Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Lake Mead

In 2008 I was in Las Vegas. We took a tour to Lake Mead, the reservoir behind the Hoover Dam, and I noticed the water marks of the rocks surrounding the Lake indicating that water level was fairly low.

A day or two later, in exchange for some show tickets, we were working our way through a time- share presentation of some very, very nice new high rise buildings. I had no real interest in a time-share (although the apartments were REALLY nice) but I remember asking the sales guy where all these high rises were going to get water and he simply said "Lake Mead" as if it was obvious.

Given what I had seen at the lake and looking at all the new construction, I had some doubts about how obvious a solution that was.

Now I see on the Internet that Lake Mead is at an all time low and they're predicting water shortages and even possibly "dry days" by 2015. This comes as no real surprise to me given what I've seen in Vegas.

I wonder how the strip is going to make out when there are days when you can't take a shower?

This is only the first effects that we're about to see from climate change rendering the water supply in the western states more and more iffy.

I wouldn't panic just yet, but the problem is Conservatives refuse to even recognize the fact that there is a looming problem.

In the final analysis this is an engineering problem and there is (hopefully) an engineering solution. But we're not going to find that solution until we get engineers looking at the issue and that's not going to happen until we recognize that an issue exists.

Monday, August 18, 2014

Is the NSA's Collection of Metadata Unconstiutional?

Before we get to the answer, let's carefully articulate the question.

First of all, what is metadata?

Metadata is summary information about communications. Generally it includes (1) the calling number, (2) the receiving number, (3) when the call was made and (4) how long the call lasted.

Note that one cannot tell with absolute certainty from metadata who actually talked to whom but one can establish a fairly high probability. Nor can one know what was said. One only knows the duration of the call.

This information is generally the property of the service provider and not the property of the people communicating.

Second of all, what's the so-called reason for the collection? The NSA claims it's to protect against terrorist activity.

Finally, the Article of the Constitution that it may be violating is Amendment IV which states "The right of the people to be secure in their persons, houses, papers and effects against unreasonable searches and seizures shall not be violated, and no warrants shall issue, but upon probable cause, supported by oath or affirmation, and particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

Now, clearly the NSA had no warrant "particularly describing the place to be searched, and the persons or things to be seized."

They were scooping up information wholesale. So how the hell could this possibly be Constitutional?

For two reasons. The first is that, as mentioned above, the information collected is not the property of the caller or person being called. It's the property of the service provider and they apparently freely provided this information.

If you don't know that using the telephone, sending an e-mail or logging on to the internet is being recorded by someone, somewhere and then that information is being used to sell you stuff or send you offers, you're an idiot or you're not paying attention.

So why should you have any expectation of privacy at all when engaging in these activities? This is certainly a question that will be raised during the court case. Now one could claim that this metadata is a "paper" or "effect" or that one does not surrender expectations of privacy when using the provider service. I suppose we'll see.

The other issue is the word "unreasonable." What the hell is an "unreasonable" search or seizure?

Normally it's a search or seizure without "probable cause." And what is "probable cause?" It's knowledge or information that would lead a reasonable person to conclude that a crime is being committed, has been committed or is about to be committed.

Obviously, when you are collecting every piece of information available, you cannot possibly have "probable cause" for everything you're seizing.

So, is there any exception to the "probable cause" requirement?

Yes, there is. In two Supreme Court decisions, U.S. v. Martinez-Fuerte, related to roadblocks to check for illegal immigrants, and Michigan v. Sitz, related to DUI checkpoints which stopped all or random vehicles to check for driver intoxication, the SCOTUS balanced "state interests" against "4th Amendment protections" and concluded that the interests of the state outweighed the minor 4th Amendment inconvenience of the seizure or stopping of vehicles with no particular probable cause related to that vehicle.

In other words, the seizure was not "unreasonable" despite the lack of "probable cause." However, the court made it clear that a "search" still required "probable cause" such as a driver smelling of alcohol at a DUI stop.

So, now we have to differentiate between the "seizure" of the metadata and the "search" of the metadata. I'm not even sure that such a distinction in this case can be made but, assuming it can, then I can see an argument along the lines of the "seizure" being in the state's interest to protect against terrorism but the "search" of the data requiring probable cause.

Of course then the agency would have to demonstrate to a court that this wholesale gathering of information is an EFFECTIVE method to combat terrorism which they may or may not be able to do.

Just about every agency and board that has reviewed the NSA activity has concluded that it's unconstitutional and one court has said that it is probably unconstitutional as well.

The NSA is far and away the most arrogant agency I've ever had the misfortune to interact with but they also have lots and lots of very smart people with lots of access to lots of things that we don't know about.

The Roberts Court also strikes me as one that looks for legal excuses to do what they want to do anyway. It really wouldn't surprise me if by the time this thing got to the Supreme Court they didn't have some sort of excuse to say it's OK if they want to say that.

I also don't count out the NSA presenting classified evidence in closed sessions, real or fabricated, that the public won't hear about for 50 years. In other words, despite everyone being so sure that this violates the 4th Amendment, it wouldn't surprise me at all if the SCOTUS said it didn't.

Friday, August 15, 2014

FIFA to be Sued over Refs

A Colombian lawyer, Aurelio Jimenez by name, says he intends to sue FIFA over the poor performance of the refs during the world cup.

According to Jimenez he suffered "moral damages" over poor decisions by the ref in the Colombia v. Brazil quarter final. "I felt very bad, I was heartbroken, my cardiac rhythm was altered and my relatives took me to the emergency room at the hospital. I was surrounded by my grandchildren who were crying a lot."

The 74-year old Jimenez says "I decided to sue FIFA in the Colombian judiciary system because in the past world soccer championship in Brazil, there were many wrongdoings related to referees who damaged many countries and their selections, among them the Colombia team. Moreover, FIFA's referees caused big moral damages and distress to Chile, Uruguay, Colombia, England, Uruguay, Mexico and Costa Rica."

Well, yeah, but don't "moral damages" sort of go with the territory in sports?

I'm not touching this one with a ten foot pole and I suspect, if he does file suit, that the Colombian courts will toss it out. Buy, hey, I know how he feels. There have been times when I felt like treating an NFL ref or two to a good old fashioned tar and feathering.

Then I remember that it's just a game (Here's hoping I don't find myself eating those words this NFL season).

Wednesday, August 13, 2014

The Bridal Boutique and Gay Marriage

A bridal boutique in Bloomsburg Pennsylvania refused service to a Lesbian couple (Is gay marriage legal in Pennsylvania? Ah yes, as of May 20, 2014) because it would "break God's law."

Needless to say it touched off a round of criticism of the shop and reportedly some folks even placed malicious phony reviews of the shop on its Yelp Page. I didn't see any obvious phony negative reviews. The one negative review I did see sounded legitimate.

I did see a few "reviews" criticizing the shops gay stance and since you have to provide a rating in order to place a comment, I suppose one could argue that these are phony reviews.

However there only were four reviews, all of the 1-star variety. Three clearly related to the shop's gay marriage stance and there was one very negative review from six weeks prior cataloging a litany of issues with the shop's service.

But I digress.

As far as I know there is no anti-discrimination law in Pennsylvania that covers LGBT individuals so the shop is in the clear legally. They're not in the clear in terms of people refusing them business due to their medieval attitude.

Which brings me to reactions to the criticism, which appears to amount to the three negative reviews on the Yelp page.

According to Tony Perkins of the Family Research Council (FRC), people criticizing the shop for refusing service are demonstrating "intolerance."

Yes Virginia, this is what it has come down to. Criticizing "intolerance" is itself "intolerance" if the bigot in question claims his "intolerance" is based upon his religious beliefs.

So what it all comes down to is the question "does an individual have the PRIVILEGE to discriminate based upon his religious beliefs?" Note that I refuse to call it a right as this sort of thing reeks of the privleges claimed by the Throne and Church during the Dark Ages.

In some cases we do extend that privilege to churches. So, to be consistent, should we extend it to individuals? Personally I don't think so. I'm not even so thrilled in some cases where it's extended to churches.

Now, one thing I found very interesting was a quote from the shop owner who reportedly said "providing those two girls dresses for a sanctified marriage would break God's law."

I'm not going to pass judgment on that opinion but the dresses WEREN'T for a sanctified marriage. They were for a CIVIL marriage. I think this is a safe assumption since any church that would sanctify a gay marriage wouldn't be recognized by the shop owner as a real church anyway.

This is something that Christians are apparently too simple minded to understand. When gay marriage is declared legal, we're talking about CIVIL marriage. Marriage is a legal institution that does not require religious sanctification. Churches are allowed to refuse to marry gay couples if it "violates" their religion in every state where gay marriage is legal.

I wonder if someone should point this out to the owner of the bridal boutique.

Friday, August 08, 2014

Why Conservatives are Losing

Matt Barber is a staunchly anti-gay right wing Christian. He's also, in my humble opinion, a complete asshole that epitomizes the delusional conservative and illustrates why conservatives are losing, and will continue to lose, the culture wars.

Barber is upset with Target stores for supporting gays. He is so upset that he is calling for people to boycott Target stores, “I hope people will go into Target stores across the country and tell them that they are no longer going to buy products there because Target has joined in the attack on the institution of natural marriage."

Now Barber is well within his rights to be upset with Target and is also within his rights to boycott the store and ask others to boycott it. An economic boycott is a form of "freedom of speech." It is a method of expressing disagreement with a company's policies by hitting them where in hurts the most, in the pocketbook.

That's not why I think Barber is an asshole.

I think he's an asshole because what he takes for granted as his right he would openly deny to others. When gay rights activists called for a boycott of Chick-Fil-A over its donations to anti-gay political groups Barber expressed outrage that liberals were "intimidating" the restaurant chain.

When a similar boycott was organized against the Charity Give Back Group, also over donations to anti-gay political groups, Barber called it "economic terrorism."

And therein lies the arrogance of the conservative. They believe they have the privilege to decide how other people should live and how other people should act. They would like to impose their morality on everyone else. They're also convinced that they have "privileges" (they call them rights) that, according to them, no one else seems to have.

That's not to say that liberals aren't sometimes guilty of trying to enforce their opinions on everyone else. The difference is liberals are usually trying to remove restrictions while conservatives are usually trying to impose them. The other difference is liberals are usually motivated by harm to a third party while conservatives are usually motivated by their concept of so-called morality.

Wednesday, August 06, 2014

The Middle East

I realized while reading about the latest chaos in the Gaza Strip that I didn't really know that much about the history of the conflict in Palestine. So, I did a little research.

It's probably convenient to start around 1915. The problem was the British were in the middle of WW I and needed both (1) Arab military support against the Turks and (2) Jewish/Zionist political and monetary support on the home front especially from people like the Rothschilds.

Unfortunately it appears the left hand didn't know what the right hand was doing (or didn't care). While Sir Henry McMahon seemed to promise Sharif Hussein the Palestine region (there was no Ottoman province called Palestine) along with other Ottoman Empire Arab territories as a homeland in exchange for military support, Arthur James Balfour told Lord Rothschild "His Majesty’s Government view with favour the establishment in Palestine of a national home for the Jewish people, and will use their best endeavours to facilitate the achievement of this object..." in the Balfour declaration.

To be fair the British claim they excluded Palestine in the promise to Hussein because the area wasn't exclusively Arab and Balfour stated in his declaration "...nothing shall be done which may prejudice the civil and religious rights of existing non-Jewish communities in Palestine..."

Of course this hedging by the British just made things worse and both sides believed the British had double crossed them. From 1920 to 1940 or so the Arabs, Jews and British took turns fighting each other in what amounted to a three way bitching contest during the Palestine Mandate granted to the British under the League of Nations.

The British took time off for WW II but then things picked up in 1945 pretty much where they left off with a three way pissing contest. The British finally threw up their hands and gave it up in early 1948 dumping the whole mess in the lap of the United Nations.

The UN came up with a partitioning plan which called for a Jewish State comprising 53% of the area, an Arab state comprising 46% and an International Zone containing Jerusalem and Bethlehem. The Jews were allocated more land than the Arabs despite Arabs being in the majority (1,270,000 to 610,000) because large scale Jewish emigration from Europe was anticipated.

The Arabs didn't want to have anything to do with this plan. Just about all Arab states voted against it in the UN and as soon as it was adopted they started a shooting war with the Jews in Palestine that has pretty much been going on with short periods of relative quiet ever since.

The core of the problem lies in the Palestinian refusal to accept the existence of the State of Israel. In 1948 they argued why should Arab land be given to the Jews to compensate for crimes committed against the Jews in Europe?

While that argument may have had some merit in 1948 (but VERY little because the Palestine Mandate in 1920 made it clear that a Jewish State was to be established in Palestine), 66 years later it's a bit of a moot point. Realistically each side needs to recognize the other and figure out a way to divide up the territory as equitably as possible.

Everyone else needs to go in the corner and be as quiet as possible.

Monday, August 04, 2014

The Dominoes Continue to Fall in Florida

A third Florida judge, this one in Broward County, has declared the Florida ban on same-sex marriage unconstitutional.

Broward County Judge Dale C. Evens joined judges in Miami-Dade and Monroe counties who have also declared both not recognizing out of state same sex marriages and the Florida ban unconstitutional.

Also like the other two decisions, an immediate stay was issued pending the expected appeal.

GOP Committee Report on Benghazi

Are you ready for THE REPORT? Because ready or not, here it comes.

After two years of Republican accusations and recriminations and spending $3.3 million to catch the Administration and the State Department red handed, the Republican led House investigation has found...



NOTHING! Absolutely freaking nothing. No wrong doing by the anyone in the Administration or the State Department before, during or after the incident.

Just like the IRS "Scandal" it was pure delusional horseshit. This is more evidence that the GOP consists of a bunch of lying, ignorant SOBs that no have business leading a playground sing along never mind a country.

Yet we will still hear the right wing nutcases claiming delusional nonsense about Benghazi. What's next? Obama kidnapped the first born of the committee members so they would hide the truth? We'll either get total idiocy or total silence. I'm hoping for total silence.