; a little exhaustion; maybe a pulled muscle or a cramp or two now had to deal with a missing leg, not a leg cramp. They went from being a part of a race to racing the specter of death; calmly stepping up to the challenge.

Now its our turn. You won't hear this from the administration, but this was a salvo in the ongoing War of Terror. Not the War on Terror; the War of Terror; the one Islamist have been waging since the Carter Presidency. The one we ignore, until we can't. The one we fight, when we absolutely have to. The one that hides in the shadows, until it explodes across the face of our nightly news.

The one that has the goal of killing American civilians.

Monday they succeeded. Innocent lives, snuffed out or changed forever, just because they happened to be in the wrong place at the wrong time. A cliche- and I hate cliches. But what else can you say about an enemy who only attacks at random times and places? Not military targets; not drawn battle lines, but soft targets; targets of maximum pain; targets who didn't sign up to be targets; targets who shouldn't be targets.

Like 8 year-old boys, who are one minute waiting to take the hand of their father, after a long run, but instead are grasping the hand of The Father, after too short a run.

Our problem is how do we fight a enemy who has no county; no flag; no home base?

In short: we can't. We need the places where they are based to fight them for us; our friends in the Middle East. But since the Arab Spring those friends are few and far between. Egypt has fallen; Iraq and Afghanistan we have lost or will lose. Libya too.

We need to fight this war on two fronts; at home and abroad. Abroad we need to hunt down not just the Terrorists, but the governments that give them refuge. That may sound hard, but in a lot of ways that is the easy part.

The hard part will be at home. How can we welcome new flavors to our Famous Melting Pot, while protecting ourselves from the poison they may be? Can we welcome the Arab shopkeeper on the corner, who looks just like the member of Al Qaeda we are accusing of planting a bomb up the street?

Is the Iman praying in the back of the plane waiting to perform an act of terror? Or is he here to escape the terror in his homeland, and just afraid to fly?

Boston will do just as every other Act of Terror has for the last 35 years; create dozens of hard questions.

Where do we go for hard answers?

Friday, April 12, 2013

Friday Night

I saw the headline: Consumers suing Budweiser, and thought it was about the fact that they consistently mislabeled it as 'BEER'.

But, no; they are just complaining about the alcohol content. Well of course they are.

Who would drink Budweiser for the taste?

Okay; so maybe that was a little snarky.

But in my opinion Budweiser just isn't a good beer. Hell, it ain't even a good CHEAP beer. 

As I write this I am drinking a Leinenkugel's Snowdrift Vanilla Porter. Now THAT'S a BEER!

Ahhh... Friday after 5:00. The weekend had begun, and I am joining it.

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Do Emission Standards Equal Horsepower?

Amazing how, at times, a simple article can start a massive discussion on several other, tangentially related, topics.

Take this post over at The Truth About Cars. Starts off with a rant from a used auto dealer about the deals he has missed because his county still has emission control checks.

Then it sways into the difficulty of diagnosing a glowing Check Engine Light, and the various ways to defeat, where it is legal to, the emissions systems.

And then swings off into the Constitutionality of Emissions checks as opposed to emissions systems, with a swing back to whether the checks and the systems themselves serve a public purpose, and should be a legitimate function of government.

Wow; that's a lot of territory.

Ya wanna know what I think?

Of course you do; you've read this far, haven't you?

Back in the day of the big block engine with points and a carb we re getting about 10% of the power of the gasoline to the road. The rest didn't burn, and washed into the oil or trickled out the exhaust pipe.

Yep; we was polluting. Part of the advances in emissions have lead to less gasoline being a pollutant, and more of it being turned into horsepower. That's how you can have a Ford Focus with 420 horsepower. These systems have also become more reliable. Fuel injection is not new. Automakers experimented with it in the 1930's. Chevrolet had a production FI unit in 1957.

But they were about as reliable as $3.00 watch. So the idea was shelved until it had to be revived.

Not that I think the current state of automotive technology is solely the result of emissions standards. Physically engines could only get so big in an automobile; 500 cubic inches was about all there was. New ideas had to be developed to squeeze more horsepower out of a drop of gasoline. The technology that was developed would have been developed where there were emissions standards or not. Maybe not as quickly, but it still would have been developed.

Things would have worked just like all the others advances had; high end manufacturers would experiment and develop; the mid-level would  produce thousands of units, and the consumers would do the road testing for a few years until the bugs were worked out.

Without emissions standards would we have street legal cars pushing 600 horsepower? Oh yeah.

The market would have demanded it, and the automakers would have made it happen.

Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Workin' Fer a Livin'

I have been working in my new office for the last few days, and in the beautiful weather outside have been a couple of guys who do the maintenance on the building. I have worked with them both before, so I know them well enough to kid around.

Which of course I did.

But I was only half kidding.

One part of me wanted to be outside in the warm weather, using power tools and breaking a sweat.

But then I regained my sanity. Doing things like breaking up an old concrete wall, building a form and then pouring the new wall is fun, when it is a hobby, around the house. But I guarantee you it would get old in a hurry if it was your real job.

Especially when the weather turns for the worse, like it's going to do Friday. Working in the 75 degree sunshine is a lot more attractive than working in the 55 degree rain.

And I do have a job I can brag about. Not my real one, although I can and do brag about it, I had a plumbing job to do the other night, and it went very well.

My eldest boy and his wife bought a new washer and dryer, one of those fancy new front loader sets, and they didn't connect properly with the old hook ups. So we had to do some work before the new set went in.

They have a nice sized laundry room, but it was laid out funny. There was a shower in the middle of the longest wall (an el cheapo thin plastic thing that was install by a Hobbit. Had to have been; the shower head was only 5 feet off the floor.) This we removed, unceremoniously. But we saved the copper pipe. It took a few minutes to bust up the concrete they poured under the plastic pan, but even then it only took about 20 minutes to remove all traces of its existence.

Then we reconfigured the old piping so we could use it to connect the washer. Cleaning up the old copper was the hardest part, but even so we we ready to sweat the joints in about an hour. And that hour of labor saved us 30 bucks in copper pipe. It Pays to Recycle sometimes.

Sweating the joints took about 5 minutes, and then we turned on the water. No leaks anywhere; that is a job to be proud of, when reusing old pipe and old fittings.

The drain was easy; 10 feet of PVC and a couple of elbows. Done!

Then we turned to the electric for the dryer. Moving the outlet was more time consuming than we figured. The wall was concrete block, and in drilling for the new screw holes we hit a rock, and burned up the masonry bit; damn the bad luck. Another run to Lowes for more bits.

Then the hard part; moving the old set into the garage and then the new set into the laundry room. We got everything into position, hooked up and running and called it a night. In 5 hours we removed the old appliances and the junk shower, ate dinner, ran to the store for supplies, re-routed the hot and cold water lines, ran a new drain and moved the electrical outlet for the dryer and moved in and hooked up the new stuff.

Not bad for a couple of guys playing around after work. And yeah, I know a pro would have been done before we got back from our first trip to Lowes.

But then I wouldn't have had the fun of watching my grandson watch me sweat a joint and then look at me all wide-eyed and say: "Pappaw plays with fire!"

Tuesday, April 9, 2013

Hi; Remember Me?

Well, based on my recent posting schedule I'd say its time for my April post.

Yes, that is supposed to be self-deprecating humor. Or the truth; you pick.

The real truth is that the last few months have been... crazy. I had a son get married, have had some serious changes at my real job- some good and some bad- and have had some other personal issues to bring under control.

When push comes to shove we need to find out which activities have the short straw. It may not always be the activity we want to delete from our daily routine, but sometimes we don't have the level of control we would like.

And there was very little I really felt like blogging about.
Some things have eased, and I am trying to get back to a daily post. It may take a few weeks to ramp back up to my former schedule, but that is my goal.

So; what brought me back to the table today?

This video; found at one of my guilty pleasures, The Borderline Sociopathic Blog For Boys.

What can I say, but WOW.

Science, destruction, cool video shots and hot glass. What more could you ask for in a 6 minute video?

Cool, ain't it?

But, a component of this video is a good example for some other things.

Like the Housing Bubble.

Random activity creates stress in a system. Other random activity will dissipate that stress. Or intensify it.

Take for instance the beginning of that video; the hammer blow to the bulb did not cause the destruction; it was the vibrations set up by the blow, reacting in the other end of the drop that caused the drop to disintegrate almost as a single unit.

The Housing Market disappeared in almost the same way. Things like a weak job market created stress in the market. Folks who bought more house than they could afford added another stress. Folks with loans they couldn't/wouldn't repay added another. Folks owing more than the house was now worth was another stress on the system. Any one of these stresses could have been easily dissipated; a rise in home values; additional jobs being created; the ability for lenders to 'redline' areas or borrowers.

A lot of random actions by a group of random people could have shifted the stress and stopped the meltdown.

Or made it worse.

And, like in the video, sometimes the obvious things are the real cause of the result; there are things going on that we can't see, either because they are well hidden, or because they are happening too fast to separate the cause and effect properly.