Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Crime stories of the past

1. Today is the tenth anniversary of that massive shootout at the North Hollywood BofA that involved 2 guys in body armor and 370 cops.

2. With the awesome-looking David Fincher-directed Zodiac movie coming out Friday, you might be interested in taking a look at, which has copies of the very creepy letters the Zodiac sent to newspapers.

Honorable Mention: Bill Richardson

This goofy headline notes that Bill "Richardson claims first place among second-tier candidates." Whoopee! Of course, it's a year before even the primaries, and a lot can change. He's still got the best resume of the bunch, though I don't think that really gets you very far besides, say, first place among the second-tier candidates. Maybe Richardson would make for a good running mate to Obama. Don't laugh at the comparison here, but it would be like the way the Republicans sold the Bush/Cheney pairing back in 2000. Bush was supposedly the charismatic leader, and Cheney was the experienced guy who supposedly gave the ticket "gravitas." For better or for worse, at least Bush and Cheney have fairly well-defined roles to play in their administration. I was never clear on what Al Gore was supposed to be doing during his eight years as Veep besides being the less interesting version of Bill Clinton (which is part of why I've never been all that enthusiastic for the idea of Gore as President). If Obama gets the nomination, and he and Richardson work well together, they could make a great team: Obama would set the tone and state the goals, Richardson would make the plans, and Obama would be the communicator. It could work.

Saturday, February 24, 2007

News flash! Mitt Romney's ancestors were polygamous!

What prompted this article by the AP? It's not reporting on some new finding, or some revelation from another candidate, it's just some reporters digging up dirt that wasn't exactly hidden to begin with. I'm no fan of Romney (well, except that I wouldn't mind seeing the Republicans struggle to get a flip-flopping Massachusettsian of their own elected), but this just seems like a dirty campaign smear masquerading as an AP news article. Regardless, Romney's wife has an excellent comeback to the "Oh no, the creepy Mormons are all closet polygamists!" hullabaloo:

The biggest difference between her husband and the other candidates, Ann Romney said, is that "he's had only one wife."
McCain has been married twice; Giuliani three times.
Looks like mainstream Americans (and the party of "family values") aren't so opposed to multiple marriages after all.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Weirdest Headline I've Seen in a While

Spearmint Tea May Help Treat Excess Body Hair

Godspy interviews William T. Cavanaugh

Mike Benedetti sent me this interview of William T. Cavanaugh, who talks about how to integrate Catholic teaching into the way we live. I don't agree with all of it, but there is a lot of good food for thought.

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

What Scares a Man?

Men's Health's Mr. Sensitive-type columnist draws up a list of 15 things that scare men. Public humiliation, living paycheck to paycheck, O.K., that seems reasonable. But where on the list is getting drafted (yes I know there's no draft) or otherwise having to fight in a war? Where is getting sent to prison? Prison rape? Wife dying? Kids dying? Being old, decrepit, and lonely? These are all relevant manly-man things to worry about.

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

LA/SF Timelapse

A nice short film of timelapse photography of Los Angeles and San Francisco.

UPDATE: I should have noted earlier that I found it odd that the implication in this short film is that the airport is the way to get to Frisco from L.A. Of all the times I've been to San Francisco, I've only flown once, and that was when I was too young to drive. Similarly, I've never flown to Las Vegas, either. Why go through the hassle and expense of dealing with the airport and renting a car when you can drive on your own time?

Monday, February 19, 2007

Perfidy from the Right

Lately I'd noticed that Glenn "Instapundit" Reynolds and other conservatives have been working off of a meme that essentially says that since liberals were against the "surge" in Iraq that we were for "defeat," as opposed to those who support Bush, who are for "victory." So then I poked around and discovered that the good folks at Instaputz noticed the same thing and have it covered here and here. The problem with this idea, of course, is that the notion that continuing to follow Bush's policies is going to lead us to victory is patently absurd. Bush has screwed this thing up from the beginning, and yet Reynolds and his ilk are attempting a rhetorical trick to pin negative outcomes in Iraq on liberals instead of on the people really responsible for it. It's Bush's war, it's Bush's failure.

Another Reason Why Gated Communities Are Stupid

I live in a large apartment complex with a gated entry. If there's a problem with my L.A. Times delivery, getting it fixed is a major pain in the ass, because the special replacement delivery driver doesn't have the access card to get into my complex that the regular guy has. So if I'm in the shower, have already left for work, or am otherwise unable to answer the phone when the special replacement guy comes by, I'm outta luck. If I were living in just a regular house with my own private porch and such, this would not be a problem. Having some sort of gatekeeper on a house would do very little to increase my security but would cause all sorts of annoying problems like that. Not for me, thank you.

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Love Amongst the Revolutionaries

Perhaps as a Valentine's Day special, James Taranto directs us toward this lovely warning to "future ex-boyfriends" from Laura Quiquivix in the Daily Tarheel.

It must have been difficult to date me. My apologies. But whatever. Politics take precedence over penis. (Know this, future ex-boyfriends of mine.)

Dating me, and all of the ideology that comes with the territory, was supposed to enlighten him, but I think it might have had the opposite effect.

Tuesday, February 13, 2007

News Bits

1. The U.S. Mint has launched its new Presidential dollar coin program. Why has it been so difficult to get a dollar coin into general circulation in the U.S.? Is it vending machines? Is it easier to give tips with bills? I don't get it. I've been to Canada and it wasn't like using Loonies was a big chore or anything.

2. The anti-Catholic blogger that John Edwards hired for his campaign has quit. Morning's Minion has some good thoughts on the subject; as Catholics we've made the mistake of letting Bill Donahue be the designated go-to guy for the lay "Catholic response" to current events. But Donahue doesn't represent anything approaching a typical American Catholic's viewpoint; he glosses over Republicans' conflicts with the Church but is all over anyone else. Essentially he uses Catholicism as just an interesting sheen on a schtick that's basically the same as any other right-wing attack dog.

So that makes it easy for the left wing to frame this whole affair in terms of Edwards standing up or caving in to a "right-wing smear." (No, the "Obama attended a madrassa" lie was a right-wing smear.) But actually, like a stopped clock, Donahue was right on this one: Edwards should have immediately disavowed the vulgar and profane comments his blogger made once he became aware of them. Someone who would make comments like that in a public forum deserves no place in the P.R. staff of a political candidate meant to be taken seriously. This should never have become a left vs. right issue; this was the kind of vile shit nobody should tolerate.

3. Here's an article about how one of the founders of Greenpeace is now advocating nuclear power. Disposing of the waste is still a problem, but compared with the climate change problems of using hydrocarbons or the low yield of solar or wind power, it seems like a winner.

This idea may sound crazy, but I wonder if it would at all be energy-efficient to dispose of nuclear waste by sending it into the sun, which is a big fusion reactor anyway. You'd have to know what the radioactive waste yield per unit energy is and compare that with the energy needed to take that mass out of earth orbit. Plus you'd still have the transport safety issues; you don't want a rocket full of radioactive waste exploding over your head. OK, how about this --- figure out a way to build nuclear reactors on the moon, then send the stored energy to earth and the waste to the sun. We'd have to build better batteries, first, I suppose.

4. Why is Laid Back's classic bass-heavy "White Horse" not available on iTunes? They only have the Wonderland Avenue remake. (Whoa... Wikipedia sez that Laid Back later had a video directed by Lars von Trier!)

Monday, February 12, 2007

Amusement Park News

Lance Hart's Screamscape is always a great source for news on amusement parks and similar attractions. A couple of noteworthy items today include this article about Six Flags looking for lighter, more reliable trains for X and this presentation on a potential new Legoland near Kansas City. Other goings-on in Southern California include a new spinning coaster at Knott's, updates from Disneyland on the Finding Nemo retheming of the Submarines and a possible Incredibles tie-in for the PeopleMover, and all sorts of rumors about additions to California Adventure.

Friday, February 09, 2007

Fast Food Pet Peeve

Me: Hi, I'll have a combo #3 with no cheese and criss-cuts instead of regular fries, and that'll be to go.
Cashier: [punches in order] Will that be for here or to go?

This happens to me at all sorts of different places. Are they concentrating too much on getting my order right to register that I already told them I wanted it to go? What if I kept it really simple, like "Combo #3 to go?" Is there any way to gently let them know that I already told them whether it was for here or to go without sounding like an asshole?

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator"

I just watched the latest installment of Dateline NBC's "To Catch a Predator," that series where they hire an organization called Perverted Justice to set up a sting operation where they catch adults who show up to houses to try to have sex with people who said online that they were 13-year-olds. On the one hand, it certainly removes a lot of dangerous pedophiles from the streets and makes for great TV in the process. But it also brings up a lot of questions about sting operations, I think.

Of course, there are legal rules as to what constitutes entrapment, but how many of these men would have gone through with their actions without the "Perverted Justice" decoy leading them on? Everybody knows that it's illegal and wrong to meet up with a 13-year-old for sex. A good number of the people profiled on the show seem aware that the whole thing might be a setup, or are even aware of the show itself. And yet they still go through with it, bringing along condoms to show intent, sending photos of their penises, etc.

Are these guys habitual offenders? If so, then no question, the sting should be commended for punishing these perverts. But what about the first-time offenders? If somebody harbors pedophilic fantasies, well, that's perverted, but if they're able to go their lives up to that point without acting on those fantasies, then I don't think that man's necessarily a danger. On the other hand, every habitual offender was once a first-time offender.

But that's the thing about fantasies, plenty of people have all sorts of fantasies that they never act upon, like killing their boss, stealing something they can't afford, having sex with their wife's best friend, etc. What would you think if Jane were to present herself online as being sexually available to her friend's husband Bob, accede to various sexual advances, set up a time to meet, and then pull a "Gotcha!" on Bob? Well, you'd think Bob made a big mistake and deserves to be in a heap of trouble. Bob could have said "No way" and cut off the conversation as soon as it got out of hand, but he didn't. That being said, has Jane done a good deed by leading Bob on and exposing his weakness? Would Bob have pursued Jane if she had never presented herself to him as available? I don't think we could necessarily say.

The parallel I'm getting at, of course, is that I think there's a good chance that a sizable fraction of these guys would never have actively pursued a 13-year-old without this sting operation. They gave in to temptation, but the show led them into temptation in the first place.

On the show, they showed that one of the guys arrested ran a website called (the site is sexually-oriented (adults, not 13-year-olds) but doesn't contain nudity). If you check out that site, he has a lengthy letter on his blog, [link removed on his request; see comments] apologizing for being stupid, but also saying that he wouldn't have done it if the decoy used by the sting operation hadn't been so persistent. Well, he could have ended the chat session at any time, and didn't. But obviously something about the decoy appealed to him, and went along with everything he suggested.

He also claims not to be a pedophile. Maybe he's not. people who are attracted to eight-year-olds are pedophiles. 13-year-olds look pretty young, but they've probably physically developed into adults, at least to a certain degree. Getting romantically or sexually involved with a 13-year-old is illegal for a reason, though. Adolescents aren't known for thinking rationally about sex and the psychological imbalance between an adult and a young teenager is severe. I'm not sure if that makes it pedophilia, but it is a bad idea and a person who transgresses like that deserves to be punished by society. But as much good as Perverted Justice does, I think they may do harm, too, by turning private perverts into active perverts and felons.

I wonder how successful the prosecutions of these are. The show said that about a third of those charged with crimes pled no contest. How many of the others get convicted?

Update: Now that I think about it, these guys are getting prosecuted for intending to have sex with a 13-year-old where there was no 13-year-old. In other words, there was no victim, only an intent to have a victim. Maybe somebody who's a lawyer can explain how you can get prosecuted for perpetrating a crime against a person who doesn't exist. (Of course, drug laws and prostitution laws don't have direct victims other than "society," either, so maybe this falls under that category.)

Monday, February 05, 2007

Astronaut Gone Berserk

This is a weird story... astronaut Lisa Nowak was arrested for attempted kidnapping in a bizarre case involving a perceived love triangle, a disguise, and driving non-stop with diapers.

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Sea cave at Portuguese Point in Palos Verdes

Yesterday my younger sister, her husband, and I took a short hike down to a sea cave at the base of Portuguese Point in Palos Verdes. You can find information on where to park and where the trailhead is at this site here. We arrived at low tide, which revealed many tidepools near the water, where we saw a lot of starfish, anemones, hermit crabs, sea urchins, and other animals. Around the base of the cliffs at the point, there's sort of a rock bench forming a flat apron around the base of the point that was just a few feet above sea level while we were there. Approach the sea cave from the east side of the point, because when you walk around to the other side of the point, you'll see that there's a 20-foot-wide notch in the bench forming the channel for the water to come in to the sea cave, and there's no way for you to cross that.

There were several fishermen catching fish in the ocean; interestingly, some of them were keeping the fish they had caught in tidepools rather than buckets.

Here are some photos; you can see the complete set here.