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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Rack 2U GPU compute node

For the last couple years, I’ve more or less tried to use older hardware to donate compute time to various research projects. To varying degrees of success. Mostly these have been for the Berkeley projects with occasional time allotted to Folding@Home.

Specifically the GPUs I have for this purpose:

  • 2 x PNY GTX 770 4GB OC
  • 1 x EVGA GTX 680 SC 2GB
  • 1 x Zotac GTX 680 Amp!
  • 2 x EVGA GTX 660 SC 2GB
  • 1 x XFX “Double-D” R9 290X 4GB

And all of the aforementioned cards have water blocks on them as well, allowing them to run at very good temperatures typically hovering around 40C for the NVIDIA cards, and nearer to 50C for the AMD card. Basically perfect for cards not designed to be under near constant load 24/7 topping out in the 70sC if not 80sC on their cores.

The weakest cards are, obviously, the GTX 660s. So with the latest Pascal generation from NVIDIA, and the performance metrics thereof, I decided it was time to retire the GTX 660s from the cluster.

In its place? A single GTX 1060 3GB Mini from Zotac. This single card is now the shining star in the cluster, outperforming all of the others. While it has less CUDA cores compared to the GTX 680, they are clocked much better — able to boost to around 1.7GHz compared to shy of 1.1GHz for the GTX 680 — allowing for much better performance in a much smaller package.

The short GTX 1060 cards have the major advantage of being able to fit into a smaller form factor. Such as a 2U chassis on a riser card. Provided you get the right chassis. But the constricted fit had me wondering whether the card would thermal throttle under load since there was basically only 1 slot’s worth of room before the mainboard.

Specifications

  • CPU: AMD A8-7600k
  • Cooling: Noctua NH-L9a
  • RAM: 8GB DDR3-1833 RAM
  • Mainboard: Gigabyte F2A88X-D3HP
  • Chassis: PlinkUSA IPC-2026
  • Power supply: Antec BP350

So let’s get into specs and the philosophy behind the choices.

Processor. Initially I considered an Athlon 64 X2 for this node. The reasoning was simple: the node will be used for only GPU processing, specifically for Berkeley tasks since those do not use the CPU much. So there’s not really much reason to use a system more powerful processor.

Indeed if you’re putting together a mining rig, these older CPUs are well-suited, even with multiple graphics cards, since you don’t need a fast CPU for that purpose. Heck there are Bitcoin mining rigs that consist of multiple USB ASIC miners connected to Raspberry Pi boards.

But, alas, I wanted to run Linux on this and could not get the BOINC Linux client to detect the graphics card with the latest NVIDIA driver — 384.59 as of when I write this. Even downgrading the driver didn’t help. No idea what was going on, so I swapped over to a processor that I knew could run Windows 10 – the A8-7600.

On that mark, the AM1 boards and processors would work well for this use case since you don’t need a fast processor for BOINC. For Folding@Home, it helps to have it since Folding@Home does rely on the CPU a bit for its GPU tasks.

CPU cooler. The Noctua NH-L9a is a very capable, yet quiet CPU cooler. I highly recommend it to anyone building a small form factor system. If you want to use this with the Ryzen chips, you’ll need the separate AM4 mount kit. Under the cooler I use Arctic MX-4, which is the best thermal compound on the market currently.

Chassis. Initially I considered the IPC-G252S also from PlinkUSA, mainly because I’ve used it before. But the configuration of the chassis doesn’t allow for graphics cards with power connectors. Or at least with power connectors coming out the top. If this was a GTX 1050 or GTX 1050 Ti, then it’d be a perfect fit. But the top of the card will be too near the wall to access the power connector. Even low-profile 90-degree PCI-Express connectors won’t fit.

Hence the IPC-2026, which has a lot more room for that capability. By putting the power supply in the front. Plus the wall of 80mm fans provides all the ventilation the card will need as it’ll have almost two of them blowing directly onto it. After I swapped them out for much quieter fans. And at just 70 USD plus shipping, it was the perfect choice.

Then the question was the power supply.

The chassis can fit a full-size ATX power supply up to 160mm. And it has a ventilation grill on the lid so you can use a bottom-fanned PSU. But given this could end up in a rack with that grill covered up, I opted for the Antec BP350, which is a 140mm ATX power supply with a single 80mm fan at the rear to pull air through the opposite side. No other ventilation is on the PSU’s cover.

Since the PSU has only a 4-pin CPU connector, I needed to buy a P4+LP4 to 8-pin CPU harness. And for good measure, I added an 8-pin CPU extension cable to the mix.

350W is overkill for this, as I don’t expect this node to draw more than 150W to 200W continuously. It’s not 80+ rated, but at that low of a wattage draw, there’s no need for it to be.

A future node I’m now considering will actually be in another IPC-2026 chassis, but using the R9 290X that came from Absinthe. And keeping it water cooled. So look forward to that coming down the pike. For now I’ve got a few other things on the agenda. I’ll also be pulling off the Zotac’s stock cooler and replacing it with a universal VGA block and finding some way to cool the VRMs and RAM.

* * * * *

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The biggest problem in health care NO ONE is discussing

With all the discussions about how to bring down the cost of health care in the United States, there is one I’m surprised few are discussing. Physician density. Or the supply of health care.

Cracked.com actually addressed the issue in an article about American health care: “Enormous wait times are caused by a serious Doctor shortage”. The cost of health care is also exacerbated by this.

The laughably and ineptly named Affordable Care Act resulted in massive increases in the cost of health care for the simple reason it inflated demand for health care without doing anything to bump the supply of it. And anyone who’s studied basic market economics knows that when demand goes up without a corresponding increase in supply, prices go up as a result.

No matter how much a lot of people might scream otherwise, health care is not immune from the law of supply and demand. That is why it’s called a law of economics.

And one metric of health care supply is physician density. And in that metric, the United States needs to play catch-up. Out of 184 states tracked by the Central Intelligence Agency’s World Fact Book, the United States ranks 58, with 2.55 physicians per 1,000 people.

Canada is, interestingly, 61st with 2.48. The United Kingdom is 46th at 2.81. One of the reasons it’s not uncommon to hear of rationing and waiting periods in both countries. Like the United States, the UK and Canada don’t have the physician supply to keep up with demand.

Greece ranks 5th with 6.26 physicians. Monaco ranks 3rd with 6.65. Spain is 19th at 3.82. Sweden and Switzerland are tied at 12th with 4.11. Norway ranks 9th with 4.42. Austria ranks 6th at 5.15.

Again, health care is not immune from the law of supply and demand. Yet no one is talking about health care supply. No one is talking about what can be done to provide for more people practicing medicine in the United States.

Some States are attempting to address the problem, typically by allowing for more nurses to practice independent of physicians. But this is really a matter for Congress and the Trump administration to address. Part of the “2 for 1” effort should address the regulations that make it more difficult for physicians to enter medical practice.

At the same time, Congress needs to address the near-monopoly control the American Medical Association has over physician supply in the United States. Let me put it this way, when we have students graduating from medical school unable to continue on to become licensed physicians due entirely to bureaucracy, we have a major problem that needs to be addressed.

On Match Day 2017, nearly 36,000 graduate MDs applied for 31,757 residency spots. And there have virtually always been more MD graduates than residency spots. Those who don’t get accepted into residency can never move on to actually practice medicine. This is something public policies can and should address.

According to an article in StatNews written in 2016, Missouri, Kansas, and Arkansas have passed laws that allow medical students to practice in underserved areas without first going through a residency. In Missouri the law was crafted by plastic surgeon Edmond Cabbabe, MD, who said that, without the law, “a lot end up wasting all of their education, because there is no place for them in the health care delivery system without having a residency”.

Kansas’s law targets graduates of the University of Kansas School of Medicine (“KU Med”) who aren’t able to move on to residency. A new type of license allows them to practice for two years under the supervision of fully-licensed physician, after which they are expected to obtain a residency.

And while the American Medical Association has called for more funding to open up more residency spots in the United States, without more supervising physicians, which requires more physicians period, we can’t have more residency spots.

So the United States really needs to enact policies that address the physician shortage, as if we don’t do that, we can’t really lower the cost of health care delivery in the United States.

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You need a UPS

Last night, some strong thunderstorms came through the Kansas City area. The power flickered a lot, and momentarily went out.

My wife’s computer (“Absinthe”), my computer (“Mira”), and much of my living room are all connected to uninterruptible power supplies, or UPS systems. These function as a kind of “battery backup” for anything plugged into it, while also conditioning power and protecting against surges. Basically they make sure there is a constant, stable delivery of power to whatever is plugged in should the power delivery in your home become unstable or cut out entirely, both of which are common during heavy thunderstorms.

Homeowner’s and renter’s insurance typically doesn’t cover electronics lost in a thunderstorm due to improper electrical protection.

During last night’s thunderstorm, my system was able to stay live without any problem due to the UPS. I shut down my wife’s system as a precaution since she was out of town. The living room UPS kept the router and switch online, keeping me online and talking with my wife.

So if you don’t already have one, buy one.

But first, you’ll need to know the power consumption of what you intend to plug into it. You can use a power meter such as a Kill-A-Watt to determine this quite easily. Just remember to use the number given during its peak power draw, and add another 20% to be safe. For example, if you’re protecting a gaming computer, make sure to run the most intense game you have to maximize power draw.

Back in 2013 I described losing a DOCSIS 3.0 modem to a thunderstorm due to improper surge protection. Actually due to no surge protection on the cable line. I still remember the POP!

Thankfully those kind of surges are impossible with a fiber optic system, but you do still need to protect it against power line surges. Having it plugged into a UPS means you can protect it against flickering power during a thunderstorm or brown-out.

So again, buy a UPS if you don’t already have one. But remember you can’t just buy any UPS as you need to first figure out your power usage to know you’re getting the right UPS. Buy one rated too low for your intended use and it’ll just up and die on you.

Since these also act as surge suppressors, make sure to buy a unit that protects against surges across cable and Ethernet lines if applicable. If you have Fiber Internet access, such as Google Fiber, as opposed to DSL or cable Internet, you only need to protect against power line surges. For DSL or cable, you’ll need RJ11/RJ45 protection (an RJ11 plug will fit into an RJ45 jack) or coax protection, respectively.

The specific UPS model that protects Mira and Absinthe is the CyberPower LX1500GU, which is a 1500VA/900W UPS system I found at Micro Center. One per system, obviously. The UPS in my living room is a refurbished APC BR1500, which is also a 1500VA/900W unit.

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Arizona’s advice to armed drivers

Arizona recently took the step to update their driver licensing manual to include traffic stops where the driver is armed. Section 7 of the manual is titled simply “Law Enforcement” and explains what to expect during a traffic stop.

Arizona, like Kansas, is a constitutional carry State. This means a permit is not required to carry a firearm concealed. Note this doesn’t mean just anyone can carry a gun, as you must be lawfully able to possess the firearm under State and Federal law. If you’re a “prohibited person” under State or Federal law, you cannot carry a firearm concealed for the simple fact you can’t legally possess a firearm to begin with.

But being a constitutional carry State can present challenges to law enforcement regarding armed civilians. As we saw with Philando Castile, things don’t end well when you’re not doing the right things while you’re armed and stopped by police. Along with all the typical guidelines given in every article discussing traffic stops, Arizona included this in a list of things to do After the car is stopped: “Inform the officer of any weapons on your person or in the vehicle.”

And it continues:

In addition to the guidelines above, drivers with firearms in the vehicle should keep your hands on the steering wheel in a visible location and when the officer approaches let them know that you have a firearm in the vehicle and where the firearm is located. If requested, the officer may take possession of the weapon, for safety reasons, until the contact is complete.

Sounds pretty straightforward. Same advice I gave in my first article on this subject several years ago. But Arizona continues by giving two items an armed driver should NOT do. And both points, again, read like advice I’ve already given here on this blog, advice that is not consistently reflected in the gun community.

  • Reach around inside the vehicle. If you need to reach for an item, contact the officer verbally to indicate the item you need to locate and only do so after the officer has given verbal confirmation.
  • Get out of the vehicle unexpectedly or approach the officer. If you need to exit your vehicle, contact the officer verbally to exit the vehicle, only exit after the officer has given verbal confirmation to do so.

Nice to see the advice I’ve given in various venues reflected in a State government publication on police traffic stops. Almost brings a tear to my eye to see it. But it also confirms what I’ve said before: Philando Castile screwed up.

 

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Running Folding@Home headless on Fedora Server

Recently I set up a virtual machine on my VM server to run Folding@Home as a CPU-only worker. I’ll walk through the exact steps I took to set up the VM, and install and configure Folding@Home. These same steps can be used to set up a headless worker node on bare metal as well, such as for running GPU jobs.

I’ll be walking through setting it up from scratch as well. I’m not going to be walking through things bit by bit, so I expect you to have a decent technical understanding to fill in any gaps.

Note that while I’m walking through setting up a clean system or new VM, the below section about installing and configuring Folding@Home can apply to any Linux system.

Installing Fedora Server

Let’s start with installing Fedora.

Download the network installer ISO (off to the side under “Other Downloads), not the full install ISO. It’s significantly smaller (under 500MB) and gives you a lot more flexibility in setting things up. It’ll also only install the latest packages, saving you from having to run updates immediately after installing.

Once you reach the “Installation Summary” screen, select “Software Selection” and change it from “Fedora Server Edition” to “Minimal Install”. And on the right under “Add-Ons”, select “Standard”. If you’re setting up a VM, also add “Guest Agents”.

Set up everything else as you want and begin the installation.

Once installed, follow the procedure for installing the appropriate driver for your graphics card, if applicable.

I’d also recommend installing the package “dnf-plugin-system-upgrade“, which will give you a means of upgrading the Fedora installation in the future to the next latest release. I recently had to do this on several VMs running Fedora 25 to upgrade them in-place to Fedora 26 (latest as of this writing).

Installing Folding@Home

Next download and install the Folding@Home client RPM. Installing the RPM will immediately start Folding@Home with a CPU slot and a GPU slot if the GPU is properly configured. The only problem is you’ll be folding as an anonymous user with no team. But it’s easier to configure Folding@Home while it’s running unless you like manually editing XML files.

From the command line, telnet (not SSH) to localhost:36330: “telnet localhost 36330”. This will bring up a command interface for configuring Folding@Home and viewing the status of slots and jobs.

You will use the “option” command to set any options that you want: “option [name] [value]”. You can use the “options” command to view all the options that are not set to defaults.

  • user – Folding@Home username (default: anonymous)
  • passkey – Passkey for your account
  • team – Team number you wish to join (default: 0)
  • power – One of [light, medium, full] (default: light)
  • gpu – Whether to allow GPU folding [true/false] (should be true if your GPU is properly set up and supported by Folding@Home)

If you want to enable remote access to view the status and modify the worker node remotely with FAHControl, you’ll want the below options as well. Note, you will also need to open port 36330/tcp on the firewall or disable the firewall (not recommended).

  • command-allow-no-pass – IP subnet or address (see below screenshot) from which remote access is allowed without a password
  • allow – IP subnet or address (see below screenshot) from which remote access is allowed with a password
  • password – Password to use for remote access, required for “allow”

Once you’ve set all the needed options, exit out and restart Folding@Home (as root or using sudo) to make sure the new options take (some don’t apply immediately):

/etc/init.d/FAHClient restart

If you’ve configured for remote access, test that access from another system by attempting to telnet to port 36330. If connecting from a Windows system, you will need to have a period after the hostname — e.g. “folding.”, not “folding” — or it likely will fail to find it.

If it connects and disconnects immediately, you don’t have it properly configured to allow remote access from your IP address. Check your options to make sure they’re all correct. You’ll need to restart FAHClient if you change anything.

If it times out trying to connect, you need to open the port on the firewall. Did you remember to restart the firewalld service after adding the port?

Adding worker node to FAHControl

If you’ve properly set up the node for remote access and you can telnet into the Folding@Home system and run commands remotely, then you can add the system to FAHControl from that system. It’s straightforward, so I’m not going to go into detail.

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