Dear PayPal Credit

Continuing on my trend of posting publicly when I have an issue with a company, this time it’s PayPal in the crosshairs. I’ve been a PayPal member since… forever. I think 2000 is when I opened my PayPal account. And I’ve never had any issues. And this post isn’t about PayPal, but PayPal Credit. Some background, first.

On June 30 I bought a couple coins from a friend and paid her via PayPal through my PayPal Credit account, knowing it would be treated as a cash advance since the friend doesn’t have a business account. Two weeks later, when the statement closed, I made a payment large enough that the cash advance should’ve been taken care of, along with another expiring promotional balance.

Except the payment was credited in a way that it eliminated only part of the promotional balance. And PayPal appears to be bouncing the remaining amount between billing cycles, refusing to credit my payments in such a way to eliminate that.

After noticing my most recent payment was also not credited in a way to eliminate the cash advance (doing some math on the remaining promotional balances), I wrote into PayPal’s customer service basically asking “what the hell is going on”?

I’m trying to figure out something with regard to my PayPal Credit account.

On June 30, I sent a payment from my PayPal Credit account to a friend with the total amount charged to my account being [REDACTED]. The next billing statement on July 15 reflected a minimum payment “to avoid Standard and Deferred Interest” of [REDACTED], which was fully expected given the [REDACTED] and an expiring promotional balance. And under “PayPal Send Money Cash Advances” for the statement ending July 14, it shows the [REDACTED] transaction.

I made a payment for [REDACTED] even. I thought the payment would be credited in such a fashion that the [REDACTED] amount would be cleared out first since it was an interest-bearing balance with the rest applied to promotional balances. That is not what happened.

Looking at the statement for the period ending August 14, I was given a minimum payment “to avoid Standard and Deferred Interest” of [REDACTED], which shows that only [REDACTED] was applied to the cash advance amount of [REDACTED]. I made a payment on August 15 of [REDACTED]. The cash advance balance of [REDACTED] was, again, not eliminated by that payment, as reflected by the statement for the period ending September 14 which again showed the cash advance balance of [REDACTED].

And with the payment I made yesterday, September 15, it appears the payment, once again, was not applied to eliminate the cash advance. It was, instead, applied only to promotional balances.

Why is that [REDACTED] still being held on my account and not being eliminated with any payments? Why was it not eliminated back with the July 15 payment as I originally expected it would be?

Or will that balance instead be bounced around until I bring the PayPal Credit balance down to 0?

I’m hoping the issue is merely a problem in their software and it’s something they can easily adjust. Basically it would require adding the cash advance amount back to a promotional balance that doesn’t expire until November, and then eliminating the cash advance balance from the account. Or advising me on how my next payment can be made in such a way the promotional balance is eliminated and not just bounced between billing cycles, always hanging over my head.

The interesting thing about this as well is that PayPal, thankfully, is not assessing interest on that outstanding cash advance. I would’ve written in with the next billing statement if they did that. But that also tells me it’s a glitch in their system since all of this is automated with virtually no manual review unless an issue comes up.

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Mr Obama, respectfully, shut up

Link: Statement from Obama about DACA

Mr President,

Your predecessor openly refused to criticize you, your administration, and your policies, saying this in March 2009:

He deserves my silence. There’s plenty of critics in the arena. I think it’s time for the ex-president to tap dance off the stage and let the current president have a go at solving the world’s problems.

You are aware of this unwritten rule. Former Presidents are to not criticize, second guess, or undermine the decisions and actions of a sitting President and his administration.

Yet you have been refusing to show the same deference and respect to your successor. Regardless of what you think of any of his policy ideas, you know it is beyond inappropriate for you, as a former President, to levy criticism. Just as it would be equally inappropriate for Bill Clinton, George H.W. or George W. Bush, or Jimmy Carter to levy any criticism against Trump and his policies. Just as it would’ve been inappropriate for any of them to levy criticism against you while you were serving as President.

You were aware even before making the above statement that it is beyond inappropriate. Yet you made it anyway. And you’ve made others before it as well.

Show your successor the same deference and respect your predecessors have shown you. You are no longer the President of the United States. To borrow on the words of your predecessor, it is time for you to exit the stage.

Again your predecessor held his tongue with you. Just as Clinton held his tongue with Bush. And other previous Presidents have held their tongues with their successors. Hold your tongue with your successor. That is the appropriate course.

Yet something tells me you won’t take it. In which case, you’ll show yourself to be due significantly less respect than your predecessors.

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Portable Raspberry Pi music player

On the road it’s nice to have your collection of music standing by to plug into your car.

For that I’ve typically relied on a 16GB iPhone 3GS. My vehicle is a 2011 Chevrolet Equinox. I can plug my iPhone into it and see at least the song title on the display, though I can’t control playback from the dash and steering wheel controls. But 16GB is not enough storage for my music collection anymore.

To pour salt into that wound, I’ve been re-ripping mine and my wife’s entire CD collection to the NAS as FLACs using Exact Audio Copy and the FLAC command-line utility. My CD collection has also expanded in recent months as I’ve decided to buy the physical CDs for any music I’ve previously bought and downloaded through iTunes or any other online service. I prefer having direct control over that where possible and typically have.

But even if I re-ripped the CDs to 320kbps MP3 for better audio quality (which I also considered but chose FLAC for being lossless), 16GB is still not enough room.

Thankfully storage options are very, very cheap right now. As in a 128GB USB 3.0 flash drive is around 40 USD depending on brand and seller. And the prices are similar for microSD cards as well — this 128GB Samsung EVO Select card is 45 USD as of when I write this.

And as you can tell from the article title, I didn’t just buy a microSD card, stick it into my phone, copy off all my music to it, and call it a day. So let’s get into what I actually did, starting with the parts.

The Raspberry Pi does not support the larger microSD cards, for those who might be wondering. The slot is microSDHC, which supports 32GB at most. And no, that’s not enough to hold my music collection, even without taking the operating system into account.

So I would need a USB drive for the audio tracks. And the Samsung Fit lineup is a very low-profile USB drive. It won’t stick out from the end of the Raspberry Pi, avoiding the risks thereof. Now while the RPi doesn’t support USB 3.0, it’s nice having that speed for the initial copy of the music to the drive from my NAS. Plus 128GB USB 2.0 low-profile flash drives don’t exist.

Now 128GB is overkill for my music collection, but 64GB would be cutting it close with everything encoded as FLACs and my desire to acquire still more CDs in the near future and prefer CDs down the road. Currently with still not everything yet ripped to files, my music collection has so far exceeded 52GB as of when I write this.

So now, what about the operating system? There are plenty of options available. Notice in the parts list above that I did not include a touchscreen. This means that any of the Kodi distributions are out of the question since the device will be run headless.

That leaves pretty much just one option: Volumio.

Volumio can run as a “hotspot” using the RPi3’s built-in wireless. This means you can control the music playback, volume, etc., with your phone’s browser by connecting to Volumio’s hotspot. Just make sure to change the default password and SSID.

For an enclosure, bear in mind the RPi3 is known to get warm under load, so consider an option that includes or supports a fan. You at least need one with ventilation.

I went with the Zebra Virtue Black Ice by C4Labs for it’s included 40mm 5V fan. It is also not any larger than the Pi, keeping everything compact. And the fan is LOUD. And it has a particular high pitch to its noise profile. I highly doubt that C4Labs searched high and low to find the quietest 40mm fan available as they claim. The fan included with mine is the Yofolon DC4010S05L, which according to one source is rated at ~24dB/A and ~5.5CFM.

However the noise can be alleviated quite easily by splitting the connector from the wires and plugging the red wire into Pin 1 and the black wire (ground) into Pin 6. This runs the fan at 3.3V, making it much quieter.

With everything assembled, it was a matter of loading up the music and making playlists. Then plugging it into my car’s stereo.

For power, you can use either a portable or a car charger. Just make sure to get one that supports at least the 2.5A the Raspberry Pi requires. And if you use a car charger, you will likely need to use an audio cable with a noise filter to prevent audio interference.

Now my one gripe with Volumio: embedded album art. Volumio will not display album art that is embedded into the FLAC and MP3 files. And the developers refuse to add (or add back in) support for that, citing performance. So for now I’m just can’t have album art displayed in the UI as I refuse to go through the convoluted steps to get that aspect working.

Otherwise, the way the setup works is simple:

  • Set the phone or tablet to connect to the Raspberry Pi’s wireless
  • Open the browser and connect to http://volumio.local/
  • Modify the playlist as desired
  • Disconnect Wi-Fi until needed again

Simple enough. Only downside is the need to shut it down before turning off your car if you’re running on a car charger. So that’s a reason to use a car charger for this — not to mention how inexpensive they are.

Now if only the Volumio developers would consider adding a configuration option (disabled by default) to let us display embedded album art so we can decide for ourselves if any performance penalty is worth it.

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Amending the Constitution – replying to Tom Coburn

Article: The Constitutional Amendments We Need Today

I’ve said before to be wary of someone who talks about amending the Constitution. Yes, I know I’ve mentioned an amendment I’d like to see passed, but I’m not saying I’m immune from the criticism. So feel free to critique the amendment I’m proposing.

In this installation, however, let’s discuss the amendments that Tom Coburn from The Daily Beast wants to see:

This is why I have dedicated my retirement to the mission of correcting our nation’s course through the constitutional process of proposing amendments to accomplish three goals: impose fiscal restraints on Washington, limit federal power and jurisdiction to that which it was actually given in the Constitution, and set term limits for federal officials.

Three amendments specified, so let’s tackle them individually. Not going to go in order, and you’ll see why when I start with this one:

Limit federal power and jurisdiction to that which it was actually given in the Constitution

In other words, the Ninth and Tenth Amendments. I think Coburn really needs to read the Constitution he proposes amending. And let’s also not forget the power of the judiciary to take those Amendments and apply them against the government and hold them to it.

Term limits for federal officials

And I’ve discussed this idea in detail as well:

Needless to say this is an idea that’s been brought up numerous times. And I’m generally opposed to this idea as well. A Constitutional Amendment is not the remedy for political failures.

Impose fiscal restraints on Washington

And again, an Amendment is not the remedy for political failures. Not to mention this could create more problems than it solves. Want an idea as to what I mean? Look at what is threatened with a “government shutdown”.

The problem with trying to put fiscal restraints on the Federal government is it doesn’t alleviate the liabilities and obligations that government has. And that is where the problem with Federal spending comes in. An Amendment won’t alleviate that.

Stop trying to use the Amendment process to circumvent the hard questions that need to be addressed.

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Mistakes were made

Wow… it’s been… months since the last part of this. So what in the hell has been happening? Well, in short, a lot. I’d been doing some thinking on how to build the internal frame to the cabinet. I also needed to acquire a few things that I’ll detail later, plus there were a lot of other things coming up in the mean time.

The biggest hurdle was my inexperience with woodworking. The previous attempt at a cabinet frame was far from ideal. It wasn’t completely square. There were numerous defects to its construction largely because I cut a lot of corners, mostly due to lack of setup — e.g. I didn’t yet have a table saw when I built that. About the only saving grace was being made from 2x4s with dowel joints, so it could stand up to literally anything I did to it, including setting a lot of weight on top of it.

But this cabinet I want to do as properly as I can.

For tools I already had a drill presstable saw, circular saw, and cordless drill. I acquired a palm sander, electric planer (which I’m considering selling), and a jointer for this project as well.

A lot of mistakes were made along the way. I’ll discuss those mistakes herein for the sake of transparency and for helping out any amateur woodworkers as well who might come across this. It’ll basically be the sole focus of this article. And I’m doing this really to just outline my intentions and thought processes. So if you’re not interested in these details, feel free to click away from this.

Mistakes are how we ultimately learn. And I feel a person working on a project should outline the mistakes they’ve made and how they were overcome.

My first mistake, or so I thought, was the choice of lumber for this. Home Depot sells “pre-milled” 1×4 boards in minimum 72″ lengths. Initially I was making 2x4s by face-gluing them together. To try to get them as flat as possible out of the gate, I clamped them to the side of a laminated particle board bookcase. And it kind of worked…

The major concern here was making sure the result was square and flat. And to account for the uneven edges, I had already planned to slim them down to 3″ wide from their nominal 3.5″, starting with jointing the edges. Which didn’t work out as well as I’d initially hoped.

So on to round 2. New set of 1x4s. But not face gluing them. Instead I decided to take a simpler approach: full lap joints. This would require square cuts and flat edges to get everything square when assembled together using glue, screws, and pilot holes. And that went pretty well until I needed to drill the holes to mount the rack rail. And that’s where I screwed up on that one.

I didn’t move on to a “round 3” right away, though. Before spending any more on wood, I wanted to assess what I was doing wrong. So I took to the Internet to do more research. And there were some rather key things I was doing wrong. Key things I was overlooking without realizing it.

Apartment woodworking

Living in an apartment means my options aren’t all that great. I have limited room and neighbors to account for when it comes to noisy power tools. On which the circular saw and table saw are easily the worst, as I can’t use either without hearing protection. The jointer, on the other hand, sounds like a really loud vacuum cleaner. Hearing protection likely advised, but it doesn’t hurt my ears running it so I tend to just not worry about it.

Now there is a woodworker’s guild in my area that I’m seriously considering joining, along with taking some woodworking classes. But I wanted to see whether I could complete this project before doing that. And how well it’d turn out. More study was definitely needed in the mean time.

And that started with my jointer.

Benchtop jointers

I watched a few videos online about using a jointer, but easily the most valuable is this one by Craftsman.

I had presumed that, after assembly, it’d just be fine out of the box after guaranteeing the rip fence was square. Except it wasn’t square as I first thought. And getting it square was mildly frustrating as the rip fence kept wanting to creep slightly whenever I tried to tighten it down.

The more significant change though was technique. Most videos and tutorials on jointers work from the presumption that you’re using a large jointer — the ones commonly found in woodworking shops and guilds. Few talk about the smaller benchtop jointers like mine. In fact, the Craftsman video above is the only actual video on YouTube I could find specifically addressing using a benchtop jointer effectively.

Do all the woodworking experts on YouTube expect everyone watching their videos to have the larger jointers at their disposal?

So what needs to be kept in mind with the benchtop jointers?

Well for one, a very shallow cut depth. This might seem like a no brainer, but unless you’ve worked with the larger counterparts, you don’t have a reference for comparison to these smaller units. Meaning you don’t know the power difference between them. For all I knew, the motor in mine is just as powerful as in larger models, but just without the tables and rip fences needed to work with larger stock.

So it was very helpful to learn that you need to keep to a very shallow cut depth. 1/32″ is what I saw recommended. My jointer — pictured above — doesn’t have a depth gauge, so I had to use a square to measure the cut depth. You might be able to get away with 1/16″, but it’s best going shallower.

This also keeps “snipe” to a minimum, but that’s something that is otherwise common with these smaller jointers. Something that can be accounted for by keeping the piece long when planing it, then ripping it down to final length later.

Lumber

 

And then there’s the lumber itself.

For the third round, I considered going back to face-gluing the 1x4s, this time as a triple layer instead of a double layer. Only I didn’t go that route. Each six-foot 1×4 was shy of 5 USD, so that would get expensive in a hurry.

Instead, I’m leaning toward using 4x4s. Why? To answer that, I need to get into some math. Which means I need to first talk about the outer cabinet frame, the SEKTION cabinet.

Math on the cabinet frames

The SEKTION cabinet frame is 3/4″ particle board. For the 30″ tall, 24″ wide SEKTION cabinet, the internal width is 22-1/2″ and the internal height is 28-3/8″ — top and bottom aren’t flush with the edge of the panel.

The rails are 1-1/2″ total width and the mounting holes are give-or-take along the mid-line, so about 3/4″ from the mounting hole center to the face of the rail. And the 12U rails are 21″ tall, which will leave a little over 3-1/2″ clearance on the top and bottom. So time for some more math.

I’m aiming for a rail depth of 22″. The internal frame, then, will be 20.5″ deep between the mounting holes. Add the width of 1 board, and the entire frame would need to be about 23.5″ deep. Round up to 24″ to keep things simple.

Again, the frame’s internal width is 22.5″. To get the rails to the proper width for the EIA-310 specification, I would need to close that width down to about 19.25″, a difference of about 3.25″. Splitting that evenly means 1-5/8″ on each side.

I originally planned this to use 2x4s — as doubled-up 1x4s — and a 1/8″ thick washer on each side. So why 4x4s instead? They’re 3.5″ square, and an 8-foot 4×4 is only about 2 to 3 USD more than the 6-foot 1x4s I’d been buying. So a decent 4×4 could net me the equivalent of two 2x4s even after jointing and ripping. Provided I get decent stock to start with.

So what next?

I’m not yet anywhere close to having a completed cabinet. This just hasn’t been a major priority for me on my project list. But I have been continuing some experiments lately.

I mentioned earlier about need to re-adjust the rip fence on the jointer. Along with that, I acquired a 4×4 from my local Menard’s — thanks to the guys there for helping me with it and lopping the 8′ timber in half. It’s currently acclimating to my apartment as I write this. They also carry engineered 4x4s made of oak, I presume for indoor staircases. But those were…. expensive. I might consider them for the next cabinet, though. But not for this one.

So really right now I’m just trying to figure out how best to do the inner frame for the cabinet. I have a few ideas in mind and some power tools to help me out. It’s just a matter now of learning how to use the tools since I’m now well beyond just cutting wood and drilling holes.

In the mean time, though, that’s at least an intermediate update to what is going on with this. The next update, which hopefully won’t be several more months out, should be with progress on the cabinet itself.

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Honoring delivery instructions

Once again I have a beef with FedEx and their apparent inability to honor delivery instructions. Where UPS has MyChoice, FedEx has the Delivery Manager. Which you can use to keep an eye on packages you have coming in, receive notifications when a new package has been scanned into the system, and even customize delivery.

On delivery customization, you can redirect the package to a FedEx Office location (the sender can disable this option on a package, something I’ve gotten on NewEgg’s case about) or provide specific delivery instructions for your home. On that, I have the delivery instructions set to leave the package at the apartment office.

And for some reason, FedEx refuses to honor those instructions. As my previous post on this shows, they’ve been leaving the packages at my apartment door. This is especially disheartening when we’re talking about items being delivered that…. aren’t exactly cheap to replace. And if such an item were to be stolen because they left it at my front door instead of the apartment office, I’m skeptical they’d go the distance and replace the item.

So after the latest incident, I took to Twitter (rare for me), and openly called out FedEx. When they replied requesting the tracking number and my contact information, I initially resisted, saying I’d tried it before. That the last time I was told the problem was resolved, despite the fact it obviously has not.

But eventually I gave in and sent them the tracking number and my contact information. This was their response:

Thank you for the requested information.

Your concerns have been escalated to the management team.

You should receive follow-up within 24 business hours.

which is basically what happened last time. As I mentioned, I was told the problem should have been resolved. The last time I wrote in about it. But there is no indication on the package with this last delivery that the delivery instructions were being honored. No label on the package saying to leave at the apartment office. Nothing.

There is clearly a disconnect in their system such that the delivery instructions are not making it down to the “last mile” sorting and handling area, where the packages are sorted onto trucks for final delivery. Only once did FedEx not redirect a package to a FedEx location per my request, and I lambasted them via e-mail with regard to that.

This time, however, they are persisting with not honoring my delivery instructions.

I’ve never had this problem with UPS. Almost all of my packages are redirected to a nearby UPS Store without fail. The only exceptions are controlled items. Those won’t be redirected to a UPS Store (and it’d be nice to receive a notification when these packages CAN’T be redirected), but I can still have them held at the UPS Customer Center a couple miles from where I live. Which also has slightly better hours than the UPS Store, but is a little bit out of my way. Whereas the UPS Store is on my way home from work.

The latest complaint was made on August 11. So far I haven’t heard back from FedEx on the nature of my complaint, despite being told that I should’ve heard something within “24 business hours”. So who knows what’ll happen this time.

FedEx, if you find this, seriously fix this, or leave a comment below giving me and everyone else who comes across this article a status update. I think all of your customers deserve to know whether their delivery instructions will be consistently honored.

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Legislating from the bench

Recently I got into an online argument — surprise, I know! — over the Controlled Substances Act and the extent of Congress’s interstate and international commerce regulatory power. At the end, one of my opponents brought up “legislating from the bench”:

That’s part of the problem. We’re no longer governed by Constitutional Law, but by “Case Law”. It’s a travesty. Judges with agendas have done some pretty bad things in the past that people just except as Law.

Just look at the loons trying to legislate from the bench re: Trump’s Immigration halt from six countries. You never heard a fucking peep when the messiah Barry did the exact same thing, yet activist judges tried to overturn a decision by the POTUS, who IS granted this power, because he had an R instead of a D after his name.

When we became a nation of Men instead of a nation of Laws (re: Hitlery/Petraeus what a difference there!) we sealed our own fate.

We will go the way of every Republic before us.

We have one last hope.

Article V.

Now the notion that judges “legislate from the bench” shows a fundamental disconnect with how the judiciary works. It’s been a right-wing talking point for years. I remember Sarah Palin mentioning it during her Vice President nomination acceptance speech in 2008.

The idea warrants exploration, especially as I’ve yet to see an article clearly outlining why the concept exists — the perception leading to it — and why the concept is wrong. I’ll be focusing primarily on the Federal judiciary here for simplicity, but most of what I say will still apply to the States.

What is the judiciary’s role?

Article III, Section 2 of the Constitution lays out the role and power of the Federal judiciary:

The judicial Power shall extend to all Cases, in Law and Equity, arising under this Constitution, the Laws of the United States, and Treaties made, or which shall be made, under their Authority;-to all Cases affecting Ambassadors, other public ministers and Consuls;-to all Cases of admiralty and maritime Jurisdiction;-to Controversies to which the United States shall be a Party;-to Controversies between two or more States;-between a State and Citizens of another State;-between Citizens of different States;-between Citizens of the same State claiming Lands under Grants of different States, and between a State, or the Citizens thereof, and foreign States, Citizens or Subjects.

With clarification from the Eleventh Amendment:

The Judicial power of the United States shall not be construed to extend to any suit in law or equity, commenced or prosecuted against one of the United States by Citizens of another State, or by Citizens or Subjects of any Foreign State.

So in short, the role of the judiciary is to act, largely, as an arbitrator for disputes. Listen to claims, hear evidence, and determine the proper outcome given the law, along with guidance from higher Courts. The outcome includes not just ruling in a side’s favor, but also determining the proper remedy for the circumstances.

That last item is key, as generally the Courts are there to determine how to resolve a dispute, and issue orders pursuant thereto, not merely rule in one side’s favor.

“Stop doing that”

Let’s take a simple case of a contract breach. Alice and Bob have entered into a contract, and Bob doesn’t uphold his end of the bargain, whatever the reason. Alice takes Bob to Court over the matter after failing to resolve the matter outside Court.

In her initial complaint, Alice will lay out the facts of the matter, including but not limited to:

  • the contract
  • the specifics of Bob’s obligations
  • what obligations Bob has fulfilled
  • what obligations Bob has yet to fulfill or refused to fulfill

Alice will also request a specific remedy. Likely she’ll demand the Court order the remaining obligations fulfilled, provided that can still occur. Otherwise she may request reimbursement or compensation for any losses and return of any items.

After ruling in Alice’s favor, the Court will address the remedy Alice seeks. Is the remedy allowable under the law? If not, the Court will grant as much of it that is. If none of it is allowable, the Court will grant whatever allowable remedy that, in the presiding judge’s opinion, best resolves the matter.

The facts of the contract and execution also determine whether the requested remedy is allowable and reasonable. For example if Alice tried to request compensation in excess of any incurred loss, the Court will limit the remedy to her actual loss unless the circumstances warrant punitive damages — which a simple contract breach case would not warrant such. When the Court orders one party to pay money to the other, this is called, obviously, monetary relief.

Then there’s injunctive relief. Injunctive relief means, in short, an order by the Court to the losing party to do something, or to refrain from doing something. With a contract breach, the Court will order the losing party to uphold their end of the bargain. If such is not possible, the Court will usually substitute monetary relief and other injunctive relief that best resolves the matter.

And it doesn’t matter if the dispute is between a private party and the government — be it local, State, or Federal, or any government agency therein. The difference is merely the nature of the complaint. When the government is a party to a lawsuit, it’s generally to challenge a standing policy while also pressing the Court to grant a particular remedy. Such as the complaint that initiated the lawsuit against California Proposition 8. The Court will still determine the proper outcome based on the facts and evidence, and prescribe a remedy based on the complaint, facts, and remedy sought by the complainant if the case is ruled in their favor.

The Court can order the government to either do something, such as issue a marriage license to a same-sex couple, or not do something, such as refrain from enforcement of a particular law against a particular person or persons. In some circumstances, a Court order is required before the government can do something, such as granting a marriage license to a minor, provided such is allowable under the law.

On the criminal law side, it’s similar concepts, different specifics. A person convicted of a crime will be ordered by the Court to enter the custody of the Department of Corrections for incarceration or execution. If they are acquitted, the defendant is immediately released from the government’s custody, and the government is forever enjoined from prosecuting the same or similar charges against the acquitted person.

And then there’s the appeals process.

Appeals

Absent specific rules to the contrary, and specifically excluding criminal acquittals, any decision made by a Court is eligible for appeal.

Appellate Courts don’t write policy. They write guidance for how certain policy questions and even specific statutes should be interpreted against the Constitution and other precedent.

When the Supreme Court of the United States or any lower Court declares a law, policy, or procedure to be unconstitutional, the result of that declaration depends on the cases in the lower Courts. But the result has no direct or immediate impact outside the judiciary. Contrary to the popular belief, the Supreme Court of the United States declaring a law or policy to be unconstitutional is not a policy declaration. I said such in an article I wrote discussing what “unconstitutional” actually means:

Basically it all comes down to this: whether a law is enforced is on the judicial and executive branches. Whether the law exists is up to the legislature. Declaring a law “unconstitutional” just means it cannot be enforced. But the Courts in the United States do not have the authority to order the legislature to repeal a law and, to the best of my knowledge, have never done so.

Basically when a statute or policy is declared unconstitutional, whether in its entirety or when applied to a particular circumstance, no individual or government can use it in a Court claim. That is all it means. Attempting to do so will result in the claim being nullified, with the Court saying, in effect, that said law or policy has no power within the Court. The effect of that nullification on the rest of the claim depends on the case in question.

But this still doesn’t answer the question of why Republicans claim the Supreme Court and lower Court judges “legislate from the bench”? There’s actually a remarkably simple answer to this. And you need not look any further than… warning labels.

Warning labels and “legislating from the bench”

Wait, warning labels? What do warning labels have to do with this discussion? Quite simply, a lot. And for good measure, let’s add recalls to this as well.

Most warning labels and disclaimers on packages are the result of someone suing some company for some reason. Businesses watch Court cases very closely when the lawsuit is about something similar to a product or service they offer. Liability insurance companies also watch Court cases very closely.

And more importantly they look for ways to avoid lawsuits to begin with. The warning labels have been a comedic target for decades. Bill Engvall’s Here’s Your Sign from 1996 comes to mind quite well on that when he goes through some warning labels and disclaimers he’s seen. You can probably also find websites reproducing absurd warning labels as well.

Here’s the thing about those labels: no Court has mandated them. Instead they were devised by legal departments as a way of skirting liability on something by giving advance notice of a known or potential danger from the product’s use. They have successfully allowed companies to evade liability through the Courts, so their use has grown. And each new product liability lawsuit gives way for a new warning label.

The rise in warning labels grew from the rise in product liability lawsuits, fueled by a steady stream of injury lawyers looking for cases to make a name and comfortable living for themselves.

The same can be said for lawsuits in general. The verdicts in lawsuits, in particular high profile lawsuits, send signals throughout society.

Let’s go to Obergefell v. Hodges, 576 US ___ (2016). The Supreme Court declaring laws prohibiting same sex marriage to be unconstitutional was an instant signal to the rest of the United States. It wasn’t “you must change your laws”. No order was given to any State in the Obergefell decision. And the Supreme Court has no authority to dictate to the legislature what bills they must pass or repeal.

Instead the decision caused a widespread change in public policy for the same reason we have warning labels: to avoid lawsuits. Obergefell basically guarantees that any State who tries to enforce a law barring same sex marriage will lose in Court. And that guarantee would have invited lawsuits against States that refused to change their policies. Instead the outcome of the lawsuit, minus Kim Davis, was widespread changes to State and local policies to allow for same-sex marriages to evade the potential for a lawsuit.

Legislatures are generally free to enact whatever laws they want. To even be outright tyrannical to their constituents if they desire. Their constitutions and the Constitution of the United States be damned. Whether a law is enforced falls immediately on the Executive Branch. So the Executive Branch can outright refuse to enforce any laws it deems to be unconstitutional. But if the Executive Branch enforces the tyrannical policies and laws, they still have to take the matter through the Courts. As the Courts are the ultimate arbiter on whether certain policies will be enforced.

It’s why the ACLU need only write a letter to a school district or city government outlining previous Court precedent with regard to public religious displays, especially those in public schools. Litigation is costly. And in the case of Dover, Pennsylvania, in 2005, it cost the school board their jobs when they invited a costly lawsuit by adopting the controversial “intelligent design” position.

Indeed the history of that case, Kitzmiller v. Dover, 400 F. Supp. 2d 707 (M.D. Pa. 2005), shows quite clearly how outcomes in lawsuits and higher Court decisions has an impact beyond the immediate case at hand.

The seminal book on “intelligent design” is called Of Pandas and People. It had been in the works for quite a while prior to its initial publication in 1989. And original drafts used the words “creationist” and “creationism”.

Edwards v. Aguillard, 482 US 578 (1987), at the Supreme Court of the United States declared as a violation of the First Amendment an attempt teach creationism in public schools, invalidating a Louisiana policy. In response, the authors manufactured the idea of “intelligent design” as a replacement for “creationism”, and updated the drafts accordingly. The new concept, though, was in name only. Kind of how “toilet paper” and “bathroom tissue” refer to the same thing. Such was recognized by the Court:

The proper application of both the endorsement and Lemon tests to the facts of this case makes it abundantly clear that the [Dover, Pennsylvania, School Board’s] ID Policy violates the Establishment Clause. In making this determination, we have addressed the seminal question of whether ID is science. We have concluded that it is not, and moreover that ID cannot uncouple itself from its creationist, and thus religious, antecedents.

And the lawsuit and forthcoming thorough rebuke of “intelligent design” at the Federal Court by a Republican-appointed judge prompted creationists to change their tactics yet again. Intelligent design was renamed “sudden emergence” according to the latest version of Of Pandas and People called The Design of Life. Another change in name only. Though the name itself doesn’t appear to have reached widespread adoption, likely due to the rebuke from the Federal Court.

And in light of Kitzmiller, pulling from Edwards, no public school or school board in their right mind would consider bringing that book and the “sudden emergence” concept into a public school, or even the prior “intelligent design” concept. Doing so would invite a costly lawsuit they’d be guaranteed to lose.

Criminal laws and criminal Court procedures are similar. For example in Ring v. Arizona, 536 US 584 (2002), the Supreme Court of the United States declared unconstitutional part of Arizona’s death penalty sentencing procedures as a violation of the Sixth Amendment. Which meant that if Arizona wanted to continue to allow capital punishment, they would’ve had little choice but to update their procedures.

Wrapping it all up

Okay so let’s see how well I can summarize how all this works.

First, the judiciary’s role is to settle cases and controversies, to determine the proper outcome and remedy given the evidence and law. The proper remedy will be based on the specific remedy the prevailing party seeks, provided such is allowable under the law. The remedy will include injunctive relief and/or monetary relief.

But outcomes in any case will have an impact beyond the immediate case at hand. For example a lawsuit against a manufacturer may lead to changes in processes or additional warning labels. Lawsuits against a government or government agency, however, will lead to changes in regulations and public policy beyond the government or agency subjected to the lawsuit. All of this is with the intent of avoiding any potential lawsuits in the future.

In short, judges and Courts don’t “legislate from the bench”, just as judges and Courts don’t write consumer safety regulations, or occupational safety regulations. The impact the Courts have on public policy comes merely as a side effect of how they decide individual cases. As everyone will look to those cases to guide their behaviors and policies to avoid potentially costly lawsuits in the future. From Kitzmiller:

The students, parents, and teachers of the Dover Area School District deserved better than to be dragged into this legal maelstrom, with its resulting utter waste of monetary and personal resources.

And appeals Courts drive this further by providing direction and guidance to lower Courts on how to interpret particular policies against the Constitution. Such as with the aforementioned Lemon test from Lemon v. Kurtzman, 403 US 602 (1971), at the Supreme Court of the United States. Which further determines the likelihood a challenge to particular policies and statutes will succeed or fail in Court, which influences public policy by showing to the legislatures the particular policies Courts have accepted or refused to enforce.

And next, I suppose I should tackle the concept of “judicial activism”.

Leave a comment if you think there is something I need to clarify.

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And again, not understanding how dress codes work

A high school student named Bree was recently cited for a dress code violation, despite wearing what she considered to be an “okay” shirt:

The issue with this shirt is plain as day, because what’s under the shirt is plain as day. The shirt’s fabric settles in such a way the outline of her bra is discernible. In concealed carry vernacular, this is called “printing”.

And with dress codes, undergarments are typically not to be visible or discernible. At all. This means if you wear a shirt translucent enough to see what’s underneath, you’ll get cited for it. And this goes to men and women, since some men’s shirts can be translucent enough to see a t-shirt or tank top underneath. And if the fabric is such that, when it settles, the outline of your undergarments is discernible, that can also get you cited.

Again, what you think looks fine may still violate the dress code. Whether at school or, more importantly, at work.

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Straw purchase Catch-22

Some months back, I was asked by a friend to comment on a situation that had developed in a small town East of Kansas City. Colby Sue Weathers had been trying to obtain a firearm. She had demonstrated metal illness but was not a “prohibited person” under Federal law due to having never been “put through the system”. Colby’s parents, Janet and Tex Delana, had confiscated another firearm she’d previously purchased.

On the tragic day in question, Janet had been calling Odessa Gun & Pawn in Odessa, Missouri, begging them to not sell Colby a firearm. They ignored Janet’s pleas and sold Colby the firearm. She had previously displayed suicidal tendencies, and Janet was under the presumption she aimed to buy the gun to kill herself. Colby instead used it to kill her father.

Now the friend asked my opinion on this “since Trump is making it easier for people to get guns that have mental disease”, a notion I tackled at the end of the comment I left. There were actually two parts to the comment, which I’ve reproduced below.

* * * * *

The gun store was under no obligation to adhere to the mother’s request. The gun store didn’t really have any way of knowing if the mother was telling the truth. She could’ve made up the line about the daughter being suicidal as a means of interfering with her ability to buy a gun. It’d be like calling a car dealer and telling them to not sell her a car because she has a history of driving drunk (with or without any DUI convictions) when she just doesn’t want the daughter buying a car for whatever reason. Controlling mothers do exist, and there are plenty of mothers who try to be controlling over their sons and daughters long after they’ve moved out. As the owner said, they can’t just go on a phone call.

Think about it a sec. Someone calls you sounding hysterical, begging you to not sell a gun to someone. Are you going to think the person visiting your store is crazy, or the person calling you is crazy?

That said, there were options the parents could’ve exercised.

The story actually highlights a very well-known concern with the NICS system, and one that even gun rights advocates (such as yours truly) want addressed. The trouble is how to do it while still upholding a foundational principle of our republic: due process. How do you stop someone who is potentially suicidal from buying a gun without throwing due process out the window? There are numerous avenues that do and do not involve the government.

For one, if you believe a person is suicidal, you actually CAN call the police and intervene. I’ve actually had to make one such phone call. A friend of mine in Florida gave me every indication over IM that she planned to kill herself. I had sent her something in the mail a few months prior, so I called her local police department, gave them her name and home address along with mine (they requested it specifically to know it’s not a crank call). Thankfully nothing actually happened, but it’s an option.

The problem, however, is that she was calling to stop her daughter from buying a gun, not stop her from committing suicide. Yes they are separate and distinct. Typically a gun store won’t sell a gun to someone obviously in distress. The problem is that someone who has resigned themselves to suicide doesn’t always give any outward indicators. They can seem perfectly calm in demeanor when buying the weapon they intend to use to off themselves. Whether it’s walking into Home Depot to buy a length of rope, a bottle of sleeping pills from the pharmacy, or even a gun.

Once when working at K-Mart, there was a person who walked up to a register with a bottle of sleeping pills and a bottle of vodka. And nothing else. I was called over (I was shift supervisor at the time, but the cashier was not underage so didn’t technically need me) and I carded the person. The law in Iowa then was that carding a customer who appeared under 40 was at the discretion of the cashier, but that once carded, the ID had to be produced or the sale could not go through. The person didn’t have their ID. I told them I couldn’t ring up the alcohol. And they left.

There wasn’t anything untoward about the person. They seemed calm and collected. But anyone else who would’ve seen that combination brought to the checkout would’ve thought the same thing I did. What can I do within my power to stop this?

Given the daughter’s history, there are legal processes the mother could have used to prevent her daughter from buying a firearm. Personally I’m surprised given her history with mental hospitals that she had never been involuntarily committed. Any attempt to have a suicidal person declared a danger to themselves often comes down to a war of words unless there is a documented suicide attempt, with it being nearly automatic if there are multiple interrupted suicide attempts on record.

But since the daughter lived with them and was on disability, I also wonder why the parents never petitioned the Court to have the daughter declared unfit to handle her personal affairs. That would’ve made her ineligible to purchase a pistol, and such would’ve been reported through the county sheriff to the FBI to have her listed in NICS as a prohibited person. There were options.

The repeal that Trump signed, however, stopped it from becoming AUTOMATIC with regard to the SSA. Instead due process must still be upheld, meaning the person must be declared by a Court to be a prohibited person rather than a government agency deciding that for themselves.

* * * * *

The pawn shop settled out of Court for $2.2 million. The Missouri Supreme Court merely said the lawsuit wasn’t barred under the law.

The ultimate question comes down to the circumstance: how do you tell whether the person coming in to buy a gun is a “dangerous person”? As the gun shop owner said in deposition, you can’t just go on a phone call. Since, as I said above, you can’t know whether the person on the other end of the call is being truthful.

It’s similar to the failed lawsuit against Lucky Gunner, the store that sold James Holmes ammunition. The Odessa pawn shop settled likely to just cut their losses. I know a couple people from Odessa, and it’s a small town, meaning even the $2.2 million was likely devastating financially.

There largely isn’t a win in this scenario. If they didn’t do the sale, she likely would’ve just gone elsewhere. Kansas City is only 45 minutes away from Odessa, and she was not barred under Federal or Missouri law from obtaining a firearm. Or they do the sale and pray the phone call was wrong.

Beyond that, there really isn’t much the gun shop can do without being accused of “getting in someone’s business”.

Which is rather ironic in many ways. For the most part we want other people to stay out of our lives. And then get surprised, or sue, when they do and the result of not intervening is a tragedy such as this.

It’s an irony pointed out by the challenge I’ve seen of “what two (or three) things do you bring to the cashier to freak them out?” And it shows as well the powerlessness with most cashiers. Not many people are willing to risk their livelihoods on a hunch.

Which this case shows quite clearly that circumstances like this are no-win. They’re damned if they make the sale — given the tragic results and subsequent $2.2 million settlement — and damned if they don’t since that would’ve just been a delay more than anything.

If you were in my shoes above, with the woman buying vodka and sleeping pills, what would you have done if the person produced their identification showing to be of legal age? Anything beyond what I did likely would’ve resulted in a customer complaint, which would’ve led to termination or suspension.

And while one could say “well at least I stopped [x]”, there’s not much room for self-righteousness when it comes to your income, and all you have is a hunch.

* * * * *

What is prompting me to reproduce these comments here?

I encountered an article on The Washington Post regarding the Lock N Load gun shop in Oldsmar, Florida. Its previous owner agreed to sell the business and never again sell firearms (Type 1 FFL) after a straw purchase at his store ended in tragedy. The same group that sued the Lock N Load also sued Odessa Gun & Pawn: the Brady Center.

Unlike Colby Weathers, Benjamin Bishop was a prohibited person under Federal law, having been previously involuntarily committed to a mental institution due to schizophrenia. After failing a background check, Bishop returned to the shop with an acquaintance, who purchased a 12-gauge shotgun and gave it to Bishop outside the store. The textbook definition of a straw purchase.

Bishop used the shotgun to kill his mother and her boyfriend. He is now serving two life terms consecutively in a Florida prison.

The store was also sued due to the straw purchase. And here’s where things get complicated: the allegation the store didn’t do “enough” to stop the straw purchase. The thing is there’s not much that can happen beyond notice to potential purchasers that straw purchases are illegal, under Federal law and the laws of every State.

It’s as if gun control individuals expect hindsight in the moment. To somehow know that a purchase is a straw purchase even if there aren’t clear indicators. Unless there are absolute, unquestionable indicators that it is a straw purchase, there’s largely nothing a gun shop can do. About the most they can do is post a sign regarding straw purchases.

And what do I mean by “absolute, unquestionable indicators”? I’ll use this example from a Reddit user who worked the gun section at a WalMart:

Had a woman walk up with a presumed grandson. Normal start. Instead of looking he goes directly to a shotgun, and points to it and says , we want this one. Ask who the legal guardian is, inform them of the sale and legality, blah blah blah. No big deal. Had an odd feeling, but i brushed it off.

This is where it gets interesting. As she starts to fill out the form, the kid gets on his phone and makes a call , and starts gesticulating towards the shotgun and starts mumbling. I walk closer and heard , ” (Brand) is the one right?” , ” Are you sure”INSTANT red flag. I start paying real close attention and it starts to look like a straw purchase.

I start asking all the usual questions. ” Intended use?” “Whose it for”, “Hunting or self defense” etc. Answer are short and rehearsed. Another red flag pops up.

The final nail in the coffin was a guy comes up, walks to the grandparent, asks how it is going, then the kid points to the gun and asks , ” Is this the one you wanted?“.

DING DING DING, we have a winner straw purchase.

Absent the obvious indicators, there’s not much a gun seller can do. If they have reasonable suspicion it’s a straw purchase, they can stop the sale. But absent that, and absent any clear and obvious indicators, there is, again, not much a gun seller can do.

Just as there also isn’t much they can do when someone is phoning in frantic. They really have to go on what’s in front of them. And as I said above, there’s little room for self-righteousness when all you have is a hunch.

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Virtue signaling for a participation trophy

I take thee to be my lawfully wedded wife,
to have and to hold from this day onward,
for richer, for poorer,
in sickness and in health,
and, forsaking all others, keeping myself only unto you,
for as long as we both shall live.

Those were pretty much my marriage vows in a heartbeat. Probably not the exact words. But implicit in this is the obligation that I love my wife. It’s basically part of my job description to do that, along with tease her to the point where she’s giving me dirty looks all the bloody time, which I make up for with some….. moving on.

A continual trope of millennial culture is the participation trophy. And a continual trope out of the left is virtue signaling. So when a 26 year-old husband basically virtue signals on Instagram about how much he loves his fat wife, I’ve really got to wonder what the hell he’s doing.

|| I love this woman and her curvy body. As a teenager, I was often teased by my friends for my attraction to girls on the thicker side, ones who were shorter and curvier, girls that the average (basic) bro might refer to as “chubby” or even “fat.” Then, as I became a man and started to educate myself on issues such as feminism and how the media marginalizes women by portraying a very narrow and very specific standard of beauty (thin, tall, lean) I realized how many men have bought into that lie. For me, there is nothing sexier than this woman right here: thick thighs, big booty, cute little side roll, etc. Her shape and size won’t be the one featured on the cover of Cosmopolitan but it’s the one featured in my life and in my heart. There’s nothing sexier to me than a woman who is both curvy and confident; this gorgeous girl I married fills out every inch of her jeans and is still the most beautiful one in the room. Guys, rethink what society has told you that you should desire. A real woman is not a porn star or a bikini mannequin or a movie character. She’s real. She has beautiful stretch marks on her hips and cute little dimples on her booty. Girls, don’t ever fool yourself by thinking you have to fit a certain mold to be loved and appreciated. There is a guy out there who is going to celebrate you for exactly who you are, someone who will love you like I love my Sarah. || photo cred: @kaileehjudd

A post shared by ROBBIE TRIPP™ (@tripp) on

Now I didn’t marry a supermodel by any stretch. My wife outweighs me by a not-insignificant margin, with the boobs, butt, and belly to go with it. What you’re not going to see me doing, however, is posting all kinds of pictures online about how much I love my wife. I don’t partake in the social media pastime of posting on our anniversary or her birthday how much I love her and how I’m so lucky to have her.

Because it’s not necessary.

And those who do such things make me wonder if their need to virtue signal is hiding some insecurities about their relationship. Like they have to keep reminding themselves they love their spouse when it’s something you shouldn’t need reminded of. You should be confident enough in your own relationship that you don’t need to tell everyone else how great you have it. It should be obvious by how you live, not how often you tell people.

Plus telling everyone how much in love you are with your spouse, regardless of who they are and what they look like, is about the same as a fast food worker demanding a bonus for mopping the lobby floor at closing. It’s part of what you signed up for when you took the vows and continued with your marriage and haven’t, thus far, done anything to warrant dissolving it.

On this situation involving the above, insecure husband with an inferiority complex, I like the words of Rachel Simmons, author of Enough As She Is:

I think it ends up coming off as a backhanded compliment. He’s like, “I love you so much, and the media marginalizes you, and you fill out your jeans, and I still love you anyway.” I think partly that falls flat. I also think this reminded me a lot of when dads are congratulated for babysitting their own kids. It’s like, “Dude, that’s part of your job description, so you should probably just go do your job without getting a whole big sensational story out of it.” This is the same thing. It’s part of a husband’s job description to love his wife.

The only thing to note is that when fathers are congratulated for babysitting their kids, the fathers themselves typically aren’t seeking out the adulation. Here, the husband is seeking out adulation for… being a husband. Seriously, when did the participation trophy mentality become apart of matrimony?

Here’s the thing, to Robbie Tripp and all the other husbands with fat wives: just live your lives. You don’t need to go around trying to one-up the other husbands merely because you married a fat chick. It’s bad enough that your wife is being judged by the other women. The fact that you’re now trying to virtue signal for approval from other left-leaning men and women comes off as woefully pathetic, as if you’re demanding a participation trophy for either marrying her or being a husband.

At the same time, don’t deny reality. Your fat wife is facing health problems down the line. So do what you can to encourage them to actually lose weight for a healthier future.

Let’s also get rid of the “real women are [this]” trope. Okay. For one, pornstars are actually women. I’ve actually talked to a few — no, I’m not elaborating on that. Once you look past what they do for a living, and don’t try to use that to your advantage, they’re actually quite pleasant to talk to. But they’re still women, with real lives, real ambitions. With families and friends. They just picked a different vocation than you or your wife otherwise might have.

And movie characters are played by… women. Real, flesh and blood women.

So let’s stop with the virtue signaling. You love your wife. I get it. But I have a feeling you’re more trying to assure your wife that every time you glance at women who are, frankly, better looking than she is, you’re just coming up with some excuse to avoid her ire.

Because you’re looking. Don’t deny it. Just be the best husband you can to your wife and don’t worry about what others might think.

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