My friend Jonathan Stray put together an entirely fact-based FAQ on American gun violence for The Atlantic. Everybody can learn something from this. →
Basically it’s a net gain for Fluvanna Republicans. The good news is that Morton finally found that election fraud she was so concerned about. →
The Washington Institute for Public and International Affairs Research has analyzed the DNA from a sample of men convicted of sexual assault from 1973–1987 and found that somewhere between 8–15% of them were wrongly convicted (depending on how you count). This should result in some serious soul-searching about how the Virginia justice system works. →
Miami-Dade County, famously, has established laws that prohibit sex offenders from being within half a mile of a park, school, day care, or any place where children could hypothetically gather. In reality, that made it impossible for the city’s sex offenders to live anywhere at all, other than camping under the Julia Tuttle Causeway. (Until a few years ago, probation officers were instructing newly released prisoners to go live there.) It turned out there was another legal spot—a chunk of vacant, city-owned land—and a dozen sex offenders had started camping there, at the advice of probation officers, the men say. So the city established a “park” there—they plopped some rusty toys on the 100-by-40 foot parcel of land and declared it consequently off-limits to sex offenders. →
They knowingly, deliberately put an insecticide in their bird seed that would kill birds, and then covered it up from the government by faking documentation. →
Earlier this month, in the last few days of his term, Mississippi Governor Haley Barbour pardoned five men, including four convicted murderers, who worked in his mansion. The AP FOIAed the records about their pardons and—darnedest thing—there aren’t any. The attorney general says that they’re nowhere to be found. This is headed to court in a couple of weeks. →
- New York Times: Nearly a Third of Americans Are Arrested by 23, Study Says
30.2% of us have been arrested for something more serious than a minor traffic violation. (I say "us," but I haven't been arrested.) As Sen. Webb points out, either Americans are the most evil people on the planet, or something is fundamentally wrong with our criminal justice system.
- AP: Tennessee home burns as firefighters watch
When a couple in rural Tennessee found their home on fire, they called 911 and got out. When the firefighters arrived, they stood and watched as the home burned to the ground. The couple couldn't afford the annual $75 firefighting subscription fee that the county charges, so the responding crew wasn't allowed to so much as turn on a hose.
- Maciej Cegłowski: Don’t Be A Free User
The developer of Pinboard explains the importance of relying on businesses that have a business model that involves actually making money. Comes with a handy chart. When I grow up, I want to be Maciej Cegłowski.
- Bloomberg: Koch Brothers Flout Law With Secret Iran Sales
The Koch Brothers have secretly, criminally sold millions of dollars of petrochemical equipment to Iran, an enemy of the United States with whom it is unquestionably illegal to do business. This is no aberration for these bastards—they're out for a buck, and they don't care how they get it.
- Commonwealth Data Point: Expenditures by Agency
Wondering what the state spends its money on? Here's the state's checkbook, by agency, so read to your heart's content. A warning: good luck with the weird menu system. Somebody apparently thought that rather than menu items, it would be fun to just give people a single letter to try to decipher. O? F? S? P? I don't get it.
- MSNBC: Bachmann condemns Arab Spring, blames it on Obama
If stupid were bricks, she'd have a lot of bricks.
- New York Times: Inmate Visits Now Carry Added Cost in Arizona
Want to visit inmates in Arizona prisons? That'll cost you $25. And it could be a couple of months before your application is approved. It would be difficult to list all of the reasons why this is an awful, awful idea.
- New York Times: Obama Moves Jobs Speech After Skirmish With Boehner
"The Senate Historical Office knows of no instance in which Congress refused the president permission to speak before a joint session of Congress."
- Cato Institute: Vouchers ARE Government Money, and That’s the Problem
"There is simply no way around the fact that vouchers are government funds, subject to whatever constitutional and statutory restrictions a state may place on their use." Yup.
- Wikipedia: The National Road
One of the first highways in the country was the aptly named "National Road," running from Cumberland, Maryland to south-central Illinois, the road was to continue clear to Missouri, but the project ran out of cash. Construction of the 620-mile road ran from 1811–1838, having been authorized five years prior by President Thomas Jefferson. Today it's U.S. Highway 40. (Fun fact: U.S. highways with numbers that end in a zero run clear across the country, or at least did at one time.)
- The Washington Post: Ubiquitous ‘tiny belly’ online ad part of scheme, government says
Must we all pretend to be shocked that these awful ads are a scam? The surprising thing is that so many people didn't know—enough that losses to this fraud may exceed $1B.
- Lynchburg Police: A Look at Citizen’s Arrest in Virginia
Like most states, Virginia has a concept of "citizen's arrest." But you'd best know what you're doing if you're going to try it. The crime has to be a felony and you have to have actually observed the criminal commit the crime. Otherwise, you're setting yourself up for a kidnapping charge—even if the person is guilty.
- Carnegie Hero Fund Commission
In 1904, Andrew Carnagie established the Hero Fund, which would reward any civilian who voluntarily risks his lives while attempting to save the life of another. In the 107 years since, they have given out 9,000 medals and $32M in grants, 20% posthumously. These are the stories behind some of their winners, but brief information on all of the winners is available on their site.
- NPR: The Unthinkable
Franklin Pierce was the only president ever elected and subsequently denied his party's renomination. Arthur, Johnson, Fillmore, and Tyler also lost their party's nomination, but all of them ascended to the presidency from the vice presidency after the death of the president.
- Gratiot County Herald Letters To The Editor
Ithaca, Michigan school superintendent Nathan Bootz wrote an open letter to the governor to ask that his school system be converted to a prison, noting that Michigan spends $30,000–$40,000/year on each prisoner, but only $7,000/year on each student.
- WVEC: Taxpayers foot the bill when the governor flies on state aircraft
I don't think it's inherently bad that Bob McDonnell is using state aircraft more than prior governors, but using a state plane to fly his family to the Shenandoah Apple Blossom Festival to have his daughter crowned as queen? Less good. More problematic is the governor's office's response to WVEC's FOIA request, trying to figure out how to avoid responding, and offering conceptual excuses—it's a long drive from Virginia Beach to Cumberland Gap, it's a money saver—for which there's no real-world scenarios that support those claims.
- New York Times: Steady Decline in Major Crime Baffles Experts
Violent crime is at at forty-year low. Combine this with the recent news that divorce is at a thirty-year low, and you can see how the pervasive claims of alarmists are just foolishness. Those who would have you believe that our country is more dangerous and marriages more disposable than ever are either ignorant or trying to sell you something.
- New York Times: Vitaly Borker of DecorMyEyes Pleads Guilty
You'll remember this jackass as the guy who ran a series of scam businesses, physically threatened anybody who complained, and bragged to the Times that he loved web-based complaints because they helped his Google ranking. He received the Google death penalty a few days later, he was arrested within a week or so, and was held in jail until last month. The guy's out on a $1M bond, barred from the internet and with a guard at his door.
- Reuters: Pornography found in bin Laden hideout
Oh, this is going to be good.
- Wikipedia: Paraprosdokian
A figure of speech where the end of the sentence causes the reader to reevaluate the beginning of the sentence is known as a "paraprosdokian." Examples include "I've had a perfectly wonderful evening, but this wasn't it" (Groucho Marx), "if all the girls who attended the Yale prom were laid end to end, I wouldn't be a bit surprised" (Dorothy Parker), and "I haven't slept for ten days, because that would be too long" (Mitch Hedberg).
- iWatch News: White House visitor logs riddled with holes
The Center for Public Integrity compared a list of publicly known visitors to the White House to the visitor logs that the Obama administration released. Funny—basically none of them are listed. Rahm Emanuel is listed as having hardly any visitors. Less than 1% of visit in the first eight months are recorded. Two-thirds of the names listed are just people who took public group tours.
- New York Times: Death Penalty Drug Search Raises Legal Questions
A California prison employee, thanking an Arizona prison employee for sending a supply of sodium thiopental for an execution: "You guys in AZ are life savers."
- Poynter: Federal aid story prompted Falwell to block Lynchburg paper
Liberty University blocked all campus access to the Lynchburg News & Advance’s website after the paper pointed out that the school got nearly half a billion dollars in federal dollars last year—more money than NPR. They've just discovered the Streisand Effect.
- PolitiFact: Bob McDonnell says he cut $6 billion from Virginia’s budget
Gov. McDonnell keeps claiming that he cut $6B from the budget "by cutting spending, not raising taxes." This is a lie. Spending reductions eliminated just $2.34B from the budget, only slightly more than the $1.9B of funding provided by federal stimulus dollars. (Apparently, federal stimulus money is "cutting spending.") The balance of the $6B is bookkeeping chicanery—mere slight of hand.
- New York Times: The Prosecution Rests, but I Can’t
John Thompson spent fourteen years on death row for a robbery and a murder, neither of which he committed. Prosecutors knew he hadn't done it—they covered up the ample evidence demonstrating his innocence. If a private investigator hadn't uncovered the conspiracy against him, he'd have been executed by now. In this op-ed, Thompson wonders what to make of a legal system where doing this to him and others is perfectly legal, as the Supreme Court ruled last month.
- Los Angeles Times: Ikea—Workers’ complaints surround Ikea’s U.S. factory
Ikea's Danville factory is becoming a national shame in Sweden. The story is par for the course for Virginia—the company is treating workers terribly, allegedly discriminating against black employees, paying employees terribly and providing lousy benefits. The employees have tried to unionize, but a) Ikea is preventing them from doing so—despite their corporate commitment to unions—and b) it's Virginia.
- Buzzfeed: 60 Completely Unusable Stock Photos
It's difficult to know what these photographers were thinking. I can't envision a use for a photo of Hitler wearing a gingham dress, peeling potatoes.
- The Guardian: Doctor in court after father’s 27-year fight for justice for dead daughter
After this Frenchman's daughter was raped and murdered, Germany wouldn't extradite the accused murderer. Said German was recently kidnapped, trussed up, and deposited on the street in front of a courthouse in France. He's now awaiting trial in a French jail.
- NBC-29: Obama pushes DNC chairman Kaine toward Senate bid
The inevitable fourth step of Kaine's faux-coy slide into becoming a candidate for U.S. Senate: the president publicly urging him to run. Up next:Kaine's public statement that he takes very seriously the president's request, and that he's seriously considering doing so. Then, finally, the announcement that he's running, in which he says that part of why he's doing so is because the president really wants him to.
- BBC News: Jordan battles to regain ‘priceless’ Christian relics
Seventy ancient books, made out of lead, have been found in a Jordanian cave. The text is in encoded Hebrew, little of which has been translated. Scholars are debating whether they are of Jewish origin or—far more tantalizingly—very early Christian origin.
- Village Voice: Women’s Funding Network Sex Trafficking Study Is Junk Science
I'd read about the exploding rates of forced juvenile prostitution, and like most people, was shocked. It turns out that those numbers are a total fiction, ginned up by an advocacy group in an effort to get more funding. Good for the Village Voice for asking the questions that dozens of other reporters failed to ask.
- New York Times: A Stealth Downsizing, as Shoppers Pay More for Less Food
The U.S. isn't immune from global food price increases. Manufacturers of packaged foods are shrinking quantities while changing the packaging to disguise the increased per-unit cost.
- Wikipedia: Cessna 172
The record for longest manned flight was set in 1959, when two guys flew a Cessna 172 for 64 consecutive days without landing, to raise money for a cancer fund. They'd fly close to the ground to hoist up food and water in a bucket, matching their speed with a car driving below. The same method worked to refuel, only using a hose instead of a bucket. They only stopped because the engine simply couldn't run for that many hours without an overhaul, and it lost power.
- Richmond Times-Dispatch: 1,100 felons regain rights in McDonnell’s first year
Color me surprised. I would happily have put down $50 saying that McDonnell wouldn't restore the civil rights to but maybe 10% as many felons as Gov. Tim Kaine Kaine did. He's on pace to match Kaine. This is still a terrible system—we're one of just two states in the nation that still give only the governor the power to restore rights.
- PolitiFact Virginia: Virginia lottery claims all profits since 1999 have gone to education
Turns out that this is basically true. I'd wondered.
- Washington Post: In Utah, Sen. Hatch courts tea partyers one by one in quest for survival
I'm not what you'd call a fan of Sen. Orrin Hatch, but it's depressing to see how low he's stopping to kowtow to the most extreme elements of his party. He's taking to swearing in his speeches because it makes the tea partiers happy. He's been consulting a muscle car builder on his votes several times each day, apparently because he wants to make the guy feel special. He's having to apologize for his decades-long friendship with Sen. Ted Kennedy, because this bunch sees cooperation or even friendship with Democrats as failure. This article neatly summarizes everything that's wrong with politics. While claiming—weakly—to have (silently) opposed President Bush's policies, they're reproducing President Bush's scorched-earth politics.
- Pinboard: Anatomy of a Crushing
I have come to the conclusion that my future projects must include a revenue stream. It's swell to create a service for a community good, but without a revenue stream, that's committing to doing something forever because it once seemed like a good idea. That'd just dumb. The low-priced social bookmark service Pinboard (which I'm using to post this right now) has a great model that illustrates how a revenue stream can make a service significantly better without significantly reducing the accessibility of it. Also, I just love every detail here about how Pinboard is designed and how it was created, because it's precisely how I develop, for better or for worse. I thought I was the only one!
- Wikipedia: Adjective Order
The "red, big ball"? Of course not—it's "big, red ball." There's an adjective order in English: quantity, quality, size, age, shape, color, proper adjective, and purpose. One has a "nice, little, old, white, brick house," not a "brick, old, little, white, nice house."
- City Pages: Inside the multimillion-dollar essay-scoring business
Thanks to NCLB and the new essay portion of the SATs, there's a small industry of grading essays. It's not clear to me if it's worse to work in one of these grading sweatshops or to be graded by one of them.
- CBS News: R.I. father says he’ll kill son’s murderer if man is released
John Foreman's son was killed and eaten by a man in 1975. The murderer due for release in August. Foreman intends to kill the man.
I have to wonder if perhaps Sen. Jim Webb is planning to spend just a single session in the U.S. Senate. His mission to totally overhaul the criminal justice system is something approaching political suicide. It also shows the man has balls of steel.
Since the 1970s, politicians have all agreed that there’s no crime that shouldn’t have the punishment made more severe. A month for chicken thievery? Make it three. A year for shoplifting? Make it five. Five years for possession of LSD? Make it ten. Campaign promises of harsher penalties never have dollar values attached to them, and they’re used to show that the candidate is “tough on crime.” And any candidate suggesting that we do otherwise is a liberal sissy who wants to coddle criminals. Year after year, the punishments become more severe, and yet the punishments often bear no relationship to the severity of the crimes and do nothing to correct the offending behavior. One in six prisoners is mentally ill. One third of prisoners are in for a drug offense—for a crime in which they harmed nobody but themselves (if that). And “three strikes you’re out” laws are about the dumbest thing to emerge from this trend. We’re basing our criminal justice system on baseball? Really? What if four strikes were necessary for an out?
And so the ranks of our prisons have swelled, and now the United States incarcerates a greater percentage of its citizens than any other nation in the world. We’ve got 5% of the world’s population and 25% of its prisoners. The global average is 158 prisoners per 100,000 citizens; we’ve got 756. One out of every 31 American adults is behind bars, on probation, or parole. It’s madness. Based on these figures, Sen. Webb comes to a very reasonable conclusion:
With so many of our citizens in prison compared with the rest of the world, there are only two possibilities: Either we are home to the most evil people on earth or we are doing something different—and vastly counterproductive.
Webb will get nothing but grief for this. His political strategists must have told him in a half dozen ways how foolish that this is. The prison unions will hate him for it. The powerful private companies that own the prisons will be eager to fund his opponent. Republicans will tag him as a criminal-coddler. Hell, ex-felons can’t even vote in Virginia, so he won’t even earn votes from the folks that he gets out of prison. The sort of overhaul that he’s proposing will require a huge amount of work on his part, which will prevent him from introducing the sort of brochure bills that get legislators reelected.
If Webb is serious about this—and I believe that he is—I can’t see that he’s planning to run again in 2012. But if he’s going to effect the sort of change that he’s proposing, that seems like a pretty good plan.