Archive for July, 2007

30
Jul
07

Johann Sebastian Bach… Crime Fighter…?

The city of Tacoma, Washington is trying out a new gang violence prevention measure. Classical music:

Transit workers are installing speakers this week to pump classical music from Seattle’s KING-FM into the Tacoma Mall Transit Center. The tactic is designed to disperse young criminals who make drug deals at the bus stop or use public transportation to circulate between the mall and other trouble-prone places.

The attack by Bach, Brahms and Beethoven follows the theory that prompted the city to stage pinochle games on dangerous street corners: Jolting the routine in such spots throws criminals off balance.

Skeptics include Tony Wilson, a bus driver for 18 years.

It could do one of two things: It could calm the beast, or it could just stir things up,” Wilson said. “I think the reason we don’t have music on the buses is that you can’t please everyone. It would just cause drama.”

Vrahmel Obleanis, 19, playing a Nintendo GameBoy at the mall bus stop, said troublemakers won’t like the orchestral strains, but they’ll probably just move somewhere out of earshot.

They’ll say, ‘This is whack,’ and go over and hang out at the mall or by Babies ‘R’ Us,” Obleanis said. “The music isn’t going to change the attitude of the kids.” – [AP]

OK, I’m not an expert in sociology, but if you stage public events in areas where illegal activities usually occur, aren’t you simply displacing the activity to another part of the city? Somehow I’m not to confident in this particular solution. I’m with the kid and the bus driver on this. Johann Sebastian Bach does not exactly strike fear into the hearts of a would-be thug, or everyone would be walking around with mp3 players loaded with classical music. Not to mention, doesn’t blaring music in a public area 24/7 usually violate some sort of noise ordinance?

Wash. City Fights Gangs With Symphonies – [AP]

30
Jul
07

Automated plate readers: A violation of civil rights?

The Ohio State Highway Patrol and the Springdale, OH Police department has the local ACLUs panties in a twist over the use of plate scanners on police cruisers:

The Mobile Plate Hunter 900 – two cameras mounted atop a cruiser – can read up to 900 license plates an hour on vehicles driving at highway speeds. …

… “It’s unreal,” Springdale Police Chief Mike Laage said. “It’s the best technology out there.”

The State Highway Patrol has been using the plate hunter in six spots along the Ohio Turnpike, but Springdale police are the first to use it on regular patrols.

Since the patrol began using the scanners in 2004, it has recovered 95 stolen cars – valued at $740,000 – and made 111 arrests, said patrol spokesman Lt. Shawn Davis. The plate hunter has made roads safer, he said. …

… The scanner’s gaze is too wide and it’s an infringement against the innocent drivers whose plates get captured, said Jeff Gamso, legal director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Ohio.

Using the plate hunter to scan all license plates is a civil rights violation and could lead to government abuse of the information, Gamso said.

I think they should just knock it off,” Gamso said. “Is the marginal benefit likely outweighing the danger of increased surveillance of everything we do?”

Laage finds nothing wrong with casting the wide net. – [WBNS10TV/AP]

Well I have to admit that I am on the fence on this. This system has many advantages. It is indiscriminate, and does not profile anyone based on color, creed, etc., like a regular police officer could. It is also noninvasive, i.e. traffic stop is not required to do spot checks etc. and it does it’s job while on public roads, where there should be no reasonable expectation of privacy.

But while I can clearly see the advantages of this system, as a law enforcement tool, like any tool, it can be abused. There does not seem to be much difference between this and the covert surveillance of American citizens by government agencies without probable cause or due process.

I’m sure many will agree that we don’t want an America where our every move is observed, logged and recorded by government agencies, and our every action subject to the interpretation of a paranoid. Technologies like this always seem to take us closer, one step at a time, to that scenario…

Plate reader draws objections of ACLU – [WBNS10TV/AP]

29
Jul
07

Die, Patent Trolls! DIE!

At last, we find a judge who truly understands how patents are supposed to work:

A federal judge denied on Friday a request from a small Virginia company to stop the online auction powerhouse eBay from using its “Buy It Now” feature, which allows shoppers to purchase items at a fixed price. …

… In his ruling, Judge Friedman said the company was not irreparably harmed because it continued to make money from its patents, either by licensing them outright or by threatening litigation against those it believed infringed upon them.

“MercExchange has utilized its patents as a sword to extract money rather than as a shield to protect its right to exclude or its market share, reputation, good will, or name recognition, as MercExchange appears to possess none of these,” he wrote. – [New York Times]

This article is the most acceptable example of the correct disposition of a patent dispute. Particularly impressive is that the judge in this case appears to understand what is actually going on, and rules in a fair manner to all concerned.

Now if you didn’t pick up on my feeling about patents in general from the title of this blog, Let me spell it out. I think the whole patent system stinks. I know the issues aren’t easy to solve, but it seems like here in America, patents are less about protection and more about patent litigation as a career for fun and profit. Very irritating.

At least I now know there is at least one judge who isn’t a mindless patent zombie…

Judge Permits eBay’s ‘Buy It Now’ Feature – [New York Times]

29
Jul
07

Lawsuits: Gang violence deterrents? Or Prejudice?

I just read a troubling article regarding cities using lawsuits to pro-actively disrupt gang activity:

Fort Worth and San Francisco are among the latest to file lawsuits against gang members, asking courts for injunctions barring them from hanging out together on street corners, in cars or anywhere else in certain areas.

The injunctions are aimed at disrupting gang activity before it can escalate. They also give police legal reasons to stop and question gang members, who often are found with drugs or weapons, authorities said. In some cases, they don’t allow gang members to even talk to people passing in cars or to carry spray paint.

“It is another tool,” said Kevin Rousseau, a Tarrant County assistant prosecutor in Fort Worth, which recently filed its first civil injunction against a gang. “This is more of a proactive approach.”

But critics say such lawsuits go too far, limiting otherwise lawful activities and unfairly targeting minority youth.

“If you’re barring people from talking in the streets, it’s difficult to tell if they’re gang members or if they’re people discussing issues,” said Peter Bibring, an attorney with the American Civil Liberties Union of Southern California. “And it’s all the more troubling because it doesn’t seem to be effective.” – [Yahoo/AP]

I find this turn of events troubling for a number of reasons. First it is a very dangerous thing for anyone to implement any kind of enforcement that violates an individuals rights, especially when they have yet to actually commit a crime. And re-purposing laws so that actions that are legal for the average citizen become illegal for a specific demographic is simply unethical.

These cities have, in effect, sued a demographic, without regard for either the innocence or guilt of any of the individual members of that demographic. They have surreptitiously made gangs illegal. And in doing so, they done little more than legitimize prejudice.

The ability to stop, search and detain a person without probable cause, and for no other reason than their age, race, or the color of their clothes, is unconstitutional. Plain and simple. The increasing willingness of American police forces and lawmakers to violate an individuals rights in the name of keeping the peace is becoming a common and disturbing trend nowadays, especially in The Peoples Republic of Kalifornia. The end does not justify the means.

It is wrong to apply laws differently depending on such things as race, stereotypes, clothes, age, etc. Creating second class citizens does not solve problems, only exacerbate them. History has taught us that any demographic unfairly treated, will bear no concern for the fair treatment of others. It simply creates a vicious cycle. It may appear to be a a good solution in the short term. But unfairly treated people have long memories, and as a long term strategy, it is a no-win.

Be very careful America. I see a very ugly pattern developing. At the rate we are going, we will soon all be prisoners, held captive by the illusion of freedom…

Cities sue gangs in bid to stop violence – [Yahoo/AP]

28
Jul
07

Is Santa Claus Really Russian?

The Russian government, in an attempt to bolster its future oil production capability, has called “Dibs” on the North Pole:

Russian geologists claim that they have found a link between Russia and the North pole in the form of the Lomonosov Ridge, a geological feature on the sea floor. Because of this, they claim 460,000 square miles of ocean as Russian territory. …

… The motivation, as is often the way, is oil. The area is a potentially lucrative oilfield, and with the ice melting (ironically because of oil and the resulting climate change caused by its use), access will be easier.

The expedition leader, Artur Chilingarov, is quoted as saying, “The Arctic is Russian. We are going to be the first to put a flag there, a Russian flag at the bottom of the Arctic Ocean, at the very point of the North Pole.” – [Treehugger.com]

I’m still kind of in disbelief at this. First off I don’t see how can any country can lay claim to any given territory on the basis of submerged geographical constructs? Anyone that paid attention during geography 101 will realize that there are a lot of land masses that are connected by currently submerged land tracts. If everyone went around claiming territories on the basis of this alone, we would currently be engaged in World War IV.

And then of course, when it comes to oil, governments are more likely to find a gazillion reasons to raise strong objections to such claims. We have all seen countries invaded for less. I think we have all graduated from the “this territory is mine because I say it is” school of thought that Russia is currently employing. This is the most asinine, juvenile and and ignorant mentality I have seen from Russia in a long time. They need to go back and hang with the adults. The kiddy table is ours.

There is enough legitimate conflict in the world as it is. Governmental greed is not a good reason for more. It is my humble opinion that the North Pole should remain neutral. We need to be looking for better ways to make power anyway. To hades with the freakin’ oil!

Seeking Oil, Russia Claims North Pole – [TreeHugger.com]

28
Jul
07

Anonymous on Fox11… It’s Lulzeriffic…

I just saw a video on YouTube that kinda made me LOL… I know that the topic is probably one of great emotional pain for some, and I’m not a big fan of some of the emotional damage that some of the more malevolent hackers cause, but Fox news’ portrayal of the whole thing was rather… off-base.

I mean, the bomb threat was taken entirely out of context, and yet they had to show some random van blowing up… twice no less… As if to display one of the heinous terrorist acts of malicious hackers. And LOLS “Corrupted” (by evil hackers I assume) = LULZ? Seriously? Either nobody did any real homework for this piece or they intentionally skewed the facts in order to maximize the sensationalism of the story. What happened to unbiased and objective reporting? They have elevated a group of Internet pranksters to the level of violent international terrorists.

The modus operandi of pretty much every hacker I have come across has been to demonstrate their intellectual superiority, not execute hits on people. Unfortunately they do so by messing with peoples heads. Griefing, and other miscellaneous on-line harassment, especially in on-line games and social networking sites are usually their favorite haunts. They do not, as a rule, go out and physically assault people. I mean honestly, how many times has any of you heard of any hacker group killing anyone?

The poor schlub who got his MySpace account hacked in the piece was an easy and unfortunate target. And I’m willing to bet he (or his mom), teed someone off, because in general, that subsequent level of harassment is more work than the average sporadic prankster would be willing to put into it. One more question popped into my head while watching… how many of you honestly believe that this guy lost his girlfriend simply because she believed that he was cheating on her with guys? Yeah… I had to ask…

Fox News 11 covers Anonymous – [YouTube]

27
Jul
07

Politics Suck. That’s pretty much the gist of it.

When I hit the “New Post” button for this, I intended to rant about how the Clinton/Obama debate had gotten completely off track. But as I sat here thinking about it, I came to the conclusion that it’s an incredible waste of time.

I’m beginning to think that politics is basically just a great big corrupting machine. This fact hit doubly hard when I realized that somehow, the opinions of Mikhail Gorbachev made more sense (for the most part) than that of my own government. The fact that our presidential hopefuls are at each others throats rather than attacking problems isn’t helping my confidence in the future of the country much either.

07/28/2007 – UPDATE :
Now with added Cleavage!!

Clinton-Obama flap shifts race to negative tone – [Yahoo/Reuters]
Gorbachev blasts American ‘imperialism’ – [Yahoo/AP]
Washington split over Clinton cleavage – [Yahoo/AFP]




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