Civil Rights in the 21st Century, and a Brave Citizen

To summarize that 14 minute video, Michael Allison of Illinois has been charged with “eavesdropping” for publicly recording the actions of Law Officers in the execution of their duties, and now faces 75 years in prison. He has refused a plea deal, and seems to be attempting to force this issue to go either before the supreme court of Illinois where the relevant laws will hopefully be shot down, or to the US Supreme Court where identical laws across our nation (including in California) would all be shot down. We need more patriots like this man – most people would simply take the plea deal (probation and no jail time) knowing that the result would be future citizens facing a situation similar to his in the future. Since about 1954, the US Supreme court has been the most often used policy-level venue to address Civil Rights issues, but Amending the US Constitution remains a valid fall-back.

Click here to find out if your State, like California and Illinois, is one of the Dirty Dozen.

In this event that this isn’t settled in the courts within the next decade or so, me and a friend have drafted a very rough proposed Amendment to the US Constitution that would directly address this. Version “B” of our draft reads as follows:

Amendment Regarding the Use of Privately Owned Recording Devices

Section 1. Nothing in this amendment shall be interpreted as applying to recording devices owned by Federal, State, or Local governments or as applying to officials thereof using recording devices while acting in any official capacity.

Section 2. In all public areas of the United States inside the various states and territories thereof, Federal, State, and Local government officials being recorded in the execution of their duties on public lands such as parks and roads need not be informed nor provide consent for their actions to be legally recorded. On private property, existing Federal, State, and Local laws shall continue to be in effect.

Section 3. When such recording is occurring using a mobile device, the private individual must make reasonable efforts to maintain at least 20 feet of distance from the official.

Section 4. In any case wherein such recording devices are searched or seized, any and all recordings that include Federal, State, or Local government officials executing their duties shall be held for a period of not less than 10 years in an unmodified state. Copies must be entered into the public record in an unmodified state except where such modifications are permitted in section 5, and in such a way that the general public can readily access them, unless the recording would prejudice an ongoing criminal investigation.

Section 5. The faces, voices, and unique identifying marks of private persons may obfuscated only to the extent necessary to prevent recognition of specific persons in any of the following cases:

a) If requested by the person in question or legal representatives of such person.
b) If done by a State or locally established and legally empowered privacy committee.
c) As required by State law or Local government ordinance.

In addition, the obfuscation must be removed if requested by the person or legal representatives of such persons.

Section 6. Section 5 obfuscation is to be done at the expense of States or Local governances that have or wish to enact such laws. The extent of Section 5 obfuscation is to be determined by the locality in which the recording was made, not by the jurisdiction of the official that seized the material.

Section 7. Local jurisdictions are to create and maintain websites to facilitate this, and such websites shall not record any data regarding persons accessing said website.

Slowly, a few judges seem to be concluding that the existing US Bill of Rights covers most of the above and are nullifying existing laws as unconstitutional. To read about that angle being taken, click here.

Civil Rights in the 21st Century, and a Brave Citizen

SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)


(Image Credit: From here)

I visited the operational World War II Liberty Ship SS Jeremiah O’Brien (official website) for a day-cruise yesterday and had a phenomenal time. Lunch was decent, seating adequate, nautical tour guide over the PA system phenomenal, and the water, soda, and popcorn were free. I took many many pictures of the O’Brien, the USS Iowa, and the rest of the mothball fleet that we have here in the San Francisco Bay Area.

My personal favorite pictures are of the majestic USS Iowa, but for other pictures that I took you should check out the following articles:

At some point, I will upload all of the pictures to see and perhaps create a photo-essay. If anyone is interested in seeing the Ghost Fleet for themselves, it is located here next to the Benecia-Martinez bridge and accessible to anyone capable of driving and swimming or of putting a boat in the water and navigating it using a cell phone GPS.

Many of the pictures, like the one immediately below, have black areas around the edges. That is because I achieved 24x zoom by placing my cheap 3x zoom digital camera up against a pair of cheap 8x zoom binoculars. Incidentally, a more precise version of that is how microscopes work: if you line a 10x zoom lens with another 10x zoom lens, you are now at 100x zoom.


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I also got many close-up images, including this one which I thought would be kind of funny to put on the Wikipedia page for port-a-pottys:


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When I was contributing the below image to Wikipedia, I noticed that the SS Mount Washington was not listed as being part of the mothball fleet and corrected the article based on the name clearly visible on the ship below.


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As we pulled back into port, we saw what I am fairly certain is the Chilean Navy training ship Esmeralda pulling out of port. If that is indeed the ship pictured, it is a fairly unique in being a steel-hulled sailing ship that was built to be military in nature. When navies started putting steel on the hulls of ships, they generally started removing the sails. It was also, allegedly, a floating torture center for political prisoners in the 1970s.


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SS Jeremiah O’Brien Ghost Fleet Cruise, sighting of USS Iowa (BB-61)

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

These concepts are often made murky by the most well intentioned textbooks. Let’s see if a practical example would suffice:

If I am a lawyer and earn $500 per hour in a courtroom, and can type 60 words per minute, do I hire someone that types 30 words per minute at $50/hour?

Assume that it will take him two hours to do the typing, but it will only take me one hour.

Hell yes I hire him!

By hiring him to do my typing, I lose $50 per hour for 2 hours but make $500 per hour in the courtroom for a total profit of $900.

If I type myself, I miss out on $500 per hour for one hour and hop into the courtroom for the other hour for a total profit of $0.00.

So even if I am better at both lawyering and typing than the person I hire, I should still hire him.

Now pretend instead of me and a typist, we are talking about two entire countries.

Poor countries specialize in cheap labor (“typing”), wealthy countries specialize in design and engineering (“Lawyering”), and both are better off than before the deal was struck to (hopefully, temporarily) create that arrangement.

The First World does things (like offer IMF loans that have strings) in order to keep them poor because it is in the interests of all of the First World to do so. If we created another Japan, we’d have competition. If we keep them around as another metaphorical China, then the wealthy people in the developing country can exploit our middle class for profit and our wealthy people can exploit the poor desperate people in the developing country for profit (via minimizing costs). As long as you aren’t a poor person in a developing country, you win.

Why is it that no one seems to care about poor people in developing countries, and instead the well-intentioned but misinformed First World philanthropists do silly things like give them free corn that destroys the local farmers’ and forces them to grow poppy or marijuana in a desperate attempt to stay afloat by entering the drug trade? When I find the answer to that one, I’ll happily be accepting my Nobel Peace Prize shortly thereafter and credit any suggestions you may have to offer in the comment section.

In Economics, what is specialization & opportunity cost, and why do we try to keep poor countries poor?

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Someone asked the following question:

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the USMC?
How are troops and weapons broken down into organized units in the US Marine Corps? i.e. squads, platoons, armies… Also, what rank officer would usually be in charge of these units?
Administratively,
3 Active Marine Air Wings.
3 Active Marine Divisions.Parenthesis indicates who is supposed to command such a unit on paper, but in reality they are often one or in the case of squads and fireteams, two, ranks below that. For specialized heavy weapons units, one rank above what I list is sometimes the norm (Weapons platoons are commanded by 1st Lieutenants, for example).

Divisions (2 star general) are composed of regiments.
Regiments (Colonel) are composed of battalions.
Battalions (Lt. Colonel) are composed of companies.
Companies (Captain) are composed of platoons.
Platoons (2nd Lieutenant) are composed of squads.
Squads (Sergeant) are composed of fire teams.
Fire teams (Corporal) are composed of Marines.

The generalization for how many of each form one higher unit is called the “Rule of Three” and can be approximated with the statement that “three line and one specialized form one higher”. Three line companies and one weapons company form a battalion, for example, and three Marines with one fire team leader form a fire team. The three fire teams that form a squad may have a machine gun team attached when deployed. And so on. There are caveats at every level though, so that generalization is very rough and should be considered a generalization and not an exact rule.When deployed, a provisional Marine Air-Ground Task Force (MAGTF) is formed.

Most commonly, this is done by taking a battalion as the Ground Combat Element, augmenting it with perhaps a tank platoon, adding an Air Combat Element, a Command Element, a Logistics Element, training together for 6-18 months, and then deploying under the command of a Colonel as part of an Amphibious Ready Group commanded by a USN Captain and consisting of 2 or 3 amphibious assault ships of some variety and many more supporting ships.

For Iraq and Afghanistan rotations, the MAGTF is often built around a regiment instead of a battalion, has no ships (obviously), and may not have as much of an Air Combat Element. “Regimental Combat Team” is the term used here, very roughly equivalent to what the US Army calls a “Brigade Combat Team”.

What is the Force Structure breakdown for the US Marine Corps’ ground forces?

Comic-o-Matic – Easily Generate Quick 3-panel Comics

UPDATE: I made a website to support and encourage the use of Comic-O-Matic. Check it out, and participate!

Original Post Follows:

Nina Paley is the amazing artist behind the film Sita Sings the Blues that you are encouraged to watch or download for free. Pairing some of her artwork with some clever coding by Margo Burns, and we have the Comic-O-Matic, a phenomenally easy to use toy (or tool, depending on your perspective) that allows for the quick and easy generation of 3-panel 2-character comics.

Here is my first comic created using the Comic-O-Matic, a very simple response to the recent idiotic rioting in the otherwise fine and proud city of Vancouver.

(Click for full size)
Cat says with sad face: Boston won! This is Bullshit! Alien says with stubborn face: Ya, it kind of sucks. So close. =( Cat says with sneaky happy face: What can we do about it? Alien says with happy cheerful face: Lets destroy Boston! That'll show those yank fuckers. Cat says with eyebrow raised: Dude, I don't have that kind of gas money. Alien says with crazy eyes and a smile: Fine, Vancouver it is!

I do hope those injured recover fully, and that the criminals are captured and see justice.

That is both a plug for an artist I enjoy, and all I have to say about the tragic events in Vancouver last night.

Comic-o-Matic – Easily Generate Quick 3-panel Comics

Irresponsible Journalists, meet an Inexperienced Marine

I came across this story. It’s about a young lady from Indiana named Private Kylie Furnish that recently completed Marine Corps Recruit Training and is upset that she is not being allowed to wear her Dress Blues to her High School graduation. She faces the same choice as every other student – wear the cap-and-gown, or don’t attend.

The story starts;

ALLEN COUNTY, Ind. (Indiana’s NewsCenter) – A soon to be Leo High School graduate will be skipping out on her big day this weekend because she won’t be allowed to wear her Marine Corps dress blues.

Wait, why is this news again? Let’s continue reading…

…Private Kylie Furnish graduated from high school early and recently graduated from Marine Corps Boot Camp. Private Furnish had hoped to walk with her class this weekend wearing her Marine Corps dress blues, which is Marine Corps policy for a ceremony like this.

Any other former Marine at this point is asking himself or herself “what?” right about now, perhaps with a confused look on his or her face. I’ll clarify that point later. But, let us read on. The School District defends its position thusly:

“The attire for all graduates of East Allen County Schools is a Cap and Gown representing the high school from which they graduate. This is a ceremony to recognize the achievements of four years of high school effort as seniors leave us and go on to many different aspects of life: work, college, military, service, homemaker, etc. Whereas we are aware there are many students who would prefer to wear their own choice of clothing at graduation to symbolize all different sorts of things, the Corporation’s policy is that participation is contingent upon the required attire of a cap and gown.

East Allen County Schools is not unlike most, if not all, schools in the state. Each year school districts are presented with requests to alter their long-standing rules and practices regarding the graduation ceremony. The courts have granted school districts the right to continue to follow these rules and practices time after time. It is always a difficult thing to turn down requests which have such emotional ties to them. However, as stated above, graduation is the time that is used to recognize the achievements of our all seniors. The Cap and Gown, most symbolically, does just that.”

Well, that certainly sounds reasonable to me – especially as the Marine Corps policy mentioned earlier does not exist. The story concludes:

Outraged at the policy, Furnish says she won’t be going.

Well, she has the right to be outraged. Just as I have the right to be outraged at the rain and I can refuse to walk outside when it rains. She recently completed a more significant graduation ceremony, anyways: from Marine Corps Recruit Training.

The Marine Corps’ general guidance is that a uniform may be worn at ceremonies such as this. “May” is the operative word. There is no requirement or policy saying that a uniform must be worn at such civilian ceremonies. In my opinion, the only possible way these two journalists could possibly have received information to the contrary is if they are willfully and negligently (perhaps maliciously) pretending that an 18 year old Marine Private as an expert on Marine Corps uniform regulations. Five seconds on Google, just five seconds of responsible journalism, would have brought them to the relevant policy in the form of a PDF that can be searched through for key words such as “uniform regulations,” as I have done below. (pages 75, and 78, emphasis mine):

DESIGNATED UNIFORMS AND OCCASIONS FOR WEAR

BLUE DRESS UNIFORMS
1. The blue dress “A” uniform may be worn for parades, ceremonies and formal or semiformal social functions… The blue dress “A” uniform will be is worn for the following official military/social occasions:

What follows is a list that includes events at the White House and the Marine Corps Ball, but not anything resembling a high school graduation. It also goes on to specify which variant of the blues can and cannot be worn on leave or liberty (ie, off work) but that isn’t relevant to us here. The words “may” and “will” for unofficial/civilian events and for official military/social events respectively are consistent, and not ambiguous. The language is exact and the document incredibly easy to find. It wasn’t rocket science for me to find that, and I’m not the one claiming to be a professional journalist.

While true that the young Marine is mistaken (if her words are indeed the source of the incorrect statement regarding the policy, and the journalists didn’t simply make it up) and perhaps also being a bit dramatic, the reporters that wrote the story are being irresponsible and sensationalist by attempting create a dramatic story when, in reality, there is no story.

Teenagers say and do silly and dramatic things for a variety of bizarre reasons, Marine or otherwise. She didn’t instantly become an expert on Marine Corps Policy by virtue of completing recruit training – she demonstrated that she understands the basics about what it is to be a Marine, and she is allowed to make a mistake here-and-there that she hopefully learns from. “Basic” training is not “Advanced Law and Policy Training”.

What she doesn’t need is to be taken advantage of by two journalists in such a way that her error will be immortalized, the way some journalists love to do with anything military. Being a Marine Private does not entitle her to speak for the entire US Marine Corps, and the journalists know that. If they hadn’t built a story around such an easily discovered misunderstanding, I wouldn’t be complaining. But, they did. So, I am.

I’m making a story out of a non-story by publishing my response. The story is simply that two journalists (presumably college educated and experienced in the field of journalism?) ought to know better and be capable of very basic fact checking. There, now your error is also immortalized Scott Sarvay and Krystal Shull.

Irresponsible Journalists, meet an Inexperienced Marine

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants

EDIT: If you are actually looking for Open Source Restaurant Reservation software, take a look here.

I recently came across a question asked by a high school student in the United Kingdom. One of his teachers had asked a question that seemed to imply that needing to share improvements to open source restaurant reservation software with the open source project that created the software was a disadvantage of using open source software.

Im currently delivering a high school qualification in the UK and part of the course is on open source. We have just had an examination paper with a question on what are the disadvantages of using open source software to create a restaurant booking system.

One of the model answers says that the restaurant would have to then release their changes to the public.

For some reason, the fact that this was a model answer bothers me, because that implies that this answer is something the student should strive to emulate to receive a good grade. As if that answer could possibly be part of a coherent answer that makes any reasonable attempt to take the full implications of open source economics into consideration.

So, let us examine the many ways in which sharing code improvements with “the public” for $0.00 is to the advantage of the individual restaurant. Each of the below points could easily be expanded to be an essay unto itself, but I shall endeavor to be brief. We will start by examining a few ways in which it has no negative effect on the individual restaurant because it almost certainly isn’t going to help the competition. Then, we will look at how it will help the restaurant.

Sharing Hurts Nothing.

To begin with, their food and customer service will never be identical to another restaurant – a streamlined reservation system does not change the attire or politeness of staff, nor the amount of curry in the food. Restaurants supply a heterogeneous product, and that product ain’t software.

Furthermore, the software would not even necessarily work for any other restaurant unless it was using an identical software stack minus these trivial modifications.

Thirdly, restaurants outside that city or county are not competitors. If one restaurant in several cities or counties use, improve, and share the software then each of these restaurants will benefit at the expense of all other restaurants in their respective cities. Unless the software becomes ubiquitous, odds are the small number of restaurants adopting the software will be from different cities — located in different markets.

Sharing Has Many Benefits.

It is in each individual restaurant’s best interests to submit the improvements upstream so that each time a new version of the software comes out, they can benefit from all of the other improvements without the need to re-patch the new version of the software with the stuff they wrote. It is far more efficient and streamlined to allocate resources towards working as part of the wider team than to allocate all of the resources that would be needed to maintain internal patches and revision control.

If a single competing restaurant in the given city does use the improved software, then it will still be in that other restaurant’s best interests to share-alike as well any improvements they make (or bug reports, or even feature requests) — so the two restaurants in the same city (eg, market) using this software can both share a comparative advantage over the other n restaurants in town.

Finally, explicit costs of sharing code improvements upstream (eg, “to the public”) are nil as the IT guy that is familiar with Open Source and can do a bit of coding is already assumed to be an employee in the scenario created by the question, and the Marginal Benefit of releasing modified source code back is almost certainly going to exceed Marginal Cost. If there is one thing drilled into the head of any student of economics, it is that if MB > MC – you move forward and do it. Period, and end of story.

So, clearly, it is not a disadvantage for a restaurant to share improvements made to the software “with the public”. They will not be getting any direct revenue for this software, but they will be getting additional indirect revenue through the continuous improvement in their critical customer service infrastructure that this is a key contributor to. The restaurant should not contribute code improvements upstream to be nice or to be communists, they should share this stuff for $0.00 to be greedy rational self-interested business people trying to make as much money as humanly possible.

The Greedy Restaurant Shares Software Improvements with Other Restaurants