Thursday, March 12, 2015

The killing of Miriam Carey and the ramming of a security barrier by the President's men

On October 3, 2013, a young black mother was shot from behind in D.C. by Federal officers. As the Washington Post explains:

District Police Chief Cathy Lanier said federal officers acted “heroically.” The House of Representatives offered a standing ovation.

It was easy to call this a tragedy and turn the page.

Except that some of what little we thought we knew hasn’t held up. The part about ramming White House barriers and trying to breach two security perimeters? Not exactly true.

The officers shot at this single mom 26 times. Hit her five times. From behind. In the back of her had. While her baby was in the back seat of the car: She has been struck by five rounds — three times in the back, once in the left arm, once in the left side of the head.

Then, they started a campaign to taint her reputation. They said she was mentally ill. As if that actually justified shooting an unarmed mother in the back of her head.

Here is another excerpt from the Washington Post report:

What crime(s) did Miriam Carey commit?

Carey arrives at the Secret Service kiosk at E and 15th. She drives past the kiosk into a restricted area that used to be E Street NW before it was closed after the Sept. 11, 2001, terrorist attacks. Now only authorized vehicles are permitted.

In the first of three still images the U.S. attorney released from security videos of this encounter, at precisely 2:13:13 p.m., a uniformed Secret Service officer seems to be trying to rap the Infiniti to get Carey’s attention. He and another uniformed officer direct her to stop, according to the U.S. attorney’s report. Carey doesn’t. She makes a U-turn and drives past the kiosk again on her way out.

She is crossing back into public space, at 2:13:30 p.m., when a man not in uniform, wearing a dark short-sleeve shirt, is seen pushing a section of portable fencing against the front of Carey’s Infiniti. At the same time, he’s trying to hang onto what looks like a cooler and a plastic shopping bag.

The off-duty officer is not trying to block Carey from entering the restricted area; he is trying to keep her from exiting back onto 15th Street.

According to a tourist bystander quoted at the time, Carey tries to steer around the fence section, but the officer repositions it in front of her. This is the only security barrier Carey ever rams.

The third image (2:13:32 p.m.) shows the off-duty officer tumbling away from the left front of Carey’s car. Officials said at the time that a Secret Service officer was slightly injured but not taken to a hospital. (Later, a Capitol Police officer would be taken to a hospital after his cruiser rammed a pop-up barrier suddenly erected across Constitution Avenue by his colleagues as he was pursuing Carey.)

In recent cases of motorists entering restricted areas, drivers have faced misdemeanor charges. Last May, Mathew Goldstein mistakenly followed the Obama daughters’ motorcade into the pedestrian section of Pennsylvania Avenue. A misdemeanor charge of unlawful entry was dropped.

In September, the day after Omar Gonzalez sprinted into the White House, another man, Kevin Carr, allegedly drove into the same restricted area as Carey did and parked. He, too, was charged with misdemeanor unlawful entry. His case is pending.

Eric Sanders, a civil rights lawyer and retired New York City police officer who is representing the Carey family in the wrongful-death claim, cites D.C. code to argue that an element of the crime of unlawful entry is the refusal to leave, making the act intentional. Carey did not refuse to leave. She refused to stop leaving.

Why didn’t Carey halt at the officers’ direction? Valarie Carey thinks her sister was scared.

“What I see is a plainclothes person, not in uniform, not easily identifiable as law enforcement, who’s in front of her car, leaning against her car in an aggressive way,” she says. “ ‘Who is this crazy man? Let me get away from him.’ ”

“If you’re an officer, I don’t believe that’s in the protocol of how you stop someone,” she adds, referring to her NYPD training. The Secret Service wouldn’t comment. “I don’t think you were trained that way. To take a barrier and place it against somebody’s car while you’re holding a cooler? ‘I’m confused. Who are you?’ ”

(emphasis mine)

Why was it OK to shoot Miriam Carey in the head?

This question gained more importance today with the news of a car full of Secret Service officers actually ramming a security barrier.

… two senior Secret Service agents, including a top member of the president’s protective detail, drove a government car into White House security barricades after drinking at a late-night party last week …

We do not know for sure, but it is reasonable to assume they were armed when they hit the barrier.

They certainly were more of a danger than Miriam Carey could ever have been.

Yet, Miriam Carey was shot by a ruthless armed Federal possé … and these Secret Service officers will probably retire comfortably with bonus pay for heroism.

Why was Miriam Carey shot 26 times?

Why was it necessary to publicly execute her in front of her baby?

I want justice for Miriam Carey.

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

What does a private email server at home give Hillary Clinton?

Hillary Clinton had her own email server at her home. Most people do not have this luxury. Instead, they have to relinquish their communications to a wider variety of third parties. Those third parties can then reveal the contents of their communications other parties either intentionally, or unintentionally.

The following is just some observations what the benefits of a private email server placed at her home might be. Obviously, this is all hypothetical. I am not making any claims, just exploring some of the implications of having a private email server.

If Hillary Clinton had a properly set up email server system at home, incoming and outgoing connections would have been encrypted so her messages could not (in principle) have been observed in transit. As an added benefit, she would be the only person to have access to the entire collection of the emails she sent and received.

True, it is possible that people with whom she correspond may have copies. Also, their ISPs may have copies. But, no one other than Hillary Clinton would have access to the entirety of the collection.

An investigator would have to know every single person with whom she communicated to be able to collect all of her communications unless the investigator could gain access to and read the contents of the servers.

If the hard drive of the server is encrypted, the investigator would also need the encryption key for that.

This is clearly harder than going to the government backup provider, or any ISP, and asking for copies.

Given that it has been two years since Hillary Clinton was the Secretary of State, logs of connections from other email servers delivering messages to her server are probably long gone.

Given that she controls physical access to the hard drives in those servers, it is entirely possible the servers no longer contain any of the messages that might be of interest to investigators.

Let's say a lawful investigation finds that there is a message Mrs. Clinton sent to a person X which is relevant to said investigation. Let's say person X does not have a copy of the message any more, and no backups can be located. she can then completely destroy any content without any possibility of further recovery.

If you think this is kind of like having your private paper correspondence at home, and being able to toss it in the fireplace before others can see it, you are right, it is.

Hillary Clinton's set up provided her with the best possibility of preventing anyone (including government investigators) from being able to access emails she did not want to share with them.

But, this kind of thing is beyond the reach of most regular private citizens.

At some point, someone noticed that people might be willing to pay for the equivalent of having your own mail server. Lavabit was a service that removed the ability of the ISP to read and store their customers' email. For providing such a service, Ladar Levison was forced to shut his business down.

Reflect on that a little.

Friday, December 12, 2014

H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015

I looked at the text of H.R.4681 - Intelligence Authorization Act for Fiscal Year 2015 because I saw SOPA 2.0 was passed under the radar under H.R. 4681, Section 309.

In the summary of the bill, I also noticed:

(Sec. 315) Expands a grant program for historically black colleges and universities to include predominantly black institutions.

Why is that in this bill?

I am going to guess it is to ensure that if a representative votes against this bill, her opponents can then claim, truthfully, that the she voted against expanding grant programs to predominantly black institutions.

Oh, no, it could not possibly be that someone voted against this bill because it contains:

SEC. 309. PROCEDURES FOR THE RETENTION OF INCIDENTALLY ACQUIRED COMMUNICATIONS.
(a) Definitions.--In this section:
(1) Covered communication.--The term ``covered communication'' means any nonpublic telephone or electronic communication acquired without the consent of a person who is a party to the communication, including communications in electronic storage.

(A) Application.--The procedures … shall apply to any intelligence collection activity not otherwise authorized by court order … that is reasonably anticipated to result in the acquisition of a covered communication to or from a United States person and shall permit the acquisition, retention, and dissemination of covered communications subject to the limitation in subparagraph (B). (emphasis mine)

You may have guessed by now, but, just for the record, the limitations of subparagraph (B) are simply vacuous.

In 1984, I told my high school English teacher, Mrs. Ann, that I thought 1984 was far fetched. That freedom was on the march in the world, that we, humanity, would defeat the communist and fascist power-grabbing instincts by adopting institutions that affirmed the primacy of individual rights, ignoring whatever rhetorical tools could be used to place a fictional society's interests ahead of ours.

I was raised to believe in the virtue of Live Free or Die!

America was setting a shining example of the path to freedom.

I was wrong.

Ah, Kafka!

"It's true that you're under arrest, but that shouldn't stop you from carrying out your job. And there shouldn't be anything to stop you carrying on with your usual life."

… Who was that? A friend? A good person? Somebody who was taking part? Somebody who wanted to help? Was he alone? Was it everyone? Would anyone help? Were there objections that had been forgotten? There must have been some. The logic cannot be refuted, but someone who wants to live will not resist it. Where was the judge he'd never seen? Where was the high court he had never reached? He raised both hands and spread out all his fingers. …

The Trial, Franz Kafka

Thursday, December 4, 2014

An exercise in excessive excise taxes

Here is a simple question from the first prelim in my non-calculus Intermediate Micro class I taught at Cornell in Fall, 2007. I liked bringing levity to my exams, so it is formulated in terms of taxes on doughnuts, but the same analysis applies to cigarettes.

The non-calculus nature of the class does limit the mathematical complexity of the question (and explains why I used a quasi-linear utility function), but you'd be shocked how many people have a mental block against understanding that you can tax a resource so much to create entire new fields of "criminal" activity. This is government violence on the people at its worst.

In the case of New York, the violence is three-fold: 1) High taxes on businesses who hire labor (i.e. the fact that a $10/hr job might cost an employer about $35,000/year — work that out assuming 200 working days, and eight hours a day) prevent many low-skilled citizens from being able to find employment; 2) Favorable treatment of illegal aliens, and their dependents, means employers can easily replace expensive citizens; and 3) high excise taxes on easily transportable goods make it profitable to obtain them elsewhere, and sell them in poor areas.

Solution, and more commentary in a later post.

Question 2) Bob lives in Manhattan and likes doughnuts. His utility function over bundles of doughnuts (x) and all other goods (y) is given by:

U(x,y) = y + 10√x

His marginal rate of substitution between doughnuts and all other goods is thus given by MRSx,y = 5/√x.

Suppose Bob has an income of $200/week to spend on bundles of doughnuts and all other goods.

( i ) (1 point) Suppose the price of doughnuts is Px = $0.50 and Py = $1.00. How many doughtnuts and how much of all other goods will Bob consume? We will refer to this as Bundle A. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xA = ______ and yA = ______.

( ii ) (1 point) After failing to ban transfats (n o t !), the mayor of New York City decides that he is going to put a tax on doughnuts to discourage people from eating doughnuts. Suppose, after the tax, the price of doughnuts in Manhattan increases to Px = $2.50. How many doughnuts and how much of all other goods will Bob consume after the tax? We will refer to this as Bundle B. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xB = ______ and yB = ______ .

( iii ) (1 point) Bob realizes that the price of doughnuts in Jersey City is Px = $0.25. A round trip to Jersey City costs $3. So, if Bob were to buy his doughnuts in Jersey City every day, he would have $179/week to spend on doughnuts and all other goods. Suppose Bob does go to Jersey City every day. How many doughnuts, and how much of all other goods would he consume? We will refer to this as Bundle C. For your convenience, fill in the following values after finding Bob’s choice:
xC = ______ and yC = ______ .

( iv ) (1 point) Compare bundles B and C from Bob’s perspective. Will the tax on doughnuts succeed in reducing Bob’s doughnut consumption? Why? Explain very briefly.

You will not find this exam question in any publisher's question bank (unless someone lifted it from me ;-), so if you decide to use it, please do give credit. Better yet, let me know if I can help you develop an interactive classroom environment.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

So long New York Central Park thermometer

Back in 2010, I remarked on the fact that the venerable Central Park temperature station in Manhattan was missing recent data.

Now that I had a chance to look at Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly version 3, I must report with great sadness that, apparently, the thermometer located only a short distance from Jim Hansen's office did not make it:

$ grep ^42572503001 ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.dat | wc -l
0

$ grep ^42572503001 ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv | wc -l
0

$ grep -i 'new york' ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv 42572503002 40.7800 -73.7700 7.0 NEW YORK/FORT TOTTEN …
42574486001 40.5800 -73.8800 10.0 NEW YORK/FLOYD BENNETT FIELD …

Note that this means the entire history of the temperature record at Central Park no longer appears in the the dataset for operational climate monitoring activities.

At least, Ithaca is still represented:

grep -i 'ithaca' ghcnm.tavg.v3.2.2.20141118.qca.inv
42500304174 42.4489 -76.4489 292.6 ITHACA CORNELL UNIV …

On the other hand, the National Weather Service has no difficulty tracking temperatures at KNYC:

Here are the details:

ICAO Location Indicator: KNYC
Station Name:            NEW YORK CITY CENTRAL PARK
State:                   NY
Country:                 United States
WMO Region:              4
Station Position:        40-47N    073-58W (dms)
Station Elevation (Ha):  48 Meters
Upper Air Elevation (Hp):48 Meters

Saturday, November 22, 2014

My kingdom for a thermometer!

Back in May 2010, I asked Dude, where is my thermometer?. This was after realizing 1) The sharp drop-off in the number of temperature stations in GHCNv2 during the past two decades; and 2) The geographical concentration of the remaining data to mostly U.S. locations. Frankly, at the time I had not fully anticipated what I ended up seeing in the data set.

Since then, GHCNv2 has been superseded by GHCNv3:

Effective May 2, 2011, the Global Historical Climatology Network-Monthly (GHCN-M) version 3 dataset of monthly mean temperature has replaced GHCN-M version 2 as the dataset for operational climate monitoring activities. (emphasis mine)

A few days ago, I downloaded the 20141118 version of the quality control adjusted monthly average temperature series. A cursory look at the number of non-missing data points for January and October between 1702 and 2014 shows that not much has changed since GHCNv2:

As before, what is really striking is how few countries' dominate the data set even when there are a lot of data points:

January 1984

January 1994

January 2004

January 2014

And, of course, here is an animation of the entire data set between 1702 and 2014:

Again, the point here is simple: Humans have not measured and recorded temperature observations across the globe as part of a well-designed experiment. The data sets we have are by-products of historical coincidences.

Our guesstimate of mean temperatures in 1913 is qualitatively different than our guesstimate of mean temperatures in 2013, and they are also different than our guesstimate of temperatures in 1813.

I find it interesting that as the noise about "climate change" gets louder, as it becomes more and more expensive just to exist, and travel from one location to another due to oppressive taxes and subsidies justified by this climate change phenomenon, the more dominant the contribution of continental U.S. temperature stations is becoming to the "global" climate record.

Sunday, October 19, 2014

Scenes of Democrat tolerance

Bobby Jindal used four teeny weeny messages to cut through the noise around the Obama administration's ineptitude.

Here is a screenshot of the first one:

This gave us an opportunity once more to see what happens when minorities in the U.S. do not act in accordance with the wishes of the "liberal" crowd.

According to these people, it is somehow OK to say Go back to India to a U.S. citizen born in Baton Rouge, but not OK to criticize the Federal Government that issued a visa to a person from a country where a dangerous disease runs rampant. According to these people, it is unacceptable to deny subsidized tuition to people who are in the United States illegally, but it is OK to tell the American-born American governor of an American state to go "back" to India.

Here are the four incisive tweets that lay bare our predicament:

Winter is coming … and it is going to be a long one.