Is too late for me to get my money back?

Number 2

Did I mention I receive regular emails from Dr. Robert Jeffress, pastor of the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas? Yes, I’m sure I did. Here’s another one. See above.

There is no way I can make too much of this. Read the message and realize this is aimed at adult humans inhabiting one of the most advanced and modern countries on this planet. Once you let that soak in, look at the message:

Six Practical Strategies to Defeat Satan’s Destructive Plan for Your Life!

You did not read that wrong. The supposedly adult audience is presumed to believe in the reality of a fictional character. To put it into perspective, let me restate the above with a minor word change:

Six Practical Strategies to Defeat The Joker’s Destructive Plan for Your Life!

Yes, the fictional character known as The Joker, Batman’s nemesis, has a destructive plan for your life. Of course we always knew that. When did The Joker ever have anything socially beneficial. The Joker always worked against society and toward his own self interests. Fortunately there has always been Batman to protect us.

There is somebody else working toward his own self interest.

The First Baptist Church of Dallas wants your money:

First Baptist Dallas is a Southern Baptist megachurch located in Dallas, Texas. It was established in 1868 and, as of 2016, has a congregation of about 12,000. The church, considered influential among evangelical Christians in the United States, also owns and operates a school, several radio stations, and Dallas Life, a mission for the homeless on the southern edge of Downtown Dallas. The current pastor is Robert Jeffress. Jeffress is currently leading the congregation in a $130 million campaign to re-create its downtown campus. The project is the largest in modern church history.

The church operates a mission for the homeless. That’s good. That’s socially responsible. The homeless are not the only beneficiaries of the church’s good will:

For the 2016 US Presidential election, Jeffress endorsed and appeared at rallies for the Republican candidate, Donald Trump, though he initially endorsed Dr. Ben Carson. Jeffress also declared that Christians who would not vote for or support Trump as the Republican nominee were “fools” and “motivated by pride rather than principle”, despite Trump’s lack of an evangelical or Christian background. Jeffress also stated that if a candidate ran on the principles found in the Sermon on the Mount, he “would run from that candidate as far as possible” and would still vote for Trump. On June 21, 2016, candidate Trump named Jeffress to participate in an advisory board of evangelical leaders.

This appears to be a mutual admiration society. Also a political collaboration:

On Thursday morning, as part of National Day of Prayer festivities at the White House, President Donald Trump signed an executive order he said delivered on a campaign promise to evangelical leaders. The order instructs the Internal Revenue Service not to enforce the Johnson Amendment, a 50-year-old law banning pastors from making endorsements from the pulpit.

The order essentially calls for the end of a law that’s never been enforced.

First Baptist Church Dallas Pastor Robert Jeffress, who pushed Trump throughout the campaign to repeal the Johnson Amendment to remove the threat that it could be used as a cudgel against pastors.

Jeffress is controversial, having repeatedly linked homosexuality to pedophilia and called Catholicism and “Babylonian mystery religion” inspired by Satan. Wednesday night, Trump invited Jeffress and some of his fellow pastors to the White House before signing the executive order. “Mr. President, we’re going to be your most loyal friends,” Jeffress said at the dinner. “We’re going to be your enthusiastic supporters. And we thank God every day that you’re the president of the United States.”

After the president issued the order Thursday morning, Jeffress praised it as a promise kept, despite the fact that the Johnson Amendment is still on the books.

First an explanation of the Johnson Amendment from Wikipedia:

The Johnson Amendment is a provision in the U.S. tax code, since 1954, that prohibits all 501(c)(3) non-profit organizations from endorsing or opposing political candidates. Section 501(c)(3) organizations are the most common type of nonprofit organization in the United States, ranging from charitable foundations to universities and churches. The amendment is named for then-Senator Lyndon B. Johnson of Texas, who introduced it in a preliminary draft of the law in July 1954.

Now, from Wikipedia, here is a description of a political action committee (PAC):

In the United States, a political action committee (PAC) is a type of organization that pools campaign contributions from members and donates those funds to campaign for or against candidates, ballot initiatives, or legislation. The legal term PAC has been created in pursuit of campaign finance reform in the United States. This term is quite specific to all activities of campaign finance in the United States. Democracies of other countries use different terms for the units of campaign spending or spending on political competition (see political finance). At the U.S. federal level, an organization becomes a PAC when it receives or spends more than $1,000 for the purpose of influencing a federal election, and registers with the Federal Election Commission, according to the Federal Election Campaign Act as amended by the Bipartisan Campaign Reform Act of 2002 (also known as the McCain-Feingold Act). At the state level, an organization becomes a PAC according to the state’s election laws.

Now that everybody understands the ground rules, here is how it works out:

You want to contribute to your favorite candidate running for office, say $1000. Perfectly legal. It’s going to be $1000 down a black hole, but it’s for a good cause. You earned the $1000 as salary and paid $250 in federal income tax on it. So that was $1000 you donated plus the $250. Sounds like a raw deal, yes?

But wait. Salvation is at hand. Jesus is your friend. You “join” a church with the name “Jesus wants Donald Trump for President.” You donate you $1000 to the JWDTFP Church, and you don’t pay taxes on  that income. That church meets in rented office space in a strip mall in on Legacy Drive in Plano, Texas. They hold services on Sunday, attended by the pastor, his wife, his accountant. They open the envelops and count the money.

They take the money to a professional adversing firm and pay that company to  create television ads promoting Donald Trump for President. Donald Trump’s re-election campaign is now underwritten by the American taxpayers. Breathtaking inanity!

Can’t happen, you say. The IRS will never accept the JWDTFP as a legitimate church. Think not? Suppose the IRS does push back. Imagine the backlash. The United States government is now in  the business of deciding what is a church and what is not a church. Didn’t we previously visit that problem in merry old England? It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and the government told citizens what was a church and what was not a church. Hence:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion…

Are we about to  rewind this issue? Has it come to  pass we now have the government we paid for?

There is going to be more of this. Keep reading. And may Jesus have mercy on our souls.

Upstairs Downstairs Inside Out

Revisiting a theme from a few years back

What is it about diplomats behaving badly? There was this business about an Indian diplomat abusing the employment of a member of her household staff in violation of American law and also contrary to the terms of the staffer’s work visa:

Anyhow, society in other places is much more stratified, and it’s expected there will be a privileged class and a servant class. That’s the way it was in this case.

Arrest, strip-search of Indian diplomat in New York triggers uproar

(CNN) — The prosecutor in the U.S. government’s case against an Indian diplomat charged in New York with visa fraud related to her treatment of her housekeeper expressed dismay Wednesday over the direction the case has taken.

So, that sort of thing is not going to happen again.  Except when it does:

(CNN) — A high-ranking Bangladeshi diplomat based in New York accused of forcing his servant to work for up to 18 hours a day without pay was charged Monday with labor trafficking and assault.

In a case described by the district attorney as “very disturbing,” Mohammed Shaheldul Islam, 45, a deputy consul general of Bangladesh, is alleged to have used a combination of physical violence and “vile” threats to control the victim, Mohammed Amin, for a period of several years.

Americans need to get used to the fact that in other cultures human exploitation is normal and a way of life, particularly for those privileged to be the exploiter rather than the exploitee. Accounts of what transpired in the Devyani Khobragade case would indicate the caste system remains intact, and the Indian government comes down on the side of the exploiter:

On January 10 the Indian government ordered the expulsion of US diplomat Wayne May because he had assisted Richard’s family in securing T-visas and traveling to the United States. Media sources stated that May had taken “unilateral actions” in expediting the travel of Richard’s family from India and violated various procedures with respect to actions taken related to the case. Media sources also quoted disparaging remarks about India and Indian culture made by May and his wife on their personal social media accounts since their posting to New Delhi. At the time of his expulsion, May was the head of the embassy’s diplomatic security contingent managing a staff of 424 security officers including 10 Marine Security Guards, and had been in India since 2010. The expulsion of a US diplomat by India is viewed as unprecedented. In the history of the US-India relationships, a similar event has happened only once when India blocked appointment of George G B Griffin, a Reagan appointee to the post of US political counselor, the third-ranking post in the United States Embassy.

The best we can hope is the United States continues to place its regard for human rights above any need to curry favor with a foreign  power. More may develop. Keep reading.

Merry Christmas From The ADF

These people are still around.

religion-adfsnowflakes

The Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF) is curiously named. Here are some details:

Alliance Defending Freedom (ADF, formerly Alliance Defense Fund) is a 501(c)(3) American conservative Christian nonprofit organization with the stated goal of “defending the right to hear and speak the Truth through strategy, training, funding, and litigation.” The Southern Poverty Law Center has described the organization as “virulently anti-gay”.

ADF supports the inclusion of invocations at public meetings and the use of religious displays (such as crosses and other religious monuments) on public lands and in public buildings. The ADF opposes abortion, and believes that healthcare workers have a right to decline participation in the performance of abortions and other practices an individual health worker finds morally objectionable. ADF opposes same-sex marriage and civil unions, as well as adoption by same-sex couples based on their belief that children are best raised by a married mother and father. ADF believes parents should be able to opt their children out of sex education in schools that run counter to a family’s religious beliefs.

That’s from Wikipedia, and if I interpret it correctly—and I do interpret it correctly—what it says is this: The ADF supports the use of funds (taxes) collected by government officials using the power of United States law to proselytize for the Christian religion.

Full disclosure: I readily admit a lack of favor for the Christian religion. As a consequence I object to having money, collected from me under the force law, being used to promote this foolishness. Being as forthright as I am required to  be, I also object to my tax money being used to support all kinds of foolishness. Details on request. However, in the case of using tax money to proselytize for Christianity, there is specific United States law that backing me up:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof…

It is particularly the establishment clause at work here. What we see is a public school teacher, using his paid time, paid through public funds, erecting promotional posters and such on property, paid through public funds and established by public law. This is especially egregious when the purpose is to sway young children toward a specific religion.

Here is the crucial section of the Facebook posting by the Alliance Defending Freedom:

This wasn’t the first time that the Christmas classic found itself on the chopping block, and unfortunately, it wasn’t the last.

Recently, an employee at a public school in Texas was told by the principal to remove a poster on her door featuring the infamous Peanuts Christmas tree, Linus, and these words:

For unto you is born this day in the city of David a savior which is Christ the Lord. That’s what Christmas is all about, Charlie Brown.”

As the Daily Caller reports, the employee was told to remove the poster “because non-Christian students might be offended.”

Where to begin?

First of all, I don’t see anyone tearing down posters of Santa Claus or Frosty or Rudolph for fear it might offend those who believe that Jesus is the reason for the season.

This tells me that either (a) people who aren’t self-described Christians are more easily offended than those who are; or (b) these school administrators simply care more about being “politically correct” than they care about the Constitution.

After all, free speech and free expression are protected by the First Amendment. And as Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton told the school, “The U.S. Supreme Court has held repeatedly that neither students nor teachers shed their constitutional rights to freedom of speech or expression at the schoolhouse gate.”

I have highlighted the significant text. Let’s look at it:

  • Foremost, it is false. Jesus was most surely not born on 25 December, and not in Bethlehem. Actually, I think the “City of David” is Jerusalem.  I’ve been wrong before.
  • Second, the proclamation that “Jesus is Lord” is religious propaganda—proselytizing quite pure.

The meat, and the title then of the ADF posting, is this paragraph:

It’s time to stop treating the next generation like precious snowflakes who will melt at the tiniest disturbance in their atmosphere. I know it’s hard considering what’s been happening on college and university campuses across the country—but these students didn’t become this way on their own.

Yes, ADF writer, Marissa Mayer, is casting this as an instance of PC police protecting fragile little souls from offenses to their delicate feelings. Really? How about this? How about casting this as an instance of showing respect for the American legal framework that protects citizens in a minority position from ultimate government power?

Mayer talks about “snowflakes.” Let’s talk about snowflakes. Let’s talk about a teacher in a public school putting up a poster saying something like, “There is only one God (Allah) and Muhammad is God’s messenger.” I suspect (I have been wrong before) that should such a thing happen we would see snowflakes melting like… Well like the proverbial snowball in Hell.

Your Friend The Handgun

Nothing new here, folks.

CasingsInTheStreet

These days it’s up to private citizens to keep themselves and their families safe from terrorists and an ever-present criminal element. People increasingly rely on the 2nd Amendment for the right to arm themselves. It is impressive how well this is working out:

CLARKSVILLE, TN (WSMV) – Clarksville police said a 3-year-old boy has died after being shot in the face.

Police said the shooting happened Friday evening in the 500 block of Samantha Lane.

The child had been shot in the face with a handgun. The 911 call said the boy had found the gun and shot himself in the mouth.

The victim was transported by ambulance to the hospital, where he later died.

The .40 caliber handgun was owned by a resident of the home.

Remember, the handgun is your friend. Keep it handy.

Getting Real

Continuing from a previous post

I previously posted on reasonable legal measures to counter this country’s massive problem with gun violence. Quoting myself:

In the wake of the mass shooting and murder at the Pulse night club in Orlando, there has been a renewed call for restrictive gun legislation. And some response. Vis, a recent Facebook posting:

Nobody added comments to my post, but a link I posted to Facebook received some response. A screen shot captures a summary, omitting 22 additional comments.

Gun-FacebookPage-01

Here is a transcription from the above image:

Steven Breed So back to the first bullet point then: How does it reduce gun deaths?

John Blanton It does not.

Steven Breed Now I’m confused. Does it work in conjunction with the other bullets to reduce them? What is it supposed to do?

John Blanton Steve, because you have shown so much interest in this topic, I am now encouraged to give it the full attention it deserves. Stand by for another Skeptical Analysis post.

Hence this post. To recap, following is my current (revised since the original post) bullet list:

  • Firearms must be registered. Yeah, yeah, this is a preamble for taking away your guns. Get over it.
  • Severe restrictions on the carrying of guns. If you want to handle your weapon anywhere outside your home, anywhere besides a shooting range or a hunting location, you’re going to need a permit, and to obtain that permit you’re going to need to demonstrate you have a good business reason for carrying a gun on the street.
  • Severe penalties for violations. You don’t register your gun, the government can seize it, you won’t get it back, ever. Carry your weapon on the street without the proper permit, and you lose it. Besides, you are going to jail. And you will receive no compensation from the government.
  • Sever penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime. These laws exist and are enforceable. Penalties can be increased.
  • The need for an automatic weapon must be demonstrated before such a weapon can be used outside the home. Gun people like to pick words over what is an automatic weapon, but as an engineer, any machine that operates itself is by definition automatic. Any weapon that reloads itself is automatic.
  • Automatic weapons will not be authorized for hunting.
  • Guns being transported must be locked up. We had these laws in Texas for years. You’re going hunting? You need to keep your weapons in the trunk of the car until you get where you’re going.
  • It will be illegal to transfer a gun from one person’s ownership to another’s without a proper background check.
  • It will be illegal to lend a gun to somebody who does not have the right to possess a gun.
  • Violation of gun laws will result in the forfeiture of the right of ownership for life.
  • Pistols will be regarded as exceptional weapons, requiring additional restrictions for ownership.

Steve’s question is “Does it work in conjunction with the other bullets to reduce them? What is it supposed to do?” I was hoping Steve would have figured that one out, but I am prepared to do the legwork and outline how registration of firearms will lend itself to reducing gun fatalities. Not being a lawyer or legal scholar by any measure, I am sure to get various points wrong. Challenges and corrections are solicited.

  1. When a gun is registered it becomes associated with an individual.
  2. If an individual registered as a gun owner is convicted of a felony, especially a felony involving violence, all guns registered to that individual become subject to confiscation without reimbursement. These guns become the property of some government agency.
  3. If a registered gun from 2 above cannot be located, then the gun will be placed on a watch list.
  4. Any attempt to transfer possession (ownership) of the illegal weapon will incur criminal charges.
  5. The person found in possession of the illegal weapon will be prosecuted.
  6. If a registered weapon is stolen it will be recorded as an illegal weapon, with criminal penalties attached to its subsequent possession.
  7. The above procedures will reduce the free circulation of weapons and will also provide government authorities the ability to remove illegal weapons from circulation.
  8. An obvious result of the above is that a gun removed from circulation will not shortly become involved in death or injury to somebody. People legally possessing a gun will be dissuaded from illegally selling, lending, or giving the gun to somebody who should not have it.

All this may seem minor, and somebody is going to argue that it places undue burden on legitimate gun owners at very little accomplished toward reducing gun violence. The point is conceded, except for the “undue” part. The burden is due and will become part of the cost of gun ownership.

A full transcript of the Facebook exchange is available on request. Again, comments and suggestions are solicited. If you are reading this from a Facebook link, comment in the section below rather than on Facebook. This saves me the trouble of transferring Facebook comments to this posting.

Getting Real

It has come to my attention that my bullet list was incomplete in its original form. This post has been revised to correct that.

It’s getting about time for a reality check. See the photo below.

GunDebate-MariahDavis

That’s five-year-old Mariah Davis. Only now she’s dead. She was not the victim of international terrorists. She was not the victim of a crazed shooter. She was not the victim of a scumbag criminal. She was killed, either by herself or by another child in her own home. Laws banning assault rifles would not have prevented this tragedy. She was killed by a handgun owned by her grandmother, supposedly a responsible gun owner.

In the wake of the mass shooting and murder at the Pulse night club in Orlando, there has been a renewed call for restrictive gun legislation. And some response. Vis, a recent Facebook posting:

Guns-HarlowKeithOrlandoShooting

Silly remarks are laid upon both sides of this debate. Those notwithstanding, some things are real.

The embarrassing rate of gun-related deaths in the United States cannot be attributed to mental illness. Mariah’s grandmother was not mentally ill. Also, she did not do the shooting. Let’s get real. Let’s toss out all the mentally ill and all the drug gangs and the terrorists attacks. How many countries can even approach the United States when it comes to killings by children under the age of 10?

It is not solely a matter of criminals and deranged individuals with guns. Strike those, and the United States is still number one among advanced countries. The truth is that the more guns there are around the more people will be killed by guns.

Underlying that problem is the Second Amendment to the Constitution. This amendment protects the right of citizens to keep and bear arms. Contrary to the thinking of the National Rifle Association and legions of gun rights advocates, the Amendment nowhere mentions guns. Apparently the Second Amendment was intended to be interpreted. Interpretations have been many. For example:

Its foggy wording and odd locution stand out in the Constitution. Lawyers and scholars debate its commas and clauses. For 218 years, judges overwhelmingly concluded that the amendment authorized states to form militias, what we now call the National Guard. Then, in 2008, the U.S. Supreme Court upended two centuries of precedent. In the case of District of Columbia v. Heller, an opinion written by Justice Antonin Scalia declared that the Constitution confers a right to own a gun for self-defense in the home. That’s right: the Supreme Court found there to be an individual right to gun ownership just a few years ago. Now, when we debate gun control we do so in the context of a Supreme Court ruling that limits what we can do (though we don’t yet know how much).

Waldman, Michael. The Second Amendment: A Biography (Kindle Locations 39-44). Simon & Schuster. Kindle Edition.

This has been a critical decision by the Court. Not being a legal scholar, I take this to mean that if you want to own a gun the government is going to need a good reason to deny you the opportunity. Even the NRA concedes convicted criminals can be denied the right to have a gun.

My opinion: this has escalated beyond all sensibility. States have enacted open carry laws, allowing people with permits to carry weapons concealed or in plain sight just about anywhere they want to go. And this has resulted in greater safety for all of us.

No, it has not.

What is reasonable? Is it too early to start getting reasonable? Maybe the time has come.

Some plans are top of the head foolish. Take away peoples guns. Never going to happen. People purchased guns at a time when the law allowed them to do so. Seizing their property now would, at the least, be in violation of due process, part of the Bill of Rights.

Gun buy-back programs are also foolish and on the face unworkable. People will game the system, even purchasing cheap, often unworkable, weapons and working the program for a profit.

Prohibiting the sale of certain weapon designs. That has gone nowhere in the past, as minor changes in design can defeat the definition of what is prohibited. Exception: machine guns, what gun buffs call automatic weapons, can be outlawed.

Prohibiting the manufacture of certain weapons. Nah.

Holding manufacturers and marketers responsible. No, again.

Enough of that. What can be done? What can be done that has the slightest chance of passing muster with the courts. My suggestions:

  • Firearms must be registered. Yeah, yeah, this is a preamble for taking away your guns. Get over it.
  • Severe restrictions on the carrying of guns. If you want to handle your weapon anywhere outside your home, anywhere besides a shooting range or a hunting location, you’re going to need a permit, and to obtain that permit you’re going to need to demonstrate you have a good business reason for carrying a gun on the street.
  • Severe penalties for violations. You don’t register your gun, the government can seize it, you won’t get it back, ever. Carry your weapon on the street without the proper permit, and you lose it. Besides, you are going to jail. And you will receive no compensation from the government.
  • Sever penalties for using a gun in the commission of a crime. These laws exist and are enforceable. Penalties can be increased.
  • The need for an automatic weapon must be demonstrated before such a weapon can be used outside the home. Gun people like to pick words over what is an automatic weapon, but as an engineer, any machine that operates itself is by definition automatic. Any weapon that reloads itself is automatic.
  • Automatic weapons will not be authorized for hunting.
  • Guns being transported must be locked up. We had these laws in Texas for years. You’re going hunting? You need to keep your weapons in the trunk of the car until you get where you’re going.
  • It will be illegal to transfer a gun from one person’s ownership to another’s without a proper background check.
  • It will be illegal to lend a gun to somebody who does not have the right to possess a gun.
  • Violation of gun laws will result in the forfeiture of the right of ownership for life.
  • Pistols will be regarded as exceptional weapons, requiring additional restrictions for ownership.

Good, sensible gun advocates like to remind me that no gun law will prevent gun violence. Of course. No piece of paper will keep a bad guy from having a gun. Of course. What the piece of paper does accomplish is to give police the authorization to seize a weapon and even arrest a person. Without the “piece of paper” the police have to stand by until a crime has been committed or is about to happen. There is a case in point.

This is from news reports. People reported a man on the street carrying a gun. Police did not respond. Without probable cause the police could not stop the man and interfere with his going about his business. After the man killed two people the police were able to respond. Here is a case:

Case study: the Neenah stop. Recently in Neenah, WI, a woman called the police to report a man with a gun strapped to his back walking down the street. The call was placed to the non-emergency police number and the caller didn’t report that the man was doing anything threatening, but she did suggest that the police check on the situation. As a result, an officer stopped the man and his companion. The officer engaged in a protracted dialogue with the man, at one point telling the man that he would be shot in the head if he made any furtive movements. Other officers also responded, and at least one drew her weapon. The man who was stopped remained calm throughout the interaction and was eventually permitted to depart. The full 18-minute video of the stop is here. A local news article about the stop is here. It has generated quite a bit of controversy. Were the officer’s actions lawful and justified by public safety concerns? Or was it an unjustified response to lawful open carry? This post breaks down the legal issues.

Here is another:

As I first reported late Monday, questions are hanging over how the Colorado Springs Police Department handled a 911 call on Saturday morning, when a resident saw a man carrying a rifle on her residential block prior to a deadly gun rampage. The caller, Naomi Bettis, was alarmed about 33-year-old Noah Harpham—who soon went on to shoot three people to death in the area before being killed by police. But when Bettis made the 911 call, her first of two, the police dispatcher apparently reacted without urgency, telling Bettis about Colorado’s law allowing firearms to be carried openly in public. Bettis hung up, and when she called back it was because the killing was underway.

Yes, I’m thinking we’ve had about enough of this business. It’s time to get real.

Friday Funny

One of a series

So, why am I showing this image of a brown (?) Probe? Maybe it has to do with today’s funny headline:

Kenyan Judge Says Anal Probes Are a Legal Way to Determine if Someone is Gay

In Kenya, a nation where sodomy is a criminal offense, a judge just ruled that anal probes are a legal way to determine someone’s sexual orientation.

And that’s funny.

Dying to Believe

Some more of the same

Religion-FaithHealing-01

Unfortunate as it is, I can probably do one of these every Tuesday. This is recent:

Two Mormon parents who own a nutritional supplement company are accused of letting their toddler son die from meningitis because they tried to treat him with home remedies instead of medicine.

David and Collet Stephan have pleaded not guilty to charges that they failed to provide the necessities of life to their 19-month-old son Ezekiel, reported CBC News.

Although Ezekiel’s parents did not substitute prayer for medical treatment, their faith in home remedies proved just as fatal as if they had prayed to Jesus. When faith wins out over pragmatism, somebody needs to come around to collect the bodies.

Expectations of Privacy

This is a continuation of a previous discussion.

Better_Sample_PDF417

In a previous post I discussed what it was like growing up in a small town, the gist being in a small town your expectation of privacy is a fantasy. What got me thinking of this was the civil suit that may have earned professional wrestler Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) $115 million. That’s what a jury awarded Mr. Bollea from defendant Gawker Media. Following that, on Monday of this week the jury came back and awarded Bollea an additional $25.1 million dollars from defendants Gawker Media, Gawker founder Nick Denton , and Gawker editor A.J. Daulerio. Here is how it all came about.

From testimony at the trial, Bollea was at the home of his friend, Tampa-area radio shock jock Bubba the Love Sponge, whose real name is Todd Alan Clem. Present also was Clem’s bride, Heather Cole, from all appearances a major babe. A suggestion was made, and the very enticing Ms. Cole took Bollea by the hand and led him to an upstairs bedroom where the two engaged in the most intimate of human relations.

The problem is, Mr. Clem arranged to video tape the encounter, although accounts differ as to whether Bollea agreed to this or even knew of it. That was in 2007. Nine seconds of the video wound up being posted on the Gawker site in 2012, without Mr. Bollea’s permission. This according to the jury’s finding.

So here’s the rub. Hulk Hogan (Terry Bollea) has for some time earned his daily bread as an exhibitionist, engaging in staged wrestling exhibitions (nobody seriously calls them matches) and other, less respectable, exhibitions. He has previously discussed his private sex life in public interviews.

Anyhow, that pretty much settles that. Freedom of speech notwithstanding, you cannot take something that was rightfully expected to be private and make it public. That is, you can’t do it unless you welcome legal and monetary repercussions.

My previous post (see the link above) delved into the matter of the NSA and other government agencies monitoring network traffic and even phone traffic. I’m going to expand on that. What about other forms of monitoring? Where does the expectation of privacy end? Recall (link above) my tale of growing up in a small town, and everybody told my mother when they noticed I was getting out of line. Bicycling around the streets in a small Texas town did not involve any expectation of privacy.

There is more I did not tell. As kids, I had a brother and some cousins, we decided we wanted to be detectives. What do detectives do? They keep an eye out and see what’s going on. We took it upon ourselves to stand by the street and record the license plate numbers of the cars going by. Yes, that was funny.

Did we have a right to do that? Anyone would argue this was a foolish exercise, but few would deny us the right to do so. But look where this is leading.

Pasted inside the windshield of my car is a toll tag. When I drive through a toll gate on any number of Texas tollways, a scanner reads the information embedded in the tag and records it. They’re going to send me a bill.

But wait. They record more. They record where the car was, at which toll gate, and in which lane. Also the date and time of day—to the minute. I tried an experiment. I logged onto my toll tag account and verified for myself. Yes, I could track the progress of my car throughout my travels along the toll road. And so could anybody else who had access to my account. Not just the NSA, but the local police. If later at a criminal trial I contended I did not murder the famous banker Robert McCool, the police could come back and ask, then why did my car exit the toll road near Mr. McCool’s house just minutes before the crime was committed?

Obviously my privacy went out the window when I decided to paste a toll tag on my windshield. The solution would logically be to not use a toll tag. Just pay cash.

Wrong-o! Nobody takes cash anymore. Don’t have a toll tag? The toll gate just reads your license plate. They look your car up in public records and mail you a bill. And charge you extra for the extra trouble.

Nonetheless, having a toll tag pasted on your windshield opens your privacy to anybody who can scan it, and not just the tollway authority. Anybody with the technology. Of course, reading your toll tag ID does not disclose additional information to somebody who does not have access to the toll authority’s database. They can’t even get your license plate information from the toll tag ID. But they don’t need to.

People don’t need to read your toll tag to get your license plate number. All they need to do is to look at your license plate. And they don’t need eyeballs to do that. Recall the kids in the small Texas town writing down license plate numbers? That was so 1950. Technology exists and is for sale to scan and read license plates. Anybody, anywhere, anytime can set up a scanner alongside a public road and collect license plate numbers from all passing cars. And they can record the date, time, and location. And it’s all perfectly legal. So far. Back to that later.

Besides the toll tag, I have pasted on my windshield another item. It’s the DMV registration tag. The police do not need to read my license plate to identify my car. The windshield sticker has a 2-D bar code that gives the police all the information they need. A cop stops you for speeding (or driving while black) and walks up to your windshield. He scans the bar code. He doesn’t have to write down your license plate number. He may check to see that the plate number corresponds (it had better) with the scanned information, but he has all he needs for his records.

So much for privacy? No way. This is routine, and a policeman stopping your vehicle for any reason can legally collect this information. And it can be use in later legal action.

I’m about to carry this the ultimate step forward. What if it were not necessary to step up to my car to read the sticker? What if, as with the toll tag, the registration stickers could be read from afar, for example from a scanner stationed beside the roadway. Then all the police (read, the NSA) need to do is to set up a network of monitoring stations and track every vehicle traveling on public roads. That is a massive amount of data, but who doubts the ability of the NSA to handle it?

A massive invasion of privacy, you will exclaim. Could be. This will not catch the crooks, you exclaim. The crooks will make up phony stickers. They could, in principle, but remember, the police (NSA) can also read the license plate, and if the license plate and the sticker don’t agree, then there’s trouble. Additionally, if a sticker is just duplicated, then the computing power of the NSA would take note that your car was in two cities at the same time. Flashing lights would appear in the rear view mirrors of two cars simultaneously.

This bit of government intrusion has been very interesting, but I’m getting to something more. Civil rights attorneys can make a big issue of any such government action, but do not believe that eliminates the problem. Though I am no legal scholar, I am going to venture that what the government is restricted from doing a private citizen may not be.

What law currently on the books, what pertinent case law, prevents a private citizen from stationing himself alongside a public road and recording the license plates of all traffic, all day, every day? And storing this information? Let’s give this private citizen a name. Let’s call this private citizen Sundar Pichai, CEO of Google. Google already has photos of your house. Some taken from the street and some taken from above. They possibly have a photo of your car driving on a public road. They have mine. I found it along I-35 in Texas.

Drilling deeper, if Google, or some other entity, were to collect and make public the time and location of every automobile on public roads, there is the possibility of a lawsuit akin to the famous one involving wrestler Hulk Hogan. But it’s not necessary to make the information public. All they have to do is to retain it, for all eternity. At that point all that the NSA, or any prosecuting attorney, would need would be a court order requesting the itinerary of the $75,000 BMW of notorious pimp Larry McCool, accused of murdering the unfortunate Miss Lala McShirley, late of 22nd and Fifth Avenue. Additionally, the NSA could obtain tracking information for all vehicles leaving the scene of a bombing at the Supreme Court building in Washington, DC.

What prevents Google from collecting this information is lack of financial incentive. It’s a for profit company. That does not apply to the NSA. They have not shown a profit in over 50 years. Could the authorities incorporate such a system of surveillance, disregarding whether the courts would allow it? The technology is getting cheaper. And it’s already in use, except for the part of reading license plates. Red light cameras exist through many major cities. There’s a violation, they have the photos. All that would be necessary would be to apply plate-reading technology, and you’re busted. Hey, look what I found:

I-10FreewayTrafficCamera

 

Yes, that’s you traveling on I-10 while I’m writing this at 1039 on 24 March. Does your wife know you’re not at work right now? Hopefully she doesn’t have a computer with a Web browser,  because that’s all it takes to vaporize your expectation of privacy.

In closing, we owe much thanks to citizen Hulk Hogan for defending everybody’s right to privacy. Yes, Hulk. Thanks. A lot.

Bat Shit Crazy

Second of a series (unfortunately)

Todd Akin

Todd Akin

 

What is this thing called love
This funny thing called love
Just who can solve its mystery?
Why should it make a fool of me?
Lyrics by Cole Porter

Of course, it’s not always thus. There are times when love is not involved. But some politicians hold out hope. Sort of. Idaho State Representative Pete Nielsen of Mountain Home was speaking in support of a proposed bill. It would “require women seeking abortions to be given a list of providers of free ultrasounds, and to be told they have a right to such a procedure and to hear a fetal heart monitor.” My guess is that Representative Nielsen is among those who believe abortion should be avoided in all cases. Lacking the legal means to block abortions, bills of this kind are designed to dissuade women who have decided to abort a pregnancy from going through with the procedure.

But “in all cases” includes rape and incest, two instances in which women are very likely to need an abortion. Fortunately for these women, Representative Nielsen has some good news:

During the hearing Rep. Pete Nielsen, R-Mountain Home, said, “Now, I’m of the understanding that in many cases of rape it does not involve any pregnancy because of the trauma of the incident. That may be true with incest a little bit.”

Except for the “little bit” part, this means victims of these crimes may not have to worry about becoming pregnant, meaning the proposed legislation would not apply to them. Representative Nielsen knows of what he speaks, due to his extensive background in gynecology and human reproduction.

Actually, that last part is not quite true. Other than attending Brigham Young University and Utah State University, Representative Nielsen seems to have no medical background at all:

This leaves us wondering at the source of Representative Nielsen’s deep knowledge. Apparently some questions are never meant to be answered.

This is not the first time a feckless politician has offered up sage advice on the mysterious workings of human reproduction. During the election cycle four years ago the world swooned at candidate Todd Akin’s amazing grasp of detail:

KANSAS CITY, Missouri (Reuters) – Todd Akin, the Republican candidate in the closely watched U.S. Senate race in Missouri, released a new advertisement on Thursday featuring a woman who says she was raped and had an abortion but supports Akin’s anti-abortion stand.

The TV commercial comes in the closing days of a campaign that has drawn national attention because of Akin’s remark in August that women’s bodies could ward off pregnancy in cases of “legitimate rape.”

As it turned out, voters did not appreciate candidate Akin’s insight. Some, I am sure, thought he was bat shit crazy. He lost the election to Senator Claire McCaskill.

The election years is just rolling into gear. There will be, I am sure, much more to come. Keep reading.