Protected speech?

Should betting on predicted Presidential assassination date be legal?

Is betting on the assassination date of a newly elected President free speech? I would say yes, although it sure is poor taste. Is offering a betting pool on the assassination date and then saying Let’s hope someone wins similarly protected? I would argue that it is not. This changes expressing an expectation that an assassination will occur to something that instead looks to incite violence in a manner long ruled illegal. Or at least to be dangerously close to that. To me, the betting alone seems legal and protected, even if offensive and remarkably stupid. Including the indication of hoping for a successful assassination does not seem reasonably protected speech.

The Town Council in Standish condemned the sign on Thursday in a 6-0 vote and declared it reprehensible at a meeting where some residents defended the store owner, saying he had a right to free speech even if in bad taste, local authorities said.

. . .

The sign in the Oak Hill General Store asked customers to place a $1 bet on the date of Obama’s assassination, and said “Let’s hope someone wins,” the Portland Press Herald reported. It was called the “Osama Obama Shotgun Pool.”

Am I way off here? Is this something that should be allowed? If you say yes, would you believe the same if this had happened 4 years ago, and the betting were instead for what date President Bush would be assassinated? If you say no, am I being too lenient in believing that the betting pool itself is legal without the Let’s hope someone wins quote? Where is the line on talk about expected/anticipated assassinations of our leaders?

[tags]Obama, Assassination, 1st amendment, Betting pool, Inciting violence, Free speech[/tags]

One man’s tragic tale documenting the horrors of WWII concentration camp life from the inside

We all know there are terrible tales of military heroism that we don’t get to hear until far, far later. One recent example of this that has come out is the tale of Anthony Acevedo, military medic assigned to a satellite camp of Buchenwald with others in his tropp because they looked like Jews. Because of how the military handles many sensitive incidents, particularly during war, this is a story that was never intended to be known to the general public.

Acevedo’s story is one that was never supposed to be told. “We had to sign an affidavit … [saying] we never went through what we went through. We weren’t supposed to say a word,” he says.

The U.S. Army Center of Military History provided CNN a copy of the document signed by soldiers at the camp before they were sent back home. “You must be particularly on your guard with persons representing the press,” it says. “You must give no account of your experience in books, newspapers, periodicals, or in broadcasts or in lectures.”

I am not here to question silencing those who have suffered through such events. I have worked in a classified environment, and I fully understand and respect the need to initially treat sensitive matters as classified. The military says the reason for secrecy is to protect escape and evasion techniques and the names of personnel who helped POW escapees, and I have absolutely no reason to question that. I do, however, think there is a need for an office responsible for reviewing
these cases after the fact. This is a story that is well worth knowing, and the events Mr. Acevedo describes seem to have no impact on the need to protect that the military says is the case. Certainly, 60 years after the war, I would can’t imagine why he needs to be kept under confidentiality agreement. Understand I’m not saying I know that it is fine for him to talk – I just can’t come up with a reason based on what I’ve read and learned that would support keeping confidentiality in effect.

That said, see some more below the break about Mr. Avecedo’s experience, and learn a little about how his agreement hurt him in the shortterm.

Continue reading “One man’s tragic tale documenting the horrors of WWII concentration camp life from the inside”

The Kudos Society – My take on the Open Source community

I am working on a set of posts in which I want to talk about Open Source products. Given how long just my introduction to these has grown, I will probably move them over to separate pages on the Blahg. To begin, I am writing a bit on why I am such a fan of Open Source, what tools I use and what tools I recommend for others, and why I try to participate in parts of the Open Source movement. The overall community of Open Source developers, users, and other contributors is something I call “The Kudos Society,” which may deserve at least a small bit of explanation as well.

All that said, what follows below the break is some of my personal history in joining this movement, which hopefully sheds some light on why I care so much about the status and health of Open Source overall.

Continue reading “The Kudos Society – My take on the Open Source community”

Presidential debate results – 2008-09-27

Interesting results in the debate last night – at least, according to the New York Post. Turns out John McCain won this first debate:

Two exceptional presidential candidates turned in strong performances. Neither man committed a major gaffe or scored a big hit.

But John McCain bettered Barack Obama.

Additionally, Barrack Obama won the first debate:

But it was not a draw – because the economy is the most important issue right now.

Plus, a great many people watched only the first half of the debate. Unlike a horse race, it is the opening, not the finish, that is the most important.

And I must confess myself a little surprised to find out that the New York Post calls the debate a draw:

I’m not sure last night’s debate changed a single vote. It was a quiet clash of styles, and of world views. Of muted temperaments that often agreed.

No huge mess-ups. No real flare-ups.

And no clear winner.

I know – all different writer’s opinions, and not necessarily a reflection of the paper’s general political opinion (for values of opinion relevant to non-entities such as a newspaper). I just found it funny to see all three as I was looking for online commentary about the election.

McCain calls it?

Folks, I think we’ve all been wondering lately if we’re in a recession or not. Well, we have official word from John McCain (watch the video for the full commentary by McCain):

…the important factor here is that Americans are hurting. Americans are hurting today.

They are sitting around the kitchen table saying ‘Are we going to be able to make our home or our mortgage payments?’

He makes some good comments.  I think things like this will help him with his standing among some of the uncertain right, but doubt it will make any change with those already convinced to support or denounce him.  Of course, it doesn’t take a political genius to figure that out.

[tags]McCain, Recession, Economy, Americans[/tags]

Record-setting high-intensity laser beam

You’ve got your laser.  You’ve got your high intensity.  You’ve got your awesome name – HERCULES.  What missing?

If you could hold a giant magnifying glass in space and focus all the sunlight shining toward Earth onto one grain of sand, that concentrated ray would approach the intensity of a new laser beam made in a University of Michigan laboratory.

That’s the instantaneous intensity we can produce,” said Karl Krushelnick, a physics and engineering professor. “I don’t know of another place in the universe that would have this intensity of light. We believe this is a record.”

. . .

The record-setting beam measures 20 billion trillion watts per square centimeter. It contains 300 terawatts of power. That’s 300 times the capacity of the entire U.S. electricity grid. The laser beam’s power is concentrated to a 1.3-micron speck about 100th the diameter of a human hair. A human hair is about 100 microns wide.

Sadly, no mention is made of strapping these suckers to the frikkin’ heads of any frikkin’ sharks.  Nor is there any word on the available ramp-up possible with a whole mess of these (say, perhaps, an ocean full of frikkin’ sharks, with, well, you know) and harnessing the power of a Dyson sphere.  But some mad-genius will make it happen some day, I am certain (sans popcorn, most likely).

A paper on this research, “Ultra-high intensity 300-TW laser at 0.1 Hz repetition rate,” is published online in the journal Optics Express. The full text is available at Yanovsky and Krushelnick are authors of the paper.

Yup – 300 Terra-Watts.  Make’s ol’ Doc Brown’s Flux Capacitor look pretty miserly with the power, doesn’t it?

[tags]HERCULES, Laser, Frikkin’ sharks, 300 Terra-watts, 1.21 Giga-watts[/tags]

Roof strength on SUVs cause for safety concern?

Let me say first that the model they use in the story is the same SUV I currently drive, but mine is white and possibly a little older.  That said, here’s the story – the Insurance Institute for Highway Safety (IIHS) has issued a report on roof strength of SUVs, and they find the results not the least bit comforting.  The IIHS believes improved roof strength will reduce injuries and fatalities in rollover crashes and has results of their tests available for concerned consumers looking to still buy a gas guzzler but wanting to remain as safe as possible.

By testing the roofs of 11 sport utility vehicles, then looking at the deaths and injury rates in accidents, the institute found that the stronger the roof was, the less likelihood of injury or death.

. . .

Rollovers account for about one-quarter of those who die in car crashes, but SUVs that are higher off the ground than other vehicles are particularly prone to rollovers. The study contends that stronger roofs, like the one on the 2000 Nissan Xterra, could cut injury risk by a third in single-vehicle SUV rollover crashes.

Automakers contend that roof strength improvements will not do anything to safety numbers, but the IIHS disagrees.  I can conceive that the automakers are right – overall safety design is probably more important than roof strength and the cars with the better safety ratings may achieve that by overall design and not just roof strength.  However, it’s hard for me to imagine that the roof strength could be improved without improving the safety overall design just because I know any change to the design has to be checked for consistency with all other design considerations.

This isn’t to indicate any of these vehicles fail to meet federally mandated safety requirements.  It’s that the IIHS believes the mandates are not strict enough.

The current standard requires vehicles to withstand 1½ times the weight of the vehicle before crushing five inches. The administration would like to require passenger vehicles to withstand 2½ times its weight instead. The Insurance Institute for Highway Safety says that’s still not good enough, and argues a passenger vehicle should be able to withstand three times its weight when it rolls over.

As an owner of the SUV that received the lowest roof strength rating, I’m all for improving it.  But as with anything in design, I wonder what will the price be for any improvements?  These businesses have to factor in how much it will increase manufacturing costs for improve safety, how much of that can be passed on to consumers, and where will the dollars go from the edge-case buyers who would buy at the current price but not at any higher price.  It sucks for those only concerned with safety, and sure some people will throw up the “What cost human life?” question, but we all have finite resources, and these changes have to be considered.

So how much would you pay for more safety?  If it cost $100 for a roof with twice the collapse strength you currently have, would you?  What if it cost $1000 more?  How about an increase that cost $500 and cut fuel efficiency 5%?  Where does the trade-off become too much for you?

[tags]SUV, IIHS, Safety, Insurance Institute for Highway Safety[/tags]

First amendment is not protection for some forms of being an ass-hat

In a close vote, the Virginia Supreme Court ruled today that 1st amendment free speech protection doesn’t protect forging email headers for spamming purposes. This means convicted spammer Jeremy Jaynes still has to serve his sentence for such practices.

As a result of the 4-to-3 vote, Jaynes will serve nine years in prison for sending millions of illegal spam messages in 2003, absent an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Spamming itself is not illegal. It is allowed under the CAN-SPAM Act of 2003. However, the law prohibits the use of false or misleading message headers and deceptive subject lines. It requires a way to opt-out, a valid postal address, and that the message is identified as an advertisement.

This is an issue that we’ll probably hearing more about in the near future, as another well-known spammer, Robert Soloway, is headed to court soon to face his own charges for mail abuse and using so-called botnets to send millions of spam emails.

Soloway was arrested in May and charged with sending out tens of millions of unsolicited messages; so many, in fact, that investigators called him the “Spam King,” and his arrest was hailed as a major blow in the fight against spam. Many of Soloway’s unsolicited messages were sent out using hacked “zombie” computers infected with botnet software, prosecutors allege.

The United States Attorney’s Office is seeking more than $770,000 in fines, but Soloway is also facing fraud and identity theft charges that could result in jail time.

Of course, even with this two heavy-hitters out, we’re still seeing far too much email spam. But hopefully these and similar cases will help pare that down eventually.

If criminal prosecutions like Soloway’s are deterring spammers, you wouldn’t know if from looking at your inbox. Security vendor IronPort said that spam volume on the Internet was up 100 percent in 2007, jumping to 120 billion unwanted messages per day.

So we still have a ways to go.

[tags]Spam, spamming, spammers, email, Robert Soloway, Jeremy Jaynes[/tags]

Ricin inside

It isn’t such a great time to be a guest at a slightly-off-the-strip hotel in Vegas right now, is it?

A substance found at a motel may be the deadly toxin ricin, but authorities said Friday they don’t believe it was intended for a terrorist attack. Lab tests on the substance were pending and seven people were taken to hospitals as a precaution.

“This event does not appear to be terrorism related,” FBI spokesman Richard Kolko in Washington said Friday morning. Kolko said the FBI was assisting local police in the investigation.

That aside, the FBI and Department of Homeland Security are still involved in investigating the find.  But really, that makes sense for this oddity – I just find it humorous that it’s already being said that authorities don’t believe it is related to terrorism, but the DHS is involved in investigating it.

And if you aren’t familiar with just why a box of ricin is a big deal:

Ricin is made from the waste left over from processing castor beans, and can be extremely lethal. As little as 500 micrograms, or about the size of the head of a pin, can kill a human, according to the CDC.

Nasty stuff.  Quick, deadly in small quantities, and I’m guessing easy to keep out of sight.

[tags]Ricin, Las Vegas, FBI, DHS[/tags]

How cigarette smoke causes cancer

That title might need a question mark following it, as I’m not absolutely convinced that this is definitive, but recent research appears to point to hydrogen peroxide as the source of cancer from cigarette smoke.

In the research study, Goldkorn and colleagues describe how they exposed different sets of human lung airway cells (in the laboratory) to cigarette smoke and hydrogen peroxide. After exposure, these cells were then incubated for one to two days. Then they, along with unexposed airway cells, were assessed for signs of cancer development. The cells exposed to cigarettes smoke and the cells exposed to hydrogen peroxide showed the same molecular signatures of cancer development, while the unexposed cells did not.

I wonder what implications this has for folks who use that same stuff to bleach their hair? How much trouble does the evaporating liquid cause to those exposed to it briefly and infrequently?

And a bonus quote for those that believe in the Bill of Rights:

“Guns kill, bombs kill and cigarettes kill,” said Gerald Weissmann, MD, Editor-in-Chief of The FASEB Journal. “While biologists can’t do much about the first two, studies like this will help in the fight against tobacco-related death and disease.

Sounds like a gun-control advocate to me, no? (via QJ Science)

[tags]Cigarettes, smoking, cancer, hydrogen peroxide, FASEB, science, It works bitches, QJ, Gun control, Bill of rights[/tags]