I ate my wafer...


Human Rights Watch: The good and the stupid. Part I

First, the stupid:

They buy into a rather silly proliferation of small arms and landmines argument that totally ignores the fact that both items are low tech devices that can be constructed anywhere. If the supply of weapons could, hypothetically be stopped, the demand would simply lead to local production. Fun factoid: 20% of firearms seized by the Washington D.C. police are homemade! In fact, just to see how fast it takes The Patriot Act to kick in, I?ve included some fun links for preschool children or Al Qaeda to try at home!

Land Mines:
At the crudest level, you need a sensitive, primary explosive for a detonator, typically Fulminate of Mercury or Lead styphnate and a secondary high explosive ( though I wouldn?t want to step on one with 10 pounds of black powder in it either).

So, if you bother to read the links included, you might think, but Bob, the bad evil people can?t just dial up Fischer Scientific and buy a big pile of Nitric and Sulfuric acid, etc, etc. Well, they don?t need to, it is pretty trivial to synthesize Nitric acid from ammonia, and Sulfuric acid from cupric sulfate. Or, the lazy can buy a couple of car batteries for the acid and use the lead plates to make Lead styphnate.

Small Arms Ammunition
Not all that complicated, merely a different application of the simple chemistry above. Nitrocellulose gun powder is cake to synthesize! Primers require a VERY small amount of lead styphnate.

Want to make a Rocket Propelled Grenade?
Well, your average third world chemist can cook up some TNT or picric acid for the primary explosive, nitrocellulose or black gunpowder for the rocket propellant....

I?ve rather exhaustively covered making actual firearms before, but I have a fun and new factoid for those who will be traveling via air in the near future! It would be the relative easy to build crude non-metallic firearms. (Attention Ashcroft and Friends, this is not a new idea, in fact, I think that it is mentioned in a mid-1980?s Gun Digest) I basically assume that the people that hate me have at least as much engineering backround as I do, so this wouldn?t take much work: buy high strength ceramic tubing or Polyimide off the shelf, buy matching, but much softer ceramic solid rod that fits it. Machine the ceramic rod into rocket ball style projectiles. Since the tubing is going to be highly stressed, possibly wrap it with epoxy and glass fibers. Consider a multiple barrel weapon with electric ignition for reliability/ fatigue concerns. Keep electric ignition parts separate...say, inside a walkman. Voila, a non-metallic gun with only off the shelf parts.

So, Human Rights Watch and their friends have the proliferation of arms issue totally wrong...Part II will cover what l like about HRW.


I’m terrified of public speaking.
What else can I compare it to…it is more scary than standing in Hillsdale Street with nothing but a radio and the townies. , practicing stall-spins or feeling the claustrophobic squeeze of tunnel walls forcing short rapid breaths. . I suppose we all have our demons, and this one happens to be mine. To paraphrase Dave Barry, we all have embarrassing memories that, when they raise their heads, cause us to consider killing ourselves with the pen/pencil/screwdriver/BBQ fork we have in our hand. The majority of mine involve public speaking…the damn intro to theatre project where I erroneously thought that I didn’t need to memorize my speech, various things from high school, etc.

I was very surprised a couple of months ago when I mentioned this to a couple of my closer friends, who, though present for a variety of times where I thought that my utter fear was apparent (the science and ID CCAs, Fairfield, etc) didn’t see it. Frankly, I thought they were being considerate at first, but apparently not. Also, I’m not afraid to argue, or talk in small intimate groups, in fact I rather like to. In fact, I suspect, the angrier that I am, in effect, the larger the group I feel comfortable talking to (Intelligent Design CCA).

So this leads to the present problem: I have a mock appellate argument to delver on Saturday morning. There is also a practice one on Wednesday. It is in front of an odd numbered panel of “judges” (practicing trial lawyers and judges). I represent the plaintiff in a 1st amendment case, and speak first, for 13 minutes, followed by 15 minutes from my opponent, then 2 minutes of rebuttal. Since there will be ~ 20 people in the room, I’m hoping that mentally I can construe it into a small intimate setting, and argue well. Unfortunately, I also know that it is supposed to represent an argument before a court of appeals. It is rather obvious that we are supposed to take this very seriously, what with 2 months to prep for it, formal attire, etc. In any case, between it and the 30 page paper this week involves a great deal of pressure!


Jake has requested an analysis of U.S. v. Gould:

Quick Recap:

One of Mr. Gould's employees goes to the police to snitch on his boss for plotting to murder judges and police offices, (and destroy power transformers). The threat appears to be collarborated. The police run a quick computer search and discover that Mr. Gould is a repeat violent felon...so they send two officers to his trailer to interview him (w/o a warrant). A housemate answers the door, says that he was probably asleep in the trailer. The police ask the housemate if they can go inside and look for him, he agrees, so the officers go inside, and start looking for Gould. They decide that given the situation, they will do a protective sweep (they look around for both Gould, and anything dangerous to them). They don't find him, but notice three guns in a closet, and hear someone outside yell that Gould snuck out the back. The police officers then grab him, and put him in the police cruiser, at which point they ask him about the guns, and ask if he will consent to a search. He not only verbally consents, but SIGNS A WAIVER. They search the house thoroughly, and indict Gould for 18 U.S.C. § 922(g)(1) (Convicted Felon in Possesion of a Firearm). The district court throws out the evidence...then on appeal, the appellate court rules that the District court screwed up by using dicta (stuff a court says that isn't binding) from a previous case where, in the dicta, it is said that only protective searches during an arrest are admissible.

What I think:

Well, in this case, Gould royally screwed himself by signing the waiver. Without it, the officers would have had great cause to get a warrant...even if they hadn't seen the guns, since the man is a convicted violent felon and he tried to run away, in combination with the snitch's collaborated testimony , they would have gotten a warrant. But, they would have had to get it for everything to be Kosher. Even after this ruling, they still need a warrant in that situation.

Certainly, on the face, the decision leaves open opportunities for abuse of the "officer safety" exceptions. I'm not horribly afraid of that, as I think that trial courts will continue to interpret the exception narrowly. In a case such as this, where the police officers had about enough material for an arrest warrant anyway, and they likely did feel a legit safety issue, it doesn't bother me to allow a quick sweep. If the trial courts start interpreting the exception too loosely, it would be a different matter, but as I read this case, they would be reaching to do so.

This, in case anyone hasn't noticed is yet another example of why I advise everyone, no matter what the situation, to refuse permission for searches. I frankly wish that it was a Miranda-type warning that was given during traffic stops.

In a perfect world, it would read something like this:

"I would like to ask you to consent to a voluntary search of your car/house/business/shed/truck/camel, you must be made aware that you can refuse permission, and your refusal cannot be held against you. In fact, if you do not refuse, nothing about this search can be contested later, and your attorney will likely wish to cause you intense pain."


Evidence Picture Suggestions?

Random thought: maybe I should start carrying around pictures that evidence my more unusual life experiences, sort of like the people that carry pictures of their kids. Specifically, after telling about my car accident with an ambulance during Metzger's birthday party, I wished that I had brought pictures, heck, even the x-rays that showed all of the tools in my coat pockets. Any suggestions as to what stories I tell that I should carry pictures for?



Congratulations to Sam on accepting the U of V position!

Hints to British protesters: You need a bigger banner, and your odds of getting caught go down at night. Heck the "No blood for oil" and Pirate Flags were both queen sized bed sheets, and the real protesters use a dinky little sign.

Interesting, though somewhat shaky article in the current Hillsdale Imprimis: "The Threat from Lawyers is No Joke". I agree that trial lawyers tend to be scum.

A. However, Mr. Barber doesn't seen to differentiate between cases that are frivolous and unsuccessful and lawsuits that are frivolous and successful. That is, as far as I know, lawsuits against fast food restaurants have not been successful, I can find NO case law indicating that.

B. Mr. Barber bemoans both a falling away from our historical legal system and the historically more difficult rules of discovery. The amusing part is that he also suggests that America should move to a "loser pays" model. Contradictory goals in that the "America rule" of each party generally paying their own fees IS our traditional system of litigation. Also, we actually use a mixed system of financing litigation, typically in order to punish frivolous appeals, bad attorney behavior, etc. We also award attorneys fees specifically to encourage certain discrimination lawsuits, such as 1983 and Fair Housing Act claims.

C. His claim that the tobacco settlement amounts to tax on cigarettes is pretty silly. For a quick example, RJR can raise its share of the settlement without even thinking about changing cigarette prices. The tobacco companies really don't care that much about the domestic American market anymore: Phillip Morris made $6.5 Billion in profit in 1998, with $5 billion from international sales. Do you think they need to raise taxes on cigarettes to generate their share of the combined total of approximately $8 billion a year? If anything the big scandal about the settlement is that the state governments are misusing the funds, with only about 5% going to the appropriate educational programs.

Overall, I agree that at the state level, especially in certain states, there is a need for better malpractice caps, and other similar restrictions. However, scuzzy lawyers aren't exactly a novelty, dating back at least to the Norman Conquest, and the "crisis" in frivolous litigation reached its peak before the 1980's tort reforms.


Dolt of the Day

I would like to introduce a new feature here on "I ate my wafer": the "dolt of the day award" It will work like this, everytime I run across a particularly technically incorrect statement by a public figure I dub them the "I ate my Wafer" dolt of the day, or possibly "mouth-breather of the month".

The first one will be former congressman Dr. Tom Coburn. Why? well because he's aggressively campaigning for warning labels on condoms about their lack of effectiveness in preventing HPV transmission. Rather hillariously, he has said, or rather been quoted as saying that HPV causes "all of the cervical cancer in the country." Problems with his statements:

A. HPV does not cause all of the cervical cancer in America, it is found in some 80-90% of cases. It IS a risk factor, but so are obesity and oral contaceptives. (Interestingly, smoking probably ISN'T linked to cervical cancer.)

B. There are approximately 100 strains of HPV, of which about 30 CAN be transmitted sexually. They can also be transmitted in non sexual methods, such as toilet seats, and skin contact. The big problem is that only 1% of people with HPV actually have any symptoms whatsoever, so statistics are very hard to pin down.

C. The WHO statistics show 10 million women worldwide with stage 2-3 CIN (Cervical cancer/precancer) and 300 Million with HPV without abnormal cervical cells. So, if you get HPV, you're odds of cervical cancer are approximately 3 percent.

D. Condoms do offer some protection against HPV transmission, but data is VERY incomplete.

So, in the interests of science, I visited the local Meijer's store and checked out the warning labels on all of the condoms avalible. (I also spend an equal amount of time examining the construction of various oil filters, so the security people have to be VERY amused to watch me in the CCTV) Due mainly to the threat of product liability legistlation, they already have pretty decent warnings, they certainly don't claim to protect against HPV. Rather obviously, the FDA doesn't want to see ANY reduction in condom usage hence their reluctance to add additional warnings. So what the hell is Dr. Coburn up to? It doesn't take much of a reach to see that he's playing politics not science here.

To draw a simple analogy, requiring additional specific warnings on condoms makes about as much sense from a medical perspective as putting warnings on seatbelts about broken ribs.




A single serving friend.

My spring break started at 5:05 this evening, so I've been basically wasting time watching movies since then, with a few exceptions:

I wandered downstairs between movies at about 9:00 to stand outside in the rain, not to sound like a freak, but occasionally it feels good to just stand or walk in the rain, to let oneself become totally soaked while thinking. Anyway, I had just walked outside, and I was asked for a cigarette by the next person out the door, who assumed that only a smoker would be standing outside in the rain. So, I dug in my coat pockets, and pulled out a pack of cigarettes and threw it to him…highlights of the conversation are as follows:

Him: “You have a full pack of smokes and no lighter?”
Me: “Well, I bought them about two weeks ago, I’m just not motivated about smoking”

Him: “…….my thesis (Philosophy ) was about how, like, if everyone told the truth all the time society would collapse…..”

Me: Well, it is a fascinating idea, but as far as every part of society collapsing, have you every considered that in the hard sciences and engineering that nothing would really change if everyone told everything they know??

*two cigarette gap*

Him: “…the civil war is probably an exception; it was about human dignity not religion or money…”

Me: “well that’s one way to look at it, but the whole states rights, federalism, business relates closely to religion, or religious interpretations of Hume, Locke, etc. Hell, you can’t exclude economic concerns either, I mean look at the cotton gin making slavery profitable….

*one cigarette gap*

Me: “ Well, I think I’m going to go buy some beer”
Him: “I’m going to the Landshark"

And, he disappears...a true single serving friend, I didn't even get his name.

So, the Hillsdale education was really quite a bit better than we all thought. Sam was right about most big schools letting their philosophy undergrads slip through with a poor education. In general, I tend to shift topics as much as possible when arguing outside of my area of expertise. I used to do it with the Libertarians at Hillsdale, the Swiss Army knife method: many functions, but only barely capable at each one. Frankly, it is kind of sad that my Swiss Army knife level of philosophy can argue coherently against a philosophy major with a 4.0 GPA. God save Hillsdale.


I find this oddly captivating.