Thursday, June 21, 2007

No more Constitution-free zone?

Via the A.P. comes this bit of good news:

The Bush administration is nearing a decision to close the Guantanamo Bay detention facility and move the terror suspects there to military prisons elsewhere, The Associated Press has learned.

President Bush's national security and legal advisers are expected to discuss the move at the White House on Friday and, for the first time, it appears a consensus is developing, senior administration officials said Thursday.

The advisers will consider a new proposal to shut the center and transfer detainees to one or more Defense Department facilities, including the maximum security military prison at Fort Leavenworth in Kansas, where they could face trial, said the officials. They spoke on condition of anonymity because they were discussing internal deliberations.

This isn't a total repudiation of the Bush administration's Soviet gulag-style of dealing with accused terrorists, but it is a significant step in the right direction. The suspects may get actual trials? Now anything is possible.


Running the airport gauntlet

I'm about to pack up my wife and son and head to the airport for a long-awaited vacation with my extended family, so posting will be sparse, at best, for the next week.

As always happens whenever I travel by air, my anxiety level is creeping up. It's not just the prospect of slogging through an airport with a toddler in tow, then keeping him occupied for five-plus hours in the air. Yes, that's daunting, but wasn't Benadryl invented to allow us to sedate our offspring into some semblance of compliance?

What really gets me is the what's-legal-now game that comes into play as I sort toiletries, medicines and widgets into separate piles for checked luggage and carry-on. Leatherman tool, pocket knife and straight razor (yes, I shave with a straight razor)? Those are all verboten on aircraft, so they go in the suitcase. Reading material? Well, Chuck Palahniuk's Survivor might not be considered airport-friendly, what with its front-cover illustration of a plunging jetliner, so, just to be on the safe side, that goes in the suitcase too. I'll carry the new Dean Koontz novel instead. Medications and my dear wife's cosmetics ... What's the rule again? Liquids can't be in containers larger than three ounces, but semi-solid stuff like lipstick is OK? Is that right? Is my wife's selection of face goop liquid or solid or some previously unknown intermediate category?

And--crap--we're out of see-through freezer bags for storing the three-ounce liquid containers for convenient groping by TSA drones anyway.

Speaking of groping ... A few months after 9/11, my wife and I passed through an airport on the way to some destination that escapes me now and that I would probably have preferred skipping anyway. At the gate, the security guards pulled a pretty teenage girl aside for some obviously excessive extra attention. My wife and I hung back from the boarding line to keep an eye on the guards and the girl they were fondling. We weren't subtle either. The guards let the girl board after a few minutes of attention and a couple of glances in our direction.

I haven't seen anything so egregious since then, but the intrusive and pointless security procedures always grate on my nerves. My wife knows when to take a tight grip on my arm to forestall an eruption when we're being herded like cattle through the metal detectors. I've mellowed over the years, however, and there's little chance of me staging a pointless confrontation with some TSA goon unless I suddenly develop a hankering for a body-cavity search.

It could be worse, I keep telling myself. Security at Phoenix's Sky Harbor is relatively polite. Still intrusive and ridiculous, but polite. That's a far cry from the third-world pawing I've encountered at Newark, or at the D.C.-area airports.

Of course, I'm flying into the D.C. area tomorrow.

Maybe I'll save some of my son's Benadryl for me. I'll wash it down with a little bourbon.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Watching the watchmen

Radley Balko has an excellent piece on why citizens should be encouraged--not punished--when they film and tape police officers on the job.



A man is assaulted with a taser by a police officer--for riding a bicycle.


Be careful of what you wish for

Plenty of folks publicly profess their desire for an alternative to the two major political parties. "Anybody would be better than the clowns we have to choose from," they say.

Well, we're creeping ever closer to putting that sentiment to the acid test.

New York City Mayor Michael Bloomberg's denial of any intention to run for president reads more like a carefully worded non-denial.

"My intention is to be mayor for the next 925 days and probably about 10 hours," he told reporters who assembled to flirt with the not-quite candidate. He announced his "intention," however long it may last, even as he resigned from the Republican Party and positioned himself for a self-funded independent campaign. He wants to remain mayor even while his political machine publishes a slick non-candidate Web site touting his supposed accomplishments.

Oh, Michael, you tease.

Bloomberg really would put vague preferences for a third choice to the test. As mayor of New York City, he's been a thorough-going control-freak who makes even his predecessor, Rudy Giuliani, look almost laissez-faire by comparison. Bloomberg has gone after cigarette smokers, students with cell phones and cooks who prepare their menus with trans-fat. He's declared war on street vendors and picked fights with gun stores located well beyond his jurisdiction. There is seemingly no area of human life that Mayor Bloomberg doesn't want to regulate or outlaw.

Imagining a President Bloomberg with the power of the federal government at his disposal is truly disturbing. Just how long would it take for him to begin dispatching the ATF, DEA, FBI, IRS on missions to enforce his personal crusades? Not long, I suspect.

Republicans and Democrats generally offer us pick-your-poison choices in the voting booth, but Michael Bloomberg is living proof that our choices could be worse.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Search and seizure victory

Good news on the Fourth Amendment front:

The Supreme Court on Monday extended to automobile passengers the same right that drivers have: the right to challenge the validity of a decision by the police to stop the car.

The unanimous ruling was based on the justices’ “intuitive conclusion,” in the words of the opinion’s author, Justice David H. Souter, that passengers in a car stopped by the police do not feel free to get out and walk away.

Unanimous, even. Who would've guessed?


Bon mots in my in-box

We all have them. They're the friends who insist on forwarding along emails that appeal to some peculiar prejudice of theirs, firm in the (mistaken) belief that we share their strange notions. Op-eds, lengthy bad jokes, commencement addresses--all are fodder for the friends who foul our in-boxes with the regularity of spammers promising to increase the size of our packages for a low, low price.

Most recently for me, it was a particularly insipid Paul Krugman column. That's saying something, because Krugman has spent many years inspiring speculation as to who he's screwing to keep his gig at the New York Times. To call a Krugman column "insipid" is to repeat one's self.

But this one was especially bad. It was the piece in which he claimed that Americans are no longer tall relative to Europeans, and that this necessarily is an indictment of U.S. diet, culture and child-rearing habits despite our greater wealth. The column made no allowances for genetic or environmental factors that might explain why the population of one country might top-out in height while the population of another gains in physical stature.

But that's beside the matter for Krugman and for my friends who forwarded his scribblings. There was a point to be made, damn it, and pointing to changes in relative heights must have seemed like a particularly clever way to make that point when Krugman first tried out his idea on admiring dinner guests.

The point, of course, is that America is bad, bad, bad. We eat McDonald's and we work hard, so we don't love our kids enough, dontcha know. And Europe is good, good, good. They have high taxes and socialized healthcare, so you know they really love their kids and deserve to be tall.

Honestly, to judge by the emails that get forwarded to me by the usual suspects, that's about as sophisticated as the reasoning seems to get. In fact, the friend who forwarded the Krugman column to me is a particular admirer of tax-funded healthcare, especially if it allows him to use his disposable income on European vacations rather than prescriptions and insurance premiums. He wants his visits to his naturopathic physician to be publicly funded, and he wants it now. And he can't wait to retire to a civilized place like Provence where the people are so much more sophisticated than beastly Americans.

The thing is, I like European food and the slower Mediterranean pace of life. I think that putting more emphasis on family and leisure relative to work is a great idea.

But Americans are undeniably wealthier than Europeans. And I guess it's possible that Europeans love their kids more--but that's probably because European kids are such a rare commodity. To be honest, Europe sometimes seems like it's on its way to becoming an under-funded museum-exhibit version of itself, where a dwindling staff stages strikes and demands welfare benefits for the amusement of American and Asian tourists. In fact, to judge by the new conservative lock on France's presidency and parliament, at least some Europeans are having a few doubts themselves about the supposed benefits of their over-weening governments and intrusive bureaucrats.

President Sarkozy's reform plans might throw a bit of a kink into my friend's scheme to retire to Provence. And I'm not convinced that even the French want to pay for his naturopathic physician.

Not to worry. I'm sure that the flow of wit and wisdom into my email in-box will continue unabated.

Friday, June 15, 2007

But it's all in a good cause

What do you do if you're a cop with a demanding arrest quota to meet and a burning desire to rid the roads of those elusive intoxicated drivers? Well, you could just randomly bust drivers who tick you off, claim that they're drunk even if they ace field sobriety tests, and shuffle them off to jail.

And you could do that in dozens of cases.

Daniel Brock won high praise for jailing impaired motorists. Mothers Against Drunk Driving honored him. So did his bosses.

But one of Hillsborough County's most aggressive DUI deputies may have wrongly sent dozens of people to jail, the Sheriff's Office acknowledged Thursday.

The agency fired Brock on May 24.

In one year, Brock arrested 58 people whose blood-alcohol content was below 0.08, the level at which state law presumes a driver is impaired, an internal affairs audit showed. ...

In 43 of those 58 cases, motorists demonstrated no visible impairment behind the wheel, according to an internal affairs report made public Thursday. In 41 arrests, Brock also failed to make a case with urine samples, the report states.

Brock apparently became a joke around the Hillsborough State Attorney's Office because of the shoddiness of his arrests and his late and incomplete arrest reports. But, somehow, this guy still stayed in uniform through years of abusing his power.

Of course, the former officer is unapologetic, saying he'd do it all again. That attitude is unlikely to change so long as he continues to win the support of prohibitionist cranks like the folks at Mothers Against Drunk Driving. About Brock, a MADD spokeswoman said, "We always felt he was a good officer."

Well, he was their kind of officer anyway--the kind who puts the crusade against demon rum above all other concerns.

You have to wonder about the culture of a police department that tolerates somebody like Brock for as long as the Hillsborough County Sheriff's Office did. What are the other deputies like?

Hat tip to Radley Balko for pointing to this story.


Property rights breakthrough

Good news on the eminent domain front from, of all places, New Jersey.


Thursday, June 14, 2007

Tell me again why we need the FBI?

Not long after the Justice Department revealed that the FBI has been abusing its power to secretly gather private information by issuing national security letters, an internal audit by the feds finds that the problem is worse than first suspected.
An internal FBI audit has found that the bureau potentially violated the law or agency rules more than 1,000 times while collecting data about domestic phone calls, e-mails and financial transactions in recent years, far more than was documented in a Justice Department report in March that ignited bipartisan congressional criticism.

The new audit covers just 10 percent of the bureau's national security investigations since 2002, and so the mistakes in the FBI's domestic surveillance efforts probably number several thousand, bureau officials said in interviews. The earlier report found 22 violations in a much smaller sampling.

The vast majority of the new violations were instances in which telephone companies and Internet providers gave agents phone and e-mail records the agents did not request and were not authorized to collect. The agents retained the information anyway in their files, which mostly concerned suspected terrorist or espionage activities.

But two dozen of the newly-discovered violations involved agents' requests for information that U.S. law did not allow them to have, according to the audit results provided to The Washington Post. Only two such examples were identified earlier in the smaller sample.
Several thousand violations. That's a lot of screwing up by the feds. You'd think they'd get a handle on this whole national security letter thing after a couple of years of pawing through financial records and phone logs.

Of course, that assumes that the feds want to use their powers appropriately. Unfortunately, the FBI has a history of playing fast and loose with the authority at its command, from tainting evidence that comes through its laboratories to letting its informants commit murder so long as they remain useful to the bureau. The feds always apologize and promise to do better--and then the next scandal comes along, making it clear that the FBI's internal culture remains genuinely crooked no matter how often it gets caught out.

I wonder how often we have to play this game before we realize that the problem isn't some temporary transgression that can be fixed by shuffling personnel and tightening the rules; the problem is the FBI itself. We've created an unaccountable super-police force that accumulates authority and responsibility with each passing year. It's become a dangerous government agency--one that should be curtailed or abolished.

But I've said that before. Instead, we'll huff and puff a bit about this latest scandal, until it, too, is forgotten. And then we'll start all over again over some new outrage a couple of years down the line.

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Anti-gun shenanigans

I'll agree with Rep. Ron Paul on this--the gun control bill making its way through Congress is, in fact, "a flagrantly unconstitutional expansion of restriction on the exercise of the right to bear arms."

By itself, the bill is no great shakes. It tightens existing restrictions by firming up reporting requirements to make it easier for government folk to know who is legally disqualified from purchasing firearms.

The legislation approved Wednesday would require states to automate and share disqualifying records with the FBI's NICS database. The bill also provides $250 million a year over the next three years to help states meet those goals and imposes penalties, including cuts in federal grants under an anti-crime law, to those states that fail to meet benchmarks for automating their systems and supplying information to the NICS.

The bill, then, builds on the contemptible Gun Control Act of 1968, which put into place many of the modern violations of the individual right to own, buy, sell and carry weapons. The new measure would just tighten the shackles by a few turns.

That the National Rifle Association supports the current bill is just further evidence that the NRA, far from being a pro-liberty organization, is really just one of the more moderate members of the gun-control lobby.

The best response to intrusive regulation is a healthy underground market. Transactions conducted outside the law have a much better chance of preserving and extending freedom than those conducted under the watchful eyes of our would-be masters. Stay armed, folks, and keep your guns unregistered.


Sarge, you look fabulous in those cammies

During those hot and hormonal days of the Clinton administration, the U.S. military was poised--I kid you not--to unleash a "gay bomb."

A watchdog group that tracks military spending recently stumbled across a 1994 U.S. Air Force proposal for a hormone weapon that would turn exposed soldiers into homosexuals and make them more interested in sex and antiquing than fighting—yes, a Gay Bomb. “The Ohio Air Force lab proposed that a bomb be developed that contained a chemical that would cause enemy soldiers to become gay and to have their units break down because all their soldiers became irresistibly attractive to one another,” Edward Hammond of the investigating Sunshine Project told CBS 5 News in Berkeley, Calif.

Actually, wouldn't that be two weapons in one? I mean, the bomb would first have to turn the enemy troops gay, and second, make them hot for one another. That is, besides the gender-bending effects of watching a marathon session of the Bravo channel, it would also have to have the long-sought power of mythical Spanish Fly.

That sounds like a tall order.

I mean, wouldn't it just be easier to ... I don't know ... blow them up, maybe?


Monday, June 11, 2007

Felonious partying

When I graduated from high school, the parents of one of my friends threw a graduation bash. It was a well-chaperoned even, but not intrusively so, and about the only complaint any of us could come up with was the quality of the beer the hosts provided. Even at that tender age, most of us had better taste than to quaff Pabst Blue Ribbon if we had a choice. But beggars can't be choosers, so quaff we did. It was a nice change of pace to drink in a comfortable backyard instead of the woods or a parking lot. After all, even in those comparatively civilized days of a drinking age of 18, most of us were under-age and accustomed to sneaking around to get our booze.

Today, my friend's parents might face jail time for providing us with a safe, supervised party. They might draw the same fate as Elisa Kelly and George Robinson, of Albemarle County, Virginia, who have been sentenced to 27 months in prison for serving alcoholic beverages at their son's 16th birthday party.

Actually, Kelly and Robinson could have done even worse. They were originally sentenced to eight years in prison by a judge who, we can only be thankful, was unable to actually impose the death penalty. Given the judge's taste for harsh sentences, I'm certain he wouldn't object to the extended horse-whipping he so richly deserves.

And let's not forget the creature who brought the charges to begin with. That would be Albemarle County Commonwealth’s Attorney James L. Camblos III, who claims this is the worst case of underage drinking he has had to deal with in 15 years. Really? The drinkers were supervised and kept in a controlled environment where car keys were collected from the party-goers and that's the worst case he's seen? I can only assume that my friends and I would have driven him to apoplexy with our behavior.

Kids experiment no matter what you want them to do. When I was 16, I had a fake ID that I used for buying booze. I didn't use it as often as I could have only because I preferred to smoke grass--I liked the high better, and the stuff was easier to transport. Banning us from drinking (or smoking grass) didn't stop the behavior; it drove it underground into relatively risky venues. One of the safer experiences I had as a teenager was that supervised graduation party.

I'm sure the same goes for the kids hosted by Elisa Kelly and George Robinson, who provided a great service by throwing a chaperoned party for their son. The shindig was almost certainly far safer than the environments in which they usually drank beer out of sight of adult eyes before driving home three sheets to the wind.

Twenty-seven months is a long time to spend in prison for doing the right thing. I'll bet other parents will think long and hard before they provide a safe environment for their kids to learn how to drink responsibly.


Real ID reaction

The Wisconsin State Journal does a little roundup on the four states that, so far, have told the federal government where to stick its Real ID regulations.

WASHINGTON -- Defying Uncle Sam, four states have passed laws refusing to comply with federal rules to make state-issued driver's licenses more secure, casting further doubt on the future of the 2005 Real ID Act.

Although it is rare for states to reject an act of Congress, New Hampshire and Oklahoma in May joined Montana and Washington state in passing statutes this year refusing to go along with Real ID. The refusals mean those states' driver's licenses eventually won't be accepted as official identification when boarding airplanes or entering federal buildings.

In addition, the Idaho Legislature purposely left out any money to comply with the act. The Georgia Legislature passed a law giving Gov. Sonny Perdue authority to ignore the measure, but he is hoping the federal government will make the act more affordable, said his spokesman, Bert Brantley. ...

States have rebelled at the $14 billion in costs the act imposes on states, as well as worries that the new security system will invade residents' privacy and create what amounts to a national ID card.

It's good to see the Real ID requirements become more controversial as time goes on--especially since they were snuck into law without debate as an addendum to an emergency spending bill. Overt defiance of federal law is an all-too-rare occurrence, so the resistance campaign is going to need all the encouragement we can muster.

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Friday, June 8, 2007

Hey, Mayor Bloomberg! Got a light?

So, how are New York bars dealing with Mayor "Nanny" Bloomberg's four-year-old smoking ban? Very well, thank you--if by "very well" you mean ignoring the damned thing.

Scores of trendy clubs and neighborhood pubs across the five boroughs have become smoking speakeasies, where bartenders and bouncers regularly ignore the prohibition launched in 2003.

The Post spotted scofflaw smokers openly puffing away in a dozen bars and clubs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, Queens and Staten Island during the past few weeks - including celebrity hangouts Bungalow 8, Tenjune, Butter, Marquee, Plumm and Guest House. ...

Agency statistics show 199 establishments hit with 542 violations from April 2006 to March 2007, compared to 162 establishments getting 258 violations in the prior 12-month period. The number of complaints dropped from about 3,000 to 2,000 from last year to this year.

Hmmm ... So defiance of the law is up even as complaints are down? Good. Maybe the rabid anti-smokers are packing up their crusade against any smoke, anywhere and taking their business to establishments that prefer to cater to the clean-air crowd.

That's the best result, after all--one where everybody gets to patronize establishments that suit their tastes.

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Thursday, June 7, 2007

Eminent domain report card

I'm nursing a truly preposterous headache caused by a bout of dehydration earlier this week (remember friends, when mountain biking in the desert, bring water) followed by a night of insomnia. But borderline incoherent as I may be, I still noticed this excellent update on eminent domain from the Institute for Justice.

The report was released by the Castle Coalition, a grassroots project of the Institute for Justice, which argued the Kelo eminent domain case before the U.S. Supreme Court. The Castle Coalition examined and graded eminent domain laws for each of the 50 states over the past two years—since the Kelo decision allowing eminent domain for private gain.

“This report finds that your right to own your home free from the specter of eminent domain abuse depends on which state you live in,” said Steven Anderson, director of the Castle Coalition. “States in the Northeast as well as California remain some of the biggest abusers of eminent domain and legislators in those states have so far refused to pass meaningful eminent domain reform despite the public’s overwhelming desire to be protected from eminent domain for private gain.”

I note that my own much-beloved Arizona drew a B+, beating out my college GPA by a solid margin. The Grand Canyon State's decent score came no thanks to Governor Napolitano, who vetoed a reform bill passed by the legislature. Instead, voters bypassed the government entirely and approved Proposition 207, greatly strengthening protections for private property.

The top scorers, with A or A- scores are:

  • Florida
  • Michigan
  • Nevada
  • New Mexico
  • North Dakota
  • South Dakota

The dunces of the national class are:

  • Arkansas
  • Connecticut
  • Hawaii
  • Maryland
  • Massachusetts
  • Mississippi
  • New Jersey
  • New York
  • Oklahoma
  • Rhode Island

All of these states scored an F.

Download the report to see how your state did--and how it earned the score it got.


Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Smoked out in the U.K.

Now this is more like it!

I've written several posts about individual bars here and there overtly or covertly defying smoking bans imposed by control-freak politicians or bullying voters. While commendable, these acts of civil disobedience are generally quixotic crusades destined to garner a few headlines and then fade away. Honestly, what's one bar going to do by itself when city and state officials decide to put the squeeze to the owner--or revoke the establishment's license?

But, in the U.K., of all places, pub owners have joined together in a mass "piss off" to the nanny-staters.

A campaign of civil disobedience against next month's smoking ban will see hundreds of pubs flouting the new laws.

Landlords at up to 200 pubs are planning a "day of defiance" when the legislation comes into force next month, allowing customers to light up on July 1. The number involved is expected to grow and some publicans have vowed to continue to break the law beyond July 1 if customers want them to.

While still symbolic--most pub owners aren't saying that they won't ever knuckle under to the government--this mass action carries more weight than an individual protest could. It's a statement by a large segment of an entire industry that it resents the imposition of an oppressive regulation and is willing to break that law. As such, it's drawing respecful press coverage and is certainly gaining the government's attention.

What will be more effective is if the pub owners can keep the defiance campaign going. The state needs frequent reminders that its intrusive reach is very unwelcome.


Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Fuck the FCC

The Federal Communications Commission's censorious scheme to penalize TV and radio stations for unplanned curses uttered during live broadcasts took a (hopefully) fatal hit yesterday.

An appeals court said a new federal policy against accidentally aired profanities on TV and radio was invalid, noting that vulgar language had become so common that even President Bush has been heard using expletives.

The 2nd U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals ruled Monday in favor of a Fox Television-led challenge to the policy and returned the case to the Federal Communications Commission to let the agency try to explain how its policy was not "arbitrary and capricious." The court said it doubted the FCC could.

The appeals court went a step further, calling the FCC policy "divorced from reality" and pointing out that even President Bush has been caught using salty language.

In a response (PDF file) laced with more profanity than even the most risque Fox television show, FCC Chairman Kevin Martin replied:

I completely disagree with the Court’s ruling and am disappointed for American families. I find it hard to believe that the New York court would tell American families that “shit” and “fuck” are fine to say on broadcast television during the hours when children are most likely to be in the audience.

Kind of proving the court's point, don't you think?

Martin petulantly vows to find a way to enforce the FCC's indecency regulations--suggesting that Congress mandate that cable companies be forced to offer channels on an a la carte basis so that families can avoid the inevitable cooties that comes from having access to a wide variety of channels.

This is an especially curious response. The court ruling applies to broadcast programming that uses the allegedly "public" airwaves, while mandated a la carte programming would apply to cable and satellite companies that don't use the airwaves at all, and so are, at least theoretically, immune to FCC regulation of their content.

It looks to me like Martin wants to use a free speech decision that went against the FCC as a lever to extend his agency's reach to media that have, until now, enjoyed more extensive First Amendment protection than the broadcast networks.

I take that as a great argument in favor of completely abolishing the FCC and letting electronic media enjoy the same free speech protections as print.


Monday, June 4, 2007

Generationally speaking

No doubt about it. I'm sick of hearing about "Generation Y" and how it's remaking the workforce. In a painfully cloying piece for Fortune magazine, Nadira A. Hirs tells us:
When it comes to Gen Y's intangible characteristics, the lexicon is less than flattering. Try "needy," "entitled." Despite a consensus that they're not slackers, there is a suspicion that they've avoided that moniker only by creating enough commotion to distract from the fact that they're really not that into "work."

Never mind that they often need an entire team - and a couple of cheerleaders - to do anything. For some of them the concept "work ethic" needs rethinking. "I had a conversation with the CFO of a big company in New York," says Tamara Erickson, co-author of the 2006 book "Workforce Crisis," "and he said, 'I can't find anyone to hire who's willing to work 60 hours a week. Can you talk to them?' And I said, 'Why don't I start by talking to you? What they're really telling you is that they're sorry it takes you so long to get your work done.'"

No it's not generational disdain--I get along just fine with some of the twenty-somethings I know, and not so well with others, just like the members of any other age group. I'm just tired of hearing broad characterizations about the revolutionary changes about to be wrought by the latest crop of college graduates.

Fifteen years ago, the new crop of hires came from "Generation X," and writers and consultants made much money analyzing me and my peers to discern what transformations we were about to impose on American culture.
Xers have no expectation of job security, so they tend to see every job as temporary and every company as a stepping stone to something better, or at least to something else. They have been accused of not wanting to pay their dues. But, in today's changing workplace, anyone who is thinking about doing a job long enough to pay dues is out of touch!

Because they won't put in long hours at what they mostly term "dead end" jobs (Douglas Coupland coined the term "Mcjobs,") and they don't exhibit the same loyalty as Boomers do towards an organization, they have been called slackers. However, Xers will work very hard for a job that they believe in, for something that challenges them.
Sound familiar? Dress it up and throw in a mention of an iPod, and it's the same nonsense being peddled about kids today.

It's not just pop media playing this stuff up either--employers actually buy into the panic. In the early '90s, I temped at a prestigious consulting agency, and while pawing through proprietary documents to kill the time, I came across an internal memo regurgitating all the media warnings about the barbarian horde of Gen Xers then breaking down the barricades at the corporate HR department. It boiled down to: They're here! They have no loyalty! They won't work long hours!

Five years later I was the editorial director for a dot-com where IPO-crazed Gen Xers happily worked twelve- and fourteen-hour days in return for stock options. I actually got into trouble because I refused to work the editorial staff more than nine hours per day.

OK, so I guess I was the stand-out Gen X slacker.

It actually would be a good thing if some of these broad characterizations were true. People should put their families and their friends before their jobs. That's healthy. Working sixty-hour weeks, or longer, is not healthy, unless you really love what you are doing and are being well compensated. Even then, it's a good idea to phone home from time to time to make sure the significant other remembers your name.

My guess is that the members of Generation Y will prove to be much like previous generations that came of age during prosperous circumstances. Without the threat of economic collapse, war or conscription, Gen Yers will negotiate the best deals for themselves that they can get, and renegotiate as it suits them, comfortable in the knowledge that they're not under much pressure to toe the line. If somebody offers them a chance at the brass ring, many will jump at the prospect.

But Generation Z ... oh, those bastards ...

Ron Paul coverage

More good press for Rep. Ron Paul:

Paul is an interesting candidate - Wisconsin State Journal

Ron Paul is blowing up real good - Salon

'08 Dark Horse Running Strong ... in Cyberspace - ABC News

Paul will be on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart tonight, which should be worth flicking on the boob tube.

I still don't think Paul has a realistic shot at the nomination, but he's performing a great service by bringing an anti-war, pro-liberty voice to the presidential race. The fact that he's stating his case forcefully and eloquently, and so garnering media notice, shows that he's the right guy for the job.

His performance in Congress makes it obvious that that, unlike the congressional Democrats, he's a candidate who sticks to his guns when the campaign is over.

And maybe he'll drive a few GOP leaders to apoplexy. We'd owe him our thanks for that.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Smell that evidence

Do you smell something?


Why yes, I believe that's the Fourth Amendment smoldering.

Burnsville police acted properly in using a narcotics-detection dog outside the apartment door of a man suspected of illegal drug activity, the Minnesota Supreme Court ruled.

In a 5-2 decision, the court found that police needed only reasonable, articulable suspicion - not probable cause - that the defendant was engaged in illegal activity to conduct the dog sniff. Moreover, information from a private citizen informant - that maintenance workers believed they saw marijuana-growing lights in the apartment and that the defendant would not let the workers in to fix a water leak - supported a finding that the police had reasonable suspicion that there was illegal drug activity inside the apartment.

If police need only "reasonable, articulable suspicion" to use drug-sniffer dogs to remotely search an apartment, can they get away with the same standard when using infra-red cameras? How about other search techniques that don't require physical entry into a premises?

Technology marches on and search and seizure protections need to keep up--or else they'll become irrelevant relics of a simpler age.


Climate-change questions

Hmmm. Here's an interesting article by an Australian mathematician who is a former believer in human-caused global warming who has become more skeptical of the link between human action and climate change.
Let's return to the interaction between science and politics. By 2000 the political system had responded to the strong scientific case that carbon emissions caused global warming by creating thousands of bureaucratic and science jobs aimed at more research and at curbing carbon emissions.

But after 2000 the case against carbon emissions gradually got weaker. Future evidence might strengthen or further weaken it. At what stage of the weakening should the science community alert the political system that carbon emissions might not be the main cause of global warming?

None of the new evidence actually says that carbon emissions are definitely not the cause of global warming, there are lots of good science jobs potentially at stake, and if the scientific message wavers then it might be difficult to later recapture the attention of the political system. What has happened is that most research efforts since 1990 have assumed that carbon emissions were the cause, and the alternatives get much less research or political attention.

Unfortunately politics and science have become even more entangled. Climate change has become a partisan political issue, so positions become more entrenched. Politicians and the public prefer simple and less-nuanced messages. At the moment the political climate strongly blames carbon emissions, to the point of silencing critics.
Personally, like a lot of people with a limited science background, I waver on the global warming issue depending on who seems to be making a stronger argument at the moment. The bulk of support seems to be behind the position that humans are causing climate change, but much of that support seems to be almost faith-based--invested in the idea to the exclusion of contrary evidence. On the other hand, the skeptics seem to be relatively few in number, but they often make what sound like stronger scientific arguments that the case for human-caused change is still unproven.

I think I'll adhere to my "I just don't know" position for the time being. That means I'll remain dubious about any grand schemes to address a "problem" that may be nothing more than a phase in a natural climate cycle of which we're just now becoming aware.