26 December 2015

The Yawn of Political (In)Correctness

There comes a time when an opponent of “political correctness” becomes, themselves, “politically correct.”

This morning, I read on a public library Facebook page a comment criticizing them of using “Happy Holidays.”  

What’s wrong with “Happy Holidays”?  I use “Merry Christmas.”  If people want to talk about what that means, hey, I’m great with that.  If not, no big deal.  

I you want to say “Humbug,” go for it.  

I suspect that Jesus is OK with “Happy Holidays,” and is more concerned with how we act.

Flyers of the CSA battle flag, you’re not being rebels, you’re being dull and applying your own form of political correctness.  

It’s politically correct to focus on fear - Trump and Muslims, Obama and guns.  It’s politically correct to threaten the destruction of God - right, like He’s worried - or marriage - Right, the last I looked, it is still OK for heterosexuals to marry.  

So the people who tout opposition to political correctness are hypocrites - they are politically correct, just with different politics.

What is uncommon is thinking about an issue and discussing it.  And being able to tolerate without rancor views different from your own.

It’s going to get worse before it gets better. 


(Ooops - “Mizpah” is a biblical term.  Am I being “correct” or not?  Do I really care?  Nah.)

05 December 2015

If I Owned Gun Stocks, Should I Sell Them?

Mayor de Blasio of New York just called on "his" pensions systems “and others across the country” to sell their stocks in gun companies.  He sees this as an economic way to force gun manufacturers to quit selling “assault rifles” to civilians.

Maybe it will work.  Maybe it won’t.  Beats me.  Some people say that the economic sanctions against South Africa brought down apartheid.  Beats me.  

The New York pension systems have about $50 billion in stocks.  Of that, $2 million are in gun manufacturers.  Seems kind of a puny gesture.

But this is America and the Mayor has every right to pick up the phone and talk to the people who decide what stocks to buy.  And this is America and he has the right to prance boldly in a press conference, even when a phone call would be more targeted.  I'd like people with different ideas to calmly talk over a cup of coffee, but that's a very minority opinion.  The "grand gesture," the "oh, the humanity" approach makes good press.

Who knows, maybe the Mayor's idea is a good one.  Everybody is entitled to their own opinion.

But everybody is not entitled to their own facts. (Daniel Patrick Moynihan said that years ago.)  If the Mayor and the pension people and everybody who thinks guns are the sole problem kicks back and says, Hey, I did good today, he, she and they are wrong.

If society decides to ban this gun or that gun or big magazines or what not - and enforces those limitations which, based on the last 50 years history, isn’t likely - some lives will be saved.  That’s what the pro-gun people ignore.  And some lives will be lost.  That’s what the anti-gun people ignore.  Violence is not a simple graph.  

Why?  Because the human heart and the human penchant for doing violence hasn’t changed a bit.  In every episode of violence, some person has decided that violence is the best choice.  Sometimes, it is.  Not often, but sometimes.  The San Bernardino shooters decided that killing was what God wanted them to do.  That is theologically unsound, but they acted on it.  Had someone else there been armed and able to think and act quickly, then violence would have been a good idea.  

Let’s leave for another day the likelihood that having an “good guy” armed there would have justified the social cost of having enough alleged “good guys” armed so that one or more would have been there.  We don’t debate guns.  We repeat fixed opinions and call the people who don’t agree with us vile names.  Some debate.

Humanity everywhere is afraid of critically discussing the human heart.  We get tied up in knots about who somebody is attracted to, what God they worship, whether they are Republican/ Democrat/ Green/ Socialist/ Labour/ Conservative/ Liberal/ and on and on. That's a lot easier than talking about what is good and justified behavior and what is bad and evil behavior.

Killing people for God, politics or because you’re just generally pissed, is bad behavior.  Shares of stock don't make you do it.  It starts in the heart and mind. 

That’s the ball that we should keep an eye on.


21 October 2015

Rules of Engagement for Police – The Need to Know

Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel recently said that crime is increasing in Chicago because “We have allowed our police department to get feral ... They have pulled from the ability to interdict ... They don’t want to be the news story themselves.”  (Washington Post) 

While the Mayor expressed himself in unfortunate terms (“feral”), he has a point. The Ferguson-Baltimore effect has changed the way we evaluate police actions.   Over the years, the prevailing view has gone from police actions being nearly conclusively OK to being a little - or a lot - inherently suspicious.  Maybe the change is a good idea; maybe it’s a bad idea; but it’s still the truth.

So far, the attention of both the pro- and anti-police critics have been formed only after-the-fact.  What should an officer have done in such-and-such a situation, and so did the officer do the right thing? 

This is a negative feedback cycle. People do learn when they screw-up and others they hear about screw-up. But the (alleged?) screw-ups have still happened, and somebody got hurt.  So the officer is called to answer for something that has already happened and that can’t be undone. 

Sometimes that is fair.  There is a video going around showing an officer shooting an obviously unarmed guy in the back from 30 feet away.  That’s almost impossible to justify. The officer has been criminally charged.  But sometimes, doing an after-the-fact analysis is distinctly unfair because we are applying some standards we just came up with.

It’s relatively easy to be a civilian.  The rule about confrontations is simple: Avoid them.  Unless you have a real, REAL  good reason not to.  That is fortunate because the most people continue to have a warped perception about personal violence. Life does not have a reset like a video game. You cannot do violence and make it go away.   When a movie-style fight erupts in a bar, and cue-sticks, tables and chairs are used as weapons, injured people do not get back up, dust themselves off, and have another drink. They are hauled away in an ambulance or coroner’s wagon. Some of them will be checking into a nursing home to deal with injuries for the rest of their lives. I had a client a couple of years ago who got into a brief bar fight. From his perspective at the time, it seemed like a minor thing. He didn’t want to hurt anybody badly or permanently.  But owing to very bad luck all around, he killed a guy with one punch. He served jail time because he broke the rule about a citizen’s duty to avoid a confrontation.  

With police, the Mayor said it all:  “They have pulled back from the ability to interdict.”  The police are supposed to go toward trouble. For my money, that’s the primary difference between citizens and public service people. Who in their right mind wants to get in a gun fight, run into a burning building or deal with gruesome injuries?

An image often used by police is the sheepdog. There are lots of sheep – people who lead normal, ordinary and even boring lives. There are a lot of wolves, who depend on violence or the threat of violence to get things from the sheep. And then there are the sheepdogs.  They take care of the sheep.  The role of the sheepdog is not a directly productive one. The sheepdog does not furnish wool. If there were no wolves, we would not need sheepdogs.  But there are wolves. So we need sheepdogs.

For a sheepdog to function effectively,  s/he has to know what the rules are. In the military, these are called “Rules of Engagement.”  In other words, they should know in advance what is an acceptable response is to a given situation.  And the Rules of Engagement need to be specific.  A rule that says “Don’t Screw Up” helps no one.  

Let’s make some factual assumptions. These are not universally true, but pretty accurate as a general rule:

1 - Most police officers want a quiet shift without undue conflict.

2 - Everyone wants to go home in one piece after the shift.

3 - Everyone wants the other guy to go home in one piece, too.

4 - Everyone wants to use enough force to reach whatever their goal is - to stop someone from hurting people or to stop a major crime - but no more than necessary.  (The invention of pepper gas and the Taser have helped that one along.)

5. No one can fire a firearm safely.   It’s not designed to be safe when it’s fired.  It’s designed to hurt and kill people. 

6 - No officer specifically wants to kill people.  But officers know that they may be called upon to shoot someone and that if they do, a death is likely to happen.  Shooting the gun out of someone’s hand is pure movie fiction.

7 - Some wolves will continue to do things which requires deadly force to stop them.

I think those rules are fair. 

We need to make an another assumption which is unpleasant, but true.  Race and other ethnic stuff matters. This is America. It’s not supposed to matter. But it does. Different people interpret ethnic stuff differently, but few people say that it won’t be considered.  Yesterday, a guy was shot in killed by a police officer in Miami. A news report included “[The guy who was shot] was black. [The officer’s] race was not immediately known.”  So at least to the reporter who wrote that, race matters.

So if we want to decrease inappropriate violence, isn’t it a good idea that we decide in advance what the Rules of Engagement for police are?

There have been several incidents where police have shot a kid carrying a toy gun by mistake.  (What a moronic idea toy guns are.  Along with all the kill-them-all video games.  What are parents thinking?)  

So let’s set the stage.  It’s a hypothetical, but it will happen.  It’s 10 PM.  Most kids are off the street, but not all of them.  An officer sees someone the size of a 14 year old boy carrying a realistic looking (but unbeknowst to the officer, a toy) gun.  The kid is 30 feet from the officer.  The light is bad.  What do we as a society want the officer to do?

This is the part where I’m supposed to give you my answer. But my answer is just that - Mine.  I’m not in charge of society.  It will be the collective answer which the officer will be judged by.  So, tell me what the officer should do.   Warn the kid, such as “Drop the gun!”  Ok, if the officer does that, how long does s/he wait?  How often does s/he repeat the warning?  Wait until s/he sees a muzzle flash and knows that the gun is real?  Duck?  Withdraw?  What if the gun is pointed at the officer?  Come on, people, if we are going to judge the officer - and we will - let's have the decency to tell the police what the rules are.  

And that’s just one scenario.  In the summer, should an officer approach someone with a long coat to see if s/he is hiding a gun?  How should an officer deal with people who are legally carrying a weapon openly?  (Yeah, yeah, it doesn't happen in Chicago, but it happens in lots of places.)  How about if they are doing so in a strange place?  Should an officer question someone who just “doesn’t belong”?  Or when someone is acting furtive or are apparently nervous? Should the officer ever consider their race or distinctive clothing?  Maybe, maybe not.  But our public servants need to know what we expect.

We owe it to everyone to have this conversation.


12 September 2015

The Rights of Mankind; A Stream-of-Consciousness Discussion

Is America at the forefront and on the cutting edge of liberty, freedom and the Rights of Mankind? Is this powerful political Republic, for all of its little faults, truly the Home of the Brave and the Land of the Free?

And are the flag-burning, KuKluxers, Reds, Greens, neo-Nazis, God-let's-me-be-a-terrorist's, flat-earther’s, Elvis-lives folks  just wrong? Oh, of course, we should tolerate all those people, because we do have such freedom.

I wonder.

This started out as a moderate post about whether we really can preserve the Second Amendment.  My original thought was that if we do have the natural right of self defense, but that if Americans don’t have the discipline to use firearms right, maybe we no longer deserve the right.  I don’t believe it, but only an idiot will refuse to THINK about the basis of your rights.  This has been bugging me all week.

I found that there is a more basic question lurking here: Where does the concept of “rights” come from?

The Magna Carta is cited as the basis of English rights, which in turn expanded to include much of the Earth. Magna Carta came in 1215. Actually, it does not stand alone. There were at least two versions of Magna Carta, one “radical” (for the time) and one a trifle watered down. Other “charters” of various sorts – the Charter of the Forests comes to mind – followed at irregular intervals. I’m the only lawyer I know who has argued the Charter of the Forests in a Supreme Court argument. It was a wide-ranging discussion between Justice McGraw and me in State ex rel. Princeton v. Buckner, 377 S.E.2d 139.  At the time, I certainly bought into the notion that our natural rights had always been there, even though we often misinterpreted them. This is shade of St. Thomas Aquinas, that the will of God is the same, but sometime we mere humans get the wrong interpretation.   Perhaps, someday, we’ll get the absolutely right idea.

If there are natural, God-given rights, God has been singularly ignored as He tried to press them on humankind.  The established “Biblical time” roughly corresponds to the sociological establishment of human societies.  So as such, let’s say that the question of the “rights of mankind” has been significant for around 6,000 years.  The first explication of “rights” was in 1215.  What happened to the other 5200 years?

The scriptures of most religions talk about a few rights, but seem to focus mainly on duty, responsible actions, kindness, etc.  Which is fine - we’ve never  been successful at putting the “Rules to Live By” in one place.

What is the human experience with the supposed Rights of Mankind?  A dismal one, I think.

How many people have ever been free?

Egypt?  Nah.  Hey, we need volunteers to help us build the pyramids. OK, you, you and you have just volunteered.  

Athens?  It got closer, after all it had Demosthanes & Co.  Oh, but don’t get so serious about “rights” that we need to give you a brimming cup of hemlock.

Sparta?  No, not even close.

Rome?  Huh-uh.

China?  Oh, no, too many emperors and warlords.  

Japan?  Nope, the emperors and also the whole Bushido-thing.

Britain?  Too many head Druids.

Later Britain.  Think kings and Roundheads.

Actually, the American Indians got a bit closer with a sort-of meritocracy.  That didn’t do Reed-That-Bends a whole lot of good. (See Fenimore Cooper, The Last of the Mohicans.)

It really could have been Thomas Paine who was the “Father” of the Rights of Mankind.  Nobody really liked him, and he was a dour sort, but smart. Ultimately, what Thomas Paine talked about were stuck into the Bill of Rights.  The Bill of Rights is an odd thing, like something that was the product of a committee and a lot of compromises - which it was.  The glorious notions of free speech and free exercise of religion are mixed in with keeping troops from being quartered in homes in peacetime.  The freedom to escape intrusive search is mixed with property rights.  Yet, it is such an integral part of American society that you can simply say that you “take the Fifth” or “stand on your Second Amendment rights,” and people understand what you are talking about.

Where do rights come from?  What society has ever practiced respecting rights?  Who has ever had free religion?  Well, only for 250 years in a few nations, and at that it’s only been imperfectly practiced.  If for most of human history, you didn’t worship Odin, the ineffable name of God, Zeus, Jupiter, God, Allah and maybe The Force, how do you suppose that worked out for you?

If you dissed the king, the pope, the doge, the emperor, the Prophet (PBUM), the Sanhedrin, Montezuma, the Earth, the merchant class, the nobility, the priests, the brahmins, did you really think that your future was secure?

The “Rights of Mankind” are not an American thing.  The rise of the USA as a nation was the best known and least-complicated event of the Age of Enlightenment.  We had fewer nay-sayers, and they were quieter.  This “Rights” notion is assigned to America because there were a whole lot more people in the now-USA who stood to gain from it.  Great Britain did us an enormous favor by separating royalists on a different continent.

Are there “Rights of Mankind”?

Beats me.

If there is such a thing, I doubt if they are automatic, immutable, and inalienable.  Jefferson was laying claim to these “inalienable” rights, not saying that he just discovering that they already existed.  In that respect, the Declaration of Independence is a radical and beautiful departure from the past.  It’s not just an explanatory scholarly document.  The Rights of Mankind are not automatic.  If the powers of society say that they are gone, poof, they are gone.  If you don't believe that, try to carry a shotgun in England.

Self-defense?  The state/king/brigands/church sure as hell have been able to push people around without some spooky “bad thing” happening to those in power.  

Free speech?  Pull the other one.  In most places, free speech will get you an ass-whipping.

If we do have rights, they are vanishing.  We’re losing them.  They don’t have long to last.  They are vanishing back into what has existed in the 6,000 year human history - what we now call totalitarian socialism, but which has always been called “I-got-mine-and-you-don’t-so-screw-you.”  

If we keep on bleating that we are entitled to the rights of mankind, but expect someone else to assure them, we lose.

If we are unwilling to actually do something to keep them, we deserve to lose.

25 August 2015

Sweepings from my hard drive: The HAL 9000 giveth

Place of Pain:

I was in the elevator at the Marion County Courthouse last week. 

On the 3rd Floor, three ladies got in.  They were markedly upset.  The only thing on the 3rd Floor is Div. II of the Circuit Court and the Family Court.  Family Court hadn’t started. 

I have no idea what upset them.  From their perspective, it must have been something pretty bad.

A lesson: Court is a place of pain.  In theory, lawyers know that.  But we often pretend that it’s not, and that it’s just another day at the office. 

Perhaps a secret to practicing law is to function at your best, but to remember that it is a place of pain.

I wish more lawyers would learn this.

[Note to Bro. Burt: I was thinking of you as I wrote this.  You understand the practice of law better than anybody I know.]

The Courthouse Box:

Sometimes, I have good ideas.  Other times, well, I’m prone to have real dumb ideas.

One of the good ones was in the 80's as we were changing the Local Rules of Court. 

Every day, the volume of mail that originates from the Clerk of the Circuit Court is tremendous.  It includes lots of important stuff - Court orders, subpoenas, pre-sentence reports, etc.  But the Clerk also is afflicted with loads of unimportant, mundane crap - discovery packets in criminal cases, notices of scheduling orders, etc.

In the 80's, the first class rate was around 15¢ for a one-ounce letter.  Now, it’s 50¢.  So, we put a big mailbox in the front of the Circuit Clerk’s office for the stuff than can wait.  Every time I got past the Office, I check the box.  Today, there was easily $100 worth of mail that didn’t have to be actually mailed. 

Minimize all your your therbligs and concentrate on the ball.


The new EPA regulations fundamentally change America’s energy production.  Congress has nothing to do with it unless it acts to block or modify it. 

If the rules go into effect, West Virginia will have to idle 3,800 megawatts of coal generating capacity.  Whether that’s a good idea, a mediocre idea or a bad idea is beside the point for now.  In the meantime, the Chinese bring 1,000 megawatts of new coal generating capacity online each week.  India brings 350 megawatts of new coal generating capacity online each week.  Work the math.  And they don't have EPA regulations, so the stuff that is left after burning goes right into the atmosphere.

Senator Boxer of California says that the biggest job growth in California is in “clean” power such as solar, wind and geothermal.  She invites West Virginia to “Get with it.”  Sadly, West Virginia doesn’t have a desert and has no geothermal sources.  We have wind.  Two out of three ain’t bad.  But one of three?  Well, it’s kinda bad.

It’s partly our fault:

In 1890, horse breeders saw unlimited growth in the personal transportation market for the next hundred years.

She Met God:

A random memory - A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, we picked up a lady in the ambulance who was in cardiac arrest.  Oh, she got better.  When she arrived at the hospital, she mentioned that she had met God face-to-face.  She described him a a kinda big guy, with a moustache.

24 August 2015

The Fellowship in China: Tianjin

The Chinese government is not very popular in America.  

But the Chinese people basically are just like us.  Some are decent.  Some are jerks.  Some are our brothers & sisters.  Some are about as welcome as the black sheep pimp at the family reunion.  

Among the brothers & sisters are the people who do the truly garbage jobs in society, the first responders.

By the way, “first responder” is a misnomer.  Usually, the “first responder” is the only responder you get.  If s/he can’t handle the problem, you are screwed.  If they are not willing to "spend themselves," lots of innocents are injured and die.

In the northeast China port of Tianjin - a HUGE port - a fire broke out in warehouses that stored chemicals.  There were explosions, and about 100 firefighters are still missing.

A whole lot of mistakes were made.  

For instance, there were flammable chemicals that you use water on if there is a fire.  But nearby, there were chemicals that, when exposed to water, give off an explosive gas.  That is one explanation for the explosions. 

But you can bet that the brothers & sisters killed were NOT the ones who made the mistakes.  They were the ones running TOWARD the danger when everybody else was (wisely) running AWAY.  The owners & managers of the warehouses weren’t there.   The government-types who dropped the ball or who looked the other way weren’t there.  The people who were supposed to guard THEIR people weren’t there.

I fear this is not much of a post.  And there is no sort of answer here.  Stupid people make mistakes by omission and commission that get other’s killed.  All the world over.  

God bless the Fellowship.

19 July 2015

The Donald Trump Plot

A question for simple political minds is, “How can Donald Trump say such stupid things?”  

He hates Mexican immigrants.  After all, they (whoever “they” is) send up thieves, rapists and folks who - if they ever become citizens - will not vote for Donald Trump.  He’s clarified that statement to explain that he loves Mexicans and that they love him.

Trump hates “losers.”  (An occasional business bankruptcy of a Trump organization doesn’t count.)  Trump supported Sen. McCain against Pres. Obama in 2008.  McCain lost.  Donald Trump doesn’t like “losers,” so he now doesn’t like McCain.  Trump also dislikes people who are captured, so he has another reason not to like McCain.   McCain was captured.  Q.E.D.   Then, Trump explained that the loves all people who served in the military, including all the heroes who were captured.  

He’s confrontational and yet polite.  “While Bette Midler is an extremely unattractive woman, I refuse to say that because I always insist on being politically correct.”

Oh, and he’s humble:  "Let me tell you, I'm a really smart guy. I was a really good student at the best school in the country.”

Emerson said “A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”  Look on Trump’s wrist.  The Emerson quote is tattooed there.

So, “How can Donald Trump say such stupid things?”  

Aha!  A better question is “WHY does Donald Trump say such stupid things.”  And the truth is far from a joke.

Hillary Clinton has a budget of $2.5 Billion for her presidential campaign. Trump could double that and not have to ask for contributions.  But he doesn’t have to.  

The reason?  He has lots of big money supporting him.  The surprise is where the money comes from.  It comes from supporters of Hillary Clinton, supporters of Ted Cruz; supporters of Jeb Bush; and even supporters of our favorite Trotsky-ite, Bernie Sanders. And that’s just a partial list.

Donald Trump is a stalking horse.  He’s everybody’s stalking horse.

Trump gives every other candidate a powerful, truthful claim: “Hey, at least I’m not Donald Trump!”

It’s the old, old story.  If you want to appear sober, hang out with hopeless drunks.  If you want to appear generous, hang out with misers. And if you want to appear presidential, no problem: Hang out with Donald Trump.

And the saddest thing is, even if we know about the plot, it still works.   It’s works for Clinton.  Bush.  Cruz.  Christie. Biden.  It even works for Sanders.

“Hey, at least I’m not Donald Trump.”

Works for me.

26 June 2015

A Brief Curmudgeonly Approach to the Supreme Court and a Gutless Congress

The Supreme Court issued two important decisions this week.  They did so because other organs of government haven't the guts to have an honest discussion.  

The gay marriage issue got to the Supreme Court because Congress did not have the moral integrity to have an honest discussion.  The state legislatures did not have the moral integrity to have an honest discussion.  A honest discussion requires that people set aside their prejudices and thoughtfully analyze the merits of the possible decisions.   Sure, everybody is prejudiced.  That's OK.  It takes a special skill to set aside all of those prejudices and have an honest discussion.  An honest discussion requires that we apply American values to the question.  It requires that we permit liberty of conscience and limit government restriction.  I’m not going to marry a gay person.  That’s my personal decision.  Does somebody else’s decision have any effect on me?  Nope.  

Obamacare is a continuing nightmare.  It was poorly drafted.  Very few of the people who voted on it read it.  Perhaps reading it would have found the apparent ambiguity.  Many who voted on it - for or against - held their nose as they did so.  Let's assume Obamacare is terribly screwed up.   It is such a great idea just to scrap it and have nothing?  Only if your slogan is "the people be damned."  Again, Congress has zero moral integrity.  Damn near everybody was married to the thought that the insurance industry had to get their piece of the action.  Obamacare is corporate welfare in action.  Either way, the insurance industry wins.

We have seen lots of demonstrations in the past two days.  Jumping up and down in celebration or indignation.  Those are absolutely protected public speech.  They are also pointless.  Decisions are made.  They are made.  Now, we need to SHUT THE FUCK UP about it and perhaps, just perhaps, turn our attention to stuff that actually counts.  If you don’t have a list of stuff that truly counts, America is in as sad a shape as I think it is.  

It’s going to get worse before it gets better.

Land of the free.  Pull the other one.  It’s got bells on it.

17 June 2015

I’m Shocked, Outraged, and Stunned; or, Why I Gotta Quit Watching the News

I'm so upset.  

I talk back to the newspaper.  I talk back to the radio, the computer and the TV. I know that nobody can hear me, but I do it just the same.  The news really angers me.

I have to be shocked.  My outrage has to show.  I’need that kind of indignation that starts in your guts and blows out your ears. 

I learned today that a kid graduating high school was almost denied  publication of his “year book quote.”  I’m not sure what that is, but it must be pretty important.  (His quote was “Of course I dress well.  I didn’t spend all that time being in the closet for nothing.”  And it was by someone "Unknown.")

Along with 17 million Chileans, I was stunned by some random soccer star crashing his Ferrari.  (He escaped injury.)

I was outraged by a Florida Sheriff who spoke in church in uniform.

I learned that a taxi had caught fire in New York City.  How atrocious.  (It would have been worse if anybody had been hurt.  But I bet FDNY has never seen a taxi catch fire.)

I gnashed my teeth and tore my garments when I found that some brewery was selling “Sweet Baby Jesus Beer” in Ohio.  (I considered issuing a fatwa against the brewery, but then I remember that Christians don’t do that.  Darn it.)

Oh, and when the French ecology minister said that folks shouldn’t eat Nutella, I was disgusted.  (Nutella is some sort of sweet spread used in Europe.  It's made from palm oil, peanut butter, sugar, chocolate, and who-knows-what-else. Maybe Red Dye #3?  It looks like baby shit, but I’ve heard that it tastes good.)

I was so upset over who Pat Boone wants to be president in 2016, whether KFC served somebody a deep fried rat, and whether Ashton Somebody-I’ve-Never-Heard-Of does - or does not - have a butt.

But the most insulting, the most offensive thing I heard today was that a North Carolina teacher read a fable out of a book in class -- about gay people getting married. 

All of the news sources assured me that I should feel abused.  I should feel violated. 

Well, by golly, I do!

The North Carolina teacher resigned.  Along with an assistant principal. I am deeply thankful that nobody had the huevos to to brush it aside, like maybe, “Well, that didn’t seem to work out.  Maybe you ought to think about that.”  Resign or be fired, I say.

There are some wise-guys who suggest that we are led by the nose to get outraged about all this stuff, so we don’t have to worry about what they consider important things.  Hmph.  They are Ivy League weenies, if you ask me.  One wag proposed that the average guy, like this Poor Scribe, is diverted by these issues.

I just don’t have time to worry about which candidate will buy a presidential election.  The entry price is a billion or so. Chicken feed.

I don’t have the attention to give to America’s $17 trillion debt.

I refuse to dwell on the fact that we owe half of that debt to China, Japan and the Arabs.  When we have a book to ban in North Carolina, we need to tend to it.

25 million people go to bed hungry every night in America. Sorry, no time.

8000 dead American military people in Afghanistan and Iraq.  Uh-uh, not going to get my valuable attention.

Everybody seems to have their own little hobby horse of a crisis.  Uh-uh, I have gay-ness and Nutella catastrophes.

Eye on the ball, people, eye on the ball!

30 May 2015

I'm a Researchin' Fool; or, Admissions of a Luddite

I have a lot of Luddite tendencies. That being said, my work requires that I use technology to get things done.

This week, I was in Court in Philippi, Barbour County, WV. To get to Philippi, I go through Harrison County to Quiet Dell, and then cut East on Route 20 and 57.   That takes me up the 15 miles of Elk Creek.   

As I was driving, I idly wondered how big the drainage area is of Elk Creek.  Considering what I knew about the area, I made a rough guesstimate of about 100 mi.² .   I stuck it in the back of my mind to look it up.

This morning, I found the answer. It is 86.9 mi.² at Quiet Dell.  Well, a 15 percent error in a guesstimate ain’t bad.

It took me two minutes and 40 seconds to find that information. 

“Elk Creek WV drainage area" on Google was all it took. I found a book page from the United States Geological Survey. I considered that highly reliable.  It's not subject to much in the the way of typos, because it was a copy of an original page from the USGS.

I researched it.

I’m so proud.

Well, not really. 

In fact, I asked a specific question of a web browser, Google. It took me right to the information I wanted.  

There is some place in Our Towne where that information is available.  It may even be somewhere on my bookshelves.  I know how to look for it there, but I guarantee you, it would take me longer than two minutes and 40 seconds to find it.

Where am I going with this?

If you have a GPS unit, you have power for it, and can “see” three satellites, you will know right where you are anywhere on Earth.   If you “tell” the GPS unit where you want to go, it will direct you there. There is even a sport called “Geocaching” which involves going into remote places with GPS coordinates and finding hiding places of miscellaneous stuff.  

On the other hand, if you have a magnetic compass, have been paying a little attention to the  area you are in, you can find your way of a jam with a map. Or even without one. You don’t have to have a GPS, batteries, or satellites.  It takes longer.

As we become ever more dependent on technology, we make ourselves subject to an increased risk when technology fails. Sailors find their position all the time with GPS.  But they also know how to use a sextant and printed tables.  The only way those can fail is if you drop them over the side.

Asking a specific question of a web browser is easy.  All that you need is a computer, power, and some way to link to the Internet.   Then, you can get quick and reasonably accurate answers.   But if you lack any of those things, and don’t know a lower-technology way to find information, you are out of luck.

Americans are the ultimate end-user.   Most of us have no clue how information technology really works.   If all we have is Google, Google had better work.

Kids don’t know that 9 x 9 = 81 without a calculator.  The knowledge base is our society is pitiful.  We are sliding into two new classes: The few who know how technology works and the many who merely use it. 

It’s a lot easier merely to use it – as long as it works.

The actual search process requires that you think about questions. Here are just some of them:

  • What resources are available which may lead you to the information?
  • Of the available resources, what is likely to have information accurate enough to be useful? For that matter, how accurate does it NEED to be?
  • Where are the resources? How hard is it to access them?
  • Might your ultimate question lead to an entirely different however relevant line of inquiry?
  • What might you do with all the resulting information?

We still only dimly understand the human mind. We do know that we are not just static containers of data.  

Cogito ergo sum.  “I think, therefore I am.”

There was a 1950's science fiction story (beats me who wrote it, and I refuse to look it up on Google) about the supposed-science of mnemonics. People with fantastic memories were turned loose to gather all the information they could and then think about correlations. In the story, one mnemonics student saved a space ship by making some odd association.

If we know how to apply our minds, we become more independent. If we don’t, we are truly at the mercy of mere things.

Hey, let’s have a contest!  I will send a book of my choice from The Eternal Bookshelf®  to the person who reports that that they found an answer the fastest to the following question:

“What is the drainage area of the Tygart Valley River, which is located in north-central West Virginia?”

The Contest closes on 5 June 2015.

PS - Dragon NaturallySpeaking knew how to spell “mnemonics.”  Yeah, I know how to type.  Dragon is faster.

16 May 2015

The Mayor of Philadelphia is an Idiot

I have a dream!  No, it’s not that big a dream, but it’s sincere.

I picture a politician who goes to the scene of a disaster and says:

"Hey, I don’t know shit about how trains wreck.  We’ll have to wait until the fire, EMS, police and rescue services get done, then let the investigators look into it.  Now, let’s get out of here, we’re just a distraction while the people who know what they are doing work."

Look, it’s a DREAM, ok?  

There are so many “experts” who don’t know anything about fire, EMS, police work, rescue services, emergency management, investigating anything or anything but aggrandizing themselves.  Oh, they are good at THAT.  Ridiculous, ill-informed, illogical, but good.

The mayor of Philadelphia, the “lawmakers” who have reacted, and every [insert epithet] who have commented about the Philadelphia Amtrac wreck are full of hot and destructive air.  They have reasoned that the train was going over 100 miles an hour accordingly to a black box that they have never seen and that they wouldn’t have a clue how to interpret, and that therefore, the engineer was criminally negligent.

Well, q.e.d.

Now, he may have been.  Beats me, I wasn’t there.  Also, I don’t know shit about how trains wreck.  Personally, I think I’ll wait to find what the NTSB opinion is.  THEY know how trains wreck.

It turns out that the investigators are looking at reports that something - a bullet?  a rock? - hit the train and also other trains.  Here again, I wasn’t there.  If I saw the windshield, I STILL couldn’t tell what if anything struck the train.  Still, it may be unlikely that something struck the train but didn't  have anything to do with the wreck.  But I'm not sure.

And if something did strike the train, and the train did speed up, what caused it?  Beats me.  Never driven a train.

And I sincerely doubt that anyone public official weighing in  has driven a train.  They would like to posture that they know all and see all.  They want everyone to know that they CARE and that they will SO SOMETHING so it never ... blah, blah, blah.

In the meantime, the incident commander has to put up with a useless person at their scene.

Most reports say that the engineer has been cooperative - 
BUT he brought a LAWYER with him.  Doesn’t that tend to indicate he’s guilty of something.  

Nah - the mayor had already indicted him based on just a tiny bit of information.  If an investigation is trying to find out what happened, their may not be an necessity to bring a lawyer.  But this was not even a “rush to judgment.”  This was a half-ass-wild-guess by someone who didn’t have any idea what they were talking about.

We will never know for sure what caused the train wreck.  God knows.  He is unlikely to tell us.  Even if we know "beyond a reasonable doubt" what happened, that's still short of being absolutely sure.

The First Amendment says that we have a right to know.  Reason tells us to wait to draw conclusions when you know the facts.  

Facts are such inconvenient things.  But that doesn't stop politicians.

08 May 2015

Let's Draw Mohammad for Fun; or, Are You Happy to See Me or Is That an AK in Your Pocket?

I vastly prefer at least hinting as to solutions in these Dispatches.  But those darned gray areas . . . 

I caught a discussion on CNN the other night.  One person was defending the expression of free speech and religious freedom from the Garland, Texas, “Draw Mohammad Contest.”  The other was saying that it was equivalent to yelling “Fire” in a crowded theater - and that that sort of thing either is either already beyond constitutional protection or should be banned anyway.

First a bit of mild legal theory: It’s not anything like yelling “Fire.”  That is representing a false fact to cause people naturally do something dangerous.  The speech causes the result.

Having a “Draw Mohammad Contest” is designed to gig Muslims who believe that it matters when someone draws Mohammad.  (By the way, the Jews, Christians, etc., have the “make no graven image” thing, but apparently don’t take it seriously.  Including me.)

Drawing Mohammad is speech and an intentional insult to Mohammad.  It leads some people to make a CHOICE to do something dangerous.  It’s also rather stupid to bother doing and not just a bit childish.  It’s religious speech, even though the Great Commission to the Apostles (Matthew 28) doesn’t even slightly mention pissing off Muslims, Buddhists, atheists, Wiccans, Druids or the odd Jehovah’s Witness.  Mind you, you may piss them off anyway, but that's not the whole point of doing it.

What would Jesus do?  Beats me.  I bet he wouldn’t waste his time drawing the Prophet.

On the other hand, we KNOW that people get peeved when their god is mocked, insulted, etc.  The Christian world was all aghast that a museum in NYC featured “blasphemous art” about Jesus. Mind you, I don’t think Christians got all fatwa about it, but they some did their best to pull funding from the museum.  At least certain Muslims actually believe that it is justified to reach for a gun and shoot the place up.  Sadly, people act on what they believe, be it factual or ridiculous.  

So here we have a perfect storm of cultural clash - One group uses absolutely legal means to piss off another group, which answers to a “higher law” and reaches for an AK to kill anybody around.  

So what will we have?  We can pander to people with un-funny but constitutionally protected speech.  Or we can pander to those who act what most people would say was nuts and shoot the place up. If the former, we quite properly shoot the shooters' asses.  If the latter, we let them control our speech.  That's a big deal in America. There is of course a more polite way to put it, but I prefer blunt.  There are important interests here, centering on controlling others’ behavior.

It’s easy to say respect others.  Who?  Each side sees this as a matter of respect?

It’s gonna get worse before it gets better, assuming for the sake of argument that it will get better.

19 April 2015

A Modest Proposal for the Sale of Votes; and Other Tales

Reported, the Koch brothers are ready to spend $900 Million dollars in the 2016 campaign.  PS, they can afford it out of small change.  

Presumably, all sorts of sugar daddies on the right and not just a few sugar daddies on the left (together with lots of-who cares-but-we-have-a-special-interest-ites will add a garnish to the repast.) 

Reportedly, the ability to target specific voters has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last 3 years.  

The problem with this is that advertisers, consultants and general riff-raff are going to hog the money.  Mind you, the money WILL get spent, for we as Americans have proved time and again that we are generally stupid and willing to sell our votes to those who pay the most for them.

How can we get the money to people who truly deserve it?  NOBODY likes political lobbyists. We may tolerate them as a necessary evil, but like them?  Not happening.

What is the AMERICAN answer?  

It’s to adopt the spirit of Ebay!  

Let''s take the $900 Million. They are going to buy a bunch of votes.  In 2012, 126 million votes were cast.  In 2013, the Koch boys are willing to spend $7.14 for each and every one of us.  And if they are looking for just a healthy majority, a convincing win can be had had for THIRTEEN BUCKS a vote.  Think of it – The majority of us can get something like $13 for something we’re willing to give up for FREE.  

America needs a bold new election paradigm.  (Geez, I love that word, “paradigm.”) If we are the whore to the Koch’s/Soro’s/Whoever’s johns, it’s time to cash in.  

I figure it’ll take about $1.20 to cover the administrative costs of buying a vote.  And the Koch’s, etc., should be rewarded for saving money and sticking it to the political class, so lets let them retain 90 or so cents from every transaction.  That leaves a cool Eleven Dollars for you and me to do what they tell us.  

Do you know what you can gets for Eleven Bucks?  That’s a venti-latte AND a big, serious muffin at Starbucks; it’s TWO magazines, like Field & Stream, Time, The National Review or The New Republic: it’s modest meal for two at Burger Chef.  We’re talking real money.  And if we are going to sell our votes, by Golly, WE DESERVE THE MONEY.

So my modest proposal is for the Koch boys, etc., each to set up a website to offer to buy votes.  After all, if we do this honestly and as a purely commercial transaction, everybody profits!

Perhaps the Koch’s/Soros’, etc., won’t trust us to deliver the votes.  No problem.  We vote absentee, give powers-of-attorney to the buyers to cast our ballots and give the buyers’ addresses for the county clerks to send the absentee ballots.  In the modern era, no little thing like a declaration that the voter actually voted is going to be prosecuted.  

Then, we cash our $11 bucks - or, better, let them send us CASH - and enjoy it.  After all, we’ve already decided the hell with the United States, so we’re just negotiating a reasonable fee.


Earth Day is this Wednesday.  It started as a environmental weenie holiday, but has since become cool because it’s commercializes responsibility.

(Ah, I well remember the very first Earth Day in 1970.  We celebrated by blowing up a beaver dam of particularly obnoxious rodents.  Damn, were the beavers’ pissed.)

Litter bothers everyone, supposedly, but we throw away junk all the time.  

So in the spirit of free enterprise, every time you litter, also throw a quarter out the window.  Then, the poor putzes who care about such things will have a little additional incentive to wipe our figurative asses.

Remember - CASH is King!


07 March 2015

Universal Weapons Possession - An Idea Whose Time Will Never Come: Or, Is That a Six-gun In Your Pocket?

West Virginia is about to have no restrictions for people to carry firearms - open or concealed - except for people who are already federally disqualified by 18 USC 922.

Lord, protect us from people who are certain that they are right.

The West Virginia Legislature – both houses – now have a Republican majority. In the House of Delegates, it is a nearly veto-proof majority.  So far, the world has not come to an end.  The parties come, the parties go.  And we have just exchanged one group of vain, self-righteous and not-particularly bright individuals for another.   The all for Truth, Justice and the American Way, or their version of it.

The Republican majority is doing a lot of odd things. They still have not found their base. Or, perhaps, they have misidentified their base, just as the Democrats have done  over the last 10 years.

This is just the current version of pandering to the yellow-dog partisan.  Usually, it’s in reference to a “yellow-dog Democrat,” who will vote for the party’s nominee automatically.  But in truth, the Republicans have every bit as much party loyalty as Democrats. They just disguise the fact by voting in each separate race – for the Republicans, naturally – than voting a straight ticket.  At least a lot of Democrats have conceded that they trust the party more than themselves.

By the West Virginia Constitution, we have "A . . . right to keep and bear arms for the defense of self, family, home and State . . ."

Self-defense is a natural right of mankind. The Devil is in the details. Even after the bill passes, you won't be able to carry a rocket launcher for home defense. Few intelligent people have any doubt about the right - and wisdom - of self-defense.

Free speech is a natural right of mankind. That doesn't stop some governments from banning speech which they don't like, but sedition laws do not destroy the right. It's "only " wrongfully restricted.

The same applies to religion.  Handle snakes, keep non-Muslims out of Mecca or declare that there is no God.  Constitutionally, it’s all the same to me.  If you want me to give you my version of religion, just ask me.  If you don't, then don't ask me.  What could be easier?  The headache comes when others demand that you believe as they do, whether you want to or not.

The right to travel freely is another natural right of mankind. Contrary to what the DMV says, a driver’s license is a right, not a privilege. To exercise the right, you have to show minimal competency – training.  And you can choose to do certain bad things which will restrict that right.

So what tentative lessons might we draw from this?

A – Don't harm others with speech. That's easily accomplished - Do not cry “Fire” in a crowded theater.  Be advised, however, that in some parts of the world, you might get a fatwa slapped on you anyway.  

B - Keep your snakes inside. Don't push a particular religious viewpoint as a requirement to participate in government. (Of course this is under attack.  Did you think that everyone is rational?)

C - If you drive a motor vehicle, stay on the right side of the road.  A driver"s license says that you have at least heard about the rule and that you didn't mess up when you had the driving test.  It's annoying to go to the DMV.  But you have to put up with just a little to live in an organized society.

What the current system of conceal weapons permits does is require that someone actually demonstrate how to handle a gun.  (Actually, the training takes considerably less time that learning to drive a car.)  But you have had training. (I don’t think that the current training requirement is anything like enough.  But it’s something.)  

If you haven't learned to drive, you may cause an
accident. If you handle weapons ineptly, this is the chance you take: Unexpectedly, a dense piece of metal will be accelerated to somewhere near the sound barrier and head off in who-knows-what direction.  

With the change, more people will carry firearms.  I doubt it if it's as many as the anti-gun crowd thinks, but I could be wrong.  Those additional people will included folks who don't know to stay on the right side of the roadway and who are clueless about the safe handling of weapons.  In a year or two of the new way of doing things, you’ll be able to separate the know’s versus the beat’s-me’s.  The beat's-me will have dirty weapons (because they can't take them apart), stick a gun in a waistband but not with a holster and do other stupid things.

When this passes – and it will – No. 3 Equity Court will be posted, "No guns allowed.”  I do not consider that people who carry under the rules currently existing are much of a threat.  And anyway, a sign won’t stop anyone intent on harm.  But I’m not having some fumble-fingered idiot packing a weapon into my office.  

Also, greater part of people who own or lease building are going to post their buildings “No guns allowed.”  A weapon left in your car does not protect anybody, but neither will some projectile which come out of it accidentally.  I conclude that an untrained idiot is more of a danger than a bad guy.  Sad, isn’t it?

And we’re back to the fact that the Republican Party has not recognized its base. The extreme right is not a base, anymore than the extreme left is a base to the Democrats.  (One reason that the Republicans are in control of the Legislature is that the Democrats forgot that lesson more than the Republicans did.)  Your base has to be the moderates.  These are the people who are able to apply some thought to what is reasonable and what is not a reasonable trade-off for living in an organized organized society. How much is that? The Devil is in the details.

Note to my friends in the Legislature:  Vain, self-righteous and not-particularly bright?  I wasn't referring to you.  And I didn't include any mention of your ability to successfully hide your own Easter eggs.

01 March 2015

Only Crazy Voters Need Apply; or, The Disappearing Moderate

“The silliness has started.” People have been saying that about the ever-earlier start of the presidential sweepstakes.  I dimly, dimly remember my father complaining about that it the 1956 campaign.

It’s not silly any more.  We can’t make light of it.  In 2016,  Americans voters (well, the 50% who vote) may have a choice that will - and should - be scaring the hell out of them.

I don’t intend this post to be partisan.   Few people seem to know it, but we’ve gotten beyond what good things partisanship ever did.  I am a Democrat.  I have been for 30 years. From my standpoint, the Republican party left me. And now that the ideological purists have taken over Democratic policy, the Dems are likewise doing their best to leave me behind.

Once - maybe until the 80's - American political thought was on a more-or-less bell curve.

Image result for bell curve
LEFT                       RIGHT

Most people were “moderates.”  Even with a zero-sum issue (e.g., abortion), there was room to respect that thinking people could come up with a viewpoint not your own.  Discussion was possible.  Usually, you ended up not solving much, but at least there was a modicum of good will remaining.   Even when  the end collusion was simply “We’ve got a hell of a problem,” people agreed that the subject is a problem.

Now, we are headed toward an inverted bell curve.

LEFT                                 RIGHT

Respect has gone out of style.   Compromise is an evil, it’s making a deal with the Devil.  And so, when a party gets a 51% majority, the party thinks “Screw the other 45%. After all, they are wrong.  Screw ‘em. We don’t need them.  Our ideological purity will create a just society."

And then, the 49% look to attract another 2% to come over to the Dark Side.   And once enough come, suddenly the sun rises and the new-51% can return purity to America.

The physical world provides a simple example. Nothing is  the physical world is flawless.  Nothing - no product, no procedure, no design, no execution.  “Perfect Circle” brand piston rings are not perfect circles.  Maybe they are accurate to a tolerance of 0.01 mm, but they aren’t perfect.    One can try to make something “more perfect” by using either a positive or negative approach.  The positive is more incremental.  The negative is quicker.  But the catch: A system which uses negative feedback for control is liable to oscillate wildly.

Hmmm - This post does not have any pizzazz.  I’ve intentionally not gotten ‘round to citing examples that you can be appropriately shocked and dismayed. I suppose this is some sort of management theory, and it’s DULL.  

I do wish that reality were more fun.

Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin presents himself as a tough-guy. So do those who want him to succeed for their own reasons.   We like tough-guys.  Clint Eastwood.  Outlaw motorcycle clubs. Jack Reacher.  

Walker is well known for having stared down and broken some unions in Wisconsin.  He says he’s ready for the presidency.  I doubt whether Gov. Walker has ever really encountered mujahideen.   But he says he’s ready for ‘em.  After all, he has stared down a UNION.  (I do not know whether he is aware of the difference between Shia and Sunni, but I wouldn’t bet the house on it.)  He has said specifically that experience qualified him to battle ISIS: 

“If I can take on 100,000 protesters, I can do the same across the globe.”

I don’t even know how make a joke about this moronic bushwah.  I hope that he was drunk.

Oh, my, in my mind I can hear someone saying that there a really no differences between a union full of pissed off people and dangerous nutcases, and how dare he, yadda, yadda, yadda.

It is soooo easy to fine a Democratic equivalent.   The president doesn’t like guns.  (He makes an exception for the Secret Service - as long a they make curfew - and the Army.)  No doubt, he agrees with the position taken by Chicago in the Supreme Court case of McCormick v. Chicago:

"These concerns have particular force with respect to the Second Amendment. It is the only Bill of Rights provision that confers a substantive right to possess a specific, highly dangerous physical item— an item designed to kill or inflict serious injury on people. And there may well be a wider range of opinion on the basic issue whether and how to regulate firearms than on any other enumerated right. Some believe that, subject only to limited regulation, permitting easy and widespread gun ownership may reduce the overall level of gun violence; others believe that, under at least some conditions, stringent regulation of the possession of handguns (and other firearms) is necessary to reduce the level of gun violence, injury, and death. The genius of our federal system ordinarily leaves this type of social problem to be worked out by state and local governments, without a nationally imposed solution excluding one choice or the other."

They lost.

Look, Congress is going to do NOTHING.  That’s good, that’s bad, who cares, yadda, yadda, yadda. But the president is still really mad about “assault  rifles” especially.  

(An “assault rifle” primer: It is black, has lots of sharp angles, and just looks really nasty. But the same receiver – that’s the guts of the weapon – it is put in all sorts of non–assault configurations.   Apparently, it DOES make a difference whether it’s po-TAY-to or po-TAH-to.”)

What’s the administration to do because it loves America?  OK, “Screw ‘em.  We’ll ban the bullets."

(I got $10 that says some people in favor will nevertheless take a long position in bullets and make a minor killing.)

Now, it matters not a bit to me what you think of an “assault rifle.” If you have one, that’s nice, if you wouldn’t let them in your house, that’s just fine, or you can even join me in concluding that they are boring.   (I don’t own one. Boring.)

But the chutzpah of a bullet ban! Talk about telling five Justices of the Supreme Court to piss off!  Maybe this is an abuse of the Constitution.  Maybe it’s an executive exercising creative control.  Think Lincoln.  But there’s no doubt it’s a message to the other side, “Screw you.  I have the power.”  (Maybe the attorney general adds a “Nyah, nyah, nyah.”)  

There is NO WAY that anybody who actually matters supports LBJ’s favorite quote from the Book of Isaiah: “Come now, and let us reason together.”  Isaiah, 1:18.

When is when case is the last time you have known politicians to wonder aloud whether their opinions were right?   Speaker Boehner is now afraid of a coup - he’s not conservative enough.  This is pure science fiction.

West Virginia has almost passed a universal concealed weapon proposal.  We see next week.  Talk about a dumb idea.  Screw the Second Amendment. Students are prohibited from wearing something with an American flag on it for fear of offending non-Americans.  Screw the First Amendment. If a state prosecution does not succeed, bring federal charges. Screw the Fifth Amendment. (It’s done all the time – it’s legal.)  Permit criminals to escape on a “technicality” or on the other hand, come up with some bizarre exception to the warrant requirement.   Either way, screw the Fourth Amendment.

If only someone would think of how to house troops in a  citizen’s home during peacetime.  Then we’d be 5-0 for the first five amendments.

But still,  most adults who read stuff like the few examples cited totally miss the point.  After all, what we do is OK; What they do is evil.

And the result?  A country with multiple personality disorder.

Maybe it’s too late to “Come now, and let us reason together.“