Sunday, June 26, 2011

American Jurisprudence - innocent until proven guilty, except for red lights

I read an interesting article (from MSNBC, nonetheless!) on the debate over red light cameras across the US. Not surprisingly, this is yet another area in which I am strongly opinionated. In the interest of full disclosure, I have not been ticketed by a red light camera (I’m pretty much the best driver I know!), but I am married to someone who has been ticketed by a red light camera. However, I would like to point out that I have been against red light cameras before we received the ticket, and my concerns with red light cameras actually aren’t influenced too much by us having had to pay the ticket (although that shakedown was pretty ridiculous, which I’ll cover later).

First off, what is a red light camera? Well, for those of you who don’t know, red light cameras take a picture (and corresponding video) of your car running a red light and mail the ticket to your house. Well, I guess the cameras don’t actually mail the picture, but after the picture is taken, a ticket is mailed to your house. Of course, after the pictures are taken, (supposedly,) a real person reviews the camera footage to make sure that an infraction has actually occurred before the ticket is mailed.

As for my shakedown saga (which happened two or three years ago), with the ticket that we received, two pictures were included, showing the car before and during the act of running the red light. (Before anyone gets carried away thinking that we just tool around blowing through red lights for fun, I’d like to point out that my wife turned right on red and failed to come to a complete stop – I was with her, and she deserved the ticket, but at no point in time was anyone in danger.) Also included with the paperwork was a friendly reminder that we had to pay the fine by a date that was one week after we received the notice in the mail (really, 9 days; we received it on a Wednesday and it was due the next Friday), and if we didn’t pay it by then, we would be subject to additional fines and/or penalties, up to and including a bench warrant put out for my wife’s arrest (the ticket was issued to her because her car is registered in her name) because while the ticket itself was not a criminal matter, not paying it apparently is.

Of course, if we would like to contest the ticket, we certainly could do so. However, the notice was careful to state that simply providing evidence that you were not the driver of the vehicle at the time of the offense (remember, the camera took a picture of the car, not the driver) is not enough to keep you from having to pay the ticket – you have to prove who was driving the vehicle and therefore should be ticketed for the infraction. So, let's say you’re on national TV performing for Jerry Lewis’s telethon, and one of your kids (“It wasn’t me! Honest!”) borrows your car and runs a red light. Surely the fact that you can easily prove you were somewhere else at the time of the infraction (where is that telethon filmed at anyway?) is enough to get you out of the ticket, right? Wrong. Unless one of your kids fesses up (not just to you, but to the police!), you still have to pay the ticket yourself, because it’s your car. But don’t worry! If a police officer had actually caught you running a red light, you’d be assessed 2 points against your MO driver’s license – 1/6 of the way to the year’s suspension you get for accumulating 12 points in 12 months. Since you were fortunate enough to have the camera ticket your car, *no* points will be assessed!

Wait – isn’t running a red light, running a red light, whether a cop catches you or the camera does? Apparently not all traffic violations are created equal, even if they are the same traffic violation. You see, before contracting to have these red light cameras installed, municipalities here in the state of Missouri were concerned with the legality of assessing points against a driver's license without having proof that that driver was the one who actually ran the red light - so, we just give the car owner a fine, give him 9 days in which to pay it, and everything is cool, right?

Not with me.

As it turns out, I have a hard time accepting the "we saw your car running the red light, so therefore you must have been the one who did it, pay us money" argument.  If someone borrows my car and runs down a bunch of old ladies and drives off, the cops wouldn't be doing their job if they didn't start their investigation with me.  But when I give them irrefutable proof that I was otherwise occupied (also known as an "alibi"), I don't have to prove who did it.  I may be able to point them in the right direction by telling them who borrowed my car, but they're the ones who have to do the heavy lifting.

I do have to say that my opposition to red light cameras could be eliminated if they could somehow take a picture of the face of the driver while it was doing the rest of its business.  I know, I know, then you'd get people wearing ski masks while driving just in case they happen to run a red light, but there will always be those who will do whatever they can to skirt the rules.  At the very least, though, I think you should know who is committing the moving violation before punishing someone for it.

Of course, you'll have some who claim that the red light cameras have contributed to safer intersections, and that's all that matters.  They may, in fact, make intersections safer, although if you read the article I linked at the beginning, you would see that such claims may not be based on sound data practices.  But, you know what else would contribute to safer driving circumstances?  Max speed limits of 15 mph.  Everywhere.  Probably not a lot of fatal crashes then, huh?  But I digress; if safety was the one true goal above all others, then why would cities be shortening their yellow light times before installing red light cameras?  Haven't extended yellow light times been proven to reduce intersection crashes?  Yes, but extended yellow light times have also been proven to reduce the number of red light camera tickets issued.....

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

I see steak, but where are the cows?

We're all familiar with what to do if life gives you lemons - you make lemonade, right? But what if life literally hands you a turd? Well, if you're Japanese researcher, Mitsuyuki Ikeda, you do this: create an edible steak made from human feces.
Beef, or feces?  Better have the chicken instead. . .

When Tokyo Sewage approached Mitsuyuki Ikeda, a researcher from the Okayama Laboratory, and asked him to explore potential uses for an overabundance of sewage mud, Ikeda found that, because of all the bacteria, the mud contained large amounts of proteins.

Ikeda and his team isolated those proteins, combined them with a reaction enhancer and put it in an exploder, thereby creating le cuisine de merde. The lab-grown steak is made from 63 percent proteins, 25 percent carbohydrates, 3 percent lipids, 9 percent minerals (and 100 percent you've-got-to-be-kidding-me). Researchers enhanced the flavor with soy protein and used red coloring to give the poo-burger that appetizing, meaty charm. According to DigitalTrends, initial taste-tasters have said the butt steaks even taste like beef.

But is this meat safe?

Experts say, in theory, yes. But to kill any toxic pathogens, the meat must obviously be cooked.

"In the food safety world we say, 'don't eat poop," Douglas Powell, a professor of food safety at Kansas State University, told MyHealthNewsDaily. "But if you're going to, make sure it's cooked."

Powell did say there was a potential for cross contamination in the lab where the bowel loaf was developed, but said the idea in not that different from eating vegetables that have been fertilized with manure or other excrement.

"Theoretically, there's nothing wrong with this," Powell added."It could be quite safe to eat, but I'm sure there's a yuck factor there."

Bon app├ętit!

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Welcoming another Billy into the world

The Billy Blog would like to take this opportunity to present to you the pinnacle of evolution, the result of billions of years of fate and chance:

Billy Cooper Wade, born June 15, 2011 at 5:25pm. 

Billy, weighing in at 8 lbs 13 oz and standing a towering 20.75" tall, sat so large in his mother's womb that the doctor was worried that if he was left for the full term (a predicted DOB of 6/22), he wouldn't be able to be delivered naturally.  So his mother and I checked into the Labor and Delivery ward of our hospital on Tuesday night (6/14), and began the process of inducing labor.  For those of you who don't know what this entails, it pretty much means just sitting around while hormones are pumped into the mother, stimulating uterine contractions and bringing about the birth. 

I was expecting that by beginning to administer the hormone at 8pm (in reality, around 10pm, after getting checked in and everything), we'd be the proud parents of a bouncing baby boy somewhere before or around noon.  Unfortunately, the birth canal decided not to play along, so around 4pm on Wednesday, we faced the inevitable c-section. 

I have to give credit to my wife; around 11 or noon, the doctor came in and said that because labor wasn't progressing as fast as it should be (or at all, really) that a c-section would be advisable, but wasn't a necessity yet because the baby was still doing fine.  I know that neither of us wanted for her to have a c-section, but she was the one who couldn't eat anything other than ice chips for the whole ordeal, and yet she signed on for another several hours of the same, until we gave in to the inevitable and had the c-section.

And so, around 4:45, they wheeled her off with me in tow (and I was wearing a pretty sexy set of medical coveralls), and I got to sit through the entire process.  A sheet was set up to keep me from watching the surgery, but when they were about to fish my boy out of the womb, I got to stand up and watch him be born.  Then, while they finished up with mother, I got to watch them clean the baby off and hold him myself.

So now, one day removed, both mother and child are doing great.  My wife is a bit sore from the surgery, which is to be expected, and little Billy is pretty much the cutest baby in the entire world (that's a fact, not just my opinion).  I have a plethora of additional pictures, but in true father-to-be fashion, I brought the camera but not the USB cable to get the pictures somewhere I can disseminate them.  At least it will give me something to write about later.  In the meantime, I'm camped out in the hospital with my wife and child, enjoying the best a family has to offer.

Thanks for all the well wishes!

Sunday, June 12, 2011

How to own your ex-wife in the custody battle:

From The Smoking Gun -
In an embarrassing about-face, federal prosecutors yesterday abruptly dropped criminal charges against an Indiana man who they accused of bugging his ex-wife’s automobile.
The FBI last Friday arrested David Voelkert, 38, largely on the basis of messages the South Bend man recently exchanged with a purported 17-year-old Facebook friend named “Jessica Studebaker.”

In fact, the “Studebaker” account was created last month by Voelkert’s ex-wife Angela, 29, in an apparent bid to extract information she could use against him in an ongoing child custody fight.

As described in an FBI affidavit, David Voelkert’s Facebook correspondence with “Studebaker” included an admission that he had placed a GPS device in his ex-wife’s vehicle to surreptitiously monitor her movements. He also wrote about his desire to “find someone to take care of” Angela, and told “Studebaker” that “you should find someone at your school…that would put a cap in her ass for $10,000.”

For her part, Angela Voelkert sought to use the Facebook exchanges against her ex-husband. In a June 1 Superior Court application for a restraining order against him, Voelkert attached several pages of Facebook messages exchanged between “Studebaker” and David Voelkert. The messages showed her ex-husband telling “Studebaker” about the tracking device, as well as his concern the teenager could “get arrested as an accessory to all this.”

Voelkert spent four days in custody until federal prosecutors moved yesterday to drop charges against him. He was freed after proving to investigators that he knew all along that his ex-wife was the one sending him messages from the “Studebaker” account. Voelkert explained that he played along with the ruse so that he could use his ex-spouse’s machinations against her in their custody case.

To support this contention, Voelkert provided FBI agents with a May 25 notarized affidavit in which he describes receiving a friend request from “Jessica Studebaker,” whom he suspected was his ex-wife. “I am lying to this person,” he stated, “to gain positive proof that it is indeed my ex-wife trying to again tamper in my life.” He added, “In no way do I have plans to leave with my children or do any harm to Angela Dawn Voelkert or anyone else.”The allegedly incriminating Facebook messages sent by Voelkert came on May 31, six days after his sworn affidavit was notarized. Voelkert kept one copy of the affidavit, and gave a relative a second copy for safekeeping.

Federal investigators, who interviewed the bank employee who notarized the affidavit on May 25, confirmed that the document was authentic, triggering the government motion yesterday to dismiss Voelkert’s case. “The request is based upon information learned in the government’s ongoing investigation of the case,” wrote prosecutor Jesse Barrett, who declined to comment about the matter when contacted by a TSG reporter.

Magistrate Judge Christopher Nuechterlein yesterday signed an order dismissing the case against Voelkert.

Now, this story really drives me crazy.  On one hand, I'm glad that things have worked out (so far) for the guy.  It's actually quite pleasing to me that he got the drop on his scheming ex-wife, because with as much effort as we've made towards gender equality in our society, one of the areas that trails FAR behind is post-divorce father's rights, and I know a few fathers who got screwed over by their exes and the courts who would have loved to have something like this (proof of the scheming ex) to bring to court.

On the other hand, WHAT WAS THIS GUY THINKING???  Again, I'm glad that things are going OK for him, but he was really playing with fire.  Newsflash - having a sworn affidavit doesn't prove that you weren't going to kill your wife; it proves that you signed an affidavit saying you weren't going to kill your wife.  He's fortunate that it lent enough credibility to his story that the feds decided to drop the charges, but if other evidence lined up against him, it could just look like he was trying to create an alibi for himself.  Let's face it, if a notarized statement that "I will not commit (whatever crime)" was enough to prove that you weren't actually going to commit that crime, notaries would be working nonstop and nobody would be guilty of anything, because they had sworn affidavits to prove their innocence!

There's a third side to this story that has gone somewhat unreported - David Voelkert was actually arrested for "intentionally using an electronic, mechanical, or other device to intercept an oral communication" and spent 4 days locked up before being released.  I'm sure the FBI figured that they'd pick him up on an easy charge, and then take their time to put together the "murder-for-hire" rap while he was still in jail.  What proof did they have to arrest him on such a charge?  Apparently his "admission" on facebook that he concealed a GPS in his ex-wife's van, combined with his ex-wife's claim that her brother removed a "small black plastic box" from the windshield of her van was enough proof to arrest him and lock him up.  The FBI didn't find a GPS or even search the van!  I understand that they wanted to make sure that he didn't kill his ex, but they still need to have a real reason to lock you up, right?

And my last question is, will the ex-wife face any charges for her part in the deception?  A while back in St. Louis, some teenage girl committed suicide after she was "bullied" online by some lady pretending to be a teenage boy, and that lady was brought to trial on a few different charges mostly related to the actual deception rather than the bullying.  The authorities take those TOS agreements seriously!

Thursday, June 9, 2011

Is internet access a "basic human right?"

We're not gonna take it. . .the internet, that is.

In the face of government crackdowns on the free flow of information, Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on freedom of expression, has released a report stressing that Internet access ought to be an essential right for all citizens.

La Rue's report connects Internet access with freedom of expression, a right guaranteed in article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. The Rapporteur urges governments to open up Web access by developing action plans that make the Internet more available, accessible, and affordable.

"There should be as little restriction as possible to the flow of information via the Internet, except in a few, very exceptional, and limited circumstances prescribed by international human rights law," La Rue said in a statement. "Essentially, this means that any restriction must be clearly provided by law, and proven to be necessary and the least intrusive means available for the purpose of protecting the rights of others."

The report raised concerns about surveillance powers enacted under the pretense of counter-terrorism or national security. As a tool that enables the advocacy for change—not to mention holding those in power accountable—La Rue stressed that the Internet has ignited fear among some governments.

"Legitimate expression continues to be criminalized in many states, illustrated by the fact that in 2010, more than 100 bloggers were imprisoned," La Rue warned. "Governments are using increasingly sophisticated technologies to block content, and to monitor and identify activists and critics."

In Syria a government crackdown on the Internet is on full display. According to Renesys, a service that monitors Internet connectivity, as much as two-thirds of all Syrian networks went down on Friday. Access was reportedly restored on Saturday.

"In recent months, we have seen a growing movement of people around the world who are advocating for change – for justice, equality, accountability of the powerful and better respect for human rights," La Rue said. "However, the unique features of the Internet, which allow individuals to spread information instantly, to organize themselves, and to inform the world about situations of injustice and inequality, have also created fear among Governments and the powerful."

The UN Special Rapporteur's full report is, appropriately, available online.

The report earned praise from privacy groups like the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF) and the Center for Democracy and Technology (CDT).  "The report by the Special Rapporteur raises concerns about justifying broad surveillance powers under the name of national security or counter-terrorism," EFF said in a statement. "La Rue should be commended for questioning the ostensible motives for online surveillance."

"As Rapporteur La Rue affirms, the Internet's unique ability to provide ample space for individual free expression can lead to the strengthening of other human rights, including political, economic and social rights," said Cynthia Wong, Director of CDT's Project on Global Internet Freedom. "In order for these rights to be realized, governments, civil society and industry must all continue to build on the work begun by the Special Rapporteur."

I'm not entirely sure just yet what I think about this report.  I kind of feel like this is sort of a "well, duh" report; what's coming next, the report on how it's wrong for governments to jail dissidents to keep them quiet?  Another question I have on this report's findings has to do with its applicability to intellectual property rights - according to this report, there is no difference between Syria or Egypt or Libya shutting down the internet in an attempt to quell an uprising or rebellion and New Zealand's laws that allow repeat offenders of copyright infringement laws to be banned by their ISPs.  Is freedom from incarceration the next "basic human right?"  Will the UN condemn the jailing of murderers?

So what do you think?

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Optimal Nutrition, the "My Plate" way

The government has, once again, tinkered with a beloved American institution, turning it completely unrecognizable. No, I’m not talking about the Constitution, I’m talking about the food pyramid!

Do I really care that they got rid of the food pyramid? No, not in the least. I hated the food pyramid; I always thought it was dumb.  Oh, I need to eat more fruits, vegetables, and grains, and less meats and fats?  Brilliant!  Besides, how can we trust anything that says tomatoes are veggies when, botanically, they are fruits?

Now we have this "my plate" illustration that's supposed to help me better choose what to eat by illustrating the approximate portion of the plate each group will occupy.  Newsflash; this is what *my* plate looks like:

Ok, so that's not what my plate really looks like because I have this thing called a "self-image" that's trying not to be a fatso.  Perhaps if I didn't have to worry about things like caloric intake and saturated fats and the like, I could indulge myself as shown above, but I don't.  Just for reference, here's the real "my plate," like it's supposed to look:
It's pretty straight forward, and I'm sure it appeases all the major food producing groups (except for sugared sodas, but we're about to tax the hell out of them, so what do we care what they think?).  Do I think it will actually help anyone to lose weight or eat healthier?  Not in the slightest; do you?

Don't get me wrong; I applaud the government for trying to improve the health of its citizens; after all, if we're going to legalize the government's financial stake in the health of its citizens, we might as well try to encourage healthful behavior before we have to legislate it.  But I digress; it would be nice if 50% of Americans weren't obese or overweight.  However, after decades of approaching the problem from this end, I think we should admit that we need a new approach.  Instead of encouraging healthier eating behaviors, I think we should make it socially acceptable to discourage unhealthy eating behavior.

What am I saying?

Take a moment - Goonies was released in 1985.  Chunk was considered the "fat kid."  Look at that picture again.  Would he be the "fat kid" today?

I know it's cruel, and I know that our societal norm of "being a pussbag" would be offended, but I honestly think that no amount of encouraging people to eat healthy will adequately address our obesity epidemic.  I think that it's time for kids to be able to make fun of those who are different again.  Hell, I was way overweight until I realized just how super-fat I had become.  Maybe if I had someone who cared enough to make fun of my weight, I wouldn't have gotten that big in the first place?

On a completely unrelated topic, The Billy Blog would like to take a moment to note the passing of a legend of the small screen, James Arness. I’m sure that if you recognize the name; you probably remember him from “Gunsmoke” as Marshal Matt Dillon, even though he was in a wide range of other projects, ranging from being 'the thing' in “The Thing,” to a few John Wayne movies. Growing up, my family didn’t have cable, so my siblings and I got to watch a lot of network reruns; consequently, I did get to see quite a bit of “Gunsmoke” in my younger years. To me, Arness wasn’t just an actor, he *was* Matt Dillon – and Matt Dillon was the law, justice, toughness, kindness, and the fastest draw, all in one brothel patronizing peace officer. The best part about Marshal Dillon? His first name was Matt, making it even cooler to grow up with that name. True story. So thank you, James Arness, for the many years of entertainment you have provided us.

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Thanks go out to. . .the. . .uh. . .KKK?

As you may have guessed, assholes from the Greater Westboro Douche Society (aka, Westboro Baptist church) protested Memorial Day observances at the Tomb of the Unknowns on Monday.  If you are not familiar with these pieces of shit, they protest at a wide variety of sad and/or tragic events, ranging from funerals of soldiers to the recent tornadoes in Joplin, MO, offering such gems of wisdom as "God hates you" and "pray for more dead soldiers."  Apparently God is punishing the US for the tolerance (and *gasp* even acceptance!) of homosexuality in our society, and what better place to let us know than at emotionally charged events, like the tragic death of a loved one?  Of course, if some mourner was to get fed up and punch a protestor, then the protestors could sue the mourner, and make more money for their cause - brilliant!

I would like to take this moment to acknowledge that I thought long and hard before deciding to post about these dildos - I find all of their actions despicable, and I truly wish that we could just ignore them, and then they would go away.  I really didn't want to even give them the attention of the few who read my blog, but let's face it, the media can't ignore them, and this provides me a platform with which to insult the head choad, Fred "if my penis was only three inches longer, it would be two inches long" Phelps, so I'm now OK with it.

Anyways, now that I have cataloged my disgust with this particular pack of peckerheads, you can imagine my lack of surprise to find out that once again, there they were, this time at the observance of Memorial Day at Arlington.  I then heard that this time, there were counter-protestors on the scene.  I realize that counter-protesting these scumbags is kind of like telling a bully to stop picking on you (as opposed to kicking him squa in na nuts), and doesn't really accomplish anything other than letting the bully know that he's getting to you, but hey, these losers really aren't going anywhere anyway, so we might as well have someone protest them.  And who was it that showed up for the counter-protest?

Why, none other than the Ku Klux Klan.

Wait, there's actually a group that I'll side with the KKK against?  Apparently there is.  What a crazy world in which we live!

I guess only 10 members of the "Knights of the Southern Cross" (with a name like that, they could be Aussies instead of Virginians) showed up, but it's more than I did to show those wastes of plasma just how I feel.

My feelings. . .so conflicted.  Maybe I should just focus on my contempt for Fred "it's not gay if I don't cup the other guy's balls" Phelps.  I guess that will help ease my confusion on agreeing with the KKK on an issue.  Really, how terrible can you be if the KKK rightfully hates you?

But this whole thing also makes me question who is running the show - how is it that you can spew all kinds of hatred towards American soldiers at a ceremony to commemorate our heroes when you can't even dance in the Jefferson Memorial?