Musings from Brian J. Noggle
Saturday, April 02, 2005
Call Europe the Amusement Park Socialismland

Pensioner ordered to cut the grass
    A pensioner who took his daughter and son-in-law to court to force them to cut his grass has been forced to do it himself.

    Paul Mueller, 72, argued he was too old to cut the lawn at the house he shared with daughter Karin and her husband Peter Hoffer.

    He went to court to get them to take on the job at the house in Bonn, Germany.

    But the plan backfired when the court ruled that the pensioner should be responsible for cutting the grass.

    If he fails to do the job, his daughter, 43, is allowed to hire a professional gardener and make the old man pay the bill.
I don't know whether to laugh or to cry. I suppose I could do both: I could laugh at the absurdity of this silly Eurocrat idea, and cry because I realize by the time I am 72, the situation could be such in this country that I might have to sue my own damn kid to mow the schnucking lawn and lose.

An Anatomy of Bad Lawmaking

From a story in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch entitled "Chain reaction", we have this illuminating look at poor lawmaking:
  • Concerned citizen John Q. Everyman gets an idea.

      That's what Connie Davie of Creve Coeur thought when she saw dogs tied outside, all alone, day and night, in every kind of weather. In fact, she thought, as images of the lonely, pathetic-looking canines kept creeping into her mind, surely there is a law against such obvious abuse.

      Curious, Davie called her local police department to find out just what the law said.

      It said nothing. There was no law. As long as a dog has access to food, water and shelter, the law was happy.

    Note the shading of story; a dog chained in a yard is subject to obvious abuse; the community must sanction the owner. Also, let's understand the nature of this John Q., shall we?

      Or volunteering for Stray Rescue of St. Louis. Or walking Eddie and Sherry, the dogs she fostered for Stray Rescue and ended up keeping.

      But, she said, "I saw a need in my area for a law that addressed this issue of tethering." Animals were suffering.

      And when animals are suffering, Davie acts.
    This particular citizen is an active volunteer for an animal advocacy group. One doubts that the St. Louis Post-Dispatch would wine-and-dine a Missouri Synod employee advocating schools to allow Lutheran youth groups meet on campus after school, but an animal group volunteer who agitates is just a plucky normal person.

  • The council drafts an ordinance to apply to everyone.

      "I worked with Beth for three to four months drafting an ordinance that we thought would be enforceable. I also worked with our police chief, Don Kayser, since he would be the one who'd have to enforce whatever we came up with," she said.

      "When I first met with the police chief, I told him I didn't expect the police to be cruising around looking for chained dogs. And I told the city council that I didn't expect the police to be the dog gestapo. But if someone calls to report that a dog is being mistreated, the police need to have the leverage to act on it."

    You see, the law is not designed for an instant enforcement; tether a dog, go to jail. Instead, it's designed as a means by which to punish those select people about whom the neighbors complain, or whom the police want to punish. If cops see a tethered dog, they're not always going to make an arrest. A good discretionary law, subject to arbitrary enforcement.

  • The legislators pay attention to detail to craft exactly the ordinance they intend.

      Davie smiled when she recalled that the final draft of the ordinance had a mistake in it. "It said that a dog could not be tied out continuously for more than six hours. It was supposed to say eight hours, because we wanted to take people who work into consideration. When one of the council members pointed out the typo, another council member said they'd be happy if it said we couldn't chain a dog outside at all," she said.
    I cannot bold this paragraph enough. They made an error in the final legislation they passed, but that's okay, because one legislator would prefer to take all tethering rights from dog owners altogether.

  • Satisfied that she has altered her local community's laws, John Q. Public returns to normal life.

      Davie still is amazed at the relative ease with which the ordinance passed. So much so that she has decided to broaden the battlefield.

      She wants to get a similar measure enacted in St. Louis County.

    So she wants me, and all St. Louis County residents, to adhere to her personal aesthetic standards of animal ownership. But wait, it's not just me:
      Davie is hoping that others will join her crusade, not just in St. Louis County but in other municipalities.

      "What we did in Creve Coeur has been done in at least 59 other communities across the country," she said. "It's becoming kind of a movement, I think."

    John Q. wants the entire world to adhere to her standards.
There you have it. An animal rights advocate uses anecdotal evidence and emotionalism to hand law enforcement a law it can enforce at its whim. Whom will it impact the most? Law abiding citizens who own dogs but cannot afford thousand dollar fences but don't want to leave their dogs in their homes while they're at work. While they might have provided their tethered dogs with water, food, shelter, and amusement for the periods when they're at work, they'll have to give up their dogs or violate the law (I bet they just violate the law).

The more laws you make, the more lawbreakers, particularly when the laws target trivial misdeeds that many people do without mens rea or particular ill effect. I wonder what our society will be like in twenty years or thirty years when everyone knows that they're already breaking laws....what could one more crime mean?

Brief Movie Review: Hostage Starring Bruce Willis

Like Die Hard with a kid.

If you can watch a child in a Bruce Willis movie crawling through HVAC ducts without saying, "Come out to the coast, we'll get together, have a few laughs," well, you're a more polite movie goer than I.

It's different from the book by Robert Crais, but just as good. For what that's worth.

A Record To Stand The Ages

According to a nugget in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, Cardinals slugger Albert Pujols did not strike out in spring training. An almost unheard of occurrence:
    He is the first player to go an entire spring without a strikeout since the Milwaukee Brewers' Eric Young in 2003. The Chicago White Sox' Joey Cora accomplished the feat in 1993 in 72 plate appearances. Outfielder Luis Saturia was the last Cardinals player to go all spring training without a strikeout in at least 20 plate appearances. He did so in 2002; however, he was reassigned before the end of camp.
No other player in Major League Baseball has done that since the year before last and no Cardinals spring trainee attendee has done that since two years ago. And that Cardinals player was demoted to the minor leagues.

If local sportswriters could have it, we know which Cardinal they would elevate to the papacy.

I Won't Win The Lottery, Either

New pope will hail from cardinals

So that puts those of us who are not Catholic and advanced members of the clergy out of the running. I was hoping to be a Cinderella story myself, a dark horse candidate who would bring a sort of everyman's perspective to the papacy. Ah, well, at least I can console myself with my acelibacy.

I don't know what's more frightening; that reporters need to write entire eighth-grade-report style stories on succession in the Catholic church, or the idea that some people impacted by this knowledge might not have it.


Blagojevich orders pharmacies to sell contraceptives promptly.

The Illinois governor also told fast food fry clerks to clean the frier, grocery store utility clerks to restock the bags at the end of the registers, and for the sales clerk at the department store to stop standing around and to straighten her area, for crying out loud she's lucky she has this job with her being late three times this year and calling in once every three weeks.

UPDATE: Furthermore, Blagojevich ordered pharmacies to bundle unused flu vaccination doses with every purchase of a contraceptive.

Senator Jim Talent's Solution to Crime: Federalize It

After all, he's federal legislator, so he cannot be seen by the public as Doing Something!!!! on local law enforcement problems. So he gathered up a news conference with local law enforcement and spake:
    Sen. Jim Talent, calling methamphetamine "the No. 1 law-enforcement problem facing Missouri," on Friday outlined a federal plan to increase funding for police and prosecutors and restrict sales of the over-the-counter cold pills used to make the powerful narcotic.

    Speaking at a news conference at the St. Louis County Police headquarters in Clayton, Talent called the Combat Meth Act the most comprehensive anti-meth legislation ever proposed.

    The bill - sponsored by Talent, R-Mo., and Sen. Dianne Feinstein, D-Calif. - would direct $20 million to train police, hire prosecutors and fund programs that help children injured in drug labs. But the bill's focus is restricting the sale of pseudoephedrine, the active ingredient in scores of cold remedies.
It's a big problem facing Missouri, so Talent (a name, not necessarily a noun) wants the federal government to gather federal tax dollars, take its cut off the top, and then pass those federally-taken tax dollars to the states to spend as they see fit. Well, maybe pass the money back to the states, if the states jump through the new federal hoops correctly, probably including passing legislation to make it possible to charge someone with DUI for wearing aftershave. But I digress.

My senator co-sponsored this bill with Dianne Feinstein. That says it all.

They're doing something to make America better and stronger by setting up a vigorish that will fund administration of the tax money redistribution and by making more innocuous behavior (buying too much cough medicine) criminal. The America they're strengthening is the federal government. That America and the amalgamated citizens and states of America are often not the same thing.

But He Still Killed Susan Gutweiler

From the sound of it, the case against Leonard Little was a little weak:
    On Friday, the only defense witness that Rosenblum called was Ladue police Officer Keneth Andreski, who was Stork's backup when Little was arrested and was standing five feet from the defendant when Little was given the sobriety tests.

    Stork had testified that Little was windmilling his arms and unable to stand on one foot. Andreski said he didn't recall seeing Little swinging his arms or holding them outward like airplane wings to keep his balance.

    Andreski said he didn't recall seeing Little swaying or using the Mercedes for support, as Stork had told the jury.

    Also testifying Friday was Sgt. Darin McClure. Under questioning by prosecutor Mark Bishop, McClure said he administered a breath test at the arrest scene on a portable machine and it showed that Little had been drinking. McClure said also he smelled alcohol on Little's breath.

    Under Rosenblum's questioning, McClure said Little wasn't stumbling, swaying, losing his balance or smelling of alcohol at the Ladue police station, where he was taken 18 minutes after the traffic stop.

    "Nothing in this case is consistent with intoxication," Rosenblum said.
Well, that's the flipside of fame and the law's engagement with you. On the first offense, you leave a mother dead and get a slap on the wrist; from there on out, every cop who pulls you over will try to railroad you for DUI.

Were I To Vote, I Would Vote for Frost

Cardinals Differ on Who Will Succeed Pope

Pujols is said to favor Matthew Arnold, whereas Matt Morris and some of the relief pitchers back Percy Bysshe Shelley. Jim Edmonds publicly espoused Anonymous, which proves he was either joking, is daft, or has some weird Californiaesque buddhist leanings.

Girding Up

Clinton Supporters Gear Up Against 'Swift Boat' Tactics

Fortunately, this still leaves her exposed to deep water navy tactics, including submarine warfare.

Friday, April 01, 2005
Unintended Consequences, Again

Biometric security at work:
    Police in Malaysia are hunting for members of a violent gang who chopped off a car owner's finger to get round the vehicle's hi-tech security system.

    The car, a Mercedes S-class, was protected by a fingerprint recognition system.
(Link seen via Signifying Nothing and The Liquia Blog.)

Thursday, March 31, 2005
Sandy Berger: Slightly Guilty

Sandy Berger, the former National Security Adviser accused of putting documents in his socks, has plead guilty to a misdemeanor charge of stealing classified documents. Of course, dear friends, you realize that stealing classified documents remains a misdemeanor only because only powerful people do it; stealing a couple hundred bucks of rare manuscript or something of comparable size and relative value would land you or I, simple citizens, in jail for a long time.

But in case you're interested, remember MfBJN provided Stealing Documents In Socks: A Primer last summer to edify you, lawful reader, about how the bad deed is done.

(Story seen on Michelle Malkin.)

Athletes Refuse Autographs in Rhode Island

After all, Rhode Island is legislating away fees for autographs:
    The state Senate has approved a bill that would impose a $100 fine on professional athletes and entertainers who charge anyone under 16 for an autograph.
Dear friends, readers, and people who have come to this site for pictures of Samus Aran naked that I don't have, what will the result of this law?
  • Same amount of autograph opportunity availability, but no charge, or
  • Fewer autographing opportunities?
Furthermore, let's get to the incident that instigated the something-doing by the legislator:
    Bill sponsor,[sic] Sen. Roger Badeau, said he was appalled when Boston Red Sox players participated in an autograph signing event in Providence after their World Series win last fall, and parents had to shell out nearly $200 so their children could get an autograph.
Fining someone $100 for doing something for $200 is not a deterrent. It's a tax.

Great Minds Think Alike

But that won't necessarily explain why I said something with which Professor Bainbridge might agree.

In a recent book review, I said:
    These three novels are short; the whole book runs under 500 pages. But that's something else I remember: novels running under 200 pages each. Now, the publishers think you'll wilt if you spend $30 on fewer than 350 pages. Come to think of it, I would, too. Perhaps hardback publishers are pricing themselves out of the entertainment marketplace by keeping their book prices in line with that of video games.
In a post entitled Bloated Fantasy, the professor links to a piece that notes how fantasy has gotten bloated into long books and series:
    Hear, hear! (Candidly, I even got bogged down for a while about midway through the widely - and appropriately - praised Jonathan Strange & Mr. Norrell. I'm very glad I eventually finished it, but a good editor could have lopped a few hundred pages off it without hurting the book one bit.)
I think what we see represents more the drive of the publishing industry, which needs longer books to justify hardcover prices and it needs long series to like readers into purchasing those expensive hardcovers than an inexplicable decline in good, terse writing.

Robert B. Parker Interview

No wonder I have been getting Technorati hits for Robert B. Parker and Spenser. A blogger at Dumpster Bust has a three part interview with the author.

Keep That Penumbra In Your Trousers, Miss

Ann Althouse, on a ruling that regarding a landlord who wouldn't renew the lease for a trangender group because they were tranrestrooming, comments:
    This is denying people the right to chose which sex to identify with when they choose whether to use the men's or the women's room.
I've forgotten. Do I have a penumbra or an emanation?

Wednesday, March 30, 2005
Another Thing You Thought I Made Up

Hoover, the talking seal.

Simple Solution Continues to Evade Authorities

Loss of Amtrak would derail some travelers' only ride: If:
    One of 170,000 passengers who use the Missouri Amtrak run each year, Breese may have to find another way if Blunt and the Legislature go forward with plans to cut the state's $6.4 million Amtrak subsidy. "It would really be inconvenient if Amtrak wasn't here," Breese said Monday afternoon as he and his wife, Clarita, rode the train from St. Louis to Jefferson City. Breese was returning home after a five-month stint in Kuwait.
    Ticket revenue is not enough to support Amtrak. The state kicks in $6.4 million to support two daily trains crossing Missouri, one from Kansas City to St. Louis and another in the opposite direction. They stop at eight cities along the way: Kirkwood, Washington, Hermann, Jefferson City, Sedalia, Warrensburg, Lee's Summit and Independence.

    Without the state's support, the trains would cease to run, according to Jeff Briggs, a spokesman for the Missouri Department of Transportation.
Wouldn't this problem resolve itself if only Amtrak raised ticket prices?

Oh, bite my tongue and perhaps my nose as well; Amtrak isn't a service, it's trainfare, and any increase in ticket rates would adversely impact the poorest among us. Like the poverty-stricken anecdote that kicks off the Post-Dispatch story who works as an IT contractor in Kuwait and earns substinence wages doing so.

By raising the ticket prices and covering its costs, Amtrak would ensure that some people could still ride the trains, but Amtrak is a government entity. Its goal is not to cover its costs. Its goal is to exist. Also, to get bigger and get more tax money budget if possible.

Also, kudos to the Post-Dispatch reporter for leading with the story of someone returning from the Middle East to parallel the contractor with military men and women serving in the area.

It's About Our Fair Share, Not Yours

Court rules telecommuter must pay taxes:
    A telecommuter who lives out of state while working by computer for a New York employer must pay New York tax on his full income, the state's highest court ruled Tuesday in a case that could have wide implications in the growing practice.

    The Court of Appeals said that computer programmer Thomas Huckaby who lives in Nashville, Tenn., owed New York income tax for his full salary, not just the time he spent working at his employer's New York offices.

    Huckaby paid tax on about 25 percent of his income over two years for the time he spent working in New York state. But the court upheld a state tax department ruling that all his income should be taxed. That amounts to $4,387 plus interest. However, the ruling could lead to much greater income for the state as it is applied to the growing field of telecommuting.
I would expect cities used to justify income taxes their non-resident commuters by saying that those people used city services and should pay their share for them, as though public goods were private services. The population accepted that.

Now, though, New York tips its hand. It's not about commuters paying for their share of services that they use; it's about New York getting what it thinks is its fair share of your income.

I truly look forward to the day that some innovative, unelected regulator determines that my telecommuting is taxable in his jurisdiction because my Internet communication hops through a server in his city or state.

Tuesday, March 29, 2005
Malkin Favors Disbanding Internet

After all, that's what one could extrapolate from her For the Children rant attacking P2P networks:
    I am all for protecting those "really excellent uses." And I am all for protecting software entrepreneurs and their right to create new products. This blog wouldn't exist without them. But there's a cloud of unreality hanging over the P2P debate. It's not just high-minded geek revolutionaries against Big Media/RIAA/MPAA who are benefiting from P2P. And P2P ain't just about trading your favorite tunes.

    It's also about sickos and smut purveyors who have unprecedented access to an unimaginable volume of child porn--not to mention photos of children made available to child sex predators through indavertent file-sharing.
So technologies and protocols that allow workstations to network in a peer to peer fashion, that is client-to-client are bad and perhaps should be banned? What about server-to-server networks where clients can connect to servers to retrieve information? People who distribute questionable content can use those networks, too, and have for years. Should we ban those technologies and protocols? Well, no, because they're widely used and not under suspicion.

Perhaps the paradigm and the workings of the Internet are too advanced and too much a part of society to start burning now. But since we're in a pitchfork and torch mood, maybe we shoul ban other peer-to-peer communication systems that allow users to disseminate illegal content. Like the United States Post Office. Anyone, for the cost of a stamp, can mail child pornography to someone else!!!! Or the phone system--anyone with a phone can dial another user and can tell them a social security number or plot a crime!

Come to think of it, Malkin's not the first to want to prohibit P2P protocols and technologies. There's a very basic movement afoot to ban another personal communications device used occasionally for illicit means. The gun, and its transmission the bullet, are frequent targets for prohibition because some individuals use them with ill intent. Remove the tool, and you'll remove exercise of the ill intent, right?

I'm all for prosecuting people who commit crimes, but I draw the line at banning multiple use technologies that some individuals will use for ill because human nature leads someone to try to use everything for bad purposes.

Once you start, you have to draw an arbitrary and ever-more-constricting line at how much ill-intention use demands prohibition. Easy identity theft and copyright infringement don't make Malkin demand prohibition of P2P software, but alleged child pornography does. That's a couple people among millions of users, a rather small percentage indeed. What percentage of bar stools and pool sticks must be broken over malcreants in brawls before we ban them?

Ad absurdum or slippery slope? Slippery slope, I fear.

Update: Malkin responds to critics in an update to her post:
    First, nowhere do I call for outlawing P2P or shutting down the Internet. Crikey. Reread what I wrote. It's in plain English: "I don't know what the legislative or regulatory solution is, or whether there is one." What I'm calling for is for users of this technology--especially parents--to take personal responsibility for knowing what they're sharing and what others are sharing on these networks. I also would like to see the P2P Pollyanas acknowledge that this crap is out there and take increased corporate responsibility for doing something about it.
Unfortunately, when concerned citizens sound the alarum and the klaxon blares, those elected officials in the legislature or those unelected regulators will react unpredictably, and often in the most simplistic manner possible so they can get back to the power lunches.

I guess one could find some call for parental responsibility in her original post, but in plain English, it looks more like a call for agitation and political action than a call for private citizens to monitor their childrens' computer use.


A survey of the 200 best walking cities, and St. Louis comes in at 103 and Milwaukee comes in at 135? Are you kidding me?

What, does St. Louis get higher marks for the extreme sport of dodging crumbling facades?

(Link seen on Dustbury.)

Biased Source Issues Report

Apparently, the IRS thinks people aren't paying their fair share:
    Most Americans pay their federal taxes by their due dates, but there's still a yawning gap between what taxpayers owe and what they pay, according to the IRS.

    That gap -- known as the net tax gap -- is between $257 billion and $298 billion, according to preliminary findings from a three-year study on taxpayer compliance released Tuesday.

    "Even after IRS enforcement efforts and late payments, the government is being shortchanged by over a quarter-trillion dollars by those who pay less than their fair share," said IRS commissioner Mark W. Everson in a statement.
The IRS discovers the more people it audits, the more it can shake out of them. But only to get its their fair shares.

I am uncomfortable when the head of the IRS is determining what each person's fair share of tax burden is. I thought we had elected officials to do that, but what we really have is unelected enforcement agents who want more budget and more power.

Australian Public Doesn't Favor Protecting but Does Favor Protection

Poll: Australia against Taiwan war:
    Australians are against following the United States into a war with China over Taiwan, according to a new poll on Australian attitudes.

    But the same number who oppose involvement in such a war -- 72 percent -- think Australia's alliance with the United States is important for Australia's security.
Hey, don't get me wrong, I am against a war over Taiwan, too. Ideally, this situation will be resolved peacefully as mainland China allows Taiwanese independence or Taiwan elects to rejoin a free mainland China.

I find it shortsighted and self-serving that the Australian public won't protect a free people from an aggressive and militaristic foe, but that the Australians would certainly expect us to jump in to save them from the same aggressive and militaristic foe. But that's modern Western thought for you.

But It's For Homeland Security. And the Children.

Gettysburg College President Katherine Haley Will doesn't care for the Department of Education's new spending program:
    A proposal by the Education Department would force every college and university in America to report all their students' Social Security numbers and other information about each individual -- including credits earned, degree plan, race and ethnicity, and grants and loans received -- to a national databank. The government will record every student, regardless of whether he or she receives federal aid, in the databank.

    The government's plan is to track students individually and in full detail as they complete their post-secondary education. The threat to our students' privacy is of grave concern, and the government has not satisfactorily explained why it wants to collect individual information.
She's rightly concerned about the privacy implications, but I'm also concerned about the government overreach. Why, oh why, does the Department of Education feel the need to track every student in the country to the microlevel?

So it can perform its job more efficiently, of course. That job? To spend vast sums of tax money and acquire more power and budget for itself.

Monday, March 28, 2005
Timely Insight

Gun scare closes part of Cincinnati airport:
    Part of Cincinnati's main airport was temporarily shut down Sunday after a passenger passed through a security checkpoint with what appeared to be a gun in a carryon bag, authorities said.

    Baggage screeners noticed an X-ray image that resembled a gun after the passenger had picked up the bag and left the checkpoint, said Christopher White, a Transportation Security Administration spokesman in Atlanta.
To rectify the situation, the TSA closed the airport and searched everyone beyond the checkpoint again.

Were this a novel, movie, or an actual plot, the bad guy would have stashed the gun somewhere beyond the checkpoint for an accomplice to retrieve later. Instead, it's an example of befuddled TSA grunts closing down an airport because they couldn't watch the X-rays in real time.

UPDATE: Michelle Malkin comments and suspects it was a real gun.

Sunday, March 27, 2005
David Nicklaus Promotes Crony Capitalism

I've often said that David Nicklaus is the best columnist in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch, which doesn't mean I cannot disagree with him, especially when he embraces crony capitalism, like in the column today entitled "Missouri seems too stingy to be slick on luring jobs". Here's the lead:
    The great economic war between the states has two kinds of combatants - the stingy and the slick.

    Missouri has always been among the stingy. It tries to lure employers with its low-tax environment, and it might sweeten the pot with a few tax credits.
With that table-setting, he proceeds to explain why Missouri is lacking because it doesn't dangle large incentives before companies to make them relocate here or to keep from relocating elsewhere.

Nicklaus seems to argue that the Missouri state government should spend state tax money to buy businesses' loyalty, or at least their location in Missouri. While having businesses and employers in the state does affect the citizens positively with jobs and tax revenue for the state which could provide benefits to the citizens, it's rather circular to use the increased tax revenue to provide tax incentives to businesses.

Crony capitalism occurs when government officials favor certain businesses with sweetheart deals at the expense of others, and that's what tax incentive packages do; they give certain large (and powerful) companies advantages over the rest of the field, especially the businesses too small or inconsequential to inspire the state government's lust.

So pardon me if I disagree, Mr. Nicklaus. Although other states' governments enjoy squandering their residents' tax money to benefit the few (the employees who work for the company and the state's employees who get more money to spend), I don't think that the Missouri state government should competitively transgress against us taxpayers. Although Missouri might lose a couple big fish, ultimately it will benefit from a continued low-tax environment that encourages entrepreneurs to start their businesses here and to maintain their businesses here.

Even if our only benefit as citizens comes from the satisfaction in knowing that our state understands its limitations, almost.

Go Phish

Some phish scammers really don't put any effort into it. Check out this phish I received today and the domain that displays when I mouse over the "official" link provided:

Go Phish
Click for full size

I mean, come on, how about registering a second host name aside from your primary line of business, pornography, guys? Is a little effort too much to expect from confidence boys?

To say Noggle, one first must be able to say the "Nah."