Indicted and arrested at long last

Picture taken by slowking4, CC BY-SA 2.0 <>, via Wikimedia Commons

In lieu of the usual link to a given news source for this, I’m instead going to link to the Wikipedia article “Indictment of Donald Trump” for reference. It is becoming more difficult to find news sources that don’t appear to be biased one way or the other.

In the past few days, we have finally seen the arrest and indictment of our former president (who I really don’t think is worthy of the title, but that’s another story). The charges are 34 felony counts of falsifying business records, each with a possible four-year sentence to be served consecutively, for a total of 136 years. From the Wikipedia article:

On March 30, 2023, Donald Trump, the president of the United States from 2017 to 2021, was indicted by a Manhattan grand jury for his alleged role in a scandal stemming from hush money payments made to the pornographic film actress Stormy Daniels prior to the 2016 U.S. presidential election,[2][3][4] making him the first U.S. president to be indicted.[5][6][7] Trump faces 34 charges of falsifying business records in the first degree.[8][9][10] In New York, falsifying business records is a misdemeanor, but can become a felony if done to further another crime.[11] The indictment raises novel and complex legal issues.[12][13]

While I believe it is unfortunate that an indictment of a former president was necessary, it is a relief to see that some government, somewhere, is finally willing to make a statement that nobody is above the law.

For the entire four-year term, and clearly for worse, Mr. Trump ran his presidency with the attitude that he was above the rules. With the New York indictment and the ongoing Georgia and federal investigations, it is finally coming to light just how far above the law Mr. Trump was willing to go.

I know in years past I have often been critical of certain actions by law enforcement and our court system. The reality is that when the laws are enforced equally and fairly and judges make reasonable decisions, I don’t have any issues. Some of the more prominent examples of law enforcement not acting in such a fashion, from past posts, would be when they shoot innocent dogs (and again a couple of years prior) and running a questionable crosswalk enforcement trap.

I don’t think the arrest and indictment of Mr. Trump falls into the category of a law enforcement screw-up. This is our legal system doing its job. This doesn’t mean Mr. Trump is guilty just yet; he is entitled to the same due process of law as the rest of us. Unfortunately, the next in-person hearing is not until December 4, meaning this will be anything but a speedy trial (though there is no guarantee it will go to trial, it is definitely expected).

Perhaps due to his high profile and the lack of likelihood he will become a fugitive, Mr. Trump was allowed to return to Florida right after the hearing. Due to bail reforms in New York (state), he was probably not required to post a bail bond, for better or worse. (The nice part about this is some of the conservatives might shut up about bail reform for a while.) Usually bail bond companies will require a defendant released on bond to call and/or sign in at the office periodically (often once per week). I’m not that worried about Mr. Trump as a flight risk, though some conditions should have been imposed on his pretrial release, as the events of 2021 January 6 have shown that he can be quite dangerous.

He was fingerprinted but no mugshot was taken; to be fair, I think we all know what he looks like by now. Again, I would suspect the mugshot to be another safeguard against a potential escape; however, I do think it would have helped send a clear message to Mr. Trump to have a mugshot taken that yes, we as a society are treating you like a criminal, former president or not. Fingerprints alone may or may not have accomplished this, as these days fingerprinting is also used for identification for professional licenses.

In summary, while this is an unfortunate chapter in American history in many respects, I fully support the district attorneys and court system in New York state in this effort, and believe the world will be a better place as a result of due process of law in this matter, including the trial.

On computing, technology, mishaps, and the importance of backups

I’ve had an interesting past couple of days. The short version for the non-nerds is that a computer improvement project completely went sideways, resulting in my having to restore from backups I made before I decided to start my “improvements”, then finding out those backups weren’t any good and restore from slightly older but more reliable backups.

For the nerds, the detailed version of it goes something like this:

  1. Back up /home filesystem just in case things don’t work out. This takes up ~380GB of a 480GB drive and is the whole reason I’m doing the rest of this. It takes two hours, and the completely inaccurate remaining time calculation isn’t encouraging. But it gets done… supposedly.
  2. Move root, swap, and boot manager (rEFInd) onto 120GB drive. So far so good.
  3. Resize filesystems on 240GB drive using GParted. So far so good.
  4. Try to expand /home to fill most of 480GB drive using GParted. Find out it’s going to take way too long, and it’ll be faster to just nuke and restore from the backup made in step 1.
  5. Restore from said backup.
  6. Wake up the next morning to find system won’t boot, it’s beefing about /home not being mountable (btrfs). Swear profusely.
  7. Wipe (run blkdiscard) on 480GB drive and try restore again.
  8. Reboot and find that the filesystem is still unmountable. Swear profusely again.
  9. Wipe 480GB drive again and format as ext4 instead of btrfs.
  10. Restore from last good Back In Time backup (that’s what is happening on the other computer right now as I write this).

The gist of it is partclone appears to have made a bad backup from btrfs, and I’m not sure if it’s operator error or an actual bug. I may experiment with much smaller filesystems to try and replicate it.

The moral of the story: Backup often and check your backups before you actually need them. For situations where a whole disk/partition backup is the best option, make a file-based backup as well just in case; while the former will be more faithful to what was actually on the disk, stuff happens and you will be glad the individual files are still around in some form when it does.

An open letter to Connor Ingalls regarding the image of pinball and its players

Mr. Ingalls:

I happened upon your story regarding the Myrtle Beach Pinball Museum as it was shared to one of the many pinball groups on Facebook which I follow. In general, I think it’s great that you are willing to cover pinball and help keep the game alive. Many people have assumed since it is difficult to find a pinball machine unless you know where to look that the game is dead, and that’s emphatically not the case, whether one is in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina (as you are); Houston, Texas (as I am); or many other cities across the US or even around the world.

It’s also a good thing that you shine a spotlight on an antiquated and unenforced law prohibiting minors from playing pinball, in hopes of finally getting it off the books.

However, I do have a quibble with this particular wording in the story:

We informed [a 13-year-old pinball player at the Myrtle Beach Pinball Museum] of the ban, and asked if he would continue playing…it should come as no surprise, the type of kid who plays pinball, isn’t concerned with playing by the rules.

This, too, is antiquated and reinforces a stereotype about pinball players that, if allowed to continue, is going to hinder growing the game and the hobby for the new generation. I run the Bayou City Pinball League in the greater Houston, Texas, area and one of the founding principles of the league is that it is for law-abiding citizens of good character, and the goal I envision is to have a crime-free league one can be proud to be a part of with a clear “no gambling” policy. In addition to that, I endeavor for the league I am founding to be a visible representation of the good people in the pinball community via periodic volunteer initiatives (in the broader community, as opposed to simply volunteering at pinball shows and tournaments). I know of no other pinball league which has even tried to label itself “crime-free” or aim for such lofty goals; the other and more populated pinball league in the area, which I used to play in, most definitely does not at least based on what I have able to observe.

Simply put, I feel “the type of kid who plays pinball” should not be presumed any more of a rulebreaker than the type of kid who plays chess, baseball, football, basketball, hockey, soccer, etc despite past stereotypes which would state otherwise. Like the outdated law you mention in your story, these stereotypes should also go the way of the dodo sooner rather than later.

[also sent via email]

Revisiting the Pacific Pro Football League

Back in 2017 February, I wrote a post about the planned upcoming Pacific Pro Football League. In general I was positive about the concept and had looked forward to seeing the new league.

Unfortunately, it appears that the organizers saw things differently. Arguably, the Pac Pro League was one of many casualties of the COVID-19 pandemic, since it was due to start play in 2020 July per Wikipedia. This is a pretty massive disappointment, especially given many of the other football initiatives that have come in the past few years: the Alliance of American Football (which unfortunately didn’t even last a full season), the (new) XFL (which is scheduled to be restarted soon), and the (new) USFL.

In any event, the existing effort was reformatted to a scouting event called HUB Football. It appears HUB Football has been successful as a non-contact training camp, even though games were part of the original concept and have yet to be held.

I wish HUB Football continued success. However, I also hope someone picks up the idea of the original Pac Pro League and makes it a reality. I believe there is a time and place for it and would still like to see it happen.

Revisiting the “war on Christmas”

So I’ve been looking over past posts, particularly those addressing what has come to be known as the “war on Christmas“. These include the following:

It seems like it’s been “all quiet on the front” for the past few years. Particularly in the last couple of years, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken center stage. A “war on Christmas” pales in comparison to a virus spreading across the globe. Either way, “the war on Christmas” is or was quite palpably a ridiculous load of bovine excrement.

As I read back through both those posts and the above-linked Wikipedia article, it’s shocking to read some of the things that have happened. It’s nearly two decades old, but this incident is particularly egregious:

In 2005, when the city of Boston labeled their official decorated tree as a holiday tree, the Nova Scotian tree farmer who donated the tree responded that he would rather have put the tree in a wood chipper than have it named a “holiday” tree.[12]

The tree farmer misses the point, and could use a remedial history lesson in the tradition of tree decoration and its origins. Before the Christians adopted tree decoration as part of their Christmas holiday, pagans decorated trees in celebration of Yule, the pagan winter solstice festival (Pagan Christmas: The Plants, Spirits, and Rituals at the Origins of Yuletide; Rätsch and Müller-Ebeling, 2006). Christmas itself was the Christian co-opting/takeover of many winter pagan festivals, most notably Saturnalia. So many Christians are vocal about “putting the Christ back in Christmas”. This is quite ironic since, centuries ago, it was the Christians who forcibly inserted their Christ and God into pagan celebrations.

It is likely that December 25 does not match up with the actual birthday of Jesus in the modern calendar. Indeed, some still celebrate Christmas on December 25 of the Julian calendar which is January 7 of the modern Gregorian calendar. Isaac Newton may well have been on to something. Newton theorized that December 25 was chosen to coincide with the winter solstice. The idea behind that would be for the Christians would “take over” the previously pagan holiday festivals.

So, since we now know the pagans both celebrated the winter solstice and decorated trees before the Christians did, it makes no sense to call out the city of Boston for daring to call it a “holiday tree”. I mean, yeah, the farmer is certainly entitled to his/her own opinion, or to express regret over donating the tree after it’s called a “holiday tree”. The reason for calling it a “holiday tree” is to include everyone who celebrates any winter holiday, whether it is Christmas, Boxing Day, Festivus, Hanukkah, Yule, Grav-mass, Kwanzaa, Yalda, Dongzhi Festival, Quaid-e-Azam’s Day, Chalica, Soyal, Pancha Ganapati, or any others of which I am not aware and have thus omitted. Calling it a “Christmas tree” or even a “Yule tree” is potentially exclusionary against those who observe other holidays.

And then there are cases where radical Christians apply their pressure to corporations, particularly retail advertisers:

  • In 2005, Walmart was criticized by the Catholic League for avoiding the word “Christmas” in any of their marketing efforts.[13] The company had downplayed the term “Christmas” in much of its advertising for several years.[79] This caused some backlash among the public, prompting some groups to pass around petitions and threaten boycotts against the company, as well as several other prominent retailers that practiced similar obscurations of the holiday.[13] In 2006, in response to the public outcry, Walmart announced that they were amending their policy and would be using “Christmas” rather than “holiday”. Among the changes, they noted that the former “Holiday Shop” would become the “Christmas Shop”, and that there would be a “countin’ down the days to Christmas” feature.[13]

The most cynical interpretation of this backlash is “Damnit, our ancestors fought long and hard to steal Christmas from the pagans, and you want them to think it’s okay to call it Yule or Saturnalia again?” This is obviously not what the Catholic League had in mind. Looking at history, though, it’s easy to see it that way. In fact, being well read on the history of winter solstice celebrations and a long-time atheist makes it hard not to see it that way.

Worse, quoting from the article referenced as #13 above (Tricia Bishop’s article from 2006):

“In the past, our ad copy used wording from vendors’ descriptions, and that tended to use the word ‘holiday,'” Walgreens spokeswoman Carol Hively said in an e-mail. “This year, to be more accurate, we describe Christmas-specific items, such as Christmas trees, with the word ‘Christmas.'”

“Christmas-specific items” as if nobody who celebrates any other winter solstice holiday would decorate a tree. I’d like to think Walgreens has come around on this; it may be time to switch preferred drugstores otherwise. Moving down the Wikipedia list:

  • In 2005, Target Corporation was criticized by the American Family Association for their decision not to use the term “Christmas” in any of their in-store, online, or print advertising.[80]

Unfortunately Target gave in back in 2005 only a couple of weeks into the holiday season. To be fair, not mentioning a specific holiday is something I would expect Target to do (more so than its chief competitor, Walmart). Even more unfortunate is that people would boycott a retailer over this. Omitting “Christmas” is, at its root, really just an attempt to be more inclusive.

Is that really what Christianity is about, hounding people/companies and making a stink if they don’t openly bow to the Christian world view, even at the potential perceived exclusion of others? I’d like to think otherwise. I realize the Catholic League and American Family Association (AFA) don’t represent the views of all Christians. (Or, in the case of the former, even all Catholics.) But it’s hard not to be judged by the company one keeps. This kind of thing is one reason I left Christianity decades ago.

And the hits just kept on coming:

  • On 11 November 2009, the AFA called for a “limited two-month boycott” of Gap, Inc. over what they claimed was the “company’s censorship of the word ‘Christmas.'”[88] In an advertising campaign launched by Gap on 12 November, the term “Christmas” was both spoken and printed on their website at least once, and a television ad entitled “Go Ho Ho” featured lyrics such as “Go Christmas, Go Hanukkah, Go Kwanzaa, Go Solstice” and “whatever holiday you wanna-kah”.[89] On 17 November, AFA responded to this campaign by condemning the ads for references to the “pagan holiday” of solstice, and declined to call off the boycott.[90] On 24 November, the AFA ended the boycott, after learning from Gap’s corporate vice president of communications that the company planned to launch a new commercial with a “very strong Christmas theme”.[91]

It’s not enough that the ads basically have to be “Christmas Christmas Christmas Christmas blah blah blah Christmas Christmas” to not piss off the AFA. No, apparently, lest you risk an AFA-led boycott, you can’t even mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice”! At its root, solstice is a natural phenomenon. It only makes sense that regardless of religion or beliefs, a society of any size would organize a festival around it.

Again, the boycott was only called off after Gap, Inc. launched a new commercial that put Christmas front and center. Yes, Christmas, a winter solstice celebration timed deliberately to co-opt and overshadow pagan festivals occurring at about the same time, “stealing” them from the pagans and other non-believers.

And of course there’s the Starbucks controversy from 2015 which I’ve already written about. I wish I had known about the others sooner and/or already had my blog going back when they had happened. But the theme is the same: include everyone by not mentioning specific holidays, and sooner or later fundamentalist Christian groups will call you out on it; mention “the ‘pagan holiday’ of solstice” specifically, and you’re almost guaranteed the wrath of the AFA when they see it.

As I usually do this time of year, I wish everyone happy holidays, regardless of what holidays those might be. Even if it’s Yule a.k.a. the winter solstice.