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Archive for the ‘news and links’ Category

..but I feel happier about the death penalty being awarded to these guys that I have for any other case I can remember.

There are people whose crimes have led to far greater destruction and death. Terrorists, mass murderers, genocidal dictators. But there is something particularly chilling about a group of men hunting down and murdering a young couple in love for no other reason than to uphold their notions of collective honour. If individual liberty is the greatest moral good, and collectivist coercion the greatest horror,  then the murder of  Manoj and Babli was evil in the purest way imaginable. When their killers die, I will rejoice.

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The widow of the IRS worker who was killed by Joe’s Stack’s horrific plane-crashing act is suing Stack’s widow for ‘negligence’.

Valerie Hunter, the wife of Vernon Hunter, is accusing Sheryl Stack, wife of Andrew Joseph “Joe” Stack III, of negligence, alleging she she knew or should have known that her husband was a threat to others and, thus, could have prevented the attack, according to the lawsuit filed Monday in Travis County District Court.

“Stack was threatened enough by Joseph Stack that she took her daughter and stayed at a hotel the night before the plane crash. [She] owed a duty to exercise reasonable care to avoid a foreseeable risk of injury to others including [Vernon Hunter],” the suit says.

I am sorry for Ms. Hunter but no such duty exists in the American legal code and for good reason. It is one thing to say that there is a moral duty to try and prevent violence (even this is not clear-cut: it depends on whether you think that the violence is justified or not). It is quite another to declare that there ought to be legal obligation to do so. (A government that enforces such a do-good law is, in my view, dangerous and violative of rights.)

But back to current law. From the legal standpoint, it does not matter whether or not Sheryl Stack knew her late husband’s state of mind or even his exact plans. The law is very clear on this point: as long as Ms. Stack was not directly involved in the planning of the attack, she is free of all liability for this act. (There are exceptions to this, such as when a person is under the legal care of another and so on, but this case does not fall under any of those categories.)

I realize that Ms. Hunter is in a traumatic state of mind but I hope that her lawyer has informed her that the case is a complete loser.

Update: I guess someone nicely explained to Ms. Hunter the above facts. She has now dropped Sheryl Stack from the lawsuit. She is now only seeking damages from Joe Stack’s estate, and that I have more sympathy for.

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The reaction of the TSA — the umbrella organization formed after 9/11 to regulate airline security in the US — to the recent terrorist attempt has been along expected lines. More lines, more meaningless regulations, more stifling security measures. When Richard Reid had the bright idea a few years ago to hide explosives in his shoe, the TSA reacted by asking everyone to take off their shoes henceforth for the security check. Considering that Umar Farouk Abdulmutallab strapped the explosives onto his underwear, we ought to be thankful that the TSA’s imagination has so far been..um…restricted. I mean, sure, it has issued an order that all babies be put into overhead luggage bins during the last hour of the flight, but consider the much more sinister possibilities.

My thoughts on this issue can be summed up in one sentence: Umar Farouk failed, but we are doing our best to make sure his goal succeeds.

Stephen Bainbridge puts it well:

Has TSA ever considered the possibility that maybe the terrorists aren’t really interested in blowing up a plane. Maybe the terrorists figure they win everytime we in the West spend millions of man-hours being hassled, inconvenienced, and generally put upon by a myriad of stupid security measures.

Now Professor Bainbridge may be ascribing more subtlety to the terrorists’ modus operandi than they probably possess, but it is worthwhile to pause and think about what he is saying. A free society, by its very nature, offers many targets for terrorists. It is impossible to shut them all down. Nor is terrorism as transcendent a presence as some might want to believe. With smart, mostly non-intrusive measures, the threat can be further reduced. Sure, there will be attacks from time to time, just as there are crimes every day, but the real damage from these attacks are not caused by the incidents themselves, but by our terrorized reaction to them. It is when we fearfully overreach and put into place crippling regulations that cost us time, money and curtail our civil liberties, that the real harm occurs. As security expert Bruce Schneier puts it:

A terrorist attack cannot possibly destroy a country’s way of life; it’s only our reaction to that attack that can do that kind of damage. The more we undermine our own laws, the more we convert our buildings into fortresses, the more we reduce the freedoms and liberties at the foundation of our societies, the more we’re doing the terrorists’ job for them.

At some point, we need to do a cost benefit analysis: how much hassle, fear and security clampdown is too much? Is it worth going through so much TSA tyranny, much of it a charade,  and give up so much of our convenience, liberty and well-being in an attempt to make our existence slightly more secure against terrorist attacks?

Update: Nate Silver crunches the numbers and concludes that your chances of being on a given flight departure which is the subject of a terrorist incident have been 1 in 10,408,947 over the past decade. So you could take 20 flights a year and still be less likely to be attacked than you are to die of a lightning strike.

Update 2: This is hilarious:

Anyway, I have a better idea. Let’s ban all clothing from all flights. Both the shoe bomber and Abdulmutallab used clothing — not Wi-Fi and not live TV — to make their failed attempts. In addition to taking away the possibility of hiding incendiary devices, a total ban on all clothes will also have the following positive results:

1. Terrorists will have a further disincentive from targeting flights, because religious extremists tend to be squeamish about naked people.

2. It would reduce greenhouse gas emissions because shy people wouldn’t fly, thus reducing the number of flights overall.

3. I don’t know why, but I think people would be more courteous. Talk about friendly skies!

Of course, I’m not serious about the clothing ban. But it makes a lot more sense than the TSA’s new ban on Wi-Fi and in-flight TV.

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This is probably the best article that I have read so far on the Woods affair.

Whether you choose to have one partner or many, it is crucial that you invest in their emotional well-being if you care for your own. And try to be as honest as possible. Not just for their sakes, but for yours too.

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Gotta love xkcd!

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This is probably familiar to anyone who has been following the civil war — now declared over by the government — in Sri Lanka, but I missed it till today. It is an oped by Lasantha Wickramatunge, former editor of the Sunday Leader newspaper of Sri Lanka. It was published posthumously and is a chilling piece of writing — not just because it eloquently defends civil liberties — but because Wikramatunge was murdered in January this year, exactly as he predicted in the linked essay. Do read it if you haven’t already.

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I believe in the transformational power of liberty. I believe that the free Iraq is in this nation’s interests.”

I sent American troops to Iraq to make its people free, not to make them American. Iraqis will write their own history and find their own way.”

Freedom. This is how it smells.

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  •  While GM and Chrysler are in their last throes, Ford is trudging on. Obama may have fired GM’s CEO and told Chrysler exactly what to do but he has had no such luck controlling Ford. The company has refused offers of taxpayer life support and believes it can not only survive this recession but in fact prosper. It’s CEO, Mullaly does not hide his admiration for Toyota and believes that in a few years Ford will be viewed on par with the Japanese giant. “I would love people in the future to say, ‘There’s Toyota and Honda and Ford,’ ” says Ford’s North American chief Mark Fields. “We have the goods to do it.”
  • It may be the strangest worm to ever hit the internet. The unknown creators of the Conficker worm have earned praise for their breathtaking sophistication even from the supranational security forces that are currently trying to track them down. So far the worm has done nothing except morph into more sophisticated variants but estimates for the number of infected — and thus controllable — computers range from five to fifteen million. Microsoft has announced a $250,000 bounty for information leading to the identity of the hacker who created it. Everyone only agrees on two things: it is the most complex and brilliant piece of malware written in years and no one knows what it can really do if it’s controller decides to wake it up.
  • Today, the federal excise tax on every pack of cigarettes will jump from 39 cents to $1.01, the single largest federal tobacco tax increase ever. Future plans in the works include outlawing risky sports, putting a 1000% tax on cheeseburgers, and having fines for too little exercise; eventually anything that places a ‘needless burden on society’ will be either banned or taxed to such an extent that everyone will be forced to conduct themeselves in an exemplary manner. Ok, I made up the last sentence. But you get the idea. You see, it is for the sake of the children.
  • Brooke Oberwetter has filed a lawsuit against the U.S. Parks Police officer who arrested her last year. She was arrested while — and apparently because — she was quietly dancing to her iPod during a planned celebration at the Thomas Jefferson Memorial in Washington, D.C.
  • Celebrities are getting strange fantasies involving President Obama and have no qualms about admitting it. “I’ll collect paper cups off the ground to make [Obama’s] pathway clear,” Halle Berry recently told the Philadelphia Daily News, “I’ll do whatever he says.” And in February, author Judith Warner used her New York Times blog to confess that “The other night I dreamt of Barack Obama. He was taking a shower right when I needed to get into the bathroom to shave my legs.”
  • A beautiful piece by former Seattle police chief Norm Stamper on drug legalization.

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Go, suck an egg

From a West Virginia legislator comes this bizarre proposal of banning Barbie dolls because they send the wrong message to young girls etc.

I think the Kardashian sisters’ response is the best. From the Fox story:

“He can suck an egg, seriously. He’s probably butt-ugly and always wanted a girlfriend that looked like Barbie but could never get one. People like that really annoy me,” Khloe Kardashian said, with her sis Kourtney adding that it was “so ridiculous.”

“She’s been around 50 years and girls love her. Its fun, it’s a doll — get over it people,” Kourtney added.

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I present below, without comment, a recent interview of Schiff (investor, Austrian economist, accurate predictor of the current crisis) where he talks about the economic crisis and the stimulus. He predicts hyper-inflation worse than anything we have ever seen if we keep going down this path.

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Having a Wall Street boyfriend isn’t as attractive when there is a financial crisis.

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Sometimes, I just love Tyler Cowen.

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A new Georgia law requires anyone convicted of a sex offence in the past to hand over all their user-names and passwords to the government.

Mind you, this law isn’t aimed only at child rapists and suchlike. It will cover everyone who has ever been convicted of a sex related offence. In essence, what this law says is, if you err sexually once — however minor your crime is — you lose all  privacy rights for the rest of your life. Oh — and did I mention that past laws have already made it impossible for these people to find a home or get a job long after they have finished serving their sentences?

Actually, I think these are great laws. For they further a very important principle: offenders must never ever be allowed to reintegrate into society.

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The bizarre story of three young serial killers who tortured and killed 21 people and took live videos of their gruesome murders on cellphone camera. They did it as a ‘hobby’, so that they could have interesting memories when they grew old.

The thee youths dubbed themselves The Dnepropetrovsk Maniacs.

By all accounts, each victim came about by total chance. The three killers just picked them act random, trying to select people who wouldn’t fight back too much. Not exactly the “man as the ultimate prey” type, but just three thugs looking for thrill kills.

Of curse, they weren’t satisfied with only committing murder, they wanted things to remember their victims by for, as one of the killer put it, “when we’re old”. So they took pictures — Lot and lots of pictures. Three hundred to be exact, plus 2 complete videos of 2 murders.

[...] Man’s inhumanity to man has rarely been this ugly. We read about murders every day, and how many times have we heard that someone was bludgeoned to death. Well, up until today bludgeoning didn’t have a face, and now we know its face is a bloody, pulpy mass of flesh. These kids were having a great time watching a total stranger suffer unimaginable pain and their biggest concern was cleaning up the murder weapons while they made fun of the victim’s death throws.

It’s not like these kids were abused, or came from broken homes, just the opposite, they were quite wealthy and allegedly committed the crimes just for fun. They are thought to have used iron pipes and hammers on their victims. Mobile phone footage also suggests they practiced on cats first.

Later on one of the suspect quit and 2 guys continued to murder. Also they attended funerals of their victims, and took pictures of the mourners.

The Police are not revealing how they caught them but, with mobile phone footage of some of the murders, officers have little doubt of the identity of the criminals. “We think they were doing it as a hobby, to have a collection of memories when they get old,” said Detective Bogdan Vlasenko.

I am usually opposed to the death penalty, even for terrible crimes but for the first time ever, I simply can’t think of any reason why these three should live. Maybe it is the effect of watching the video.

Talking of the video, here’s a warning: It is much much more gruesome than anything you can imagine. I started watching the video but had to put it off less than 50 seconds through, and I am anything but the sensitive type. If you want to go ahead and watch the video, do so — but it may make you physically sick. Please don’t say I didn’t warn you.

The link I posted above does not contain the video itself; it only links to another site which has the video. But it does have a transcript of the video, so if you do not want to read a vivid description of the murders, do not click on it either.

(Hat Tip: Boing Boing)

Addendum: The other blogs dealing with this story seem to have lot of angry commenters complaining that they were emotionally scarred by the video (why did they click on it despite the warnings?) and blaming the blogger for writing about it. If you are one of those types or otherwise outraged that I posted this story here, please do me a favor and not bother expressing your moral indignation in the comments.

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Even a blogger as jaded as me comes across an instance of nanny-statism once in a while that takes his breath away.

Police in Aurora and around the metro area are cracking down on unattended and running vehicles, which police call “puffers,” this week.

“The easiest cars to steal are those left running unattended in the cold with the keys in the ignition,” Aurora police spokesman Detective Bob Friel said in a statement. “In this tough economy, the last thing someone needs to worry about is how they are going to replace their stolen car. The solution is simple: keep your car keys with you at all times.”

The fine for making your own car easier to steal is $75. C’est la vie.

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