Archive for the 'Rants' Category



15
Mar
09

Stem Cell Bullshit

President Obama is shown (above) signing legislation regarding stem cell research in a ceremony at the White House. He looks like he is pursing his lips (something that a lot of folks do when writing their signature). In reality, he’s biting his tongue and holding back the vomit. President Obama may have abolished contentious Bush-era restraints on federal funding of stem cell research, but a legislative obstacle still remains for scientists seeking more money.

Folks may think (and hope) that Obama erased one of the silliest cornerstones of the Bush administration: the obstacles to stem cell research. Not so fast. There’s a wide gap between the order and the legislative funding. A spending bill that Obama signed on Wednesday explicitly bans federal funding of any “research in which a human embryo or embryos are destroyed, discarded, or knowingly subjected to risk of injury or death,” language that pertains to creation of new stem cell lines. This provision, known as the Dickey-Wicker amendment, was included in the 465-page omnibus spending bill that will fund government agencies through September and it has been in every spending package that Congress has submitted since 1996. Doesn’t matter if we are talking Republicans or Democrats… they’ve all put the brakes on this research.

While the number of stem cell lines available to research has now increased (maybe) from a paltry 21 to a few hundred, scientists are still hamstrung by political posturing. I call bullshit. I consider myself a hybrid if a political label must be worn. I believe in a woman’s right to chose, a scientist’s right to research, a government’s duty to butt out, less taxes, free market, and encouraging a social consciousness instead of federal entitlements. I also have a personal stake in stem cell research. Both my mother and I have neurological conditions that very well may be treated or cured through the efforts of stem cell research. It seems as though we will be waiting at least a good while longer.

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10
Mar
09

Common Sense (Lack Of)

I know that I have blitched right here about various transgressions that I see on the road. Yes, I get steamed about slow pokes in the left (passing) lane. I also loath never_turn_off_the_blinker guy, the person who never quite mastered merging, doesn’t understand 4-way stop person, and the insolent sot who blocks the turning lane when there are 8 cars behind that want to to turn and the adjavent lane is clear. There are a host of irritations. All of these involve common courtesy that should have been learned during Drivers Ed and retained. I was driving to and from a somewhat rural location last week and folks would actually move over to let you pass. Friendly waves and everything. Not so much in the urban areas.

40-something soccer mom was attempting to pilot her spiffy Benz SUV out of a posh West Houston neighborhood. She pulled out from suburbia onto the more major thoroughfare that I was on. Yes, she pulled out in front of me and no there wasn’t anyone behind me. I switched lanes to avoid her. Good thing, too. She WAY oversteered and she ran up onto the right curb and then came back down into the road with a thud. Then she kind of weaved back and forth. I carefully passed her and noticed that she not only was on a cell phone (which was a given), but she was also attempting to read while piloting her vehicle. Did I mention that she also had two kids in the back? Not the seats but the cargo area in the back. Tell me again why we cannot have forced sterilization?

12
Feb
09

Random Rants

I get it. Michael Phelps was stupid. He’s also young, which is a synonym. Someone with that kind of star power should have made certain that the “area was secure” before burning tree in Olympic proportion. He didn’t, he’s paying the price and he’ll still have mega millions in the bank and gold medals on display. I dare say that most of us played with a bong at his age. Umm, so did our President. What does that tell you? “Don’t smoke dope or you’ll be President or an Olympic swimmer!” Ack.

Bail out woes cause Regular Joe to get torqued. We hear all kinds of righteous indignation when institutions receive tax-funded bailouts and the turn around and use those funds to pay for bonuses and posh, swankienda field trips. It’s not right! Right? Wrong. I can say with certainty that it doesn’t look good when AIG has its lips on the government teat and then has a management conference at a 5 star spa in Cali. So which would cause more righteous indignation: canceling the conference and paying all the fees and penalties (hotel, meeting space, food/bev guarantees, flights, etc.) and getting practically nothing for the buck… or having the high priced soiree’ and at least getting some value? The point is that binding contracts were signed and that money was already allocated to be spent. Sure, it would have been more cost efficient for AIG to not play Nero while Rome was burning, but they were already on the hook. It’s the same with salary bonuses. Most of these bonuses are contractual obligations that were made before the bailouts took place. They don’t look right, but what would it cost to break the contracts? Sure, the boys at the top might make a big show of conceding their contracts (many have), but a lot of middle management that achieved all the goals in their contracts aren’t in such a benevolent (and public) mood. “My contract says that if I do X, Y, and Z… I get a $75,000 bonus. I did that and more. Check please.” You multiply that by a couple of hundred (thousand?) middle managers, times a couple of firms and you’re talking about some serious coin. How much do you think it would cost in legal fees to litigate those contracts if the employer decides to not honor it? Think the employer would win or lose? I know that the lawyers would win! But government and public indignation is not going to fix the crisis. From Houston’s Clear Thinkers blog:

The primary reason for the current financial crisis is that many banks cannot evaluate their own solvency or that of their current or potential counter-parties, primarily because of the difficulty of valuing mortgage-backed securities and other complex derivatives, and neither TARP nor the fiscal stimulus plan addresses this problem.

So our government is going to throw trillions of tax dollars and line up for posturing opportunities so that they can have the pretense of doing something. To what end? Seems as if we might be better off if we follow a swimmer’s lead.

22
Dec
08

Katy Cheerleading Story Grinds On

It’s like the story that just will not go away. Everyone is sick of hearing about it, talking about it, and speculating about it. Two of the five cheerleaders who were indicted have struck a deal. If the teens complete 60 hours of community service, write a letter of apology, and testify in any trials related to the case, they could have their cases dismissed next year. The other five are in court today.

The news comments on this thing are getting pretty pathetic. Some folks are calling for blood while others are decrying the entitlement of the rich. Others want these kids to be turned into examples while others just want this to go away quietly. Le’s inject some facts here. While it has not been determined whether an actual crime(s) has been committed, I think everyone agrees that poor judgement was in abundance. The varsity kids acted stupidly and so did the complicit parents (all the parents of the junior varsity cheerleaders knew that their kids were going to be rousted in the wee hours). These are the first kids ever being charged under the Harris County hazing statutes… how the hell can this be a rich versus poor thing (especially since Morton Ranch is smack dab in the middle of middle class)? And why did the oh_so_concerned mother of the junior cheerleader that started the whole to do call the TV news first… instead of 911?

It really doesn’t matter. This is how the justice system works out. Plea deals are struck every day so that stronger cases can be made against others. If you’ll remember, OJ is doing some serious time while his compatriots got probation. Those who did this have essentially ruined their lives. Think that the two who struck deals are “getting off”? Try trading places with them.

29
Nov
08

Revenge Toy!

I was first introduced to the gadgets above at the Knob Creek Machinegun Shoot. It’s sorta like a gun show totally amped up on every steroid available to man or beast. But just like any other show for enthusiasts, the exhibitors have a standard litany of complaints. At gun shows, the complaints are actually few, but rather universally felt:

  • The foreplay folks. These are folks that are just coming to gawk. That, by itself, would be fine. A lot of exhibitors actually like to show off their cool stuff and talk about it. But a lot of these lookie-loo’s like to pick up, fondle, caress, work and maw the rather expensive firearms with no intention of buying and no thought of asking permission first. “Please do not handle without permission” signs are particularly ineffective against this group as they most likely cannot read. I actually heard a vendor, on the last day of a grueling show, finally lose his cool. A middle aged armchair commando type had spent nearly 30 minutes pawing and working the action back and forth on a rather expensive machinegun. The vendor finally lost it and asked the guy “You gonna keeep on finger f@ckin’ that gun or are you gonna man up and sleep with it?”.
  • Backpackers. Not hippie backpackers but the folks who feel the need to bring an enormous backpack full of stuff that weighs 90 pounds and take up the space of a large child. Curiously, the folks who have these backpacks tend to the portly side, but I digress. These folks have a habit of going from table to table, taking off the backpack and setting it down and then swinging the backpack back up onto their backs or shoulders upon departure. Lather, rinse, repeat. Unfortunately, as stated, these backpacks are big (along with their owners) and the shows are usually crowded. That means either somebody is gonna get whacked every time that backpack swings or merchandise on display is gonna get toppled, scratched and nicked up. Murfled apologies of “sorry dude” when the backpack just knocked over a rifle/scope combo into another display causing a need for $200 worth of finish repair don’t quite suffice.
  • Kids. God bless ’em. Really. But do not take little irresponsible kids to gun shows. Especially when you cannot keep your little kiddies corralled and under control. We don’t wanna spend a half hour listening to how our gun was used by The Rock in Doom, The Movie. We can’t sell guns to kids, remember? And folks who do want to buy guns really do not want to hear a kid prattling on and distracting us. And then there are the kids who think that gun shows are their own personal toy box. These are not toys. You do not need to touch every item on the table, especially since you forgot wipe off the cheesy nachos and chili from your hands. Setting boundaries for your child is your job. That’s where the revenge toy comes in.

Some friends of mine regulary work the show circuit and they had a pair of the toys poictured above set out on their table. Almost without fail, the toys held more fascination for the little miscreants than the guns. Ah, cool. Protection by a throw down distraction! But wait, there’s more. These are remote control futuristic tanks that can “shoot” each other. And when your tank gets shot, you get shocked. There are two settings. One of those setting levels will most definitely get your attention. My set arrives today from ThinkGeek. Click the picture to get your own pair…

18
Nov
08

My Own Religion

Please do not take this the wrong way. I’m forming my own religion. I’m not doing it to denigrate or deride any other religion. I’ve got no personal beef with God or Jesus or Mohammed or any other spiritual leader. I don’t currently “belong” to any traditional organized religious group, but I do consider myself a spiritual and moral person. Right and wrong is an important foundational concept for me and my family. Also, giving to the community that has allowed me to prosper is an important thing. That is why I am forming my own religion. Bear with me.

The Federal laws prohibiting job discrimination are:

The U.S. Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) enforces all of these laws. EEOC also provides oversight and coordination of all federal equal employment opportunity regulations, practices, and policies.

Other federal laws, not enforced by EEOC, also prohibit discrimination and reprisal against federal employees and applicants. The Civil Service Reform Act of 1978 (CSRA) contains a number of prohibitions, known as prohibited personnel practices, which are designed to promote overall fairness in federal personnel actions. 5 U.S.C. 2302. The CSRA prohibits any employee who has authority to take certain personnel actions from discriminating for or against employees or applicants for employment on the bases of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. It also provides that certain personnel actions can not be based on attributes or conduct that do not adversely affect employee performance, such as marital status and political affiliation. The Office of Personnel Management (OPM) has interpreted the prohibition of discrimination based on conduct to include discrimination based on sexual orientation. The CSRA also prohibits reprisal against federal employees or applicants for whistle-blowing, or for exercising an appeal, complaint, or grievance right. The CSRA is enforced by both the Office of Special Counsel (OSC) and the Merit Systems Protection Board (MSPB).

What am I going off about now? The short answer is: discrimination. Our government has gone to great lengths to define what is and is not discrimination in the workplace. There’s a lot of fuss going on right now about the Obama/Biden administration’s questionnaire that prospective employees must fill out. There’s over nine pages of questions. The answers, one would presume, will be used to decide who gets and does not get a job. An employer absolutely has a right to use objective criteria to decide who they want to employ. The Federal Government, who is the employer in this case, basically cannot make choices based on race, color, national origin, religion, sex, age or disability. Everything else is, technically, fair game.

Take number 6. “If you or your spouse have performed work for, received payments from and/or made any payments to any foreign government, business, non-profit organization or individual, please describe the circumstances, and identify the source and amount. Also please specify if you or your spouse have ever been registered as an agent for a foreign principal.” I have donated directly to several foreign non-profits and I have donated my personal time and energy to many domestic non-profit endeavors that might be deemed “activist”. Do you think I will be held in greater or lesser light than Ms. Clinton, whose hubby most certainly earns a tidy living from foreign sources?

Number 13 wants to know if you’ve ever sent an embarrassing email or text message. Who hasn’t? Number 14 wants to know if you keep a diary. What skeletons be in there? The financial section wants a copy of your brokerage statements, a net worth statement, a list of all loans made to you or your spouse in excess of $10k, information on all the trusts you may be involved with, all your mortgage terms, and any gift that you or your spouse ever received that is worth more than $50 that wasn’t given by relatives or close and longstanding friends. Yikes.

33-41 ask for all kinds of tax information. I was under the impression that this stuff was confidential.

44 is pretty interesting. It wants to know if you or your spouse have been involved with any insolvency or bankruptcy proceedings… as a debtor, creditor, claimant or defendant. I received a $1.44 cent bankruptcy settlement check from MCI many years ago. How does that have bearing on suitability for a job in government?

I get the parts about asking whether you, your spouse or other family members have been involved in any type of criminal or proceedural issues. I’m a little fuzzy on the administration wanting to know about any malpractice claim made against you, formally or informally, and the resolution of the matter. Presumably, every OB/GYN doctor in the US will fall under extra scrutiny since it is almost a certainty that he/she has been involved in at least one case, legit or not. I also am quite okay with asking if you were stupid enough to hire an illegal alien as domestic help. Not so sure about how just having or not having domestic help is a determining factor.

Number 57 wants a list of all your cohabitants for the past 10 years. Number 58 wants to know about all websites (must provide the URL) that feature you in either a personal or professional capacity (e.g., Facebook, MySpace, etc.). 59 wants to know if you or any members of your family own a gun, any registration information about the gun, who uses the gun and how, and whether or not said gun(s) have been the cause of any personal injuries or property damage. 60 wants to know if you’ve had a physical in the last year and the general state of your health. 62 wants to know if any group will take steps to criticize your nomination. I guess that group will include every Democrat… and every Republican…

You’ll also be giving the Obama Transition Foundation the ability to run a consumer/credit report on you through ChoicePoint WorkPlace Solutions, Inc. (a company based, primarily in Europe, BTW…).

Ostensibly, the Obama Transition Foundation is going to use all this information that you provide to make decisions to fill vacancies. What if you believe that you lost out on the job of your dreams because a co-worker gave you a $60 espresso machine at a holiday gift exchange at the office last year (times were good and there was a $100 limit)? What if you put down that your college son is on the Olympic shooting team and was injured by an errant ricochet and needed stitches to sew up the wound? How many live-ins are too many? Well, you deserve to have recourse.

My religion will have as its foundation a whole list of things that are considered sacraments. These sacraments will pretty much cover all the questions in this list. If you don’t get the job, make sure that you are a member of my religion. You’ll be able to file a federal charge of employment discrimination based on religion. I just want to give back.

17
Nov
08

Tiahrt Amendment

The Tiahrt Amendment prohibits the Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives (BATFE) from releasing information from its firearms trace database to anyone other than a law enforcement agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. Additionally, any data so released is inadmissible in a civil lawsuit. It also happens to be one of the things that our new President and Vice President would like to undo. If you head on over to change.gov, the transitional website for the Obama administration, you’ll see a very sanitized version of the plans for dealing with various things, including gun crimes. The November 7th version was much more explicit.

What’s the big deal about killing the Tiahrt amendment? Police need more tools so they can “solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade”. A more important question to ask is “will repealing the tiahrt amendment give police these tools?”. So let’s have a look at the basic concepts.

  • There is no national gun registration. Most people think that there is. So what about the form that you fill out when you buy a gun?
  • That form is called a 4473. The form asks you a bunch of questions about your identity and citizen status. There’s also a place for the licensed gun dealer to record the make, model and serial number of the gun you are purchasing. The dealer uses some of the information from this form to perform an instant criminal background check, where required.
  • But no serial number is transmitted to the background checking service. Really. All the background check does is determine whether the gun can be legally transferred to the person who filled out the form.
  • Those form 4473’s do not get sent to some giant data repository dug into the side of a hill near Washington DC. They stay, by law, with the licensed dealer for 20 years (a filing and storage resource that the dealer does not get paid to do).
  • There are no 4473’s or background checks for private sales.

Are you with me so far? Good. There’s a lot of emotion surrounding guns and what should be done about/with them. I think that we already have some pretty good “common sense” gun laws on the books that tend to work very well when enforced. It’s already illegal to be a criminal and buy a gun. It’s illegal for a convicted felon to buy or own one. There are restrictions on where one can have their guns and how children can access those guns. So how does “trace data” help police do more? Let’s define trace data. When a particular gun is used in a crime, law enforcement (LE) has the ability to request information on the specific firearm. The first thing they do is determine the maker and the serial number. The LE agency doing the crime investigation will then contact the maker for trace information on the gun and the maker will provide information on who the gun was sold to. It likely went to a distributor. Another trace request from the LE agency to the distributor. The distributor then lets the investigators know which federally licensed firearms dealer (FFL) the gun was sold to. Another trace request to the FFL who then looks up the information in his or her stack of neatly filed 4473 forms. At this point, the trace data will lead to the gun owner or the trail will go cold because the gun has been subsequently sold. All of this trace data is compiled by BATF into a database of weapons that are believed to have been used in a crime. So what about this Tiahrt thing?

The Tiahrt amendment puts very specific restrictions on this trace information. Look at the very first sentence again. It restricts the release of the data specifically to a LE agency or prosecutor in connection with a criminal investigation. That’s pretty important. What if that restriction wasn’t there? Civil rights abuse. Anyone with an official imprimatur could obtain access to this trace data and go on a “fishing expedition”. Your local councilperson could vow to stamp out crime in your neighborhood. He/she gets a list of all the guns that were used in your neighborhood, connected with a past criminal investigation, and instructs the police to go door knocking and beating the bushes. The original criminal investigation may have closed years ago with no indictment, but here comes the law to your door. You’ve just finished off a spliff during the half time of Monday Night Football and you answer the door with the tell tale orange dust of CheezDoodles on the corner of your mouth. The cop asks if he can talk to you about the gun… can I come inside… sees the roach in the ash tray… There was no criminal investigation to bring the officer to your door, but the repeal of Tiahrt gives lots of folks the ability to poke around in places that they really have no business being. If they are investigating a crime, Tiahrt gives them access. Them being bona fide persons who need access to the data. So how will repealing it help cops solve gun crimes and fight the illegal arms trade.

The answer is that it will not. Remember, the trace database contains information on guns invvolved with criminal investigations only. There is no “master” repository of every serial number of every gun sold, so there is no pot of gold that will give whoever magic powers to solve gun crimes. I still haven’t figured out how the information access that Tiahrt protects could possibly be used to fight the illegal arms trade (Nicolas Cage comes to mind), but whatever. Also remember that criminals generally do not buy guns from licensed gun dealers. They can’t because they would fail the background check (being criminals, you know). The guns they have are illegally obtained and possessed. I’m pretty sure that the guy who sells the crappy Rossi .38 revolver (worn nickel plating, of course) to the meth cook at the end of the block isn’t a licensed dealer filling out forms and running checks. Even the best trace data trail will go cold rather quickly in the most common of circumstances.

If you accept the premise that law abiding people tend to abide by laws and that criminals tend to break them… then you understand how trace data requests become a little less than useful. Let’s say that my house gets burgled and the turd blossom takes my big screen TV and a handgun. I file the report. I get a case number for insurance purposes and that’s about it. As we know, most minor crimes go unsolved. Said turd blossom then sells the gun to his local rock man for a few hits. Rock man then gives the gun to his girlfriend so she can protect herself when Daddy ain’t around. Girlfriend dips into the rock candy with her ex while rock man is off making money. The ex steals the gun while she is “freshening up” and bolts. Three weeks later, the ex uses the revolver to hold up Valero convenience store. The counter guy gets all Buford Pusser on the ex and gets himself shot… just as a cop walks in to see what is happening. Cop arrests ex and in doing his paperwork initiates a trace request. Eventually, that leads to my front door and the original police report saying that the gun was stolen. All this is with Tiahrt in place. Information being used in a criminal investigation (that doesn’t really help).

If Tiahrt was not in place, what would happen? Would those in charge be able to show up to my doorstep anytime for any reason for whatever fishing expedition caught their fancy? Is this the civil rights stuff that the Democrats were saying they wanted to defend and protect so much? Or is it just so much window dressing that, like many other government efforts, spend a lot of money and accomplish nothing?