No, you don’t want to connect EVERYTHING.

People have been yammering about “The Internet of Things” for a long time now, probably dating back to the 1990s and Java and the idea of a fridge (e.g.) smart enough to know when you run out of milk. It’s a neat idea, but even moderately sophisticated software people see the problem immediately:

Every time you connect a device to the net and give it information, you’re trusting that manufacturer not to be stupid. If we can’t even trust phone and computer makers that implicitly, then why the hell do you think we ought to be trusting car makers or appliance vendors?

Look, information security is hard. There’s no goddamn reason you ought to trust your refrigerator with your Gmail password. There’s no reason to need a “smart” TV at all. Don’t buy a car with a wifi adapter, and be circumspect about turning on Bluetooth for anything but phone integration. That neat shit your friend can do with his Tesla? Yeah, it’s cool, but do you REALL think Detroit can do the same shit with the same level of execution? Christ, they can’t even make switches that don’t fail. Don’t ask them to do SOFTWARE.

Don’t connect shit to the Internet that doesn’t need to be connected to the Internet. You do not need to watch Netflix on your toaster. Trust me. I know things.

How you should feeding your cat

This guy did something pretty great:

So instead of feeding my cat, I hide these balls around the house…

This all started after I read an explanation of why cats go about repeatedly exploring the same areas: it’s partly to establish and survey their territory, but they’re also practicing ‘mobile’ hunting: moving about, being curious, and poking their noses around in the hopes of upsetting potential prey and finding a meal.

So what if my cat, while out on patrol, actually found its prey? Surely this would bring him one step closer towards a more fulfilled and self-actualized indoor kitty existence.

I imagined hiding little bowls of food around the house… then I imagined me actually refilling these bowls. Then I imagined having to move them around to different hiding spots, spilling, forgetting, and every so often, perhaps only after following a trail of ants, finding one undiscovered and rancid. Hmmm, maybe there’s a way to hide something else, a way to hide something other than food, a way to make something not-food = food…

Click through. It’s brilliant.

Do Not Miss This Play

From 25 September until 17 October, my friends at The Catastrophic Theatre will be producing my favorite play: Maria Irene Fornes’ The Danube.

The same people — director and cast, though I don’t know if puppets are involved this time — staged this play in Houston once before, with Infernal Bridegroom every bit of 15 years ago. I saw that performance, too, and reviewed it for a long-defunct local paper.

Because I am a packrat, I still have that review, which I’ve pasted in below. It’s amusing to me to read, because at the time none of these people were my friends. I hope it’s amusing to you as well, and encourages you to see this show. Performances are all at 8pm, Thursday, Friday, and Saturday evenings. All shows at Catastrophic are pay-what-you-can.

Let me be perfectly clear: prior to entering the Atomic Cafe on Friday night, I had no idea what I was going to see. All I knew was “IBP and Bobbindoctrin puppets,” which sounded at least interesting, so off I went. An article from American Theater posted in the lobby gave me a bit more background: The Danube is a piece by Maria Irene Fornes. (This is a name worth remembering.) Her work as described by the AT article makes her sound like a perfect match for Infernal Bridegroom – experimental, often challenging pieces that may well leave the audience just a bit (or more) bewildered. And, as if this wasn’t enough fun, the Danube includes puppets – making the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin Puppet Theater a natural development.

The Danube has its origins as a piece of found art; Fornes built the play around an old Hungarian language record. The initial scenes between Paul (Troy Schulze), Mr. Sandor (Charlie Scott) and Sandor’s daughter Eve (Amy Bruce) are enunciated and exaggerated to the point of parody. Add to this an intermittent voiceover from the language record itself preceding each line, and an odd sort of disconnection rules the scene. From these pattern sentences, though, Fornes weaves a simple enough story – at first. Paul is an American businessman sent to Budapest; he meets Mr. Sandor and Eve; courting ensures; eventually, Paul is called home, prompting them to marry, which essentially concludes the linear narrative – but not the play’s action. The pattern-sentence language-instruction motif fades (but never completely) in favor of a sort of Euro-film surrealism that grows into the outright bizarre before the play’s abrupt conclusion. Paul becomes ill; he may or may not have been conscripted. Everyone deteriorates dramatically, apparently afflicted with some grotesque palsy. There is plenty of goggle wearing, and frankly there’s just not enough of that in modern American drama. Two scenes are done with tiny puppets manned by the actors on a perfect miniature version of the stage, complete with smoke and light wafting from the floorboards.

So what’s happening here? Is it life during wartime? Is it a plague? What is Fornes up to? In the American Theater article (September, 2000), the author (Steven Druckman) suggests that “the best way to wrap your mind around the plays of Maria Irene Fornes is to abandon all hope of understanding them.” This is probably true. He goes on: “[Fornes] is for people who prefer passion to fashion, who prefer awe to wit. She is for those of us who don’t mind admitting that we’re still groping in the dark.”

Spot on, I think.

To allow this play to swirl around you is to experience it most fully and, ultimately, purely. Do not chase the plot, ticking off characters and events as if you were at a hockey game. There is ample time for reflection after the final curtain. Allow Fornes (and, by association, IBP director Jason Nodler and company) to assemble this thing on their own terms; you will be hard pressed to find this experience elsewhere. Certainly no one else in town will go this far from the beaten path. IBP is in fine, fine form here, aided in no small part by the collaboration with Bobbindoctrin. The small cast – Bruce, Schulze, Scott, and the irrepressible Kyle Sturdivant in four supporting roles – is well chosen. Schultze exudes the alien confidence of a businessman abroad when the U.S. ruled the world; Scott and Bruce are exemplars of a formal old-world charm. Sturdivant, when so called upon, delivers some of the few genuinely comic lines with scene-stealing aplomb – and his almost menacing monologue as a waiter is not to be missed. Costume, properties, and sound are all beyond reproach; the primary set pieces are beautiful drops painted by Bobbindoctrin. Small details throughout the production are universally solid, from the costumed set-changers to the upholstery on the puppet-stage furnishings. This is some of IBP’s finest work yet.

In a conversation with Nodler after the show, he mentioned that this is at least the third time he’s attempted to stage The Danube – and each prior time he cancelled the production when he feared it would miss the mark for some reason or another; that mark must certainly be met here. Nodler studied under Fornes in college, which no doubt drove his ambition for the play, and in turn informs his obvious pleasure with this show. He told anecdotes about the production, the play, and Fornes, and led my date and I backstage to show us the smoking apparatus used for the puppet stage. His excitement and enthusiasm for the play and production were infectious (and this from a director I have previously described as “grouchy”).

You will almost certainly not “understand” the Danube in the way you might understand a more conventional play. You may find yourself, as we did, unable to properly describe the work – or at least unable to do it justice – when you meet your friends for beer afterwards. You will use words like “postmodern” and “experimental” and “surreal,” but none of these will be equal to the task. It is true that Fornes seems to be playing games with narrative, but not in the traditional postmodern sense (if there is such a thing); there is no winking here. What there is seems best described by Druckman’s quote, above: the characters grope about in the dark for meaning, for understanding, just as we in the audience do. This is a splendid script and a strong production of the sort we don’t see too often in Houston. Do not miss this play.

Bye, Jon.

Last night, Jon Stewart finished up his astonishing 16 year run at The Daily Show.

I got nothing, really. I’ll miss that show horribly, and Stewart’s take on things in particular. He somehow managed to create an entirely new sort of program, largely because the actual media was too busy making noise and had abdicated their traditional role. I wrote this 13 years ago, on this site:

I just watched a fascinating dialog on the Middle East question that was both nuanced and interesting — and altogether free of bombast. Moreover, said dialog featured substantive contributions from both show host and guest. The show? Comedy Central’s Daily Show, which featured the New Yorker’s David Remnick as its guest this evening. A comedy show is the only place we can see discussion without some talking head going apo-goddamn-plectic over the sound of his own howling. Why is this? Contrast this with the softball handling Jay Leno gave Dick Cheney, and you’ll see what I mean.

What’s especially depressing, though, is that even though it was obvious people WANTED real discussion 13 years ago, the only places offering the kind of depth Stewart’s Daily Show provided today, in 2015, are spinoffs of his own program — Larry Wilmore and John Oliver in particular are doing spectacular work (and Oliver, on HBO and without sponsors to placate, is really flying high).

Much was made of Letterman’s retirement earlier this year, and much should have been, but Stewart’s departure is just as big a deal for many people in comedy. As the traditional talk show format aged, it was The Daily Show that became the must-watch show in the evenings, and in that way Stewart became the new Letterman, or the new Carson, for an entire generation.

Books of 2015, #AWholeBunch: In Which I Punt.

I’ve gotten terribly, terribly behind, so forgive the omnibus.

True Grit, by Charles Portis

Underrated, even after the spike in interest after the Coen film. It’s chock full of fantastic language, as in this description: “Not a day goes by but there comes some new report of a farmer bludgeoned, a wife outraged, or a blameless traveller set upon and cut down in a sanguinary ambuscade.” He is, of course, speaking of Oklahoma.

The Whites, by Richard Price

I was put on this by a pal (howdy, Frazer) after having bounced off Price before — I found him kind of a mess. Assured this was his best work despite being initially published under a pseudonym, I dove in. And found it wanting, again. Oh well.

Cyclops, by Clive Cussler

This is the one with the improbable plot, unconventional automobile, and unusual boats, when danger lurks but Dirk saves the day. Right.

Home, by Marilynne Robinson

I discovered, rather late, the enormous and humbling beauty of Gilead, and so I was pleased to discover there were other books that dealt with the same cast and time period, but from other points of view. Sadly, I found none of the stirring magic in Home that had so transfixed me in Gilead.

Seveneves, by Neal Stephenson

Jesus, Neil, can you please learn to write endings? And, while you’re at it, plausible middles? Anathem and Reamde were so much better than his prior work that I had hope he’d gotten past his former foibles, but this was just kind of a waste. Andy Weir made a novel out of problem solving, and it’s like Neal took entirely the wrong lessons from it, because herein we receive long, involved descriptions of orbital mechanics, how to build in orbit, how to re-terraform the planet, and how to harness a comet, and goddamn near every word of it bored me to tears. And I’m a nerd.

In which I do something MailChimp probably doesn’t want me to do.

I get lots of bulk mail.

Some of it is scattershot spam from bots or whatever, but a significant portion of the spam I get is stuff from people who should know better, and who’ve bought my address from some list somewhere else on the assumption that if I wanted to get mail from Party X, I also must want to get mail from Party Y!

This is never, ever the case, and it is never, ever legitimate to make that assumption.

MailChimp is increasingly seeing use as the bulk emailer of choice amongst these sorts of people, and because I’ve started seeing this pattern, I’ve taken a step I’ll bet MailChimp hopes doesn’t happen much.

I configured my mail server to sequester anything sent my MailChimp into a folder other than my inbox. It’s not going directly to spam, but it may as well be. I might survey the folder occasionally, but it’s out of my way. And the truth of it is that nothing of value is likely to come from MailChimp anyway.

This kind of thing wouldn’t be necessary if MailChimp was more serious about ensuring its clients were doing real opt-in. But they’re not, and I’m getting the idea that their whole business model is predicated on not being too much of a stickler on this point. They’re keeping out the Nigerian princes, but as far as I’m concerned the Marty McVey Mayoral campaign is no better than any other sort of unsolicited commercial message.

Take for example their “report abuse” method. First, you have to search their site to find a way to do this, but it’s there. Their approach involves a web form that requires the user know how to view the raw headers of the message to pull out a unique value that identifies the campaign and client.

Yeah, nobody is gonna do that. Nobody, I mean, other than me.

It’d be WAY simpler if there was always a “report abuse” link in the footer of every message sent through MailChimp, but that would produce actual reports of abuse, which are not in their interest. This way, they get to say there’s a mechanism for reporting and dealing with abuse, but their implementation means only nerds like me will ever bother doing so.

It’s reasonable to assume this means that MailChimp isn’t that interested in preventing abuse or getting reports of abuse from bulk mail recipients, because it’s bad for business. Most people who get spammed by a given campaign will just delete the mails when they come in.

As I suppose is obvious, at Amalgamated Heathen, we’re not most people.

The inescapable conclusion: Bland was Murdered

Matt Taibbi: Sandra Bland Was Murdered:

So news broke yesterday that authorities in Waller County, Texas, have “full faith” that Sandra Bland committed suicide. They said there was “no evidence of a struggle” on the body of the 28-year-old African-American woman who was ludicrously jailed last week after an alleged lane change violation.

In related news, the Texas Department of Safety ruled that Brian Encina, the officer who arrested Bland, pulled her from her car, and threatened her with a Taser, had merely violated the state’s “courtesy policy.” The state said there was “no evidence” yet of criminal behavior on Encina’s part.

So barring something unexpected, we know now how this is going to play out in the media.

Many news outlets are going to engage in an indirect version of the usual blame-the-victim game by emphasizing the autopsy finding of suicide, questioning Bland’s mental health history, and by highlighting the reports of marijuana found in her system.

Beyond that, we can expect a slew of chin-scratching “legal analyses” concluding that while there may have been some minor impropriety on officer Encina’s part, the law governing police-motorist encounters is too “complicated” to make this anything more than a tragic accident.

Media scandals are like criminal trials. They’re about assigning blame. Because Bland may have technically taken her own life, the blame is now mostly going to fall on a woman with a history of depression and drugs, instead of on a criminal justice system that morally, if not legally, surely murdered Sandra Bland.

And this:

But nobody yet has dared to say Sandra Bland would still be alive today, if only she’d used her blinker. That’s a bridge too far even for TownHall.com types.

Suddenly even hardcore law-and-order enthusiasts are realizing the criminal code is so broad and littered with so many tiny technical prohibitions that a determined enough police officer can stop and/or arrest pretty much anybody at any time.

Bland was on her way to a new job at Prairie A&M university when she was pulled over for failing to signal when changing lanes, something roughly 100 percent of American drivers do on a regular basis. Irritated at being stopped, she was curt with Encina when he wrote her up. He didn’t like her attitude and decided to flex his muscles a little, asking her to put out her cigarette.

She balked, and that’s when things went sideways. Encina demanded that she get out of the car, reached for his Taser, said, “I’ll light you up,” and eventually threw her in jail. 

Many editorialists following this narrative case suddenly noticed, as if for the first time, how much mischief can arise from the fact that a person may be arrested at any time for “failing to obey a lawful order,” which in the heat of the moment can mean just about anything.

If a cop wants to arrest you, he can arrest you. And very, very bad things can happen to you for which no one will ever be held accountable until and unless we drastically reform the way we police our society.

Goddammit, Garmin.

Ho. Lee. Fuck.

Longtime readers may recall the trouble I had with a Garmin bike GPS device last summer and fall. They could not get me a model 510 that worked for love or money — Bluetooth connectivity (and thus LiveTrack) never worked reliably, and (worse) the device would sometimes just plain eat data. On two such occasions, it did so on rides I was doing out of town in novel places, where I couldn’t easily duplicate the track. Well done, jackasses!

Anyway, they sorta-fixed it by agreeing to let me swap the 4th or 5th 510 for the next model up, and since then it’s worked better. Bluetooth still only works about 80% of the time, but at least it’s not eating data. I declared victory.

However, as it turns out, Garmin’s aggressive Suck program has other areas of focus, too!

Bike computers of all types generally use a wheel sensor to track speed. You tell the computer how big your wheel is, and the sensor tracks rotations, which gives you pretty accurate speed and distance readings. (GPS devices can work without these with a loss of accuracy, but since they’re easy to use there’s little reason not to use them.)

If you’re really paying attention to training, then you probably also want a cadence sensor, which tells you how many revolutions your feet are making every minute. Typically, you want to pedal faster instead of mashing harder — you’ll be more efficient that way, and get a more aerobic workout.

Traditionally, both speed and cadence sensors have used a pair of magnets to capture data: one affixed to the bike frame, and another affixed to the thing that goes around. For speed, you usually see it on the front fork with the companion magnet affixed to a spoke. For cadence, you get magnets on the chainstay and crank arm on the non-drivetrain side. (Most of the time these days, the sensors require no wires to communicate with the head unit.)

I have sensors like this on my older bike. It’s obviously somewhat fiddly and visually cluttered, but they work fine.

A year or so ago, we started to see more clever sensors for both things. Garmin has a pair that attach only at single points, and require no magnet alignment: the speed sensor attaches to the hub of one of your wheels, and the cadence sensor attaches to a crank arm. Both sense motion itself, not magnetic field flux. They’re much less fiddly (nothing to keep aligned) and are drastically more visually appealing on the bike. I chose those for the new bike last fall. So far, they’ve worked fine, too — with one exception I encountered last week.

The cadence sensor is a little thin pod about the size of two quarters that you attach to the interior of your crank arm using one of three supplied (but proprietary) rubber bands. I say they include three, but they’re in three sizes, so you only get one that will actually work with your bike.

I was a little dubious of this choice on installation, and it turns out I had good reason. Last Tuesday I noticed that the band on mine was partly broken. They get credit for using a design wherein a single break won’t allow the sensor to fall off, but that’s where credit stops.

You see, you can’t just go to the Garmin web store (or your favorite retailer) and buy a pack of replacement bands. They’re nowhere. I opened a support ticket about this last night; here’s what I got back:

Thank you for contacting Garmin International.

I would be happy to assist you.  

The replacement straps aren’t available through our website, but we do have them available for sale through the number below. A set of three straps is $10 plus shipping and any applicable sales tax. Please call us at the number below to place your order as we are unable to take payment information over email. 

Now, note that he says “set of three.” That sounds reasonable at first, but it turns out they mean “one each of three different sizes.” In other words, they’re asking you to spend ten bucks for a single goddamn rubber band when the first one didn’t even last a year.

When I pointed this out somewhat firmly, the dude I got on the phone offered to send me a set (again, of which two are useless) gratis, which arrived on Saturday.

What’s the over/under on how many times I can shame them into replacing the band for free?

There, and Back Again

So the last year has, for me, been kind of up and down.

Last summer I got very serious about cycling for the first time, really in response to having entered MS150 training season out of shape despite the gains of the previous year. I decided that wouldn’t happen again, so I kept riding — an average of 100 miles per week from just before the 150 until the third week in November. It’s higher if I grant myself weather or travel related mulligans, even.

Then, of course, that came to a grinding halt when I broke my hip in November. That was a pretty discouraging turn of events, to say the least. The medical saga that followed was a serious pain in the ass; I don’t want to make too much of it, since so many other folks have so much worse tales of woe, but spending 10 days in the hospital sucks for anybody. Needing PICC line to quash a post-op infection sucks for anybody. And obviously not being able to put any weight on your leg for three months sucks OUT LOUD for anybody.

The infection got its ass kicked, though. My wounds healed. I got cleared for weight and PT again in February, right on schedule. I started riding again a month later, slow and tentative at first, but regularly.

I got faster, again. I got stronger, again. Part of this was frustrating, because I could remember how strong I had been in the fall, but the other side of starting over is that you get to re-do the part with the most dramatic gains.

I’m still not quite what I was in every way, but I can see it from here.

So here is this, now: the point of this post, in two pictures.

Exhibit A, or, Chet Has Internal Jewelry Now:

Chet has hardware

Exhibit B, or, How Chet Spent His Sunday:

Screen Shot 2015 07 20 at 8 30 33 AM

I did this same ride last summer — The Katy Flatland Century — as I was approaching Peak (pre-wreck) Chet. I was very slightly faster yesterday than I was last summer.

The other punchline is this: I rode 109.2 miles in the week ending yesterday. That’s my first hundred mile week since November 9.

If I’m honest, I admit that two factors actually erase the speed difference, or even put yesterday behind my achievement last year.

  • First, I rode with part of my team yesterday, in a paceline, taking turns at the front; last summer, I was alone.

  • Second, last year I was riding my 30 pound Surly; this time, I was on 18 pounds of carbon designed for go-fast behavior.

It’s not just about the number, though. It’s about going through something and coming out on the other side, just about 8 months later. It’s about regaining this level of fitness, even if it’s not where I was at my peak (yet!). It’s about getting here not on your own, because that’s impossible; it’s about getting here with the support of your friends, your family, and the professionals who put me back together and showed me how to get strong again.

And most of all it’s about being married to my best friend, without whom absolutely none of this would have happened.

Confused about the Iran deal?

Josh Marshall has you covered, at least until more is known.

This paragraph says volumes, imo, about the nature of right-wing objections:

There’s a lot of Iran pony thinking going on about what would be cool if we could have everything we want. But as much as I fear what a Republican president might do on the Iran front, I think going to war with Iran is highly unlikely. Stiffening sanctions won’t happen because even if we stiffened sanctions, Europe and Russia and China won’t. So all the folks saying it’s not good enough or it’s a disaster or whatever else are basically saying we should hang tough and let the Iranians do whatever they want. Indeed, adopt a maximal line of confrontation short of war, which will empower hardliners and make it more likely the Iranians will take the step from being a nuclear threshold state to an actual nuclear weapons state. It is the elevation of self-satisfaction over tangible results and reality.

Remember that the Republicans whining about this deal would likely whine about ANY deal with Iran that didn’t include the enthusiastic religious conversion of every single man, woman, and child in Iran to Presbyterianism. They’re incapable of looking at anything generated by this Administration and not dismissing it as un-American, anti-Christian, and possibly socialist, even when the plan in question was written by Republicans in the first place, so it’s not as though these people are arguing in good faith.

Of course, at the time, 1.9 billion was considered quite a lot of people.

Where were YOU thirty years ago today? And, more importantly, what were you listening to?

There is only one acceptable answer, assuming you were alive to do it: July 13, 1985 was the date of the only dual-continent concert I’m aware of: Live Aid. From Wikipedia:

Live Aid was a dual-venue concert held on 13 July 1985. The event was organised by Bob Geldof and Midge Ure to raise funds for relief of the ongoing Ethiopian famine. Billed as the “global jukebox”, the event was held simultaneously at Wembley Stadium in London, England, United Kingdom (attended by 72,000 people) and John F. Kennedy Stadium in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, United States (attended by about 100,000 people). On the same day, concerts inspired by the initiative happened in other countries, such as Australia and Germany. It was one of the largest-scale satellite link-ups and television broadcasts of all time: an estimated global audience of 1.9 billion, across 150 nations, watched the live broadcast.

Who played? Well , just in case you can’t recall, here’s a partial list:

Wembley:

  • Boomtown Rats
  • Adam Ant
  • Spandau Ballet
  • Elvis Costello
  • Sade
  • Sting, Phil Collins, and Branford Marsalis
  • Howard Jones
  • Bryan Ferry with David Gilmour
  • U2 (in a performance that kind of established them as a HUGE live act — and this was before Joshua Tree)
  • Dire Straits
  • Queen
  • David Bowie
  • The Who
  • Elton John
  • Paul McCartney

JFK:

  • Joan Baez
  • Black Sabbath (with Ozzy!)
  • Run DMC
  • Rick Springfield
  • REO Speedwagon
  • CSN
  • Judas Priest
  • The Beach Boys
  • The Pretenders
  • Madonna
  • The Cars
  • Neil Young
  • Eric Clapton and Phil Collins
  • Duran Duran
  • Led Fucking Zeppelin (with two drummers, the better to mimic the missing Bonzo)

In this era of endless reunions, it’s probably hard to grasp how amazing that last part is; to my knowledge, Page, Plant, and Jones hadn’t shared a stage since Bonham’s death five years before. Zeppelin were just over. And then, here there they were.

Obviously, lots of amazing things happened at Wembley and and JFK — not the least of which is Phil Collins’ famous status as the only guy to play both venues, courtesy of the Concorde — but thirty years of discussion have led us to the inescapable conclusion that Queen turned in not just the best set of the day, but maybe the best set of rock and roll ever played on any stage.

Here you go.

Sadly, there actually aren’t any complete recordings of the whole affair — partly by design, actually. Queen were somewhat unique in that they captured their whole set, and later had it remastered in 5.1 for inclusion on their Queen Rock Montreal BluRay, which is well worth your time even if you’re only a casual Queen fan.

By the 70s, he was a joke. Except, occasionally, when he wasn’t.

He, of course, being Elvis.

On Twitter, author Lawrence Wright (The Looming Tower, Going Clear, etc.) calls our attention to this brief, brilliant performance of “Unchained Melody” apparently from a show at the Pershing Municipal Auditorium in Lincoln, Nebraska, on June 20, 1977.

Less than two months later, Presley was dead. Contrary to his commentary in the clip, the title of the upcoming album would be Moody Blue when it dropped in July of that year. Here at Heathen World HQ, we have a copy on vinyl.

Blue vinyl. Because 1977, obviously.

Happy Pride Week Indeed

Love Wins.

Ten years ago, Mrs Heathen and I used a quote from Massachusetts Chief Justice Margaret Marshall’s opinion in the 2003 case Goodridge v. Department of Public Health. It’s as stellar today as it was when she wrote it in 2003:

Marriage is a vital social institution. The exclusive commitment of two individuals to each other nurtures love and mutual support; it brings stability to our society. For those who choose to marry, marriage provides an abundance of benefits. In return it imposes weighty legal, financial, and social obligations. Without question, marriage enhances the welfare of the community. It is a social institution of the highest importance.

Marriage is at once a deeply personal commitment to another human being and a highly public celebration of the ideals of mutuality, companionship, intimacy, fidelity, and family. Because it fulfills yearnings for security, safe haven, and connection that express our common humanity, marriage is an esteemed institution, and the decision whether and whom to marry is among life’s momentous acts of self-definition.

It seems weird to me, in the Roberts era, to celebrate three major court victories in a week, and yet, here we are in a week with King v. Burwell, the fair housing case here in Texas, and Obergefell.

Schneier makes sense, which means of course we’ll never follow his advice:

Reassessing Airport Security:

News that the Transportation Security Administration missed a whopping 95% of guns and bombs in recent airport security “red team” tests was justifiably shocking. It’s clear that we’re not getting value for the $7 billion we’re paying the TSA annually.

But there’s another conclusion, inescapable and disturbing to many, but good news all around: we don’t need $7 billion worth of airport security. These results demonstrate that there isn’t much risk of airplane terrorism, and we should ratchet security down to pre-9/11 levels.

We don’t need perfect airport security. We just need security that’s good enough to dissuade someone from building a plot around evading it. If you’re caught with a gun or a bomb, the TSA will detain you and call the FBI. Under those circumstances, even a medium chance of getting caught is enough to dissuade a sane terrorist. A 95% failure rate is too high, but a 20% one isn’t.

I added the emphasis. He’s absolutely right. Go read the whole thing, but here’s a zinger from a few paragraphs in:

The TSA is failing to defend us against the threat of terrorism. The only reason they’ve been able to get away with the scam for so long is that there isn’t much of a threat of terrorism to defend against.

My assumption is that Lee was cast in some celestial thriller, and needed Coleman for the soundtrack

I saw this morning that Christopher Lee, an actor whose 93-year-run included (as pointed out by Scalzi) “stabbing Nazis, making movies, and releasing heavy metal albums in [his] 90s”, has died.

That’s pretty awful in a passage-of-titans sense, but to have it followed by the news of Ornette Coleman also shuffling off this mortal coil (at an entirely respectable 85) makes for a shitty morning, my friends.

Sure, he’s an asshole, but stop and consider how they’re doing this.

So Denny Hastert is in trouble. Mostly, my reaction is as you’d expect: depressed amusement at the predictability of a scolding hack getting popped for misconduct like this. But there’s more here, and you should delve into it, because what’s happening to him is really kind of alarming.

The always-on-point Ken White over at Popehat has written up an examination of the charges against Hastert and how they came to be, and if you’re not a little freaked out by the process I don’t know what’s wrong with you. Basically, the Federal prosecutors can target just about anyone and take them down because of how “creative” they can get with astonishingly broad interpretations of federal law that are generally supported by the courts. Put simply, if they decide they want you, they can get you. After all, you very probably commit Three Felonies A Day (more here); the extremely broad laws and broader interpretations give Federal prosecutors enormous power that is basically unchecked by anyone. “Trust us” is a shitty insurance policy against power of this nature.

Hastert isn’t going down for diddling little boys or for bribery. He’s not going down for fraud. He’s being charged with structuring transactions –his withdrawals were all less than $!0,000 — and for lying to the Feds about the purpose of the cash:

The indictment has mostly inspired chatter about what it doesn’t say. Hastert is charged with structuring withdrawals of less than $10,000 (so that they would not be reported to the IRS) so that he could pay off an unidentified person for Hastert’s unidentified past misconduct. What past misconduct, or threatened accusation of misconduct, could lead Hastert to pay $3.5 million? The indictment doesn’t say, but it has been drafted to imply that the allegation of past misconduct relates to Hastert’s job as a teacher and coach in Yorkville, Illinois. Hastert isn’t charged with doing anything to the accuser, and the accuser isn’t charged with extortion.

[...]

We imagine law enforcement operating like we see on TV: someone commits a crime, everyone knows what the crime is, law enforcement reacts by charging them with that crime. But that’s not how federal prosecution always works. Particularly with high-profile targets, federal prosecution is often an exercise in searching for a theory to prosecute someone that the feds would like to prosecute. (Emph. added)

The takeaway is simple:

From the citizen’s perspective, this situation points to one obvious conclusion: shut up. Never answer a federal agent’s questions without a thorough debriefing with a qualified lawyer first.

It may or may not be the case that Hastert did something terrible. In a free society, though, law enforcement must work within limits. If it’s the case that he molested boys, but no complaint was made at the time, and the statute of limitations has passed, it may be tempting to endorse the actions of the FBI and the federal prosecutors here, but that’s a bad path. The tactics in question are downright scary to me, even when applied to someone like Hastert.

No way this is a problem, right?

Turns out, the FBI has a secret air force they use to fly around and monitor cell phones.

Without warrants.

Scores of low-flying planes circling American cities are part of a civilian air force operated by the FBI and obscured behind fictitious companies, The Associated Press has learned.

The AP traced at least 50 aircraft back to the FBI, and identified more than 100 flights in 11 states over a 30-day period since late April, orbiting both major cities and rural areas. At least 115 planes, including 90 Cessna aircraft, were mentioned in a federal budget document from 2009.

For decades, the planes have provided support to FBI surveillance operations on the ground. But now the aircraft are equipped with high-tech cameras, and in rare circumstances, technology capable of tracking thousands of cellphones, raising questions about how these surveillance flights affect Americans’ privacy.

It gets worse:

Basic aspects of the FBI’s program are withheld from the public in censored versions of official reports from the Justice Department’s inspector general, and the FBI also has been careful not to reveal its surveillance flights in court documents. The agency will not say how many planes are currently in its fleet.

The planes are equipped with technology that can capture video of unrelated criminal activity on the ground that could be handed over to prosecutions. One of the planes, photographed in flight last week by the AP in northern Virginia, bristled with unusual antennas under its fuselage and a camera on its left side.

Some of the aircraft can also be equipped with technology that can identify thousands of people below through the cellphones they carry, even if they’re not making a call or in public. Officials said that practice, which mimics cell towers and gets phones to reveal basic subscriber information, is used in only limited situations.

“These are not your grandparents’ surveillance aircraft,” said Jay Stanley, a senior policy analyst with the American Civil Liberties Union. Stanley said the flights are significant “if the federal government is maintaining a fleet of aircraft whose purpose is to circle over American cities, especially with the technology we know can be attached to those aircraft.”