Politics Today

Last night, my children, who are studying Africa, watched a video about the Congo. During the segment dealing with decolonialization, one of the talking heads mentioned how President Mobutu was effective as a leader, but ineffective as an economist. When the price of copper collapsed, so did Congo’s (by then, Zaire’s) economy. The talking head said that Mobutu had only the knowledge of a tribal chief: he gave gifts in exchange for support. To pay for the gifts, he had to shake down everyone doing business, or trying to do business, in Congo.

Not like the people who run our sturdy, 233-year old republic. Not hardly.

Consider this story about a study being done at George Mason university:

Report: Democratic Districts Received Nearly Twice the Amount of Stimulus Funds as GOP districts.

True, to the unsophisticated, that story may have a bit of a whiff of Mobutu’s Zaire about it. But the difference couldn’t be more clear. You see, Mobutu shook down real businesses and got real money. The stimulus money is all borrowed. Apples and oranges.

And, while I’m in a sour mood about our nation’s devoted public servants, there is this piece in the Wall Street Journal about congressional junketeering. I especially liked the graph, way down in the story, showing a slow but determined rise in spending through the ’90s, followed by a meteoric rise this decade.

City Pool

I left work early today, because my wife was taking the kids to the public pool for the last day of summer. But when I got there, it was closed. When I got home, I asked WTF and she told me this was the last day, but that means the last day for the staff. They spent it cleaning the swim rings and whatever else you do at the end of the season, then they all left.

That’s par for the course. When they aren’t shutting the pool down during operating hours, they’re letting little kids crap in it. Then they shut down for a day while the chemicals kill off anything that got in the pool.

It sucks that Yucca Valley doesn’t have a real public pool. Instead, it has the High School’s pool, except for about 10 months of the year.

(If it had a pool designed for kids of all ages, instead of high-schoolers, they could have a smaller wading pool for kids of crap-in-the-pool age, and reduce the risk of having to shut down the pool for everyone.)

But I don’t know what’s up with not having a public pool. You’d think a pool would be a no-brainer for a town of 25K in the middle of the desert.

Of course, the town could just tell people to put in their own pools. It could just cut taxes accordingly, and people could use their money to buy pools, or home theaters, or off-road-vehicles, or whatever else melts their butter.

But, honestly, that wouldn’t be the best thing here, though, since this is the desert. It doesn’t make sense to have a whole bunch of small pools all over the place evaporating, when you could have just one big one doing it. Likewise for draining it at the end of the summer.

In fact, if you had one big pool, and were able to amortize its costs across a lot of users, you could put a building around it, so the water doesn’t evaporate. And you could use it all year long, so you wouldn’t have to drain it at all. In fact, you could use the other three seasons to help pay for it.

That’s such a great idea, in fact, that somebody else already thought of it. There’s a pool just like that here in Yucca Valley. It’s called the Senior Center and Pool, and is located at the Morongo Basin Senior Support Center.

It would be awesome if there was something like that for people who were under 55+.

But kids don’t vote, so they can use the high school pool, from mid June to mid August. The rest of the time, they can look forward to being 55. And if they get bored doing that, they can get tatoos and piercings and join gangs and tag buildings and sell drugs.

To be fair, there is a skateboard/BMX concrete-jungle by the library. Of course, it’s a sunk cost, approximately $zero/year to operate.

Jury Duty (or: How I Spent My Day Off)

This is Holy Week. I have to preach three different sermons in the next six days. I also have three members of my congregation in hospital settings. So of course I would be summoned to jury duty.

I arrived at 8:30, along with 60-odd friends and neighbors. At 8:45, the judge’s admin assistant gave us a good-humored lecture about fulfilling our vital role in the cogs of justice or something like that. Then we got to see a videotape about our vital role in the cogs of justice, while she ran our summons through the bar code reader. (Two people were able to be excused at this early point on account of felony convictions. Two full-time students, on the other hand, were told to tell it to the judge.) Finally, at 10:15, we were ushered into the courtroom. After a few minutes, the bailiff told us to rise, the judge came in, and he swore us to secrecy. (Maybe. I don’t remember what, exactly, we agreed to do, because at the end, instead of saying, “so help me God,” or something like that, he only had us say, “I do.”)

He listened to people whining about having a life, etc. I told him I had an out-of-town conference coming up, but it’s far enough off that he said they could still seat me and then excuse me toward the end of the trial. That is, he’s okay with wasting a couple of weeks of my time listening to evidence and then excusing me as the trial winds down, because he doesn’t want to impose a hardship on me.

After he’d failed to excuse about 45 or 50 of us, they seated 18 in the nice seats. The judge started quizzing them about how many reasons they had to hate lawyers and cops. He also asked if they hated people who did [what the accused was accused of doing]. Only two people were able to be excused at that point: both because they personally knew San Bernadino County sheriffs deputies and had previously discussed this particular case. (Good call.)

When the judge had quizzed the 18, the two lawyers were given the opportunity to do the same. The defense lawyer was harder to listen to, partly because he was soft-spoken and partly because he’s dull. There were three points he wanted to belabor: (1) it’s okay if the defendant doesn’t testify, (2) sheriff’s deputies are neither more nor less likely to be wrong about things or even lie than normal people, and, especially, (3) you can’t convict someone just because you thought the evidence proved him guilty, but only if the evidence proved him guilty beyond a reasonable doubt. That last one must be a tricky idea to communicate, because he kept beating it like a dead horse or something.

The assistant D.A. was only a little bit better. He wanted to be sure the jurors knew that, despite what they might have heard on Matlock or Law and Order, they were permitted to convict someone based on circumstantial evidence. In fact, pretty much all he wanted was for us to ignore anything we knew about the law from TV shows. That and agreeing that people in the defendant’s situation were no less likely to lie than sheriff’s deputies.

That took us all the way to 11:30, and the judge excused us for lunch. When we came back at 1:30, we got hectored for awhile, then the lawyers took turns unloading jurors. The defense attorney got rid of a few people, but he quit after a while and pronounced himself happy with the composition of the panel. The D.A. got rid of two more, bringing us down to 12, so everything stopped so they could seat another batch of 6.

I was the first to be called to that second batch, so call me potential juror number 19. The judge quizzed us some more, then the defense attorney and the prosecutor did the same, and they began with the peremptory challenges again. The defense attorney was happy with the panel again, and the D.A. excused yet another person, and the bailiff motioned for me to go get in one of the nice seats. I sat down, and was renamed juror number 4.

That lasted for about 30 seconds, until the defense attorney asked the judge to thank and excuse me. I got my pink slip to prove I’d wasted my whole day and got out at 4:00 on the dot.

In my next post, I’ll write about why I got dumped.

I'm from the Government. I'm here to help. (1 in a series)

From Slashdot today, a lengthy piece: “New Legislation Would Federalize Cybersecurity.”

The bill, containing many of the recommendations of the landmark study “Securing Cyberspace for the 44th Presidency” by the Center for Strategic and International Studies …

Who is this? Anybody with expertise in computers and/or security? According to their web page, no. But it does include (among others) Sam Nunn, Zbig Brzezinski, Richard Armitage, William Cohen, Carla Hills, James Schlesinger, Brent Scowcroft, and (of course) Henry Kissinger. It looks like a blue-ribbon commission in-waiting, made up of ex-Secretaries of State and Defense. Could even one of them tell you what SSL is? Not how it works, just what it stands for? I doubt it.

So, what is it they want to do?

…would create the Office of the National Cybersecurity Adviser, whose leader would report directly to the president and would coordinate defense efforts across government agencies. The legislation calls for the appointment of a White House cybersecurity “czar” with unprecedented authority to shut down computer networks, including private ones, if a cyberattack is underway.

This would be the same Federal government that runs the FAA’s computers. I’m sure they have all kinds of useful advice for anyone running a fleet of IBM 704s.

But the most predictable thing about the recommended legislation?

The legislation also would require licensing and certification of cybersecurity professionals.

Because that has worked so well in the areas of medicine and law. For the doctors and lawyers, I mean–not for anyone else.

Creating a guild — straight out of the middle ages — to regulate entry into and practice within a trade. It hardly augurs well for something as high-tech and 21st-Century as cybersecurity.


Why I Didn't Watch the Press Conference

Look here: four lies from the President and one from a reporter laid out by the Annenberg Center’s FactCheck.org. (Which, without casting aspersions, I think we can all agree is hardly a bastion of the Rush Limbaugh right wing. Check its staff.)

The scary thing about the piece isn’t that the President’s a liar. Nobody’s surprised by that, surely. The scary thing is the chart of Federal deficit projections midway through the “Analysis” part of the page.

This is why I don’t watch press conferences and speeches: because I don’t want to waste my time being lied to. (Well, this week I also had to try that new Mongolian Beef recipe.) There’s nothing that the President or any other politician has to say to me that I can’t wait a couple of days to hear. (I like to think of analysis pieces like this one as as the morning-after burrito for politicians.)

Banning Barbie

Good grief. A legislator from some backwater where people like to elect [name that party]s wants to ban Barbie.

Lileks nails it:

Now and then it seems that banning is all they can do. It’s all they seem to want to do. That’s the problem with a free nation: you can’t make yourself significant by granting freedoms, so you spend your time looking for freedoms to restrict in the name of a greater good, and there’s always a greater good.

Heinlein has a great description of what, for some people, would be the perfect society:

I had seen those luxuries Earthside. Wasn’t worth what they put up with. Don’t mean heavy gravity, that doesn’t bother them; I mean nonsense. All time kukai moa. If chicken guano in one earthworm city were shipped to Luna, fertilizer prolem would be solved for century. Do this. Don’t do that. Stay back of line. Where’s tax receipt? Fill out form. Let’s see license. Submit six copies. Exit only. No left turn. No right turn. Queue up to pay fine. Take back and get stamped. Drop dead — but first get permit.

(The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, chapter six, p. 85)

Uncle Sam’s Credit Score

I found this article informative. I didn’t actually know the details of how the credit score is determined. But I especially found interesting the conclusion that Uncle Sam is (or should be) a sub-prime borrower.

Update (January, 2014). I’ve been asked to remove the link because it’s causing the originator’s spam rating to go up. Sounds like a bug in the algorithm. Here’s the equivalent link, in case it’s helpful: http://goo.gl/swFwgW.