who keeps ordering those nightly pepperoni pizzas to corcoran state prison?

The California prison system released new pictures of Charles Manson, now 77. Turns out that a swastika tattoo between your eyebrows doesn’t really dress up your appearance at any age.

I want you to pay close attention to something mentioned in the article, though:

In the past five years, Manson was punished for threatening a peace officer and for possession of a weapon, the latter happening in October when Manson was found with a sharpened pen, Thornton said.

Manson received notoriety when he was found to be in possession of a contraband cell phone — twice — the latest in January 2011.

Read that again, and let’s recap:

This man is one of the nation’s most notorious mass murderers, if not the most notorious one. He is almost eighty, and he has been in prison for over forty years. He is in a place where the government has complete control over him and his environment. The Bill of Rights does not exist for him.

And they can’t keep him from repeatedly obtaining contraband cell phones.

If that doesn’t make you realize that the War on Some Drugs and the TSA security kabuki are complete bullshit, you can’t be helped. If they can’t keep a cell phone out of a septuagenarian’s high-security prison cell, they can’t keep anything out of anywhere.

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my password? sure! it’s two words. first one starts with “f”.

I want to believe that the latest corporate idiocy–some hiring managers asking for Facebook passwords from prospective hires for the purpose of “background screening” them–is some sort of urban legend. Having worked in the corporate world for quite a while, I have to concede a better-than-even chance that this is actually taking place.

The problem that almost anyone with a brain and twelve seconds to think about that issue (which excludes 75% of all corporate mid-rank managers I’ve ever worked with) has already pointed out is that even if the candidates willingly surrender their Facebook password, the hiring manager leaves the company open to slam-dunk discrimination lawsuits. If you go through a candidate’s Facebook page and read that she is gay, and you don’t hire her–can you prove that you didn’t pass her over because of her sexual orientation? How about a candidate’s religion or marital status?

Obviously, this is a bad idea all around from a legal perspective. But there’s another aspect, one that immediately occurred to this former IT monkey and network administrator before he even considered the discrimination angle:

Do you, as a hiring manager, want to hire people who are willing to surrender the password to their private information at the mere prospect of a paycheck? if they let you snoop around in their lives just because you may hire them, what do you think they’ll do with your confidential corporate information–your trade secrets, your network passwords, your financial information–when they have a more concrete incentive?

Of course, the employee pool these days is made up to a fair degree of people who have been conditioned to walk through metal detectors, wear see-through backpacks, and submit without question to the school resource officer and his friendly Constitutional expert Rover, so I imagine that most job candidates fresh out of college wouldn’t even blink at such a request. But I’m a pessimist when it comes to stuff like that, which has the advantage that a.) you’re right more often than the optimist, and b.) you can only be surprised positively.

shoe, meet other foot.

The President is perturbed at the thought of an “unelected group of people” overturning a law he likes. I thought “judicial activism” was just a conservative battle cry?

I don’t know how a former professor of Constitutional Law doesn’t get the fact that the Supreme Court’s unelected nature isn’t a bug, but a feature. If you made the Supreme Court judges and their decisions subject  to the popular vote, there would be no point in having a Supreme Court. A little fuzzy on that whole Checks and Balances thing, are we?

nancy grace syndrome.

In another example of what I’ve come to call “Nancy Grace Syndrome”, a prosecutor team in Alabama has decided to charge someone with capital murder.

This one concerns the grandmother and stepmother of the little girl that collapsed and died after being forced to run outside for three hours after lying about taking a candy bar.

In my opinion (and I am most empathically not a lawyer, so take it for what it’s worth), the charge is a mistake. Just like in the Casey Anthony charge, the prosecution went for the big hammer based on perception and public outrage. In the end, they may be doing themselves and the public a huge disservice by overcharging the defendants and opening the possibility of letting them walk for the offense. (I believe that Casey Anthony’s prosecutor had charged her with manslaughter instead of Murder One, she would not be free right now. But a capital murder charge requires extraordinarily solid proof as to mindset and motive, and they failed to make the jury agree.)

I mentioned in my last post that I was on the receiving end of child abuse when I was a kid. I have no sympathy for child abusers at all, and I think what they did to that little girl was despicable and inexcusable. I think they all ought to go to prison for manslaughter and child abuse. But I don’t think the offense warrants capital murder charges because the prosecution will not be able to prove mens rea, and as a member of the defendant’s jury, I would vote to acquit.

(That is, of course, unless the prosecution had some truly extraordinary proof, something like a diary entry by the grandmother declaring a plan to kill her granddaughter through exercise for, I dunno, profit or something.)

Putting people to death is a big deal, and a capital murder charge requires rock-solid evidence. If that piece of garbage gets to walk, it’ll be on the prosecutor’s head. If we start putting people on death row based on the level of public outrage, sooner or later the yardstick for that most severe of punishments will get lowered, and before you know it, we hoist people from cranes in the village square like they do in Iran.

spirit of america, indeed.*

This article is about the brother of a friend of ours. He went to take the T in Boston, the MBTA cops wanted to search his bag, and he refused the search. They arrested him, and a sympathetic judge dismissed the charges.

The really depressing part of that article is the comments section, which right now leans 90% toward chastising the man for not bending over and taking it like a patriot. “My safety is worth more than your inconvenience!” “Like it or not, we’re at war, and that’s the way things are now!” “If you don’t like it, walk!” “If you don’t like it, leave the country!”

You know liberty is a long way down the shitter when the subjects not just tolerate having to answer to people in uniforms just to get to work, but actively demand that kind of treatment—and heap scorn on those who don’t.

*”Spirit of America” is the license plate motto of Massachusetts. I’m pretty sure it doesn’t refer to clicking your heels and kow-towing to anyone with a badge and a uniform who demands to seepapers, please.’

only the fed can print their own money, silly.

The only way I can explain the people who regularly surface trying to pay at WalMart with fake $1,000,000 bills is mental disability or illness. The alternative is too unpleasant to contemplate—that our educational system produces people who think that your neighborhood Wally World can break a million-dollar bill on a $500 purchase and hand you nine hundred ninety-nine grand in change.

on libertarianism and house fires.

The South Fulton Fire Department in Obion County, TN is making the news again because yet another non-subscriber in the county had their place burn down with the Fire Department standing by and not putting out the fire.

A lot of people in my Twitter stream–mostly my liberal-leaning writer friends–are linking to that article with comments like “The Libertarian dream”. I know that these folks are smart people, and seeing them boil the issue down to its emotional basis like that ticks me off a little.

Let’s break it down for a moment. There’s a town–South Fulton–with a fire department that is financed by the taxes of the townsfolk. The fire department provides coverage for the people of the town (not “for free”, as the article says, but paid for by their taxes). If you live outside of the town limits, the South Fulton FD does not provide coverage unless you pay an annual fee of $75, to cover the costs of out-of-area service. Gas is expensive, firemen want to get paid, someone needs to keep the lights on in the fire station, and all that. Fair enough, right? The FD is, after all, a resource of the town of South Fulton, paid for by its residents, and can’t be expected to provide services free of charge to people who don’t pay to support the fire department.

The two incidents so far where county residents had their houses burn down without help from the fire department–those were people hedging their bets. They chose to not pay the $75 for annual coverage for whatever reason, and they lost the wager. (Some people will say that these people probably couldn’t afford the coverage, but if you own a house, you can afford $75 a year for what is essentially insurance. I bet I could sift through the ruins of the latest burned-0ut house and find a fair number of items that are both a.) non-essential, and b.) worth more than $75.)

Now, why exactly is that such a horrible thing? What case could you possibly make for the Fire Department to put out the fires for people who chose not to pay the fee that wouldn’t result in a collapse of the system? If they had put the fire out anyway, few county residents would have paid the fee next year, knowing that when push comes to shove, the FD will turn on the hoses and go to work for free anyway. Then the only alternatives for the town of South Fulton are to either subsidize the fire service for the entire county, or cancel the scheme altogether and keep their services strictly for the taxpayers of South Fulton. In an ideal world, city and county could both afford all the fire trucks and manpower they need to service everyone. As things stand, the resources are limited, and they’ve made a reasonable compromise–the current “pay to spray” option. Which is the better alternative for the county folk–optional fire service at $75 a year, or no fire service at all for free?

It’s really easy to look at this purely from the emotional angle and say stuff like “Libertarian dream” with a sarcastic inflection. Yes, it’s bad that those people lost their house, but they rolled their dice and took their chances. Shield everyone from the consequences of bad decisions–and make no mistake, forgoing fire coverage over the price of a tank of gas is a monumentally bad one–and you take away the incentives to make good decisions. If you roll your eyes at anyone in that scenario for being “Libertarian”, it should be the homeowners, who acted in the most libertarian way of all–they were presented with a voluntary contract option, they chose to keep their money and reject the contract, and they got to live with the consequences of their decision, without the community having to shoulder the financial burden of their selfishness.